A crucial step in determining the success of the Keeneland September yearling sale each season is seeing how smooth the auction's transition is from its boutique session to the remainder of the catalog.
While Tuesday, the second day of the 11-session marathon, lacked outright home run offerings, it registered enough solid extra-base hits to keep hopes alive for a positive overall outcome.
If the September sale's opening select exercise was defined by its late, lucrative rally, the first of what will be three "Book 2" sessions this week showed that a steady climb could be the arc the rest of the way.
Though no horses hit the seven-figure plateau Tuesday after five reached that mark the day before, there was enough strength in the upper middle offerings to balance out what remains a highly selective market.
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Led by a gorgeous gray son of Tapit who went to Barbara Banke's Stonestreet Stables for $700,000, the second day of selling registered gains in both average and median over the corresponding session from 2011.
Overall, the gross of $62,530,000 is down from $78,356,500 at this point last year, not unexpected considering there was only one select session compared to two last season. The total average of $239,579 is up from $238,166 in 2011, while the median fell from $200,000 to $180,000.
A total of 126 horses have failed to meet their reserves, resulting in a buyback rate of 32.56 percent.
"The way this market has been going is the horses who are very good sell, but when you get in the middle of it, it gets very dodgy and you have to be very conservative," said Wayne Sweezey of Sweezey and Partners, who sold a bay filly by Tiznow for $500,000 on Tuesday. "But those horses at the top, I think you can push it a little bit."
It's encouraging that the top end has held up as it has considering that some major players have either scaled back their participation or been absent.
Powerhouses Coolmore Stud and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum haven't been as prominent on the tickets compared to past years, while Ben Leon, the second-leading buyer by gross in 2011, has yet to appear.
"We would love their participation, yes, but the sale is performing very well without their participation," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "We hope in the later part of this week they might participate."
Russell said that based on sales earlier this year, Keeneland didn't anticipate that there would be strong representation from Sheikh Mohammed.
What hasn't changed is the fact that many buyers are all landing on the same obvious horses, such as the session-topping Tapit colt. The colt was bred by Georgetown-based Bruce McMillin and Tapit Syndicate and consigned by Gainesway,
John Moynihan, agent for Stonestreet, had to endure a protracted battle to take home the full brother to graded stakes-placed Tempted to Tapit.
The good horses are certainly bringing the top money, Moynihan said, adding that "We probably should have bought a few more last night (Monday) because it looks like the prices were a little lighter for the good ones tonight than they were today."
The sale continues at 11 a.m. Wednesday. As the sessions click off, the fact the catalog is 17 percent smaller than it was last year could create a sense of urgency among buyers.
"I think it will keep getting better, because now you're getting to the point when buyers are coming in and they're going to start realizing we've got a lot less horses," said Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales. "Hopefully there will be a lot of hungry people coming in here in Book 3 and Book 4 and they know they have to get some stuff bought."