Thoroughbred Racing's Version of the Draft

Last weekend marked the start of the NFL season, and while most football fans were focusing on the NFL for the first time this season, others were already well aware of rookies like Cam Newton and Randall Cobb—in part because they had closely followed the NFL Draft back in April. 

Thoroughbred racing has a “draft” as well.  Actually we have multiple drafts.  The largest of these is the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, which got off to a solid start Sunday night. The 13-day sale continues through September 24.  As I tweeted earlier, I have been spending lots of time at Keeneland  in the past few days taking in all the excitement of the sales. These are some of our top future prospects going through the sales ring so it’s exciting to follow the action.

In fact, the 2009 Keeneland September Yearling Sale included three yearlings that went on to sweep this year’s Triple Crown races:  Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom was purchased for $100,000; Preakness winner Shackleford did not meet his $275,000 reserve so he was bought back by his breeders; and Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice cost his owners $100,000.

A year before that, in 2008, a pretty special daughter of Saint Liam was sold for $380,000 at Keeneland in September.  That filly was later named Havre de Grace, the #1 ranked horse in the latest NTRA Thoroughbred Poll and a leading contender for 2011 Horse of the Year.  I’m sure owner Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farms is delighted that Havre de Grace has already earned just shy of $2 million.  But I bet he is especially proud of the fact that he and his team of advisors zeroed in on her when she was one of about 4,000 yearlings offered at that 2008 sale. 

I’m always intrigued by these sales because both science and art are involved in the selection process.  Sure, buyers come armed with detailed pedigree information and other data. Others focus on conformation.  But just as important are the intangibles.  Listen to buyers and their agents talk about a yearling’s attributes. “Classy,” “athletic,” “attention-grabbing” and other similarly hard-to-define adjectives are frequently used around the sales grounds.  Are these seasoned judgments or merely educated guesses? It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes but one thing is for sure- if you buy the right horse, you can be handsomely rewarded. 

Keeneland has catalogued a total of 4,319 horses for this year’s sale which attracts buyers from virtually every state and from countries around the world. The sale is broken into six books.  Traditionally, the most expensive yearlings, those with the flashiest pedigrees, sell during the first week, but this is one sale that has a long history of producing quality stakes winners all the way through to the sale’s final day. You might say that starters or even future Super Bowl MVPs can be had right up until the final round of this particular draft.

Keeneland offers wall-to-wall coverage of the entire 13 day through a high quality video stream at Check out the sales coverage and let me know if you see an American Classic winner in the making.

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