Hot Potatoes - By Evan Hammonds

The results of the Keeneland September yearling sale through Book 2 (Sunday, Sept. 16) were nothing short of spectacular. A perfect storm of a robust global economy, new tax laws that accelerate depreciation, and a reduced foal crop has helped create demand and has pushed the market to its highest figures since the Great Recession hit a decade ago.

Some observations:

  • The amount of money floating around the sale ring is staggering. Nary a buyer is willing to report they got a bargain; the buzzword of the sale is “stretch,” as in “I had to stretch to (fill in the dollar figure here) to take him home.” Lamenting under-bidders who weren’t blown out of the water early in the bidding process profess they were “one bid away” from getting the one they really wanted.

    The early results—the sale runs through Sept. 23—suggest more of the same for the horses that look the part.

    But make no mistake, while most everyone has a smile on their face, the rising tide of this market isn’t “lifting all boats.” The action on the best-bred, best-conformed horses is as strong as it’s ever been; however if there is a ding in the fender, buyers will turn the page.

  • Much has been made of the growth of partnering on yearlings by the biggest players in the game. Some chatter is that the relatively new phenomenon is helping bolster the prices of yearlings just below the seven-figure waterline. Others think the pairings are taking out more bidders, thus depressing the prices in that arena. We’ll reserve judgment until we get more data.

  • The sire power of this sale is the strongest and deepest we’ve seen in some time. Through Book 2, there are 13 stallions that have a yearling average of $300,000 or more. While it’s no shock that 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah would be the leading first-crop sire, it may be a surprise that his 44 yearlings to sell have averaged $436,477, with three of them bringing seven figures including $2.2 million for a colt during the sale’s opening session.

    Asking both buyers and sellers, they look the part.

    Justin Zayat, whose family’s Zayat Stables raced American Pharoah through his Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) score in the fall of 2015, supported the stallion while purchasing a son of the Triple Crown winner for $800,000 during Book 2.

    “He kind of reminded me of American Pharoah, kind of a plain-brown-wrapper horse with class.

    “He’s like his dad—cool, calm, collected, a smart horse,” Zayat gushed. “One thing about American Pharoah was he was a pet and all of his offspring…you don’t see them acting up in the ring. They are all cool, level-headed horses and are selling like hot potatoes. It’s absolutely insane. I knew it was going to be exciting, but to see the averages where they are and the million-dollar horses, it’s unbelievable.”

  • More than one breeder/seller has confirmed the fact they better have one or two big-ticket horses to carry the consignment. In order to do that they need to stay sharp and better be on the lookout on how to upgrade their broodmare band.

    The good news here is that bodes well for the fall mixed sales that get underway when the selling calendar turns to November. The demand for the best-bred, best-conformed broodmares will likely be as strong as it’s ever been.

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