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Quality on top in bullish Keeneland September market

15 min read
A US$1.6-million (AU$2.19 million) Quality Road (USA) colt topped the second session of the Keeneland September Sale, which featured eight seven-figure yearlings sold, as the competition for quality yearlings intensified in Kentucky.

At A Glance:

The Book 1 average finished at US$407,727 (AU$558,586), a 6.86 per cent increase on 2020.

Book 1 drew to a close with an aggregate of US$90.66 million (AU$124.2 million), up from US$85.2 million (AU$116.7 million) last year.

The median over the first two sessions was US$335,000 (AU$458,950), a 4.48 per cent increase on 2020.

The stronger market on the second day was indicated by a strong average of US$466,964 (AU$639,741), while the clearance rate lifted from 61.5 per cent to 70 per cent.

West Point Thoroughbreds and Woodford Racing combined to secure the Sale-topper, the Quality Road colt offered by Eaton Sales on behalf of Stonestreet Stables.

Gainesway consigned three million-dollar yearlings. Colts by Curlin (USA) and Tapit (USA) sold for US$1.3 million (AU$1.78 million) and a filly by War Front (USA) sold for US$1.2 million (AU$1.64 million).

Spendthirft purchased the highest-priced filly of the second day, by Into Mischief (USA) for US$1.25 million (AU$1.71 million).

Market strengthens on second day

If Monday's first session of the Keeneland September Sale was solid, Tuesday's second day of selling and final Book 1 session was very strong. Three yearlings hit the seven-figure mark during the opener, and another eight brought that amount or more on Tuesday, led by the current Sale-topping US$1.6 million (AU$2.19 million) Quality Road colt.

“It was a great couple of days,” said Keeneland President and CEO Shannon Arvin. “We are really excited about the results, about the feeling and the excitement on the grounds. (Keeneland's retired Director of Sales) Geoffrey Russell likes to talk about the hustle and bustle and that was really present.

Keeneland President and CEO, Shannon Arvin | Image courtesy of Keeneland

"It was a really diverse buying bench. Out of the 10 highest prices, there were nine distinct buyers, which is really encouraging to see, including domestic buyers and international participation.

“I think it was electric today with the energy and the optimism,” said Keeneland's Vice President of Sales Tony Lacy.

“I think the sellers were having as much fun as the buyers, which across the board is really what we are trying to accomplish. That's an incredible market when we get to that. The median was US$350,000 (AU$479,500) cumulative over the two days and US$400,000 (AU$548,000) for the session alone.

"I don't think we've ever hit US$400,000 as a session or as close, cumulatively it's just short of 2019, which was a record year. As we go forward, I think it's really encouraging and sets a really good tone for Book 2.”

“I think it was electric today with the energy and the optimism." - Tony Lacy

Fifteen horses sold for US$1 million (AU$1.37 million) or more in 2020, including one in Book 2.

West Bloodstock, agent for Mike Repole's Repole Stable and Vinnie Viola's St. Elias, led all Book 1 buyers with 13 purchases for US$6,760,000 (AU$9.26 million).

“It is strong, but it is Book 1,” Jacob West said midway through Tuesday's session. “They are really nice horses. If Book 1 is weak, we are in trouble. It seems like there is a big appetite around here for this type of horse. Two-turn dirt horses are what everybody wants. If the breeders have that, they are getting rewarded. I am happy for the breeders to get rewarded.”

Keeneland's Vice President of Sales, Tony Lacy | Image courtesy of Keeneland

Gainesway sold three million-dollar horses Tuesday and led all consignors in Book 1 with a gross of US$12,465,000 (AU$17.08 million) on 23 horses sold.

“I thought it was a little spotty in Book 1,” said Gainesway's Brian Graves.

“It was feast or famine and we were really lucky that clients gave us horses that broke through. I really feel fortunate to have come out that way. I am kind of expecting the market to really open up once we get into horses bringing US$300,000. I think it is going to be a feeding frenzy.”

Stonestreet yearlings in demand

Barbara Banke's Stonestreet, which was responsible for the US$2 million (AU$2.74 million) 2020 September topper, was represented by a pair of seven-figure yearlings within the space of an hour at Keeneland Tuesday.

West Point Thoroughbreds and Woodford Racing went to a Sale-topping US$1.6 million (AU$2.19 million) to acquire a son of Quality Road, Hip 300, midway through the session.

Hip 300 - Quality Road (USA) x Catch the Moon (USA) (colt) | Image courtesy of Keeneland

Out of Catch The Moon (USA) (Malibu Moon {USA}), the yearling is a half-brother to G1 Haskell Invitational winner Girvin (USA) (Tale Of Ekati {USA}) and multiple Grade 1-placed Midnight Bourbon (USA) (Tiznow {USA}). He was consigned by Eaton Sales on behalf of Stonestreet, which will also stay in as a partner on the colt.

“The plan is to gather a partnership together with Woodford Racing, West Point and a few others and Barbara Banke,” Woodford Racing and Lane's End's Bill Farish said after signing the ticket on the colt out back alongside West Point's Terry Finley. “He will go to (First Captain's trainer) Shug McGaughey.”

Of the colt, Farish added, “This guy is a little immature right now. He's a little high behind and I think he will grow quite a bit. He's got a fabulous pedigree and a lot of current things going on in the family, so we're very excited to get him.”

"He's (Hip 300) got a fabulous pedigree and a lot of current things going on in the family, so we're very excited to get him." - Bill Farish

Lane's End was busy selling during Book 1 and Farish said the market has been competitive in the early stages of the September Sale.

“The market is strong,” Farish said. “For horses like this, it's been very, very hard to buy, as you can tell by that price. It's competitive. That's how we hoped it would be.”

Banke's Stonestreet purchased Catch The Moon for US$240,000 (AU$328,800) at the 2015 Keeneland November Sale. The mare is also the dam of G3 Iroquois S. winner Cocked And Loaded (USA) (Colonel John {USA}) and G3 Salvator Mile winner Pirate's Punch (USA) (Shanghai Bobby {USA}).

Barbara Banke | Image courtesy of Keeneland

“He is fabulous looking and, of course, the mare has had some great foals by some lesser stallions,” Banke said after watching the US$1.6-million (AU$2.19 million) yearling go through the ring.

“I am hoping this one takes it all the way. I think I will be back in for (a piece) of him. I am excited about that. He was on my list of favourites. We need sire power; we need another sire.”

Magnier secures Curlin colt

Just some 30 hips later, Stonestreet was represented by another seven-figure yearling when Coolmore's M.V. Magnier outlasted trainer Todd Pletcher to secure a colt by Curlin (USA) (Hip 333) for US$1.3 million (AU$1.78 million) from the Gainesway consignment. The bay colt is out of Dashing Debby (USA) (Medaglia D'Oro {USA}) and is a half-brother to multiple Grade 1-placed Dawn The Destroyer (USA) (Speightstown {USA}).

Hip 333 - Curlin (USA) x Dashing Debby (USA) (colt) | Image courtesy of Keeneland

“(Gainesway's) Brian Graves thought we would like the horse,” Magnier said after signing the ticket. “And all of our guys liked him as well. Barbara Banke has bred some incredible horses the last couple of years and Curlin has been doing very well.”

Also Tuesday, Magnier purchased a Stonestreet-bred daughter of Justify (USA) (Hip 272) for US$750,000 (AU$1.028 million). The yearling is a half-sister to sprint champion Runhappy (USA) (Super Saver {USA}).

"Barbara Banke has bred some incredible horses the last couple of years and Curlin has been doing very well." - M.V. Magnier

“Our broodmare band is getting better all the time,” Banke said. “We had new ones to add after they race. For example Mia Mischief is in foal this year. (Multiple Group 1 winner) Lady Aurelia has a really nice Curlin colt, but I doubt he will come to the sale. He is my pet.

"We upgrade our broodmare band all the time. We retire some of them, like Lady Aurelia's mother. She has a Justify weanling that is her last. We try to keep the broodmare band current. And really fast. We raise them right.”

One of the Stonestreet-owned yearling passed in was Hip 284, the filly by Medaglia D'Oro out of Group 1 winner Bounding (Lonhro), the half-sister to Aussie Rules (USA) (Curlin {USA}), who secured US$4.1 million (AU$5.6 million) at this Sale two years, ago, She was passed in at US$485,000 (AU$664,450).

Magnier, meanwhile, purchased eight yearlings during the two Book 1 sessions for a total of US$5,775,000 (AU$7.92 million).

M.V. Magnier and Brian Graves | Image courtesy of Keeneland

“It's plenty strong for the good ones,” Magnier said of the market. “Good horses are making good money, so it's good.”

Mandy Pope strikes for Tapit colt

It is not unusual to see Mandy Pope going to seven figures for a Tapit (USA) yearling, but the longtime breeder typically focuses on fillies to add to her broodmare band. So, it was a bit surprising to find Pope and advisor Todd Quast holding the US$1.3-million (AU$1.78 million) ticket for a colt by Gainesway's record-setting stallion (Hip 331).

Mandy Pope | Image courtesy of Keeneland

“I love Tapit, as everyone knows,” Pope said. “We have been buying a bunch of them. This one was raised at Gainesway and I have a lot of faith in how they raise their horses. I felt like the horse had a good foundation built into him to begin with. He is level-headed unlike some of the Tapits. We are going to go on and make a stallion.”

"This one (Hip 331) was raised at Gainesway and I have a lot of faith in how they raise their horses." - Mandy Pope

Bred by Antony Beck's operation, Hip 331 is out of Danzatrice (USA) (Dunkirk {USA}), who is a half-sister to champion Jaywalk (USA) (Cross Traffic {USA}).

It was a banner day for the Gainesway consignment, which was responsible for three million-dollar yearlings. Just two hips after Hip 331, a Curlin colt bred by Stonestreet Stables (Hip 333) equaled his US$1.3-million price tag and earlier in the day, Eddie Woods went to US$1.2 million (AU$1.64 million) to acquire a War Front (USA) filly from the Gainesway shedrow for Seahorse Stables (Hip 223).

“It's been a record day,” said Gainesway's Brian Graves. “We thought we had the chance for the Tapit colt and the Curlin colt to sell that well. The Tapit colt was a homebred of Mr. Beck's. Mandy Pope got him and we are about as excited as we could be. A couple of hips later we got the same amount for Barbara (Banke). We are very excited."

Spendthrift continues supporting its superstar

Despite the passing of its longtime principal and visionary B. Wayne Hughes last month, Spendthrift Farm continued its commitment to the industry, and its superstar stallion Into Mischief, when picking up a US$1.25 million (AU$1.71 million) filly by the nation's top sire Tuesday. Consigned by Bluewater Sales LLC, Agent VII as Hip 356, the bay was bred by China Horse Club.

Hip 356 - Into Mischief (USA) x Embellish The Lace (USA) (filly) | Image courtesy of Keeneland

China Horse Club purchased G1 Alabama S.-winning dam Embellish The Lace (USA) (Super Saver {USA}) for US$2.4 million (AU$3.3 million) in foal to Uncle Mo (USA) at the 2016 Fasig-Tipton November Sale.

“She's just a beautiful filly, obviously by the right sire out of a Grade I winner; great depth of family,” said Spendthrift GM Ned Toffey.

“She sort of ticked all the boxes, as classy a filly as we thought there was in the Sale. We're really excited to have her.

"Sometimes you see that pedigree and you're disappointed in the physical, but there's nothing disappointing in any way about this filly. You just hope that you'll be able to afford her.”

While Spendthrift was absent from the buyer sheet during Monday's first Book 1 session, they purchased four head Tuesday for a combined US$3.125 million (AU$4.28 million).

"She's (Hip 356) just a beautiful filly, obviously by the right sire out of a Grade I winner; great depth of family." - Ned Toffey

China Horse Club's breeding program continues to succeed

China Horse Club has made a rapid ascent up the ranks of the international Thoroughbred industry. Just five years into their American racing program, they have been represented by a Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year in Justify (USA) and have campaigned the likes of champions Abel Tasman (USA) (Quality Road {USA}) and Improbable (USA) (City Zip {USA}), among others.

China Horse Club is climbing the ranks of America's breeding industry just as quickly. The operation's first crop produced the likes of Grade 1 winners Valiance (USA) (Tapit {USA}) and Kimari (USA) (Munnings {USA}).

The group, led and founded by Teo Ah Khing, sold a seven-figure yearling for the second straight year at Keeneland September Tuesday when an Into Mischief filly summoned US$1.25 million (AU$1.71 million) from Spendthrift Farm (Hip 356).

Teo Ah Khing | Image courtesy of Bronwen Healy

“We have now achieved the Triple Crown of auctions with million-dollar sales in Australia, Europe and America this year,” Teo said after congratulating Spendthrift's Ned Toffey.

“Embellish always throws good quality with any stallion. We decided two years ago to send her to Into Mischief and ended up with this filly. She went back to Into Mischief and had another filly this year.

“We have cultivated about six or seven really good mares,” Teo said. “We have learned from Embellish the Lace and can reinvest in our broodmare band in America. We are reaching about 100 mares in Australia now and about 40 in Europe. In a year, we might reach over 200 (worldwide). We will be active in November.”

The Singapore resident added, “I think (a sale like this) is very encouraging. Industries here are very healthy. We have good partners and support in America. If you produce good quality, the value is there.”

“I think (a sale like this) is very encouraging. Industries here are very healthy. We have good partners and support in America. If you produce good quality, the value is there.” - Teo Ah Khing

With their continued success on the racetrack, China Horse Club has more and more American stallions to support. In addition to the aforementioned Eclipse winners Justify and Improbable, they campaigned new WinStar stallions Audible (USA) and Yoshida (Jpn) in partnership with Kenny Troutt's operation. China Horse Club has also purchased breeding interests in Constitution (USA) and Tiz The Law (USA). They currently campaign another stallion prospect with WinStar in Life Is Good (USA) (Into Mischief {USA}).

“In the last three or four years we have had four or five new stallions,” Teo said. “(China Horse Club COO) Michael (Wallace) will be tasked with selecting the mares. We might have other partners coming in to join us. The matings are a team effort. We have been working the formula and it is showing results. We think this year more (runners) will be coming out of our breeding program based on the feedback we have been getting from trainers of the previous foals that we have sold.”

"We think this year more (runners) will be coming out of our breeding program based on the feedback we have been getting from trainers." - Teo Ah Khing

China Horse Club is focused on a commercial breeding program, sending all of their foals to market.

“Everything is for sale,” Teo said. “With Valiance, (Eclipse and Marty Schwartz) invited us back in, so we gladly took a percentage because we believe in our formula.”

Teo was unable to be in attendance last year to watch Embellish The Lace's Tapit filly sell due to the international travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He arrived in Lexington earlier this week, marking his first trip to America in a year and a half. However, his US based agent Wallace has remained active on his behalf at all of the major auctions.

“For 18 months, I have been trying to come to America, but because of all the restrictions I was unable to come,” Teo said. “I have been meeting with a lot of partners and making a lot of business decisions that cannot be done over the Zoom. So, I am so glad I was able to come here.”

Teo is making the most of his trip, bringing in new partners from China to experience horse country at its best in the Bluegrass state.

Teo Ah Khing

“We are bringing some Chinese investors in Thursday as part of our continued investment in American racing,” Teo said. “I think it is good we are able to bring people in here and then I will bring them to St. Lucia.”

Teo also has another new partner in town for the Keeneland September Sale in Kuldeep Singh Rajput of Gandharvi Racing. Rajput made his first venture into American bloodstock at the Saratoga Sale, buying several yearlings in partnership with China Horse Club. The pair have teamed up on seven colts so far at Keeneland, topped by a US$750,000 (AU$1.028 million) son of Quality Road (USA) (Hip 182).

“I picked up Kuldeep because when we were selling in Australia, I noticed there was a young man buying our colt from the first crop of Russian Revolution,” Teo said.

“I Googled him and found out he lived in Singapore, so I reached out and we met. What I like about him is he is intelligent, young and has vision.”

Two days' worth of Book 2 offerings will be sold Wednesday and Thursday with sessions starting at 11.00am local. Buyers and sellers will get a chance to catch their breath with a dark day Friday, followed by seven more days of selling through next Friday.

Keeneland September Sale
Quality Road
Stonestreet Stables
China Horse Club