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  • Writer's pictureG. Huddleston

Keeneland Sale Visit| September 2016

From a humble beginning in 1943, when a few young horses were auctioned under a tent, Keeneland's annual Yearling Sale has grown to become the nation's largest and most prestigious offering of juvenile racehorses in the nation.

Inside the Keeneland Sales Pavilion

Members of the Agribusiness Industry Network were afforded the opportunity to see one of the 13 sale days of this year's event, and given a guided tour of the auction arena, the staging ring and the barns.

The Sept. 21 visit to the historic track came on the ninth day of the sale, during which buyers paid from as little as $3,000 to as much as $3 million for horses that won't celebrate their first birthday until Jan. 1.

Chuck Haworth, tour consultant, emphasized the welcoming and relaxed atmosphere at the sale, noting that wealthy breeders and horsemen mingle freely with stablehands, van drivers and first-time bidders during the fast-paced sale days.

But the participants' laid-back demeanor doesn't diminish the importance of the transactions as sellers and buyers alike strive to make the most of their opportunities for progress in the business and a favorable bottom line.

Keeneland's track record in attracting the best quality yearlings is solid, boasting 61 winners of Triple Crown races, including 20 Kentucky Derbys, as well as 95 first-place finishers in the 31-year history of the Breeders Cup.

Haworth says Keeneland's recruitment process for the best of each yearling crop begins in the early spring, when solicitors contact breeders from around the country to invite them to offer their most promising new stock in that year's sales book.

After the booking process, breeders can then spend months prepping their prize yearlings to "put their best foot forward" in the sales ring.

"The youngsters have to be taught to stand quietly, their hooves tended and they're given frequent vet checks," Haworth said. "And they're only turned out to pasture at night to make sure their coat stays dark and rich in color."

Once Keeneland publishes its sale book buyers then begin examining closely the year's crop of prospects, looking for that perfect combination of bloodline, conformation and personality that defines champion racehorses.

In most cases the best prospects fetch the best prices, Haworth noted. But occasionally a sharp-eyed purchaser can walk away with a bargain. The 2012 Derby winner I'll Have Another was a prime example, selling for the relative bargain price of $35,000 two years earlier at Keeneland.

Harold Workman, who made the arrangements for the AIN visit, said the group was fortunate to have Haworth lead the day's activities.

"Chuck has a world of knowledge about Kentucky's horse industry, the farms, the horses and Keeneland," he said. "The thoroughbred industry has been a major force for Kentucky down through history, and we were given a revealing, close-up look at one of its most important events."

Gary Huddleston | AIN Chairman

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