Horse Racing

Market ‘Really Hot’ but Keeneland Lure is Strong for Europeans

In this time of back-to-back yearling sales, the logistics for bloodstock agents and trainers may be one of the biggest concerns, but one thing that appears not to be a worry is the strength of the market. 

From America to Europe, the yearling season has started in bullish fashion. A proper staying pedigree is required to last to the end of Keeneland’s September Sale, which is now well into its second week, while at Fairyhouse, the Tattersalls Ireland September Sale is also in full swing. Plenty of breeze-up pinhookers have attempted the double, while some have remained in Kentucky in the hope of unearthing a bargain in the later books, no doubt mindful of the fact that Keeneland has generally been a happy hunting ground for a variety of buyers from the sector.

So far, Willie Browne, Tom Whitehead, Brendan Holland, Eddie O’Leary, Roger O’Callaghan, Katie Walsh, Roderick Kavanagh, Jim McCartan, Jerry Horan, and Matt Whyte are among the Irish breeze-up pinhookers to have appeared on the buyers’ sheets at Keeneland, as well as Mick Murphy of Longways Stables, who was working in tandem with agent Ted Durcan. 

“I was intending to stay to the end of Book 4 but we got wrapped up a little bit earlier so I came home sooner,” said Durcan after arriving back to Newmarket before packing his bags again for Ireland and next week’s Orby Sale at Goffs.

“I thought it was an extremely healthy market. It looked healthy at all levels and any nice horse was not being missed at all, which you’d expect, and that’s worldwide now,” he added of trade at Keeneland. 

“I helped Mick last year and he bought seven. This year he bought four nice horses, all to go breezing. Three colts by Quality Road ($150,000), American Pharoah ($225,000) and Speightstown ($90,000), and then he bought a very nice Blame filly ($85,000) as well.”

Last week it was announced that the Goffs Dubai Breeze-up Sale, which is held in conjunction with Dubai Racing Club just ahead of the World Cup meeting at Meydan, was being paused as it coincides with Ramadan in 2024. Introduced two years ago, it is a sale which has been populated predominantly by Irish pinhookers selling American-bred juveniles. 

Durcan continued, “There were a lot of people out there looking at horses with that sale in mind, but in fairness to everyone involved, the announcement came before any horses had been bought. It altered out numbers a bit. We ended up buying four but I think Mick and Sarah [O’Connell] would have ended up buying a few more for that sale, but we just scaled back.”

Durcan also teamed up with an old colleague from his days of riding for Sir Henry Cecil, the Kentucky-based Irishman David Lanigan, to buy a yearling for $750,000 for owner Scott Heider. They struck early on the opening day at Keeneland for lot 31, a filly by Nyquist whose half-brother Conclude (Collected) won the GII Del Mar Derby just ahead of the start of the sale.

“David does a lot of work for Scott and he asked me to help him just because trying to have everything viewed on your own is not easy,” Durcan said.

“There’s such a huge amount of horses that you can find value out there. It’s not easy and it’s hard work, but there definitely is value out there with the volume of horses being offered. The sale is run extremely well. Tony Lacy and his team run a very slick operation.”

Durcan expects to see plenty of reverse track, with American buyers likely to be out in force at the forthcoming sales at Goffs and Tattersalls over the next few weeks.

He said, “In recent years there’s been a big appetite for people in America looking for horses from over here, especially fillies to race on the grass. You only have to look at last week and the meeting at Kentucky Downs on turf. The money on offer there was absolutely phenomenal.”

He continued, “It’s a hectic few months and the sales just roll from one to the other. But it’s nice to see that, from the older horses in the July Sale, then onto the first yearling sale in France, the market just looks very healthy at all levels. With the amount of horses being sold to Australia, and the expansion in the Middle East, there is a huge demand for older horses as well as yearlings. 

“I haven’t been to a sale yet where I think the market is softening. If anything it’s the opposite.”

Nancy Sexton has long been a regular at the Keeneland September Sale in her role as the European representative for the Kentucky-based Schumer Bloodstock agency. Along with Chad Schumer, Sexton has worked closely with a number of breeze-up pinhookers in that time and she says that the participation from Europeans buyers is as high as ever, with the news about the absence of the Dubai breeze-up failing to dent enthusiasm.

“The news that Goffs wasn’t going to go ahead broke just as Book 2 was starting and that didn’t affect them at all because the market to sell to places like Saudi Arabia, Dubai, is so big now and you are looking for more of a dirt-bred horse for that. I didn’t see anybody pull back on investment. Looking at what’s coming home [to Ireland and Britain], I’d say numbers are on a par,” she said.

“A lot of people began in Book 1, but there seem to be more people here this year working the later books, having arrived in during Book 3 and working through to the end of Book 6.”

Sexton added, “We’ve seen how well these dirt horses do at the European breeze-ups if they hit, and that’s translating to the activity here. I also saw quite a few more trainers this year that I haven’t seen here before, like Ralph Beckett and Richard Hughes. 

“[The buying] is not just restricted to yearlings by the likes of Speightstown either; Roderick Kavanagh had a good result with Catalina Cruiser last year and Tom Whitehead with a World Of Trouble, and he gave $310,000 for a Maclean’s Music colt this time. They’re spending plenty and the horses are hard to buy. The market is really hot.”



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