Monday, September 10, 2012

Keeneland Dreams

After months of preparation, it all comes down to one moment in the auction ring for horses and consigners at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

But first, the horses had to go through grueling days of showing to potential buyers before getting their time in the ring.

The Keeneland catalog for Books 1 & 2.
Thursday started the organized chaos as the first horses shipped in. Throughout the day, trailers waited at the Versailles Road stoplight in front of Keeneland and the stabling loading docks had hooves on them for the first time in months. The day also saw Blue Grass Airport bustling as owners and trainers from around the world landed in Lexington to see the 3,000-plus yearlings in the sale.
Even though there were over 72 hours until the first horse stepped into the legendary auction ring in the Keeneland Sales Pavilion, Friday brought on the first busy day of the Fall Sale. Potential owners walked around in groups, talking in low voices whenever they looked at a horse of interest. The huge catalog holding pedigrees of two books worth of horses, 1,047 horses to be exact, was a staple for not just these buyers but also others that had come to see the blue blooded animals.

More people and horses were seen entering the grounds on Saturday, braving a rainy morning that soaked the Kentucky ground with much needed moisture. Horses were pulled out of their stalls for both new interests and those coming by for another look as buyers worked on cutting down their list to the few that caught their eye the most.

A buyer looks at a yearling in the Eaton Sales area.
Veterinarians carried around equipment to look at the internal workings of these young horses, making sure they have the ability to carry out the potential their pedigree and conformation suggests. Those same veterinarians would look at countless radiographs throughout the two weeks of the Sale to make sure their clients were bringing good investments home.

As the cards thinned out in the box and fewer horses were called for, hay was set in front of stalls for dinner and the rakes were pulled out to make the shed rows spotless for the next day. Like the shed rows, the walking rings wouldn’t betray that there were horses in the surrounding stalls by the time Sunday rolled around.

Unlike Saturday, the second day of the weekend would dawn sunny and pleasant for the last 36 hours of pre-auction viewing. Consigners and photographers alike were in a better mood as the lighting made their subjects look even more spectacular. By nine in the morning, the walking rings were full again with horses, people, and the occasional dog.
Familiar faces were a common sight both in the barns and in the center of the rings as all levels of horsemen looked for their next winner. Keeneland’s claim of selling five of the last six Triple Crown race winners, among other major races, ran through the minds of hopeful buyers and sellers with every yearling pulled out of its stall.

More yearlings arrived at their temporary home throughout the day, but not all would be shown upon arrival, with some barns closing their doors until the following day. Even without these animals coming out for buyers, the energy around the barns could be felt by all.

Hip No. 1
As the sun fell lower in the sky, movements became more hurried as buyers tried to fit just one more showing in on an already busy day. The hours before the auction on Monday would see more of the same before attention turned to the ring. Hip No. 1, a chestnut Irish-bred son of Danehill Dancer out of a stakes winning daughter of Gulch, would kick off the sale. He would bring a winning bid of $250,000 and kick start the dreams of his buyer, obviously hoping the colt will be racing’s next big thing.
Over the next two weeks of the Sale, thousands of horses will parade in front of buyers in the barn area before going to the highest bidder in the Pavilion. There’s no doubt that at least a few of these horses will catch lightning in a bottle and become the next generation of high profile stakes races.

For the last year, they have lived with the question of how much money they will bring in the ring. But with the fall of the gavel, the question now becomes what the horse will do on the track, if they even make it that far.

But like every question in their life, this new one will take hours of hard work and a bottle of talent to find an answer.

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