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Keeneland Sales Ring

I am supremely fond of attending Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale, as if visiting the Keeneland Race Course during the off-season is to return home to enjoy a relaxing visit with family and friends. 

Keeneland generously shares itself with tens of thousands of people who converge at the picturesque Lexington racecourse during the months of April and October to witness high quality horse racing.  But it is in the homestretch of the summer months that one gets to appreciate the elegant splendor of this historic racing landmark. 

At this time of year, over 3,600 auspicious yearlings fill Keeneland’s shedrows. These yearlings represent a monumental effort made by many dedicated people.  Many future stars of the track begin their journey in the hands of breeders and consignors long before we see the finished athlete in the post parade.  Riding at the tip of the sword in this extremely competitive sales industry is Taylor Made Sales Agency located in Nicholasville, Kentucky.

An American Legacy

As written in Taylor Made literature: “Lessons learned from their father, legendary horseman Joe Taylor, that honesty, hard work, superior horsemanship, quality horses and quality people are the keys to long-term success.”  It is not unusual to hear these sentiments echoing throughout the industry when speaking of Taylor Made. “I think Taylor Made revolutionized the high standards, and they are a major pioneer in the sport,” said well-known trainer, Dale Romans, who recently formed his own sales agency, Romans Racing and Sales.

Staying true to their upbringing, the Taylor brothers’ laser-like focus on the pursuit of assisting customers towards success in the horse racing industry has established Taylor Made as the pacemaker in the Thoroughbred sales industry, with this year’s sales already totaling over $5 million.

Seizing an Opportunity

At the dawn of major syndications in the 1970’s, new investors were purchasing broodmares to support the stallions in which they owned shares. As a result, stabling and pasture space began to run scarce at the major breeding farms. Joe Taylor’s oldest son, Duncan, saw the opportunity to board overflow mares booked to Gainesway stallions on a small farm owned by his father, who held the position of stallion manager at Gainesway.

At nineteen years old, Duncan Taylor, with his younger brothers, Ben, Frank and Mark, joining the business, began expanding the boarding farm to include services to prepare the boarded mares’ foals for public auction. Taylor Made originally sold a mere three horses in their first ever consignment. The sales agency quickly became popular, selling three horses for one million dollars in its first five years and eventually selling approximately $1.7 billion worth of horses since its first consignment in 1976.

The Stallion Division


At Taylor Made: Eskendereya walking to his barn, while Unbridled’s Song waits in the aisle of his barn 

In 1997, they opened their doors for stallions by welcoming Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Unbridled’s Song as the first to stand as a Taylor Made stud. Their stallion division would be the eventual home of top racehorses such as Artax, Saint Ballado, and Real Quiet.

Currently standing is Unbridled’s Song, who sired the largest amount of horses in Book One of last year’s Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Taylor Made is home to other top sires such as Forestry, whose leading money earner this year is the 2011 Preakness Stakes (GI) winner, Shackelford.  Up and coming studs at Taylor Made are Old Fashioned, the sire of the highest priced yearling by any first-year sire of 2012, and Eskendereya – a promising young stallion with his first crop preparing to go through the auction ring as weanlings at the end of this year.

Old Fashioned

Old Fashioned, April 2012

Preparation Yields Prosperity

Taylor Made has perfected the process of presenting a racing hopeful in the sales ring to an art form.  Each yearling represents the final stage of a costly two-year endeavor – an investment undertaken with a thorough and thoughtful approach that leaves no stone unturned. Year One opens with the process of pedigree analysis, proceeding into breeding, eleven months of mare care, and foaling. Year Two then progresses into the stage of foal care: weaning, nurturing and handling. Every detail is managed with precision - meticulous nutrition and hoof care; constant assessment of a youngster’s progress, which is shared with the owner.   

Stormy Frolic

Old Fashioned – Stormy Frolic; This yearling filly will be offered by Taylor Made at in the 2012 September Yearling Sale  

Photo credit Laura Donnell/Taylor Made  

Harvest to Market

The precious yearlings must leave the farm in their annual pilgrimage to Keeneland. As their dedicated handlers and caretakers watch their departure, I’m sure bittersweet feelings of pride and sorrow mix in their hearts as they bid them farewell. 

Just a few days before the sale, the stage is set, everyone is on their marks and the Taylor Made sales team operates in high gear.   Everything that has been done over the past two years now culminates in the tremendous organization and commitment by all to present over 300 yearlings to prospective buyers and agents over a two week period.


The scene at the Taylor Made consignment’s shedrow

“Welcome to Taylor-Madonia!”

The distinctly decorated Taylor Made shedrows are constantly attended.  However, what separates Taylor Made from every other consignor is the uniformly dressed “Taylor-Madonians”.  Upon experiencing this firsthand, I can declare the Taylor Made associate raking the gravel pathway, walking the yearling or orchestrating the whole show treats every guest with genuine friendliness, helpfulness and the utmost professionalism. 

After being warmly greeted and graciously shown the yearlings of your liking, it’s not unusual to see yummy sustenance being doled out to the weary “sale-a-thoners” from the Taylor Made Ice Cream Cart (my personal favorite!) or the popcorn wagon, or those famous Taylor Made cookies!  Find a seat on one of the many park benches while you replenish and take a glance at a few more beauties.  Maybe an unexpected surprise will catch your eye!

Frank 1

Frank Taylor and Bunny Hinzman at the Taylor Made consignment shedrow

As a fan of the Thoroughbred, I feel an intense interest not only in the sport of racing but the breeding that goes hand-in-hand with it. Pedigrees have been for me a map of faraway lands, of infinite possibilities to be explored. Attending auctions, or watching them online, is an experience that brings these pedigrees to life.

With my wallet splitting open with monopoly money, I always pick out a few yearlings from each sale for myself!  When I was 11 years old, I discovered internet access to the sales catalogs and the livestream that allows me a front-row seat at the sale itself.  I instantly became fascinated by these precocious yearlings and began keeping a “stable”, waiting for their development and progress into their racing career as if they were my own.  One of my favorite and earliest sales pick was a beautiful, chestnut Giant’s Causeway colt – Eskendereya. I forked over $250,000 big ones for him!

Currently, my stable includes a Taylor Made-consigned Tapit filly from the 2011 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.  This filly, She’s a Pieceawork, did not meet her reserve of $375,000. She posted her second bullet on Saratoga’s dirt training oval in her most recent work on September 1.  Going four furlongs in :48.66, She’s a Pieceawork was the fastest out of fourteen that morning.

Bluegrass Bunny

She’s a Pieceawork as a yearling at the Taylor Made consignment, 2011 Keeneland September Yearling Sale

It’s Showtime!

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Not unlike racing, the immense effort put forth by so many comes down to a few fleeting moments.  Taylor Made’s V.P. of Marketing and Public Sales, Mark Taylor stated, “When I see a Taylor Made yearling heading to the ring the dominant feeling I have is concern. I just want to make sure that the two years of work for our customer gets the best possible representation by our Team.”

The yearlings are at top form when they begin their laps in the walking area prior to entering the sales ring.  Here they cross the threshold, stepping forward from behind the curtain out onto the stage. Immediately, there is a change in atmosphere – an electricity in the air everyone can feel. The horses themselves light up. Feeling the palpable excitement, they respond instantaneously, strutting and flexing for all to admire. As I watch centuries of bloodlines pass before my eyes, I quickly realize it is a strong possibility I am a witness to future stakes winners – maybe even the next Triple Crown champion! 


Passing through the door to the sales ring becomes a defining moment for many – questions abound as fate waits to be done.  The breeder/owner may reflect, ‘Did we breed the right horses?’

Meanwhile, the consigner looks on, ‘Did we do enough to prepare and promote this prospect?’

Ultimately, the buyer ponders the critical question: ‘Am I buying the right horse?’

Just a few minutes in the sales ring, the gavel slams down, “SOLD!” 

With this one word, the yearling is ushered out the door, unknowingly set to embark on a new journey bearing the hopes and dreams of all who surround him.

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Some Keeneland September Yearling Sale Graduates and Their Career Earnings

                             Sale Price          Earnings

Animal Kingdom       $100,000         $1,967,500

Bodemeister            $260,000       $1,304,800

Canonero II                $1,200            $360,933

Curlin                       $57,000       $10,501,800

Havre de Grace        $380,000        $2,586,175

I’ll Have Another        $11,000        $2,629,600

Kauai Katie                $90,000           $168,000

Paynter                    $325,000           $952,224

Zenyatta                    $60,000        $7,304,580

The 2008 thru 2010 Sale Toppers…drum roll please…!

2008 – Chimayo       $3,100,000           $35,500

2009 – In Step         $1,000,000        $123,110

2010 – Mr. Besilu      $4,200,000            unraced




Image Description

Bunny Hinzman

Bunny Hinzman is a journalist for International Racehorse Magazine.  
Her work has appeared in Illinois Racing News Magazine and Keeneland Magazine.  She also authors Bits N' Bunny, covering various aspects of Thoroughbred horse racing.  Bunny's article, "The Lasix Legacy", received a final nomination and Honorable Mention from Team Valor International's 2012 Stanley Bergstein Award.

Image Description

Bunny Hinzman

Bunny Hinzman is a journalist for International Racehorse Magazine.  
Her work has appeared in Illinois Racing News Magazine and Keeneland Magazine.  She also authors Bits N' Bunny, covering various aspects of Thoroughbred horse racing.  Bunny's article, "The Lasix Legacy", received a final nomination and Honorable Mention from Team Valor International's 2012 Stanley Bergstein Award.

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