Photo Courtesy of Keeneland
With more than 3,600 horses to sift through over 11 sessions, finding the right horse at the Keeneland September yearling sale can be a daunting task.
The methods of approaching the sale by some of the industry's notable buyers are as varied as the horses they are trying to purchase.
Nick de Meric, one of the top buyers at last year's Keeneland September sale and a leading two-year-old consignor, said the short explanation of his game plan is careful organization and a very specific plan.
"If you wander into Keeneland September, as you sometimes see people do, and they leave their barns for a few days to come shop, it can be totally overwhelming," he said. "Especially as there is so much high quality around that actually separating them out and doing the legwork and having time to do the logistics, the vetting and whatever exams you want to do, it takes some organizational skills."
De Meric said he has a five-person team, including himself, that works the sales for his operation. Once they have looked at the horses in their first book, which is often Book 2, a pair of front-runners will begin scouting out upcoming sessions while de Meric and his wife, Jaqui, take another look at their short list horses, vet them out, and put values on them.
THE KEENELAND SEPTEMBER SALE DRAWS BUYERS FRM AROND THE WORLD
Photo Courtesy of Keeneland
Once the sale begins, the fifth member will be in the sale pavilion keeping note of the horses that do not meet their reserve and placing bids if de Meric cannot make back to the sale ring in time. If a horse on their list does not make its reserve, that person will alert de Meric by phone or text so he can quickly try to arrange a private sale.
"You lose too much time going back and forth to the ring sometimes, so you need someone who's based at the ring watching the RNAs and watching what's happening at the sale and is able to bid for you," de Meric said. "These days, communication is so sophisticated that between iPads and texting, and email and everything else, you're almost getting sale results in real time. Sometimes being quick off the mark with those buybacks can pay dividends."
Trainer Ken McPeek will buy for ten to 20 clients of various levels at a given September sale. Like de Meric, he has his own trusted group to attack the auction.
"I've had the same team for years - Dominic Brennan and Rory Callis," he said. "We work the sale together. We'll systematically go barn to barn and create short lists each day and email them to clients that request and have serious interest in buying. Then we proceed to handle vet work and all the logistics."
McPeek said he is not concerned by the accelerated schedule once the sale begins, saying his strategy will vary depending on what numbers are coming to the ring, his clients, and the general timing of the situation.
"We feel like we can go most of the next day's session in plenty of time from when they get them there," he said. "The early sessions are out there early and in the later sessions, you have less time, but we've been doing it for 20 years."
Some buyers will visit the farms of consignors and breeders prior to their arrival on the sales grounds to make some early inspections on the yearlings and track their progress as they mature. However, McPeek said he did not often do this.
"I wait until they come to the ring," he said. "I do get calls to go to the farm, but I don't tend to do that."
For Jerry Crawford of Donegal Racing, the selection process is part homework, part leg work, and part formula.
"I look at every page in the catalog and prepare an analysis of each horse that I think could work for our goals, and our goals are to win Triple Crown races and find horses that could become stallions."
Crawford places the horses that fit the profile into a series of algorithms to further analyze their prospects, then examines them with his team when they reach the sale grounds. After they take a first look at them, Crawford and trainer Dale Romans go over the short list horses one more time before the sale begins.
"It takes three full days from start to finish to consider one horse because of the staging of the different things we do," he said.
Joe Nevills is a Thoroughbred Times staff writer
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