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Monday, September 10, 2012
Welcome fall

By Amanda Duckworth
Special to ESPN.com

Saying goodbye to summer is never easy, but last week I discovered for myself an excellent way to do so. It is something most race fans already know: go to Saratoga.

Given that I have been in my line of work for a number of years now, the fact I had never set foot on the grounds of one of this country's most historic racetracks had become a bit of a dirty little secret. Most people assumed I had, and it was always awkward to confess the truth.

I can happily join the multitudes that love the Spa. It is charming, it is welcoming and it is undeniably beautiful.

In my defense, when I worked for a trade publication, I was far too low on the totem pole to be assigned such a coveted trip. In the years since, something always just seemed to come up that prevented me from going.

Now that this oversight has been corrected, I can happily join the multitudes that love the Spa. It is charming, it is welcoming and it is undeniably beautiful.

While taking in Saratoga, one of the things that struck me the most was seeing a sign in the paddock advertising for the Keeneland September yearling sale, which will take place this week and next week.

So many people try to argue which of the tracks is better, so I guess I wasn't expecting camaraderie between the two. In hindsight, that is a bit silly. If racing is to survive, places like Saratoga and Keeneland have to have a mutual respect for each other, and it was nice to see.

Besides, trying to determine which is a better racetrack is like debating Man o' War and Secretariat. The fact they are great is accepted, but which is greater is purely subjective.

Keeneland has been my home track for a decade, and it is no secret that I love it. However, that in no way means I can't appreciate everything Saratoga has to offer. For one thing, it is bigger. Anyone who has been to Keeneland on a 30,000+ day will understand why that was a nice difference.

But at the end of the day they are both places Thoroughbred racing is and should be proud of. It would be a major blow if anything ever happened to either venue.

As a person who likes to mark the passage of time with events, I think ending my summer at Saratoga may have to be a new tradition. It would dovetail nicely into the aforementioned Keeneland sale, which already holds a place in my mental calendar as the start of fall.

I have written about experiencing the Keeneland September sale in the past. It is a show unto itself. Big name buyers dropping eye-popping sums of money on horses that have never set foot on a racetrack always draw headlines.

However, the sale extends beyond just the seven-figure horses, and I am not sure how many people realize the long reaching impact this particular sale has on racing. Breeders had to decide two years ago what pedigrees they wanted to have on offer this fall. In a game that is as fickle as horse racing, you never know how the cookie will crumble.

For instance, I doubt many saw the sale of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker coming, but the very popular stallion is now in Japan. If you have a yearling by him, people will be looking. But it works the other way too. A stallion's popularity can fall just as fast as it rises.

The Keeneland September sale is the largest in the world of its kind, and what happens there during these next two weeks will help determine what horses you see on the race track for years to come.

The Keeneland September sale is the largest in the world of its kind, and what happens there during these next two weeks will help determine what horses you see on the race track for years to come.

Directly, who buys a horse plays a major role in its future. Where will the horse be based? Will he or she be in a program that wants 2-year-old runners? Will they even stay in the country?

Case in point, while in Saratoga I watched Shanghai Bobby take the Grade 2 Hopeful Stakes. Last year, he sold to Starlight Racing for $105,000 during the Keeneland September sale. Although I don't specifically remember him being sold at the marathon auction, odds are I was on hand when he did. If he had sold to a different operation, he may have never been in Saratoga for me to see.

Racing is also impacted indirectly by the sale in a multitude of ways. This sale is very important financially, especially for commercial breeders. Furthermore, the popularity of a stallion's offspring in the sale ring will play a part in his popularity with the ladies come next spring.

Combined, these two aspects impact budgets for next year, which in turn plays a part in mating decisions. Of course foals resulting from those decisions won't even be born until 2014.

Then maybe, just maybe, in 2016 and beyond, I will get to see a few of them strut their stuff at Saratoga. It all makes your head spin a little bit, doesn't it?

Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Among her other duties, she is an editor for Gallop Magazine. Write to her at amanda.duckworth@ymail.com.