BEHIND THE SCENES: OBSERVANT BID SPOTTERS ARE KEY TO KEENELAND SALES SUCCESS

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TUESDAY, SEPT. 12 -- FIRST SESSION OF BOOK 2

A bid spotter at Keeneland since 1979, E.C. Larkin Jr. is a fixture at the September Yearling Sale. Standing in the aisles near the sales ring in the Sales Pavilion, he and his colleagues are masters at accepting subtle signals from seated buyers and using a shout and a wave to relay the information to the auctioneer on the stand.

E.C., who is from San Antonio, Texas, is a highly regarded media specialist in the beef cattle industry and longtime publisher of Gulf Coast Cattleman magazine. He has strong roots in the auction business, belonging to a fraternity that sells just about anything – anywhere. In addition to animals, cars, real estate and equipment, E.C. has participated in a video-streamed cattle sale on a cruise ship and an impromptu necktie auction on a commercial airline flight. Through a connection made at a fine art auction, he landed the Keeneland job.

“Auctions are all different, but yet they are all the same because bid spotting is all about people,” E.C. said. “The product is quite a bit different, and at Keeneland the big difference is the big dollars and the people from all over the world and from all walks of life. It is a unique situation compared with anywhere else. Other (auctions) have good crowds, but nobody has the variety of buyers that Keeneland has.”

Each time a Thoroughbred enters Keeneland’s sales ring, five bid spotters are stationed throughout the theater-style seating area of the Sales Pavilion while two others accept bids “out back,” directly behind the auctioneers stand where prospective buyers are allowed to bid. Each bid spotter works shifts of one hour on and 30 minutes off.

Regardless of a yearling’s value, the Keeneland crew works diligently to entice the most from every bidder. Prices can leap in increments of $10,000 or more. When the action slows, E.C. and his peers scan the crowd for someone willing to up the ante.

“We work just as hard on a $10,000 horse as we do on a million-dollar horse,” E.C. said. “If we coax another $1,000 on a $10,000 horse, that is a 10 percent increase for the seller.”

Anecdotes abound about bidders’ coded movements such as crossed legs and the presence or absence of hats, but E.C. said most buyers use simple nods or shake their heads.

“You have to pay attention and be on your toes,” he said. “With so many different people, communication can be tough. It helps when you know the bidder.”

Therefore, E.C. recommends that people who buy at Keeneland introduce themselves to the spotters prior to bidding.

“Once someone bids, we stay focused on them and they can be more discreet after that,” he said. “But they need to make sure we know they want to bid. They shouldn’t wait for the last minute.”

If an unfamiliar person motions E.C., however, he accepts their bid as he would a regular customer, adding, “I learned a long time back that you can’t tell who has money by the way they look.”

E.C. looks forward to coming to Keeneland each September for the world’s most important Thoroughbred sale.

“To me the Keeneland September Sale is the real kickoff to the Thoroughbred sales season,” he said. “It sets the tone for the whole year. There is so much enthusiasm for the big crop of yearlings and Keeneland always has such good ones. It is a real exciting time.

“Keeneland is such a special and pretty place. It feels exciting to be in the horse business when you are there.”

Joining E.C. as Keeneland bid spotters are Mitch Armitage, Mike Baker, Steve “Bo” Black, Stanley Deupree, Jeff Fritsch, Mark Harman, Ty McClary, Pete McCormick, Ralph Means, Roger Spencer and Jeff Stansberry.

 
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