It began as a morning filled with uncertainty. It ended as a day of disbelief.
Consignors and buyers alike were left shaking their heads and checking their stopwatches yesterday afternoon as several horses ripped off otherworldly times over the Keeneland surface during the first of two under-tack preview shows for next week's 2-year-olds-in-training sale.
The Keeneland sale, which is scheduled for April 17, is under heightened scrutiny this year because it's the first juvenile auction to use a Polytrack surface for its under-tack shows.
Although many observers were bracing for the possibility of slower-than-usual times, just the opposite occurred.
Nine youngsters worked an eighth of a mile in a blistering 94/5 seconds -- the same time The Green Monkey worked when he sold for a world-record $16 million at the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Calder 2-year-old sale. And a bay filly by Mineshaft dropped everyone's jaw when she covered the distance in 93/5 seconds.
Add to that a pair of juveniles who breezed a quarter mile in a sizzling 201/5 seconds. Suddenly, the question on everyone's mind was whether these efforts were the product of super horses or a souped-up track.
"Oh no, it's the track," laughed consignor Becky Thomas, owner of Sequel Bloodstock. "I don't have a horse in here that is a fast horse. Not one. And my first horse went in 10 flat.
"I have nice horses, but I don't have a 94/5 horse or a 10-flat horse. But they are today."
While few people had expected the mind-boggling times that lit up the tote board yesterday, there was ample evidence the Keeneland track was primed for some extraordinary performances.
The 7-furlong Lafayette Stakes was won in a track-record time of 1:21.05 Saturday, while a 41/2-furlong 2-year-old race for fillies earlier on the same card was won in 51.04.
"I don't think anyone really knows the answer ... but the cool weather tends to tighten the track up a bit," said Rogers Beasley, director of racing for Keeneland. "The number one thing is the track is safe. We think it's extremely safe. The times are fast, but you're seeing more and more of that in 2-year-olds sales. And the track is in perfect shape."
With so many exceptional times being thrown down yesterday, buyers are faced with the quandary of how to distinguish the truly special horse from the one who benefitted from an ideal surface.
"How they look is going to matter more than anything," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "If they don't stand up there and look like you want them to look, (the times) won't matter."
A second under-tack preview show is scheduled at Keeneland on Monday.