LQHBA Insider - By Martha Claussen July  25, 2024


On August 7, the 39th annual LQHBA Yearling Sale will get underway. With every sale, there are several certainties. As 599 potential racing stars enter the sale ring, there will be the high and low sale prices, some thrilled and a few disappointed consignors and a roomful of horsemen with hopes and dreams. Orchestrating the action over two days, will be the melodic voice of one of the legendary auctioneers in North America, Keith Babb.

The Role of an Auctioneer

Have you ever listened to a track announcer call a race and wonder if you could do it? Turn off your television one day and record "your live call" and play it back. Chances are you will quickly erase that and NEVER attempt it again! The same holds true for auctioning a horse at a yearling sale. Do you think it is all about fast talking and a resounding strike of the gavel? So much more goes into the job, but Babb has a way of making it look easy!

There are the horses that pass through the sale ring. Babb will have studied the catalog so he has an idea of where to start the bidding on each. Not too high and certainly not too low. There are many interested parties in each transaction: the consignor, the breeder, the buyer and the hundreds of sale attendees looking ahead to another hip number.

While the high dollar horse might be easier to sell, Babb understands that each prospect deserves an opportunity.

"I try to give every horse their time in the ring," said Babb. "Many of the buyers have already marked their catalogs, but sometimes a horse will enter the ring all spit and shined and catch the eye of a buyer."

Babb relies on his team, which will include Brian Rigby and Justin Holmburg as well as spotters. These experienced men have the tough task of keeping up with the buyers and making sure Babb is aware of each raise.

"With 599 head going through the ring over two days, we will have to move at a pretty fast clip," said Babb. "Selling 32 to 33 an hour is pushing it, but if you don't think seconds count, look at Nascar."

Career Accomplishments

Babb embarked upon a full time career as an auctioneer in 1971. He has honed his craft for over 40 years, and estimates he has sold more than 50,000 horses in auctions in Louisiana, California, New Mexico and California.

"You have to be on your toes," he admitted. "There is big money involved."

Babb has sold several of the legendary horses in American Quarter Horse racing, most notably First Down Dash and Mr Jess Perry.

"Mr Jess Perry had an illustrious career," stated Babb. " A true horsemen I admired greatly was the late Lee Berwick. He knew that Mr Jess Perry was capable of producing champions in every category."

In 1982, he sold Queen For Cash for a record $1.125 million. It took three decades to surpass that mark, but in 2013, Babb proceeded over the sale of Tempting Dash, who went for $1.7 million.

"We knew Tempting Dash (who was sold in absentia at Heritage Place) was going to be in demand," recalled Babb. "It was a very spirited auction that came down to two bidders."

Babb follows racing closely and was pleased to see Kiss My Hocks, a son of Tempting Dash, honored as AQHA 2-year-old champion on January 21.

In 2004, Babb was inducted into the National Auctioneers Association Hall of Fame. The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Racing Council honored him with the "Special Recognition Award" for excellence in the equine sale arena.

Highly Regarded by Horsemen

Florida businessman and rancher, Steve Holland, will attend this year's LQHBA Yearling Sale and hopes to replicate his good fortune from the 2012 event. He and Bill McIntosh purchased Ol Time Preacher Man for $20,000. The son of Heza Fast Dash out of the Streakin La Jolla mare Jj Streakin Illusion was bred in Louisiana by Jo Baya Foreman. Trained by Kenneth Roberts, Sr., he proved his mettle one year later in the $1 million LQHBA Breeders' Futurity, picking up a check for $445,000.

"I think Keith is a topnotch auctioneer," stated Holland. "He has a very sharp eye and I can remember me nodding my head and Keith pointing to me in the bidding. I'm hoping to find another good one at this year's sale."

Lyle Guillory, who is a noted Louisiana breeder and LQHBA board member, has the highest regard for Babb.

"He's definitely one of the best," said Guillory. "Not only does he have an amazing voice, his knowledge of both breeding and racing is unsurpassed. It's easy to see why he is so in demand."

Money on the Line

While the horses are the star attraction at the LQHBA Yearling Sale, each transaction is vital to the seller and the horse's breeder. The overall numbers become public record and of great importance to the association's board of directors and membership.

"The growth of our sale is something that we as an association are extremely proud of," said Tony Patterson. LQHBA executive director. "There are countless details in planning, preparing and hosting our sale, and our goal is to make it better each year. However, we never have to sweat the role that Keith plays as he is a true professional!"

Babb and his wife, Carolyn, reside in Monroe, Louisiana. He admits he has pondered retirement, but the 71-year-old truly loves his calling, especially holding court in his home state.

"I have a love for horses and have forged wonderful friendships through the years," stated Babb. "It has been a pleasure seeing the quality of the Louisiana stallions improve; it is one of the best programs in the country."

But maybe more than the fast pace and outstanding horses that will parade in front of him, there is something else that continues to intrigue the noted auctioneer.

"The 'Cinderella stories' are what keep so many people coming back," acknowledges Babb. "What could be greater than a $2,500 purchase with the potential of returning a half million dollars?"

Keith Babb Photo Courtesy Speedhorse Magazine

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The LQHBA Insider is a monthly feature written by Martha Claussen for www.lqhba.com. She served as publicity director at Sam Houston Race Park for ten years. She continues to be active in writing, fan education and Quarter Horse racing publicity in Texas, Louisiana and other regions in North America.