Following the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. February select sale of 2-year-olds in training, OBS general manager and director of sales Tom Ventura warned not to look at the sales results and assume they will be the trends for the rest of the juvenile selling season. He did have a good point because only 154 horses were offered at the auction.
Unfortunately, the OBS sale, with its setbacks of 29.3% in gross, 33.7% in average price, and 28.0% in median price, may be as good as it gets in 2009 for juvenile auctions. In this latest downturn, the small, boutique sales seemed to have fared the best, including the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November select mixed auction and the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale.
The Fasig-Tipton Florida juvenile auction may have the best chance to do better than the OBS February sale. Fasig-Tipton officials are raising the bar on hospitality, and their efforts will include a tent-like structure on the backstretch where meals are served. Every time you see one of them, they stress that they are beating the bushes harder here and abroad than ever before in an effort to attract buyers. The buy-back rate could be lower because the OBS February sale gave consignors a chance to adjust to the new, tougher reality about the value of their horses. Buyers were in a bargain-hunting mood there, expecting big discounts, and they'll probably have the same sort of attitude at the Fasig-Tipton sale, which means the auction will probably struggle even though it traditionally offers horses of the highest quality in terms of pedigree and conformation.
The Barretts select juvenile sale has only 124 horses cataloged and, with outs, that total could fall below 100. Generally, a sale needs a larger group than that to attract a big group of buyers and to be successful. The OBS March select juvenile auction will have a large number of horses, over 500, and even though it's been one of the strongest sales in recent years, making sure demand exceeds supply will be difficult. The trends will be set pretty much in stone by the time the Keeneland sale, which is the last of the five major select auctions of 2-year-olds in training, rolls around, and it's not likely to buck them even though the size of its book will be limited.
All this is not a good omen for the yearling sales. Yearling-to-juvenile pinhookers buy many young horses, but more importantly, they bid on a lot more and that helps raise prices. If they can't make money early in 2009, they'll cut back on their purchases and will be looking for bargains harder than ever. And, as a result, without a huge improvement in the global economy, the yearling sales will probably experience further downturns after managed to escape the worst of the deteriorating economy in 2008.
I hope I'm wrong.
On a brighter note, the drops at OBS in February weren't as steep as they were for many of the recent mixed stock auctions. That may be a small comfort, but it is a comfort.