The recent decision by the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. not to conduct a February select sale of 2-year-olds in training (or combine it with the March select auction, however you wish to word it) in 2011 didn't come as a surprise. The sale had been on the endangered list for a quite a while.
The catalogs had gotten smaller over time and when only 66 horses were sold earlier this year, it seemed like a lot of effort to conduct the auction when such a small number could be absorbed easily by the larger March sale, where the catalog has gotten stronger.
The February sale, where the best prospects were still selling well and stakes winners were continuing to be produced, created a difficult situation for consignors because of its early date. Everything had to go just right for a horse to be at its best. Maybe this had gotten more difficult as top-end pinhookers changed the type of prospect they bought. Fast, precocious horses used to dominate, but now many pinhookers are trying to target the horse that will be able to go two turns as a 2-year-old, and juveniles with more stamina in their blood usually are slower to develop.
In addition, because of the weak economy, pinhookers have cut back on their spending, providing fewer horses for the juvenile sales. While the market for 2-year-olds in 2010 stabilized and even rebounded modestly in some cases, there was nothing to suggest that pinhookers should shop bullishly in preparation for 2011's round of juvenile auctions. Most, so far, still are being pretty cautious.
The Jockey Club's projection that the 2011 foal crop will decline 10% is just one of many signs that the Thoroughbred industry is getting smaller. And the auction business also is following that trend. Sales will get shorter and have fewer horses. Some, like the OBS February sale, will be canceled, maybe never to return.
The people who might feel the loss of the OBS February sale more than you would think are the ones who run Fasig-Tipton. The February auction was a great warm-up before Fasig-Tipton's very fancy select sale at Calder. Buyers and consignors got a chance to test the market before the very best stock was offered in South Florida. Without the February auction to break the selling ice, shoppers could be more tentative and sellers could still be trying to figure out where their reserves should be, so the Calder sale could get off to a slower start.
The February sale gave me an opporuntity to get away from the Kentucky winter's icy blasts, so I will miss it. It also was a chance to see and buy some very good horses at the dawn of their careers.