The select portion of the 2-year-old selling season ended April 11 at Keeneland. Here's a look at the good and the bad:
- 1. Fasig-Tipton's move to Palm Meadows. Nearly everybody was happy with the Florida select auction's new home, agreeing that the barn area and track were superior to the facilities at the sale's former site Calder Casino & Race Course. Consignor Nick de Meric said he enjoyed "the lack of the feral cats and pigeons, not to mention the rats and the roaches." The few complaints were minor and Fasig-Tipton officials, who did a good job of making the transition smoothly, already have ideas about how to make things better. Yes, Lincoln Collins, there will be coffee in the sale barn area in 2012.
- 2. The Barretts rebound. Because of its location in Southern California, Barretts has struggled during the economic downturn to attract consignors, who don't want to deal with extra expenses involved in making a trip from Florida to the West Coast. But they might give Barretts more serious consideration next year based on March auction's most recent results The average price and median price rose 111% and 16.7%, respectively from 2010, and the sale attracted a diverse mix of buyers from Japan and the East Coast. The buy-back rate was only 23.6%.
- 3. The move to consolidate. The Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. decided to conduct only one select auction this year, keeping the March sale and canceling the February auction. The February sale was losing favor with consignors, who wanted more time to get their horses ready. OBS management also knew pinhookers would have fewer select horses overall to offer in 2011 because of economic setbacks domestically and within the Thoroughbred industry. Buyers liked the idea of one OBS select sale because it meant there would be one less trip they had to make. Based on the results of the March auction, the decision to consolidate was the right one. The market stabilized, with the median remaining the same as it was in 2010 for the February and March sales combined and the average staying about the same.
- 4. OBS March sale's second wind. The auction started off slowly, but caught fire on its second day with four horses selling for $400,000 or more apiece compared to one during the opening session. The median rose to $86,000 from $57,000.
- 5. Kentucky Derby fever. The lure of the first Saturday in May is a powerful motivator for buying select 2-year-olds based on comments from buyers. The desire for a Run for the Roses winner was a factor in Danny Dion of Bear Stables becoming the biggest spender at the Keeneland sale, according to trainer Reade Baker. It also was the reason why Robert and Lawana Low ranked among the leading buyers at the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale, according to their representative, Suzanne Smallwood of EQUIX Biomechanics. Mike Repole, who has two Triple Crown candidates in champion Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty, was active at the OBS March auction.
- 6. The Claiborne surge. Stallions at the historic Kentucky nursery had a strong presence on the select sales' top-priced horses lists. A colt by Flatter topped the OBS March auction, bringing $925,000. Colts by War Front were ranked second and third at Keeneland, bringing $485,000 and $625,000.
- 1. The Fasig-Tipton Florida sale's extremely polarized market. With a buy-back rate of 43.4% , a high number of scratches, and a $1.35 million sale topper, it truly was a feast or famine situation. The auction is the Tiffany & Co. of the select sales, but it needs to attract a broader base of buyers to find new homes for horses that don't rank among the very best but are still solid racing prospects.
- 2. The price ceiling. $500,000 is the new the $1 million. It's great for buyers that they can get top horses for less money, so this could be categorized with the "good" developments. But for pinhookers, the returns on their very best stock no longer are enough to absorb the losses they take on their other less appealing horses. Only one select 2-year-old was sold for a seven-figure price in 2010. That means many pinhookers will be spending less money and buying fewer horses, which will give buyers fewer choices. At least one prominent shopper complained about the low number of top quality offerings this year.
- 3. The loss of Empire Maker. His offspring were very popular at select 2-year-old auctions. A daughter was the only seven-figure select 2-year-old sold and a colt brought $750,000. But Empire Maker now is in Japan, so access to his blood will be limited in the future, which of course, helped heighten his offspring's appeal.