Revelations of the Catalog Page, Part II -- The Thoroughbred Industry's Techno Failure

The Five-Cross Files has been around for a year now, making this the perfect time to take things full-circle.  We started out by exploring the pages of a sales catalog for "revelations" (Revelations of the Catalog Page, part I) -- and it seems appropriate to have "part II" of that discussion today.

I'd originally planned a few observations about sire blurbs and consignor information as data fields that are included on the catalog page, with ideas on how to do a little more research on the information revealed in these sections.

The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that Thoroughbred sales catalogs are not as revealing as they should be. And that's a subject truly worthy of discussion.  (Especially since I promised yesterday to rant about horse racing problems.)  I believe that Thoroughbred auction books are indicative of a negative trend in our industry -- an overall reluctance to allow the sport to join the 21st century.

I refer to a common sight at the sales:  prominent bloodstock advisors and trainers carrying copies of the catalog that are dogeared, bookmarked, folded over, highlighted -- and annotated, denotated, and any other form of notated.  Why aren't our industry experts carrying clean copies of the sales catalog? 

Because the sales catalog, as a rule, is incomplete.  Smart investors for years have used the catalog only as a notebook.  They add to it their crib sheet information from Auction Edge and from myriad reports purchased from and BRIS.  They use old catalogs to fill in the gaps in their new catalogs. They "have a system."  That system was truly an inspiration back in the 1920s and '30s. Perhaps even not bad in the '70s and '80s. For the past 20 years, though, such an antiquated approach has held the industry back from innovation and renovation and growth.

A few months back, I referred to the future of electronic catalogs.  Many of the comments were what I expected:  Oh, no -- I love my printed catalog. They should never change!

Folks, get ready for it.  Please don't get caught up in arguments about "Tradition" and "That's the way we've always done it." 

Look at any lucrative professional sport out there and what do you see?  A business that embraces technological innovation.  Look at horse racing and what do you see?  A shrinking audience, a dissocation from relevance in modern culture, ... and an abhorrence of technology.

I'm in a business that has a love affair with the printed word.  Publishers across America and around the world fall into one of three categories these days: 

  1. those that will adapt to new technologies (and live to conquer new worlds),
  2. those that won't (and won't), and
  3. a few that will carry on as anachronisms, fun reminders of how things used to be, never quite dying but never able to expand beyond a quaint little niche.

Horse racing relies far too much on outside investment to become one of the third category. The remaining choices are the ones we face today -- and the sales catalog is a visible benchmark of our distinct lack of progress to date.

Honestly, I don't understand the reluctance. Digital information is not just different, it's clearly and unarguably better

Most catalogs reproduce only three generations of the sale horse's pedigree.  Three! That's like reading the last three chapters of a classic book -- there might be enough to enjoy it, but you won't have a full understanding of how the plot (or the pedigree) developed over time, and you'll therefore never see the overall beauty of what's before you.

And it's not just about the appreciation of a full pedigree. Electronic data provides practicality.

Indices in a printed catalog allow you -- at best -- to search by sire, dam, or damsire. That's old-school thinking. Why not search by female family, to find every hip from the La Troienne line?  Why not search for all examples of Turn-to in tail-male, whether Turn-to is the grandsire or seventh sire or anywhere in between?  Why not be able to locate all horses at a sale that are inbred to the full brothers Graustark and His Majesty, or who have a Rasmussen Factor to Almahmoud?  In print, it can't be done -- pages cost money, and it's impossible to address every query.  In digital format, it's as easy as clicking a few buttons.

And what about the carried foal at breeding stock sales?  Why not show a pedigree box for the foal you're purchasing?  "It doesn't fit cleanly on a catalog page" is true for print catalogs -- but that doesn't make it a good answer in 2009.

Oh, you say, there's more to evaluating a sale horse than simple text on a page.  No one should buy a horse without a close physical inspection


Indeed, that's true. But wouldn't it be useful to have a "visual" right in the catalog?  And not just one conformation shot, but several, from all angles?  And perhaps even a video of the horse walking?  And why not have the full radioscopes included in the catalog?  And nicking information?  And work times for siblings or previous progeny?  And data from other reports, synced up right on the catalog page?

Why?  Cost, that's why.  No, it's not the data that's expensive.  Photos and video aren't outrageous expenditures. There's no huge investment required for the information. The problem is printing and distributing a catalog on paper. 

I've used the Kindle reading device enough to be excited about its possibilities for Thoroughbred sales.  No complaints about battery life (is two weeks of use enough for you doubters?) or weight (less than a single sales catalog) or memory (view the current sale, plus every other sale conducted ever in recorded history, without beginning to reach storage capacity) or customizability (keep notes right on the catalog page -- and integrate every other report you have for the subject horse)

Imagine Fasig-Tipton, for its July Selected Yearlings Sale, sending out a Kindle to its top 500 buyers -- pre-loaded with the current sales catalog, and automatically updated with catalog changes as soon as they happen (no need to do anything, the Kindle does it for you).  Oh, and it will automatically download the next catalog as soon as it's released.  With your options and customizations already incorporated.  It's never out of date.

Pretty cool, even for those of us who like the paper catalog.  But essential to attract tech-savvy new owners in the next decade.

Look -- making the sales catalog into a digital product wouldn't -- by itself -- cure the woes of the industry.  But it would be a step in the right direction. 

Make no mistake:  fantasy football and golf-stats PDA updates and online gaming are not fads.  Sports that adapt are sports that survive.  If Thoroughbred racing has any shot of appealing to a new generation, it must embrace the technology available today and make the sport relevant to today's world, while still retaining the charm of a long and storied history.

So here are your marching orders find some way that technology is being used in Thoroughbred breeding or racing, and learn more about it

  • Watch one of the auctions on streaming video (it's available right on the home pages of most sales company Web sites). 
  • Play around with the Pedigree Online database
  • Figure out why Trakus technology should be part of horse racing, not just NASCAR. 
  • Sign up for a Webinar or take a free Horse Course on 
  • Or share your ideas about incorporating technology to make the sport better.

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