Are Names an Advantage at Yearling Sales?

Most Thoroughbred breeders and consignors know there's a lot more going on in the sales ring than the best horse bringing the highest price. Conformation and catalog page usually combine to determine whether a horse goes in Book One or Book Six at the Keeneland September sale, for example, but lots of other factors are at play as well. Better-groomed horses outperform "diamonds in the rough." The same hip sold by an individual breeder will usually bring considerably less than if it were consigned by a top sales agency -- I guess that's the horsemen's corollary to "it's not what you know, it's who you know." Height, color, and whether or not the hip sports a full blaze or merely a star and stripe (yes, really) might not be as weighty in its final value as, say, his sire or female family -- but at least subconsciously those attributes do affect bidders.

A few years back I started looking at the results for "named" compared to "unnamed" foals offered at yearling sales. I've always been under the assumption that named foals are at a disadvantage in a Thoroughbred sale. In 2007, I noted that the Keeneland September sale that year actually favored named foals, with a much higher average ($121,966 vs. $91,970) and median ($50,000 vs. $40,000) than their unnamed counterparts. The RNA rate was a bit worse (25.4% vs. 22.2%) but those dollar figures seemed a pretty good reason to make a foal-naming application to The Jockey Club prior to the sale. That year, 8.0% of hips sold were named yearlings.

One year later, the results were even more lopsided.  With 7.3% of the sold yearlings named before the sale, their average ($166,589 vs. $88,322) and median ($62,000 vs. $37,000) were significantly better than unnamed yearlings', without a significant RNA rate difference (37.2% vs. 37.1%).

This year I'm going to compare the named foals' results by catalog position rather than across the whole sale. Is the skew due simply to a couple of high-end consignors entering pre-named horses?  With a sale that has a huge divide of quality from early to later sessions, it's necessary to compare like to like, so once the September sale is over I'll break down the numbers by book and post the results here.

Any predictions?  Will named foals from any given book outperform their unnamed counterparts, or will the naming certificate be a detriment?  When you've sold yearlings, have you sent them through the ring already named?  Or if you've purchased sales yearlings, were your bids influenced by named-vs-unnamed status?  (Did you even notice?)


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