Classics for Sale - by Evan Hammonds

(Originally published in the July 7, 2012 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Evan Hammonds - @BH_EHammonds on Twitter

By Evan Hammonds As we flip the calendar to July, the cycle of the Thoroughbred industry turns over and the gears shift into sales mode. The Fasig-Tipton Kentucky auction July 10 is the annual kickoff and usually sets the tone for the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale and the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s August sale. Keeneland’s September sale is the big kahuna, where more than 10% of the North American yearling crop annually makes its way through the ring in Lexington.

“Brutal” may be too kind a word to describe what breeders and consignors have been through the last several years in a marketplace oversaturated with supply and stripped of demand by global economic uncertainty.

For those of us who have made it this far, welcome to perhaps better days ahead.

The foal crop has been drastically reduced, which has helped bring supply in line, and demand would appear to be up based on double-digit advancements in gross and average in 2011 (from ’10) and strong results from this year’s 2-year-olds in training market. A question heading into this year’s sales will be demand; more specifically, will there be any new buyers?

The biggest driver of the yearling market is the pinhooker, who combs through each catalog and barn looking for prospects that can be developed and sold next year. Pinhookers have taken a beating over the last few years as well. However, the strength in this year’s juvenile sales, especially the main Florida sales in March, April, and June, have helped them get their heads above water. We wouldn’t say they’re flush, nor has the market come anywhere close to its heady days of the mid-2000s, but pinhookers appear to have more capital to reinvest in this year’s yearling crop.
The 2-year-old sales are the best barometer the industry has in predicting the outcome of the yearling market. Its uptick hopefully represents momentum, and according to one sale company official, “everybody has a good taste in their mouth.”

One bitter pill may be the battle over race-day medication, but it doesn’t seem to be trending just yet.

Could the Salix issue hinder or help bring prospective new owners to Thoroughbred racing? While some members of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association have voiced strong opinions of getting out of the Thoroughbred racing game should race-day Salix be banned in the United States, we don’t believe the issue, one side of the fence or the other, will add or detract from new buyers entering the sport, especially starting in this year’s yearling market.

The strongest asset the marketplace has is racetrack performance, and one needs to look no further than the last two year’s worth of classic races to see that top racehorses can come from anywhere.

The rags-to-riches story of I’ll Have Another—going from an $11,000 Keeneland September sale yearling (bought during the 12th session of the 14-day sale), to a $35,000 OBS sale 2-year-old, to wearing the blanket of roses after the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I)—is the best sales tool of all. The fact he also won the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) before being retired the day before a Triple Crown bid in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) gave the story legs for a few more weeks, and drew comparisons to Seattle Slew, the 1977 Triple Crown winner who was a $17,500 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky sale graduate.

And there’s depth behind I’ll Have Another. Bodemeister, runner-up in the Derby and Preakness, was a Keeneland September sale graduate ($260,000), as was Derby third-place finisher Dullahan ($250,000) and Preakness third-place finisher Creative Cause ($135,000).

Union Rags, winner of the Belmont, raced for his breeder Phyllis Wyeth but was sold at auction, bringing $145,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga auction before Wyeth bought him back (for $390,000) in a case of seller’s remorse. Paynter, the Belmont runner-up, was a $325,000 sale yearling. Belmont third Atigun sold for $42,000 at Keeneland September.

That builds on last year’s classic results where the Derby and Preakness winners—Animal Kingdom and Shackleford—both went through the ring at the September sale and Ruler On Ice, the Belmont winner, was a $100,000 September sale graduate.

If somebody is inclined to get into the game, those are the kinds of results that need to be shouted from the rooftops.

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