Ready-Made Runners - by Eric Mitchell

Editor's Note: The Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. also introduced a Horses of Racing Age section to its January Winter Mixed sale in 2012. See more details below about this new outlet for race-ready horses.

(Originally published in the July 20, 2013 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Eric Mitchell - @BH_EMitchell on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell Fasig-Tipton’s experiment with a summertime Horses of Racing Age sale July 15 appears to have broken strongly and cleanly out of the gate.

With a $1 million sale-topper in grade I winner Starship Truffles, a six-figure average, and a buy-back rate of only 15.3%, it is hard to imagine the new sale could have gotten off to a better start.

Some consignors were concerned that the new sale, tacked onto the end of the Kentucky July select yearling sale, would draw money away from the yearlings. Instead, the Horses of Racing Age section did what Fasig-Tipton had hoped: It complemented the select yearling sale by generating buzz and attracting buyers who might not have otherwise attended. The yearling average rose 10.4% and the median jumped 20% to $72,000. Also, as was hoped, there was crossover between the buyers of both sessions. People who may have been in town primarily to buy yearlings also spied opportunities among the horses of racing age.

A couple of trainers said before the sale what they liked most about the horses of racing age portion was the timing. The horses have had enough time to show their talent, and the new owners have the rest of the racing year to capitalize on that potential.

Horses-in-training sales are a new market in North America, though they have been longtime fixtures in Europe. Barretts Equine cracked the ice last year with a paddock sale held July 22 at Del Mar where 25 racehorses and racing prospects brought $933,000. Eleven of the horses sold through the inaugural Del Mar Paddock Sale went on to earn more than their purchase price, and two went on to become stakes winners. Peter Peluso bought I Dazzle, a filly by Hold That Tiger, for $29,000. She won the American Beauty Stakes last April at Santa Anita Park and has earned $112,500 this year alone. Nechez Dawn, a daughter of Indian Charlie, was bought by Mersad Metanovic Bloodstock for $125,000 and now races for Ten Broeck Farm. She won the Daisycutter Handicap at Del Mar in her first start after being sold and has earned more than $140,000 for Ten Broeck.

The Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. made a larger commitment to offering horses of racing age when it expanded the scope of its 2012 Winter Mixed sale. While the added session got a light response its inaugural year, the offerings increased substantially for the 2013 edition of the sale. Among horses ages 2 through 4, the OBS January auction sold 92 for a total of $1,474,800. The top-selling horse for the entire sale was 3-year-old Falling Sky, who sold to Justin Casse for $425,000 on behalf of Newtown Anner Stud, James Covello, and Joseph Bulger. The son of Lion Heart by Sea Dragoness went on to win the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) and finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II).

"A unique and beneficial aspect to OBS Racing Age Sales is that we provide the consignors an opportunity to breeze or gallop their horses over the racetrack prior to the sale and display the videos on our website, on the sales grounds, and in area hotels," said Tom Ventura, president of OBS. "By allowing the horses to breeze prior to the sale provides more information to the buyer and boosts their confidence when bidding. In addition, horses that are unraced or have not raced for an extended period of time can display their level of fitness and increase their marketability. The timing of the OBS January sale is convenient as many racing stables are located in South Florida and the Tampa area during the winter months." 

Fasig-Tipton raised the bar even higher among horses of racing age auctions with its selections, which included Breeders’ Cup World Championships hopeful Starship Truffles. Having already won the grade I Princess Rooney Handicap July 6, the 4-year-old daughter of Ghostzapper—Bobby Use, by Not For Love, is a fully-nominated top contender for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I).

Horses of Racing Age sales provide opportunities for sellers, too. The last time Starship Truffles went through a sale, she sold for $22,000 at the 2011 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s June 2-year-olds in training sale. She changed hands several times through 2012, eventually ending up with Chasing Tails Stables in September of that year. Under the care of trainer Marty Wolfson, Starship Truffles broke into the stakes ranks with a win Dec. 1, 2012, in the Claiming Crown Glass Slipper Stakes. Her star kept rising, and once it reached the rarefied air of grade I company, Fasig-Tipton provided a means for Chasing Tails to cash out and let someone else enjoy the rest of the ride.

Horses of Racing Age sales seem like a good step forward in making Thoroughbred racing more accessible to new owners. These horses can be shipped to a trainer and start in a couple of weeks. While owners already have opportunities to acquire horses through claiming races and the private market is always open, the auctions generate their own type of adrenaline rush that gets owners hooked.

Horses of racing age sales are filling a much-needed niche in American racing, OBS, Barretts and Fasig-Tipton should be lauded for stepping out and making it happen.

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