When does a yearling consignor know how good his or her prospects are for upcoming sale?
Consignors spend so much time prepping these horses or monitoring their progress on another’s farm, one might expect a good benchmark would be known weeks, if not months, ahead of time. Oh, no. The life of a young Thoroughbred is an ever-changing landscape.
“You don’t know until a week out, but even at the sale you might not know,” said Francis Vanlangendonck, who runs the Florida-based Summerfield sales agency with his wife, Barbara. Summerfield, which grossed more than $6.3 million at yearling sales in 2014, sells in Kentucky, New York, and Florida. “These horses change so much. Physically they change. Mentally they change. They grow, they grow the wrong way, they don’t grow; they get skinny or they get injured. I’ve had good horses that get to the sale and just have a meltdown from the stress. Then you have the crazy idiot that just loves the sale and shows great.”
Such is the challenge associated with selling yearlings at public auction.
Even when everything appears to be going well, according to Vanlangendonck, it’s hard to feel confident or relaxed until the horse is through the ring and the sale is hammered down.
In 2009 Summerfield brought a gorgeous dark bay or brown daughter of Medaglia d’Oro to the Keeneland September sale. Medaglia d’Oro was as hot as a sire can get due to the remarkable performances that year of eventual Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. The yearling filly also was out of the stakes-placed Unreal Zeal mare Beaties for Real, who had already produced two graded stakes winners and a listed stakes winner. Bred in Florida by Gilbert Campbell, the filly named Onepointhreekarats would sell to Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation for $1.3 million and go on to win three stakes.
“We thought going into the sale she was a million-dollar horse but then you worry because you don’t see any holes,” Vanlangendonck remembered.
Another big unknown with selling yearlings cannot be addressed until a horse is on the sale grounds—seeing what else has been entered that will be competing for the buyers’ attention.
“People may say otherwise, but until you see what else is there and get into the groove of a sale, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Vanlangendonck. “You only have an idea, a hope.”
Consigning horses is tricky business. Vanlangendonck said the key for his business is to watch closely what has been happening in all segments of the auction market. He monitors the stallions that are getting the most attention and looks at the types of horses selling well. Placing a horse in the right sale is an important piece in the puzzle. For example, Summerfield will have three horses entered in next month’s Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale after being away for several years.
“I used to take a good physical to this sale and do well,” he said. “Then the market shifted with more emphasis on stronger pedigrees, and the type of horses we had didn’t fit anymore. Now it’s changing again.”
Conformation is important, according to Vanlangendonck, but he said any horse he sells—particularly a weanling-to-yearling pinhook—needs to meet a minimum pedigree standard.
“I love a stallion like More Than Ready because he’s popular in the U.S., in England, in Australia, or in South America,” he said. “I want to appeal to as big a market as possible.”
Vanlangendonck steers clear of the yearlings that are standouts on conformation but with families that are light on recent racetrack success.
“I find the horses who work for me on pedigree and only look at those,” he said. “It keeps you from looking at that really good-looking sucker and just talking yourself into buying it.”
With a strong 2-year-old in training sale season in the books, Vanlangendonck is expecting the 2015 yearling market to be equally good. Yearling-to-juvenile pinhookers did well and should have plenty of orders to fill, and the owners who have been shopping at the yearling sales have been finding success at the racetrack. It won’t hurt that Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was offered at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale.
“The unknowns can make you crazy, but then you get that horse that is just OK and in two months he becomes a monster,” Vanlangendonck said. “That’s when it gets exciting and what keeps you in this game. When you sell a horse for $350,000 that you bought for $50,000, that’s a big-time hit.”