Giving Thanks - By Evan Hammonds

In addition to the glamour of the Triple Crown season and the summer joys of Saratoga and Del Mar, there is plenty of horse business to be had in late November, both on the track and in the sale ring.

Veteran Turf writer Bob Ehalt takes us back to the glory days of late-autumn racing at Meadowlands. Living in New York and New Jersey in the 1980s and early 1990s, we remember plenty of nights spent under the lights at the old Garden State Park in Cherry Hill and at Meadowlands in East Rutherford.

Ehalt’s piece stirs memories of late-night runs on the Jersey Turnpike, following the glow of lights from Exit 15W to the monolithic concourse. There we would watch and wager on horses trained by the likes of John Forbes, J. Willard Thompson, and Alan Seewald, ridden by stars such as Chris Antley and Julie Krone.

While Thoroughbred racing always has an element of history, the sale arena is about anticipation and hope for the future. Late November also means the end of the Keeneland November sale, where the future of the industry lies in the purchase of broodmares to produce future foal crops. Ron Mitchell wraps the sale.

The premium on young mares carried through to the end of the sale, Nov. 16. Overall, the sale was solid, but we heard from more than one in the back ring that they found it odd that a weanling went through the sale ring and brought a solid price, only to be followed by its dam that would bring considerably less.

“To me it proves some people want the product but don’t want the factory,” said agent Jacob West. “I was just thinking that opens opportunity for somebody out there. If there is a piece of the market that might be ‘soft,’ that might be it.

“The young mares carrying their first foals by freshman sires did pretty well. If a mare had a couple of foals out in front of her, it didn’t seem to matter who they were in foal to; they were hard to trade.”

Rosilyn Polan of Sunday Morning Farm, feeling flush from a successful Keeneland September sale, purchased a pair of broodmares on day nine of the sale for a combined $265,000.

“Anytime you go to the sales to buy a mare, you are going to pay more than what you would if you found her on the racetrack, but someone else has done that work to find her, or recruit her, or retire her,” she said.

At this year’s sale “the nice mares were selling for probably more than what people will be able to sell what they’re carrying. You do what you have to do. It depends on how badly you want something and how much you feel comfortable with the risk.”

And those in the business know the risks.

“I’ve worked just as hard and given a horse away as I have when I sold a horse for $300,000,” Polan said.

The final days of November also bring a celebration that is uniquely American: Thanksgiving. Following the sale both West and Polan displayed gratitude.

“We’re lucky to be in a business where we can do this stuff,” West said. “It could be a lot worse. We could be sitting behind a desk trying to trade stocks or something like that.”

“The two that I bought…if I never make a penny on them, they’re making my day,” Polan said. “Yesterday I was getting texts about how miserable the day was, and I looked at these two pretty fillies and my babies and weanlings and I thought, ‘my day is really beautiful.’

“I think daily how thankful I am,” Polan said. “If you have friends that aren’t in the horse business, maybe they talk about what they do, and if they’re in technology, or medicine, or one of those sorts of boring livelihoods, then you say, ‘I bred my mare today.’

“It’s racehorses for heaven’s sake,” she said. “It’s just racehorses…but to us it’s everything.”

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