Selling Thoroughbreds at public auction has never been for the faint of heart and has seemingly gotten a lot tougher in recent years. The focus has become laser sharp on the best-perceived horses while the middle and lower ends of the spectrum have become the loss leader of the commercial market.
The Fasig-Tipton Kentucky winter sale, which ran over two days, Feb. 10-11, is the latest example. While there were plenty of lookers and the sale’s high price of $570,000 grabbed the headlines (see page 20), the median plummeted more than 40%, suggesting there was little interest in the shallow end of the pool.
“Nobody wants to talk about it, but there is an oversupply of horses for the amount of buyers that there are out there,” said Doug Arnold of Buck Pond Farm. “One thing that (Fasig-Tipton president) Boyd Browning said out at the sale was, ‘if they’re on your horse, there is a lot of interest; if they’re not, there isn’t.’ ”
Arnold has been in the business for more than 40 years, and “all along I’ve had to scuffle for everything I’ve gotten,” he said. “I’m not complaining, but I’ve always had to think about getting from point A to point B.
“I’ve been able to make a little money, but how to protect the money I’ve made? Let’s say you make $500,000 selling a horse but with the other horses in your consignment you end up losing money, giving back $150,000-$200,000. How do I limit that bottom side?
“It’s like a bucket that has a hole in it. How do you make the hole smaller?”
At the sale Arnold purchased a pair of broodmares: 8-year-old stakes-placed Appeal to the Win, in foal to Flatter, for $150,000, and 15-year-old Puskita, a stakes-placed, grade 3-producing mare, for $24,000. He said he was offered $30,000 for Puskita 15 minutes after the hammer fell.
“We have, as an industry, treated the bottom of our market very poorly for a long period of time,” Arnold said a few days after the sale. “We are not seeing the new people coming into the business who would be participating on the more inexpensive mares as before. I’ve seen this for a while in our game. Everybody is gravitating toward the same kinds of horses and away from the cheaper horses. That’s a trend that we have not addressed.
“It’s a real good time to start a discussion as to why we aren’t having seminars for agricultural people—people that own farms that can’t make money on soybeans, can’t make money on corn, and can’t make money on cattle. If we want to reinvigorate the market, it’s time. We have a ready market; we have to teach these people about how to get into the business. That comes with its own set of problems, but it’s something that needs to be promoted in a big way, and it hasn’t been.
“We’re in a business that seems really, really tough to get into. The reality is that I can pick out in a sale, like the Fasig-Tipton sale, 50 mares that could make you some money with just what’s in their belly.
“We saw mares in foal to different stallions that were going for $2,000-$3,000. Provided you keep your expenses low, it’s a great and golden opportunity for people to participate, if, in fact, they are led to the table.”
Arnold suggests that perhaps a series of seminars could be put together to “recruit” farmers to get into the breeding business and have groups such as the Future Farmers of America, or Thoroughbred farmers, lead the charge.
The industry spends a lot of money and effort on recruiting people to go to the races; perhaps we need to recruit people to get into the breeding business.
He also pointed toward the maiden special weight races run at New York Racing Association tracks last year for 2-year-olds that had been sold for $45,000 or less. Famously, British Idiom, the champion 2-year-old filly of last year, won one of those races. Arnold suggests races for yearlings that had sold for $10,000 or less could spur interest.
“If we could reinvigorate the bottom part of the market, it could be a win-win for everybody,” Arnold said. “From the bottom up…that’s where the future is.”