Compression - By Evan Hammonds

The Thoroughbred racing landscape is coming back to life with the depth of a 1960s movie in Cinemascope. The New York Racing Association jump-started its racing calendar June 3, and racing re-broke from the gate at Laurel Park May 30. Monmouth Park in New Jersey has been cleared for a July 3 start. The graded stakes action at Churchill Downs since that track reopened has proved to be deep and wide.

Having been closed to shelter in place since mid March due to the COVID-19 pandemic that gripped the planet, the Thoroughbred industry, like many other businesses, has had to push present plans to the late summer and fall, compressing delayed events into an already full autumn schedule.

Keeneland has been awarded dates in July, and the Lexington track plans on a stakes-packed weekend anchored by the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) July 11, which is just three weeks after the Belmont Stakes (G1) and three days after the Indiana Derby (G3) at nearby Indiana Grand. The Ohio Derby (G3) has been set for June 27, and the $1 million Haskell Stakes (G1) is on the docket for July 18.

We’re unclear of the situation at Saratoga, but working under the assumption there will be racing in upstate New York this summer, that would add the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) and Travers Stakes (G1) to the mix to be run by early August to complement the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs in early September. That’s a lot on the line in the Midwest and East Coast for the 3-year-old glamour division in a two-month window.

As we reported in last week’s 2-year-old sales guide, the top-line 2-year-old sales season has been compressed into June and July in Florida and Maryland. As for the yearling sales, the driver of the industry’s commercial market, the major sales calendar doesn’t get a breather this fall.

Following August yearling sales in Washington, Minnesota, and Texas, yearlings will be sold in Kentucky, either at Fasig-Tipton or Keeneland from Sept. 9-10, Sept. 14-26, and Oct. 26-29. Sandwiched in between are the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale Oct. 5-6 and the Ocala Breeders’ Sales’ select sale Oct. 6 and its open sale Oct. 13-15.

That compressed slate, essentially eliminating July and August from the calendar, will apply pressure on buyers, sellers, and sales company employees alike.

Other factors are at play as well.

The COVID-19 situation has put a stranglehold on travel, especially international travel, with many nations having placed travel bans.

The great news is the product—well-bred, well-conformed Thoroughbreds—remains a cherished commodity. However, if many buyers are unable to travel to the U.S., what effect will that have on the bottom line?

Despite sale companies beefing up their ability to sell horses online, not having the touch, feel, or a close eye on a horse might have an impact on purchases.

And those purchases will rely on buying power. Roiling markets and a substantial drop in commerce during the pandemic will play a part as will other factors, including the upcoming presidential election and the current unrest on the streets. The depth of buyers from South America might be hindered by the spike of the virus in Brazil and economic headwinds in Argentina. Buyers from Asia—Korea and Russia specifically—might have smaller numbers and smaller pocketbooks, which in the past has affected a big segment of the yearling market.

Breeders and consignors are concerned…and for good reason. The best lots attract the most attention and bring the top prices. The middle market, over the last few years, has been tenuous at best, but the bottom of the market is also vital for the business cycle. That figures to be a big concern for 2020 and might be a make-or-break proposition for many commercial breeders.

If those buyers who sweep up horses on the lower end of the spectrum are thin or missing from the sale, what is the bottom?

It will be hard to reach the ceiling if the seller doesn’t know where the floor is.

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