Hey, Weanling Man - By Evan Hammonds

The Keeneland November sale came in for a soft landing Nov. 18, bringing the Central Kentucky breeding stock marketplace to a close for the season. Based on the precipitous drop in yearling prices earlier in this pandemic year, several feared the worst. However, for the most part, the industry let out a collective sigh after more than $157 million changed hands.

Weanlings are a sizable portion of the fall mixed sales. Starting in 2017, 884 weanlings were sold at Keeneland for an average of $69,392, followed by 974 sold in 2018 for an average of $67,462. Last year's average of $61,449 was based on 963 weanlings sold, and this year 745 were traded for an average of $54,902. The average dropped 10.7% year over year and 20.9% from 2017. The number sold was off 22.6% from last year and 15.7% from 2017.

Several factors were at play, with the most logical stemming from perceived market forces during a COVID-19 selling season having sellers hold on to their stock and holding out hope for a better marketplace in 2021.

Missing from this year's November sale was bon vivant bloodstock agent Stanley D. Petter Jr. The 86-year-old hardboot earned his nickname "the weanling man" more than a half-century ago-long before selling young horses was a staple of the market.

"I went back and forth and thought, ‘Well, I'd been to every other November sale; maybe they won't miss me if I ducked out this one time,' " he said. "I didn't go racing (at Keeneland's October meet), and I didn't attempt to. I don't regret it; I think I'm doing the right thing.

"I just spoke to a friend in Newmarket, and he said, ‘Where were you?' I said, ‘I'm in the older bracket.' He said, ‘You don't have underlying maladies.' I'm not one to brag on underlying remedies...I've had a few," he said with a laugh.

"Social distancing? I don't like that, but I like being around," Petter said. "I want to be here for several more years. I have some interesting grandchildren; a sheep dog and all that.

"I'm still here. Sometimes I get bored, but when I do, I look around the house and I find something to do. I do manage a small stable for Lorian Peralta-Ramos," he said.

Ramos' stable centers around the multiple grade 3-winning mare Humoristic (by Sefapiano), bred and raced by her late stepmother, Mrs. Arturo Peralta Ramos. The 19-year-old mare has produced three stakes-placed runners and has a "lovely" yearling by Dialed In, a weanling by Mendelssohn who is "full of beans," and is in foal to Goldencents.

Not being at the November sale didn't mean Petter wasn't paying attention. His observations from outside the sale grounds are similar to those onsite.

"There's always a market for a good horse," he echoed. "Middle-level horses were Christmas presents in some cases. I'm glad I'm not a breeder trying to make a living off of that class of horse."

Petter made his name in the game the old-fashioned way: the need to keep his business afloat. Not everyone will survive this year's twists, and, in turn, they'll be presented with their own opportunities.

"I did not invent the sale of weanlings," Petter said. "When I got started, the only weanlings that were sold were either crooked and undesirable horses, or to settle an estate. I was forced into it."

Petter tells the tale of his yearling consignment getting KO'd at the summer sales one year due to a storm knocking out the power. With advice from Keeneland's director of sales Bill Evans and mounting bills, he took three weanlings to the November sale and offered them with the pitch "none will be retained."

"It was such a success it blew my socks off," Petter remembered. "At the end of the day, four members of The Jockey Club said you will have horses from me next year. And they did. And it was so much fun, but Keeneland has taken the ball and run with it."

As for "the weanling man" title, some still run with it.

"You know who keeps that alive? Indian Charlie (Ed Musselman)," Petter said. "He hollers, ‘Hey, weanling man.' Of course the young guys look up to see what is wrong with the guy and then three or four of them grin."

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