As the juvenile selling season gets ready to open in South Florida, many signs point to a continued upswing in the Thoroughbred marketplace. The American economy hasn't had any major setbacks recently; there's the promise of slot machines at racetracks in more states; and the uplifting stories of Funny Cide and Smarty Jones have made racehorse ownership look attractive.
But after a record-setting year in 2004, the market for 2-year-olds in training has a lot to live up to. One day before the Feb. 8 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. select sale at Calder Race Course, some consignors were getting a little nervous. During the auction's second and final under tack show Feb. 6, there was a stiff headwind that prevented many horses from performing at their best. And while top buyers or their representatives were in town to watch, there was concern among several sellers there were fewer shoppers around overall than in the past. However, other consignors reported that there were plenty of buyers strolling through the sale barns.
"I've brought down some nice stock, but it's Monday morning and I think it's quiet," said consignor Niall Brennan. "We have had lookers all week, but today we should have seen the people who haven't been here before and there's nobody new around yet. I looked yesterday, and there were the same people at the second breeze show as there were at the first breeze show, which is unusual; more new people are usually in for the second show."
Said Hoby Kight: "We haven't had an abundance of people wanting to look at the horses today. We were busier last week than probably we usually are, and maybe that's why we're not having a lot of activity the last day or two."
Mike Mulligan of Leprechaun Racing was optimistic about the first major auction of the juvenile selling season.
"The sale is going to be fine," he said. "I've watched the videos of all the horses, and I think there are certainly a lot of nice moving horses. Yesterday, with the headwind, it was hard to improve on the first breeze show, but I think consignors had planned for a lot of their nicer horses to stay in the barn anyway. Most of us are trying to just work them one time. The first breeze show seemed to be well-attended to me, and we've had steady traffic all week. We were very busy; we had a lot of lookers."
Mark Casse of Moonshadow Farm also was happy with the pre-sale activity. "I thought that all week long that we've had more lookers than usual," he said.
According to veterinarian Jerry Johnson, it's not unusual for it to be quiet in the barn area the day before the OBS Calder select sale.
"It's always like that at this sale," he said. "You'll see trainers show up tomorrow."