In early September, the first meeting is scheduled to be held of the new task force examining the Thoroughbred sales arena. The group is being organized by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and is in response to the questions raised by the Alliance for Industry Reform (AIR) and its founder, Satish Sanan.
Sale company officials, consignors, agents, buyers, and veterinarians have been asked to serve on the task force. Media representatives have not been invited to participate, which is a shame. The formation of AIR was characterized by open teleconferences for industry stake-holders. Candid opinions were forthcoming from all quarters. The fact that the process was public did not stifle expression.
Closed-door meetings will only serve to foster skepticism. After all, the task of this task force is to discuss ways to make the public sales process more open, candid, and buyer-friendly. Don't start by slamming the door.
Sale companies could make major strides toward a more transparent sales process simply by dealing more openly with the media. Here is one reporter's wish list.
Include the breeder's name on the catalogue page or in an index. Fasig-Tipton used to provide this information but dropped it. Doesn't a potential buyer deserve to know who bred and raised the animal he is bidding on? Providing this small piece of information--published in third-party references such as The Blood-Horse Auction Edge--would make it harder for a buy-back to be hidden from view.
When asked, provide information on the underbidder. If the underbidder is the reserve price, disclose that too. Buyers understand consignors can bid and the auction stand can bid against the reserve. But buyers will bid with more confidence knowing that who they are bidding against might be made public.
Signed sales tickets are routed to the press box as a matter of course. Several years ago, Keeneland began to obscure the portion of the ticket showing the signature of the buyer. This just makes it easier to hide a buy-back. Provide information; don't hide it.
Sale companies need to be more diligent in their interaction with consignors and buyers regarding complete disclosure. This goes beyond kickbacks or double agency, areas Sanan has suggested should be examined, to include such fundamental data as RNAs and buyer names.
For example, if a name appears on a sale slip and the sale company is informed later the horse was actually bought back, the official results should be amended to reflect this. This small act would help analysts separate true sales from attempts to boost stallion interest by running up progeny averages.
There is nothing to prevent a buyer from purchasing horses using a dozen pseudonyms. In fact, at one time, though it no longer does so, Keeneland admittedly used to make up names published on the sale summaries when horses were bought back. Sale companies should take the lead and discourage buyers from hiding behind aliases for the purpose of deceiving the public.
North American sale companies might even take a page from the way some things are done in other markets. Watching a yearling sale in New Zealand, it seemed odd when the auction stand announced the bidding had reached the reserve price and also immediately informed buyers when a horse left the ring unsold. But after watching the proceedings for a few hours, the procedures made perfect sense.
Many of the horses being purchased today end up being the breeding stock of tomorrow. So shouldn't all consignors be compelled to disclose all surgical alterations? Some do, but it's not a universal practice. Doesn't a buyer have the right to know?
The task force has much to consider.