Ready or not, it's time for the yearling selling season to start. Fasig-Tipton is in the leadoff position in Kentucky with its July select auction, which will be held Monday and Tuesday near Lexington. Each session will begin at 10 a.m. (EDT).
Buyers and consignors will be treated to a newly renovated sale pavilion, with changes in color scheme, seating, and lighting. But they might not be able to relax and enjoy the upgraded facility because there are questions going into the auction about the strength of the market.
Yearling-to-juvenile pinhookers struggled financially at this year's sales of 2-year-olds in training, and they traditionally make up an important buying force at the July auction. In addition, Fasig-Tipton officials increased the size of the July catalog, and that will make it tougher for the sale to build on last year's record average and median prices.
One good sign going into auction was the large number of prospective buyers on the sale grounds Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Many consignors reported that they were busy showing horses to a host of Florida pinhookers along with Sheikh Mohammed's buying team, which is led by John Ferguson. At Paramount Sales, the yearlings were shown more than 800 times on Saturday, according to Pat Costello.
"We expect a good market," said Fasig-Tipton president Walt Robertson on Sunday. "The 2-year-old sales were different this year from last year, but they weren't that much different from the several years leading up to this year. Is the market going to be up or down for our July yearlings? I have no idea. But, gosh, the whole world is here. This barn area was packed yesterday, and it's good today. The buyers didn't go home."
Here's what consignors and buyers had to say about the sale's prospects for success:
Mark Taylor, Taylor Made Sales Agency: "I'm nervous, but I'm more nervous because it's the first sale of year and not because any negative feelings. I think there's a lot being made about the pinhookers not having the success that they did the prior year (2006), but I think the pinhookers by nature are horsemen and horse traders. I don't see a lot of pinhookers who are going decide to go to be engineers or electricians. They're going to come back into yearling sales, and they're going to play. I think they might adjust their price point a little bit downward, but a lot of times when people say that, everybody wants to be $75,000, and somebody has got to be $80,000 if they want to get the horse. I think the market is going to be solid."
Tony Bowling, a Florida pinhooker who is a partner with Bobby Dodd: "We have lowered sights. We won't be messing with any of the top end stuff; it's just too tough. There is a too limited market of buyers out there for that. We're going to try to go back to the bread and butter horses that have made us a living forever. We'll probably be buying in the $45,000 to $75,000 to $85,000 range. That's where I would like to be. I might buy one for $100,000 that I really like, but that will be just the occasional horse. I hope when it's all said and done that I've got about a $50,000 or $60,000 average in my horses.
Tom VanMeter, Eaton Sales: "I think the market will all right. There are plenty of horses for buyers to choose from, but when you have a lot of supply, sometimes there's not enough demand. Plus, these pinhookers are all saying they're having a tough year. But I think it will be fine."
Danzel Brendemuehl, Florida pinhooker: "The physicals at this sale have been better than I've seen in past sales here. I was astounded at the size of some of these yearlings; a lot of them are big. But I didn't see a lot of really overdone horses, which used to be a problem at this sale to me. They looked like they were so pumped up, but I don’t see that as much. Fasig-Tipton did a good job."
Neil Howard, Gainesway: "You never know what you're going to get the first sale of the year, but things are steady here (as far as lookers are concerned). We were steady here yesterday (Friday), and we're steady here this morning (Saturday). Obviously, people have to have product, and we've got good horses, so I think the sale will be good for us. But I think there could be a supply and demand problem this year; if the market's off, that's where it will come from."
Terry Finley, West Point Thoroughbreds: "It seems like there are quite a few people here and I've seen a couple of brand new faces, but we've got to continue to work hard to get new people to come and invest in our business. I think the pinhookers are going to adjust their strategy and pull back, and that could make it easier to buy. But no matter what the market conditions, the pinhookers have to come away from the yearling sales with inventory."
Kerry Cauthen, Four Star Sales: "I'm very encouraged by the early activity. For a Friday, I thought there was a lot of traffic. There were a lot of familiar faces and some new faces. I also saw some Japanese interest. And early Saturday, I'm seeing a lot more familiar faces and some Europeans who are popping in, which I think helps. You always prefer to have a tight select market (instead of a large number of horses), but I've walked around and looked at some other consignments that have the same sires that we have and I've seen some real nice horses. With the number of horses that are being bred, it's hard for a sale company to reduce the number of horses. It's very possible that the market is going to be more selective because there are more horses. It's always difficult to find new homes for the moderate horses, and the good horses are going to go for as much or more than ever."
Jimmy Gladwell, Florida pinhooker and a member of Sheikh Mohammed's buying team: "I think the buyers are going to be a little bit on the conservative side. The 2-year-old market this year, I thought, was pretty tough on the pinhookers. Pinhookers make this market, and I think they’re going to be a little slow off the mark. I would expect them to back off a little bit, but they're an unpredictable breed and you never know for sure what they’re going to do. The quality (of the horses) is very similar to what we've seen here in the past."
Barbara Vanlangendonck, Summerfield: "I feel really positive. We've had a lot of action, a lot of people looking. We've got pinhookers here, and we've got end users here."
Bill Reightler, consignor: "There was quite a lot of traffic Friday and Saturday, and Sunday morning has been strong, too. It’s encouraging. The stock market has been up, and the right players are here."
Kenny McPeek, trainer: "It's hard to say how the sale will go, but we've got a lot of orders on our end, which maybe is a reflection of the results with Curlin. This is one of the best groups of horses that I've seen here in years. I think, for the most part, a good horse is going to be hard to buy and an average horse is going to be easier."
Fred Mitchell, Clarkland Farm: "I think it will be like the previous three or four years. The top 25 or 30 horses in each session will bring more than what the consignors think they are worth, and the other horses will struggle. You've just got to pick out your good individuals and the horses that prepped good and bring them. If you've got something wrong with a horse, he doesn't need to be in this sale."
Ron Stevens, a member of the Dogwood Stable buying team: "I think it's going to be a good sale. I've seen some nice individuals, and the market looks strong and healthy to me. There are always some good individuals that fall through the cracks and that's what I'm looking for. I'm not convinced the pinhookers are going to cut back. I know it's been tougher on them, but they’re still doing pretty well and they're pretty game. I don't see them throwing in the towel."
Pat Costello, Paramount Sales: "I'm quietly confident. I think the sale is going to be good. It might be down a little bit, but not much. The 2-year-old guys had a tough year, but there are nice horses here and I think it will be a solid sale. The Fasig-Tipton guys are great judges and they always pick out nice horses. We had 586 shows Friday, so we pretty steady, and Saturday was busier."
Justin Casse, Florida pinhooker: "I've been pretty selective on what I've been looking at. I haven't been doing too many all shows. I'm trying to be picky with pedigrees and look for better produce records from some of the mares. The business is getting flooded with bad mares. I feel like I have a better shot getting some horses I want this year as opposed to the past few years. I think that the prices that pinhookers have paid the last couple of years were probably a little too much, and I think they'll come down -- at least I hope so."
Marshall Silverman, consignor: "I think the sale should probably hold its own. There will probably be a lot of RNAs this year, but the average will probably stay within a few percentage points of last year. We've had loads of lookers, but it's the same people who are usually here and I think they all will be after the same horses."
Don Graham, Florida pinhooker: "I think it will be the same as last year. I don't see much change. I still think you can't sell off an empty wagon, and if you have to pay to get a better horse, you're going to pay to get a better horse. To a point, the high dollar horses are going to change. I don't think you’re going to see pinhookers spending some of the money that they've been spending, but I think the pinhookers will still be there for the right horses in the $150,000 to $300,000 range. I think overall it's a good group of horses. There are some very athletic-looking yearlings."