Deciding how much money to spend at the Keeneland September yearling sale (which opens Sept. 10) and various other yearling auctions each year is a precise process for some buyers. But others are more flexible, figuring out how big their investment will be as they go along during the selling season.
"Almost everybody I've worked for, they decide what their budgets are going to be, and I don’t have a lot to do with it," said Kentucky bloodstock agent John Moynihan. "Bob Lewis never really had a certain figure. Mr. (Jess) Jackson, he doesn't really have a certain figure. It's really contingent on what we find. If we find a lot of nice horses, we may try to buy a lot of nice horses. If we don't find a lot of nice horse, we may not spend as much."
Cot Campbell, president of Dogwood Stable, which puts together racing partnerships, has a budget for each auction at which he shops.
"It's very simple for me," he said.
In the past, Campbell bought approximately seven horses at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky select and Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sales combined and another seven at the Keeneland September yearling auction. His budget for the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky and Saratoga sales was around $1 million, and it was same for the Keeneland September auction. Campbell averaged spending $150,000 per horse. He picked up approximately 14 more horses at sales of 2-year-olds in training.
This year, Campbell has shaken up the formula a little bit because he's planning to purchase more yearlings and fewer 2-year-olds. Campbell bought three horses for $415,000 at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky and four horses for $620,000 at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga. His budget for the 10 to 12 yearlings he plans to buy at Keeneland September is around $1.5 million. He'll spend approximately $1 million next year at juvenile auctions.
Florida pinhooker Jaqui de Meric said she and her husband, Nick, decide how much they are going to spend for yearlings to resell on a horse-by-horse basis. It also works about the same way when they're buying yearlings for a client who wants to race.
"We basically set a figure for each individual horse," Jaqui de Meric said. "When we sit down with our short list, we'll say, for example, '$70,000 is what we want to spend for this horse.' And Nick is very firm about values, even though it may be $5,000 give or take. He never lets himself get caught up in the heat of the moment. He's very conservative."
According to Jack Wolf, Starlight Stables' spending strategy is similar to the de Merics' approach.
"We have a target of what we think each horse will cost and we try to strictly adhere to that, but sometimes we stray," Wolf said. "While we sort of do our shopping on a horse-by-horse basis, we do go to a sale with an idea of the number of horses we want to buy. But then we look at each individual horse and decide what it's worth."
Headley Bell of Nicoma Bloodstock and his clients also don't have specific budgets for specific yearling sales.
"We start out with a budget, but I let the horses dictate how I spend it, period," he said. "I shop every major yearling sale, and I work at it until I've either spent all my money or I've found enough of the horses that I want. But when I'm at the Fasig-Tipton July sale or the Saratoga sale, I know that the Keeneland September sale is looming, so the horses at those earlier sales are going to need to jump through more hoops because I want to keep my powder dry for September."
Bloodstock agent Marette Farrell formerly worked for Bell at Nicoma, but is now on her own, and she has a strict budget for a client she is shopping for at the Keeneland September auction.
"My budget is $150,000, but I can buy one horse, three horses, or more horses," she said.
Ferrell is also looking for horses for a small yearling-to-juvenile pinhooking partnership she is putting together. She might buy two or three yearlings to resell.
"I'm targeting spending around $100,000 per horse," she said.