One of the biggest topics of discussion during the selling season for select 2-year-olds in training was the shrinking pool of horses. Consignors worried that some of the auctions were getting so small that buyers would decide to skip them. Shoppers complained that they didn’t have enough horses to sift through.
Five years ago there were five major select juvenile auctions and they sold 643 horses. There have been only four such sales since 2011, when the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. decided to stop conducting a February auction, and this year the remaining sales sold 449 horses.
The four surviving auctions—Barretts March, OBS March, Fasig-Tipton Florida, and Keeneland—had 1,004 horses combined in their catalogs in 2011. This year they had 839.
In an era of declining foal crops, the likelihood is high the supply will continue to dwindle.
Consignor Ciaran Dunne of Wavertree Stables and buyer John Fort of Peachtree Racing Stables said more involvement by breeders who usually concentrate on selling the horses they produce as yearlings could help alleviate the problem.
Traditionally, pinhookers provide most of the stock for juvenile auctions. They purchase the bulk of their horses at public auction as yearlings.
While selling 2-year-olds in training can be treacherous because of the increased risk for injury when horses start breezing, the rewards are huge when juveniles stay sound and have all the right qualities to attract picky buyers. Three 2-year-olds commanded $1 million or more apiece at this year’s Fasig-Tipton Florida auction.
“Some of the breeders have sat up and really taken notice,” Dunne said. “I’ve had conversations with different people, and I think they are starting to realize that 2-year-old sales aren’t the last resort and that if you’re going to be in the business of selling horses, you need to sell weanlings, you need to sell yearlings, and you need to sell 2-year-olds. The guys who are going to last and the guys who are going to be the best at it are the ones that realize the optimum times to do each.
“A lot of breeders have finally figured out that you don’t send horses to the 2-year-old sales because nobody wanted to buy them as yearlings,” Dunne continued. “The things that stopped them from selling as yearlings are the things that are probably going to get in their way as 2-year-olds. But if you take the right kind of horse to a 2-year-old sale, the sky’s the limit.”
During the Keeneland auction Wavertree sold a Dynaformer—Catchascatchcan colt, bred by Castleton Lyons and Kilboy Estate, for $550,000. The juvenile had been a quality offering when younger, based on his $225,000 buy-back price when consigned by Paramount Sales, agent, to the 2011 Keeneland September yearling auction.
Fort suggested Keeneland officials should take the lead in recruiting horses from breeders for its juvenile auction.
When Keeneland’s inspection team “looks at yearlings and grades them,” Fort said, “maybe they could say to some people, ‘You know what, I’ll bet you’ll do twice as well with this particular horse if you sell him as a 2-year-old in training.’ (They should) cut back the Keeneland September yearling sale by 1,000 horses and divert them—not the bad ones, but the ones that they think would do well—to the 2-year-old sale. They could be consigned by a wide variety of what we refer to now as pinhookers. There would be a two-day 2-year-old sale with hundreds of horses.”
Dunne also recommended sale company officials and consignors consider other strategies to increase the number of their select juvenile offerings.
“We all need to figure out ways to get more, whether it’s different venues, different time frames, or being more user friendly,” Dunne said. “I’m not smart enough to figure it out on my own, but for me, personally, one of the highlights of the year was when we would sell at Keeneland (closer to) Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) weekend. It was nice to come here when the big trainers were here and you would get to network with the people you really needed to network with. The owners and trainers got to see how we (juvenile sellers) did things, and it put them more at ease with the whole 2-year-old deal. There was a time when you would have a horse galloping and trainers would be standing at the rail saying, ‘Who’s that? Who’s that?’ Now we’re done galloping our horses by the time a lot of them get here. I understand what Keeneland wants to do (by holding the sale’s under tack show) before the spring meet starts, but it (the Blue Grass) was something I enjoyed being a part of.”
The Later the Better?
When Fasig-Tipton officials announced they were moving their Florida select juvenile sale from March 3 last year to March 26 this year, one of the reasons they gave was the decreased amount of racing for 2-year-olds early in the year. According to sale company management, shoppers would be more eager to buy juveniles at a time that was closer to when their purchases could begin competing.
In consignor Niall Brennan’s opinion, selling select juveniles even later is an option that auction firms should consider. Solid performances by open sales in May and June in recent years provide evidence that “people are more comfortable buying a little later now,” the pinhooker said.
According to Brennan, Keeneland could conduct its auction later in April. During the track’s spring racing season, “they have two dark days (each week),” he said. “It would be possible to breeze on one of those dark days and sell on a Wednesday evening, especially with the lower numbers we have today in these select sale catalogs.”
Brennan believes that having more time between the select sales would be beneficial. This year the first of the select auctions, which was conducted by Barretts, was held March 5 and the last, conducted by Keeneland, was held April 9.
“I’m not sure what the options are from all the sale companies’ points of views,” Brennan said. “But from a consignor’s perspective, I would love it if we could get together and spread these sales out a little more. It’s very hard on the consignors and the buyers when they’re going from one sale to another.
“For consignors it’s not just the sale day we have to be somewhere. We have to be there for a certain amount of time. When they’re at one sale, many people have already shipped their horses in for the next one.”
A Real Deal
Trinniberg’s trips through the auction ring went virtually unnoticed, but now he’s attracting plenty of attention. The standout 3-year-old sprinter is unbeaten in two starts this year with victories in the Swale (gr. III) and Bay Shore (gr. III) stakes. In 2011 he won one of his five outings and finished second in the Three Chimneys Hopeful (gr. I) and Nashua (gr. II) stakes.
An earner of $341,300 and a Triple Crown nominee, Trinniberg brought only $1,500 at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale. David McKathan of M&H Training and Sales purchased the dark bay or brown son from the first crop of Teuflesberg from Beau Lane Bloodstock, agent.
The following year M&H consigned Trinniberg to the OBS spring sale of 2-year-olds in training. Shivananda Parbhoo bought the colt for $21,000.
“He was big and good-looking,” said McKathan of Trinniberg. “But he was by a sire that many people weren’t familiar with, and he wasn’t the most correct horse in the world. He toed out and obviously (based on his sale prices), he toed out pretty badly.”
Prior to the OBS auction Trinniberg turned in a solid work in the sale’s under tack show, covering an eighth of a mile in a brisk :101⁄5.
“He could really run and you could see he could really run,” McKathan said. “He galloped out as good as any horse at the sale. I told everybody—and I’ve got a thousand witnesses—that he was really a racehorse. But they (buyers) wouldn’t forgive his conformation. I wish I could have kept him and raced him but I needed money.”
In McKathan’s experience, toeing out is a conformation defect that isn’t a big obstacle to racing success.
“I buy a lot of horses that toe out,” he said. “I have a lot of luck with them, and they do stay sound. There are a lot of famous horses that weren’t that correct. One of them that comes to mind is (champion) Silver Charm; he won the Kentucky Derby (gr. I, and Preakness Stakes, gr. I, in 1997). I give the speech all the time that people turn a horse sale into too much of a horse show and get a little too carried away about how a horse looks.”
McKathan’s words often fall on deaf ears.
“The standard response that you’ll get from agents buying horses is ‘I can’t buy a horse like that and have my client think he wasn’t properly represented by me,’ ” McKathan said. “They’re not willing to take a chance and understandably so. They have to represent their clients to the best of their ability, and one thing that clients like is a correct horse.”
In summing up his experience with Trinniberg, McKathan said, “It (his conformation) hurt me (financially) at the sale, but it’s always nice when somebody gets a horse from you and does well with it.”
And it would be even nicer for sellers if a horse such as Trinniberg would make another buyer or two decide not to penalize sale horses so much for certain physical imperfections that probably won’t affect their prospects for success as runners.