Officials of the four major auction firms that sell 2-year-olds in training—Barretts, Fasig-Tipton, Keeneland, and Ocala Breeders' Sales Company (OBS)—all are considering changes in their formats for under tack shows. Barretts, Fasig-Tipton, and OBS also may take action to control medication administration to juveniles above and beyond what is required by existing regulations for auctions conducted in California and Florida. Drug monitoring programs also may be started at sales in states where such rules do not exist.
In recent years, there have been increasing complaints that 2-year-olds are pushed too hard in their sales preparation. Workout times have gotten significantly faster, helping raise the prices brought in the sale ring. At the same time, however, horsemen have expressed a growing concern that a greater emphasis on medication use is behind those swifter clockings.
“I think it is appropriate we consider the various options for the 2-year-old sales now because a lot has changed in the last five or six years in the way these horses are prepared and shown,” said Keeneland's president and chief executive officer, Nick Nicholson. “I think there is a growing consensus that the pendulum has swung too far.”
Nicholson did not offer any details about what changes Keeneland is considering. If any are made, he said, they hopefully can be announced prior to the Keeneland September yearling sale, where yearling-to-juvenile pinhookers make extensive purchases.
Fasig-Tipton's management is looking at the possibility of drawing blood samples from all juvenile sale horses and making them available to buyers, who will be responsible for having any tests performed. Another possibility is reducing the number of under tack shows for Fasig-Tipton's select sale at Calder from two to one. In addition, Fasig-Tipton officials are looking at cutting the number of selling days for the Calder auction from two to one.
“We're trying to achieve some consistency and uniformity throughout our sales to promote buyer confidence and help change the perception in certain segments of the buying population's mind that there is a drug problem,” said Boyd Browning, Fasig-Tipton's executive vice president and chief operating officer. In addition to Florida, Fasig-Tipton conducts auctions of 2-year-olds in training in Kentucky, Maryland, and Texas.
Barretts might stop timing the first of its two under tack shows for its March select sale, according to the company's president and general manager, Gerald F. McMahon. Barretts' blood-testing program already includes additional measures that are not required by California law and those efforts might be expanded.
“We haven't come up with any real solutions yet; we are still trying to get some feedback from our buyers and consignors,” said Tom Ventura, the general manager and director of sales for OBS. “But we have discussed cutting back the number of workout days from two to one for our Calder and March sales.”
Becky Thomas, a Florida-based pinhooker, welcomes the changes that are being considered by the sale companies.
“I support drug testing. I support having no timer at the workouts. I support having only one workout day for a sale,” she said. “All those things will broaden our buyer base by generating renewed buyer confidence. To say the 2-year-old market is dominated by drug abuse is so unfair, and testing will show that it's not. I also think the testing needs to be done at all sales, starting at the yearling level.”