Expectations are understandably high heading into Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s selected sale of 2-year-olds in training March 11 in Ocala, Fla.
Originally scheduled for March 10-11, the sale was condensed into one continuous session following the postponement of the first of two under-tack previews last week due to inclement weather.
"We're really looking forward to the sale," said Tom Ventura, OBS president. "It didn't start off as we planned, but everyone seems happy with the adjustments we've made. In moving the first breeze show back a day, we had planned to start the sale at 2 p.m. (EDT) on Monday (instead of 11 a.m.). The more feedback we received from buyers and sellers it became clear that three hours was not enough time for people to prepare for the sale. Both consignors and buyers have said that they appreciate the extra time."
The sale is slated to begin at 10 a.m., and will be streamed live at bloodhorse.com/OBS.
A steady climb in the 2-year-old market, increased demand for race-ready juveniles, and the performance of OBS March sale graduates at the race track has sale officials and consignors anxious to hear the first fall of the hammer in the auction ring.
"It was certainly busy in the barns today," Ventura said two days prior to the sale. "We have gathered up some very nice horses thanks to the consignors. I expect it to be a good, strong sale." Tod Wojciechowski, OBS director of sales, added: "We're tickled to death with the horses on the grounds. When we first see them they are like junior high school kids, and by the time they get here they look like they are in high school. We're really excited about this group of horses."
A total of 411 head was cataloged for the sale, but outs as of press time have reduced offerings to 330.
"We had some flexibility in rescheduling the sale due to the size of the catalog," Ventura said. "With 411 horses it would have been a push to get that many horses sold in one day, but with scratches, 330 horses is doable. It will make for a long day but a reasonable day."
High traffic from buyers scouting prospects in the OBS barn area on March 9 factors heavily into expectations ahead of the sale and signals that robust demand for 2-year-olds is likely to continue.
"I believe the demand has increased," said Dean De Renzo of Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds. "It sure makes buying yearlings more competitive, but we don't mind spending on the right horses. We brought some expensive horses here, and we have an impressive group of horses. All of the right players are here, and we have been insanely busy. We've had 100 shows today and we still have another day of showing before the sale."
Alfredo Lichoa of Northwest Stud was enthused with the amount of inspections taking place in barn 4.
"I think this could be one of the best 2-year-old sales we've seen," said Lichoa while showing the star of his consignment, Hip No. 343, a Giant's Causeway colt that cost $550,000 as a yearling last year. "We've had more than 70 shows today, and we feel very good about our consignment."
Nothing helps a sale's reputation appreciate in value more than successful graduates. Last year's OBS March sale, alone, has produced three grade I winners and a Japanese champion.
Bond Holder, the ill-fated Secret Compass, and My Conquestadory, all grade I winners at 2, exited last year's sale. Reddam Racing's Bond Holder, winner of the FrontRunner Stakes (gr.I) at Santa Anita Park, was sold by Crupi's New Castle Farm, agent, for $125,000.
Secret Compass won the Chandelier Stakes (gr.I) at Santa Anita in the colors of Westrock Stables. The daughter of Discreet Cat was sold by Eddie Woods, agent, for $425,000 and was the top-priced filly of last year's sale.
Conquest Stables' My Conquestadory won two graded stakes from only three starts as a 2-year-old in 2013. She broke her maiden in her career debut, defeating males in the TVG Summer Stakes (gr.II) on turf at Woodbine and returned to annex the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr.I) at Keeneland in her second start. Sold by Eisaman Equine, agent, for $240,000, the daughter of Artie Schiller has earned $415,908.
Featured on the cover of the March catalog is Asia Express. The undefeated Henny Hughes colt, winner of the Asahi Hai Futurity (Jpn-I), was named Japan's 2013 champion 2-year-old colt. Owned by Yukio Babe, Asia Express earned $858,940 in U.S. funds during his juvenile campaign. He was purchased out of last year's March sale by Narvick International for $230,000 from the consignment of Ocala Stud, the colt's breeder.
C R K's Stables' Kobe's Back, another March graduate of 2013, has jumped into the fray for this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum Brands (gr.I) with an impressive win in the San Vicente Stakes (gr.II) at Santa Anita Feb. 16. The gray or roan colt by Flatter , consigned by Niall Brennan, agent, sold to L E B for $480,000 to top the first session of the sale last year.
With the latest class of 2-year-olds ready to take center stage, a few youngsters stepped forward with bullet works at the two under tack previews. Horses breezing in the rescheduled first under tack show on March 7 had to face the elements, namely a headwind, that wasn't a factor the following day.
Despite the conditions, Hip No. 139, a bay colt by first-crop sire Midshipman , sped an eighth of a mile in :09 4/5 to post the fastest work of the day at the distance. Consigned by Hal Hatch's Halcyon Hammock Farm, agent, the colt is produced from the unraced Montbrook mare Eye'll Be Fine, a full sister to Florida-bred champion Amen Hallelujah. Hatch acquired the colt for $120,000 at last year's Keeneland September sale.
"It took a horse with a lot of bottom and base to get over the track in the first breeze show," Hatch said. "I expected a work like that. I knew he would go well."
Hip No. 51, a colt by Street Boss , turned in the fastest quarter mile breeze of the first under tack preview, stopping the clock in :21. Consigned by de Meric Sales, agent, the colt is out of the Forest Wildcat mare Albany County. Old Gables and Hubert Guy bought the colt as a yearling for $105,000 at last year's Keeneland September sale.
At the second breeze show on March 8, Hip No. 287, a colt by Indian Charlie consigned by McKathan Bros., agent, earned the bullet work, getting an eighth of a mile in :09 4/5. The colt was bought as a yearling for $90,000 at Keeneland September.
Hip No. 305, Ocean Knight, by Curlin , consigned by de Meric, sales, agent, worked in :20 3/5 to post the fastest time at a quarter mile at the second preview.
"There was no headwind at all at the second breeze show," said de Meric. "That made all the difference in the world to these young horses."
The sale features juveniles by leading sires Bernardini , Curlin, Distorted Humor , Ghostzapper , Giant's Causeway, Kitten's Joy , Medaglia d'Oro , Malibu Moon , Smart Strike , Speightstown , Tapit , Unbridled's Song, and War Front .
First-crop sires represented in the sale by their initial 2-year-olds are Blame , Concord Point , Desert Party , Eskendereya , Midshipman,Musket Man , Quality Road , Super Saver , Tale of Ekati , Temple City , and Warrior's Reward .
Last year's two-day sale generated gross receipts of $28,865,000 on 185 sold. The sale averaged $156,207, and the median price was $125,000. Eisaman Equine, agent, topped all other consignors at last year's auction, selling 21 of 23 head offered for $3,995,000.
The top-priced horse, now named Pacific, sold to Barbara Banke's Stonestreet Stables for $1.8 million out of the King's Equine consignment of Raul Reyes. Stonestreet Stables led all buyers, purchasing three juveniles, including the sale topper, for $2,420,000.
"Hopefully it's going to be another good market," said consignor Paul Sharp, who sold Conquest Titan, second in this year's Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) and fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr.II), at the sale last March.
"It's evident that there is a demand for the better horses. How many of these horses meet the qualifications of the buyers, we'll have to wait and see. I know there is a strong group of horses here, and I suspect this will be a good sale."