by Ron Mitchell, Claire Novak, and Frank Angst
Through the year’s first three major yearling sales, 78.8%, or more than three out of four horses offered have sold in the ring. At the same three sales last year, sellers were only able to realize about about two out of three (66.8%) horses bringing acceptable bids.
While some would prefer the days when the total number of horses being sold was higher—even if it means higher RNA rates—the current reality of smaller foal crops makes this unrealistic. In the current environment, insiders suggest the reduced buy-backs point to a market that has reached more balance between supply and demand.
Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning Jr. noted the increased interest in buying yearlings in 2013 at this year’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale.
“There was energy on the sales grounds at Saratoga. There was energy on the sales grounds in July. There is energy when you go to the racetrack. There is more energy in the 2013 Thoroughbred world than there was in 2012,” Browning said. “It’s reflective of a variety of factors. People feel better about the U.S. economy, maybe not the world economy but the U.S. economy in particular.”
Through the first three major yearling sales this year (Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July, Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select, and Fasig-Tipton New York-bred preferred sale), 467 of 622 yearlings offered have sold (75.1%), compared with the same three sales in 2012 which saw just 434 of 669 yearlings sell (64.9%). Last year total North American yearling sales saw an RNA rate of 22.8%, which was the lowest yearly rate since 1999.
With improved purses in New York, it’s not surprising the Fasig-Tipton New York-bred sale saw improvement from 61.9% sold to 74.5% sold. But of this year’s major early yearling sales, Fasig-Tipton Saratoga has registered the highest percentage of horses sold at 78.8% (compared with 66% last year). That rate is the highest since 2006 for that sale. The 2013 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale hinted at the good things to come when its sale rate improved from 66.8% to 73.4%.
Terry Finley, president of racing partnership West Point Thoroughbreds, believes the added interest points to a healthier industry.
“I sensed a lot of excitement with the buyers,” Finley said after the Saratoga select sale. “That’s good for the business as a whole. Sometimes you look at a horse and they go for more money than you would think they would bring, but there’s a lot of enthusiasm in the business right now. That’s great for everybody.”
StarLadies Racing, an all-female partnership group launched by Laurie Wolf and Barbara Lucarelli, is one of those buyers considering horses at 2013 yearling sales.
“Going back to last year, Laurie Wolf and I had tossed about the idea of having a female partnership and buying only fillies, and having only females in the group,” Lucarelli said. “We want to give women a start in racing, get women out there, get them involved, instead of always just hanging on the coat tails of their husbands.”
StarLadies, a group of 10 women who each has invested $60,000 to participate in the partnership, will follow the highly successful Starlight Racing model. Laurie Wolf and her husband, Jack, founded Starlight Racing, and Barbara and husband, Donald Lucarelli, are frequent partners in Starlight horses.
“Fillies only, (consultant) Frankie (Brothers) picks them out; we’re looking for the most athletic horse that we can find with the best pedigree we can afford,” Laurie Wolf said. “We’re running with the same M.O. that we have with Starlight. We’re not changing much of anything; we’ve got a business model that works. The only thing we’re tweaking is, it’s only women and fillies.”
The StarLadies partnership purchased what could be its first yearling in July, a Lemon Drop Kid filly out of the Yonaguska mare A Little Gem, although the exact division of the horses between StarLadies and Starlight won’t be determined until after the end of the Keene-land September yearling sale.
“We won’t decide how the fillies are divided until we finish buying,” Wolf said. “We know what we have invested and what our budget is. Once we finish buying, the fillies will be divided between the two groups.”
Wolf said the partnership, comprised of some new faces and some Starlight partners’ wives, has filled for the first year. They will purchase approximately six yearlings from the premiere sales, concluding with Keeneland.
Participants will have the added pleasure of interacting with former jockey Donna Barton Brothers, chief operating officer for Starlight. StarLadies has pledged to donate 1% of the earnings from their 2013 crop to New Vocations, a retirement program for off-track Thoroughbreds.
Calumet Farm manager Eddie Kane said Thoroughbred owner/breeder Brad Kelley is hands-on, crediting Kelley with the mating that produced the sale-topping yearling at this year’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select sale.
The Dynaformer filly, out of the A.P. Indy mare Indy Pick, consigned by John Stuart’s Bluegrass Thoroughbreds, sold for $1,225,000 to Three Chimneys, agent for Borges Torrealba. The filly’s dam already has produced multiple graded stakes winner Optimizer, whom Kelley campaigns.
The filly was bred in Kentucky by Kelley’s Bluegrass Hall. Kelley Farms Racing had purchased Indy Pick for $260,000 from the Lane’s End consignment to the 2007 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. Kelley, who previously operated under the Bluegrass Hall banner, put together a trust that now owns historic Calumet Farm.
“He (Kelley) was the one that put Dynaformer with that mare,” Kane said. “He loved Dynaformer. He is the one who makes these decisions to sell or race. He loves the matings—figuring out which stallions to go to which mares.
“There is a reason he is breeding every mare to a certain stallion.”
Kane said Kelley and farm personnel always had high expectations for the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale-topper and she lived up to the billing.
“She did exactly what we thought she would do. She ended how we thought she would. From Day One, she was nice,” Kane said. “As a baby, she was straightforward. She was good-sized and obviously she was a nice-looking Dynaformer, and she never had any of that typical, plain Dynaformer look about her. She had class about her—good head, good eye.”
Nearly a year after Nat Rea purchased his first Thoroughbreds, the Canadian expects to see the first runners bearing the colors of his Regis Farms stable in action before the end of the current Saratoga Race Course meet.
“We have three 2-year-old fillies sitting on races that will make the meet,” said Regis Farms’ president Richard Hogan. “We have 11 2-year-olds, and I would say half of them will run this year and about half will develop and run next spring.”
“I can’t explain how excited I am,” said Rea. “It’s a dream.”
Rea, who resides on a ranch near Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada, with his wife and five children, retired last year from Martinrea International, an auto parts company he founded and later sold. The company grew into a multi-billion dollar entity that manufactures fluid systems assemblies, tubing products, stampings, and welded assemblies.
As of Aug. 15, the fillies that likely will seek action at the Spa are Zinzay, by Smart Strike—Music Room, purchased for $700,000 from the Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds consignment to this year’s Fasig-Tipton Florida March 2-year-olds in training sale; T. R. Indy, by Dixie Union—Sugar Canyon, bought for $485,000 from the Niall Brennan Stables at the March sale; and Zindaya, by More Than Ready—Aristocratic Lady, a private purchase.
The Regis Racing silks include a royal blue maple leaf in the center emblazoned with an “R” and blue sleeves.
In addition to Hogan, Rea has hired Sarah Campion, who was previously with Ingordo Bloodstock, to assist with the management of the operation, and named Peter Kirwan to manage Silver Springs Farm, a 300-acre nursery near Paris, Ky., bought by Rea.
After an in-depth search, in which Rea, Hogan, and Campion combed through data and made personal visits to many racetrack barns across the U.S., Regis has engaged trainers Rusty Arnold, Roger Attfield, Christophe Clement, Bill Mott, and Dallas Stewart to condition his runners.
“We wanted guys that can develop young horses,” said Hogan. “When you’re new in the business, you get to see who you’re comfortable with, who fits your style. How a barn is run says a lot about someone.”