Joseph DiOrio

Browning: 'All Signs Positive' for F-T Sale

The select juvenile auction is scheduled for March 26 in Florida.

If Fasig-Tipton's Boyd Browning expressed his outlook for the Florida select juvenile auction in terms of a weather forecast, his prediction would call for sunny skies and no chance of rain.

“All the signs are positive,” the president and CEO said March 24 at Palm Meadows Training Center near Boynton Beach, Fla. “We’ve got a good catalog with quality horses and they performed admirably on the track during our breeze show. The market also seems to be better than it was last year.”

The auction, which kicked off the selling season for select 2-year-olds in training in 2011, is third in the lineup this year. Set for March 26, it follows the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. and Barretts March auctions, which both showed signs of improvement.

“Everything’s super,” said John Stephens of Stephens Thoroughbreds. “It’s nice that we’ve been able to give these horses almost a month of extra time to get ready. Because of this sale not being first, I think it will be better. People already have seen a lot of 2-year-olds and they know better where these horses fit into the overall group. That will be a plus.”

Fasig-Tipton’s Florida auction typically offers the horses with the fanciest pedigrees that command the highest prices. It also attracts the buyers with the deepest pockets.

Sheikh Mohammed’s bloodstock manager, John Ferguson; Kentucky bloodstock agent John Moynihan, whose clients include Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Stables, and Demi O’Byrne, who is a key member of Coolmore Stud buying team, all are back this year. Other shoppers seen inspecting horses entered in the sale’s latest edition included Donato Lanni, who helps Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert select racing prospects, and Fox Hill Farm’s Rick Porter along with his agent, Tom McGreevy.

“There is a lot of quality and there are a lot of two-turn horses, which we look for,” McGreevy said. “I’ve seen some horses that I think are very exciting. And,” he added, “I love the track here. When they (the 2-year-olds) go by you, you can’t hear any noise and it’s safe, which is  important. They didn’t go in :9 4/5 (during the auction’s under tack show), but nobody needs to see that. Overall, I think this is a great sale.”

New York-based bloodstock agent John McCormack, who used to live in Ireland, also was pleased with the juveniles he had scrutinized so far.

“Year in and year out, even when the sale was at Calder (Casino & Race Course), the quality always has been there, and there’s nothing to suggest that has changed this year,” he said. “I saw some of the horses on the farms and I loved what I saw coming down here in advance. I’ve seen them again, plus some other ones, and the quality is very good.”

Fasig-Tipton cataloged 167 juveniles for the auction. The number was down 30.4% from last year’s total of 240 and the pool has been getting smaller. With two days remaining until the sale, more than 40 horses already had been scratched.

According to consignor Joe Appelbaum of Off the Hook, the reduced supply, which is a general trend in the Thoroughbred marketplace, is a good thing.

“The demand has stayed fairly stable and when there is a reduction in the number of horses you’re selling, it drives the prices up,” he said. “We’ve all taken a lot of blows the last couple of years, but for those of us who are still here, we hoping – knock on wood like a 100 times – to reap the rewards of that.”

But consignor Ciaran Dunne of Wavertree Stables and buyer Patrice Miller of EQB thought the number of offerings had become too small.

“It’s very disappointing that in what is our biggest sale of the year (in terms of prestige), we’re probably going to run a 100 horses through the ring, if that,” Dunne said. “Obviously, Fasig isn’t selling less horses because it wanted to sell less horses, but that is a problem that we’ve got to address. Fasig needs to maybe look at whether it’s the venue, whether it’s the timing, or whether it’s the track. If we’re going to try to attract overseas buyers, if this is going to be our premier sale, Fasig needs to address the situation and one of the things it needs to do is talk to the consignors.”

Said Miller: “Obviously, they cataloged a lot of horses here that didn’t come. These select sales have gotten to be so small that I get shut out a lot because there aren’t enough horses to spread out the buyers over.”

Last year, when the Fasig-Tipton auction moved from Calder to Palm Meadows, the median price was stable at $200,000. But the average price declined 4.9% to $244,840 while the buy-back rate rose to 43.4% from 37.2% in 2010. The number of horses that were sold (81) and the gross revenue ($19,832,0000) represented declines of 11% and 15.4%, respectively.

This year’s sale starts at noon (EDT).