The recession-battered American economy is enjoying modest growth while in the midst of a fragile recovery, according to recent news reports. But the Thoroughbred auction business still is looking for significant signs of a turnaround.
The best, it seems, that sale company officials and consignors can hope for is some stablization following dramatic drops in statistics. The next big test of market health is the Fasig-Tipton Florida select sale of 2-year-olds in training March 2 at Calder Casino and Race Course. The auction is the fanciest of its kind, in terms of pedigrees, and it holds a number of world records.
The latest edition, however, probably won’t threaten any of the global marks even though the sale has attracted a large group of foreign and domestic shoppers and is considered to be “one of the strongest sales” based on the physical quality of its horses “that I’ve ever seen,” according to EQB’s Patrice Miller, who inspected 2-year-olds for potential buyers. Fasig-Tipton officials “have done a tremendous job picking horses,” she said.
There are 237 juveniles in the catalog, and as of March 1, 58 (24.5%) had been scratched.
“I’m trying to stay optimistic, and I think the sale overall will be solid,” said consignor David Scanlon of Scanlon Training Center. “Hopefully, we’ve seen the worst of it, but I don’t think we’re going to have a major turnaround all in one year. The real good horses are still going to bring good money, and the average horses will still do OK. But for the horses that are below average, there is going to be nobody there.”
In 2009, the auction suffered downturns of 25.5% in gross revenue, 31.5% in average price, and 34.8% in median price from the previous year even though Fasig-Tipton’s staff rolled out the red carpet for buyers and consignors, offering upgraded dining choices and erecting a tent complex on the Calder backstretch with a business center, a video viewing room, and a café that served breakfast and lunch. There have been some changes in 2010, but the sale company has continued to emphasize high levels of customer service.
“Fasig-Tipton puts on a great show, so I think the atmosphere is great here,” said consignor Joe Appelbaum of Off The Hook. We have a good international group of buyers, which is, I think, always nice to see. I’ve seen a number of Japanese and a number of European buyers, as well as most of the usual faces.”
But like Scanlon, Appelbaum thought there would still be weaknesses in the Fasig-Tipton Florida market.
“I think what is going to happen probably will be similar to other sales in the last six months; good horses are going to sell for a premium,” Appelbaum said. “The horses that aren’t going to command the top price won’t have the sort of the floor that they may have had in the past, so you’ll have to hustle to get them sold.
"In the $75,000 to $150,000 range, there is a real lack of buyers. You have a good horse that should bring $100,000, maybe, and it winds up at $40,000. I don’t see the lawyer and the doctor here who would each kick in $50,000 to buy a horse.”
Consignor Niall Brennan was upbeat, but admitted his enthusiasm was tempered with a dose of realism because of the uncertain economic environment.
“I’ve been encouraged,” he said. There has been a lot of action at our barn. We’ve been very busy. There’s genuine interest from people, so I think the sale is going to be very solid. We’re not expecting any spectacular fireworks because that’s not very realistic. But I think there is great interest, and people appreciate the quality that is here.
"They know that they’re going to have to pay good money for that. It’s the same old story, I think the good ones – and there are many of them here – are going to sell well.”
The sale starts at Calder at 11 a.m. (EST).