Collins: Why European Sales Are Stronger

America's yearling auctions lag behind because of a "combination of factors."

Nearly every domestic yearling sale in 2009 has suffered sharp declines, but in England, Ireland, and France, auctions of young horses generally have turned in stronger performances.

“I went to buy this fall, and it was very, very difficult to buy a nice, solid, $100,000-type of horse,” said Lincoln Collins, a Kentucky-based bloodstock agent and a director of Three Chimneys Farm. “I think there was some weakness in the middle market, but having said that, if you brought a horse there to sell, you would sell it and you would sell it for at least a reasonable price.

"Pinhookers, I think, did pretty well on the whole. While buyers had cut back their budgets somewhat on what they were willing to spend, they were still willing to spend good money to buy a nice horse.”

There are several reasons why the European yearling market was more solid than the American market, according to Collins.

“It’s important to point out that the Maktoum entities bought a lot of horses and that had a bit more effect on that market than it did here because there were fewer horses overall,” he said.

Another factor, Collins continued, is a European philosophy about racehorse ownership that differs somewhat from the American approach.

“The experience of owning a racehorse for most people in Europe is an expensive experience, but it’s also a very positive one that they enjoy,” he explained. “They continue to buy horses not because they think they are going to make money, but because they really love racing.

"I’m in no way minimizing the importance of purses because one of the things you do hear in Europe is ‘Oh my Lord, our purses are terrible.’ But people keep doing it (buying horses) because they enjoy the sport. For some reason, the expression ‘sportsman’ seems to have become a negative term here (in America) as if a sportsman is some kind of an idiot. But sportsmen are people who love racing and are in it for the sport. They looking forward to sharing their experience with their families and friends and, to some degree, the general public.

"One of the things we have to address in America is the experience that people who own horses get out of racehorse ownership. It isn’t just about the purse money.”

Thirdly, according to Collins, the lack of claiming race in Europe means that people have one less way to become a horse owner, so they are more likely, as a group, than Americans to shop at yearling auctions, which helps keep the commercial marketplace healthy.

“If you want a horse in Europe, you more or less have to go and buy it at a yearling sale,” he said.