Juvenile Sale Review: Down 30% or More

Even the top of the market is taking a pounding.

When sale company officials, consignors, and buyers analyzed the Thoroughbred marketplace in the past, they often mentioned how well demand for the most expensive horses was holding up. But during the latest economic downturn, which has sparked financial crises around the world, even the top of the market is taking a pounding based on the combined results for the first four major select sales of 2-year-olds in training.

During the Fasig-Tipton Florida, Barretts March, and Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. February and March auctions, 472 horses were sold for a gross of $63,042,700, and their average price was $133,565. Compared to the results from a year ago, the number sold was down only 5% from 497. But the gross plunged 34% from $95,506,000, while the average declined 30.5% from $192,165.

The number sold and gross both were down for the fourth year in a row. Since 2005, when the number of horses sold reached 667, the total has fallen 29.2%. The gross has plummeted 48% from 2006’s comparable figure of $121,148,500.

For the four sales combined, this year’s buy-back rate was 38.3%, with 293 of the 765 horses offered failing to find new homes. Last year, the buy-back rate was 35.6%.

There wasn’t a lot of change in the number of horses sold for prices of $1 million or more apiece, with total reaching three this year compared to four in 2008. However, the number of horses sold for $500,000 or more each dropped from 35 last year to 15 in 2009.

The statistics, while grim, weren’t as depressed as they were for the mixed stock auctions in late 2008 and early 2009. Many of those sales experienced downturns of 40% or more.

“We’re all in survival mode,” said yearling-to-juvenile pinhooker Shari Eisaman of Eisaman Equine. “The economy is going to get better, but it’s just going to take a few years, and we can all survive with it (the market for 2-year-olds) being down 30%. We’re going to adjust our spending for yearlings, so  the market is probably going to be down 30% for the yearling sellers, and they’ll get through it, too. It’s going to be a tough year.”

The last of the year’s five major select juvenile auctions, the Keeneland sale is scheduled for April 6 and 7 in Lexington. There are 216 horses in the auction’s catalog. Four more horses were added after Keeneland announced a total of 212 in February.