Uniform sale policies announced Jan. 21 by officials of Barretts, Fasig-Tipton, Keeneland, and the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. (OBS), will take effect beginning with the OBS select sale of 2-year-olds in training Feb. 17. The policies address medication, prohibited practices (including extracorporeal shock wave therapy and electrical devices designed or used to increase the speed of a horse), riding crops and horseshoes.
Leprechaun Racing’s Mike Mulligan, who serves as chairman of the National Association of Two-Year-Old Consignors (NATC), discussed the policies Jan. 23. Following are his comments:
The Blood-Horse: What is NATC’s general reaction to the policies?
Mulligan: “We think they are very good things. Most of the policies already were in place in some form or another at most of the locations where we sell. But we just felt like we wanted to have some uniformity from sale company to sale company and state to state – for it basically to all be the same. In the 2-year-old market, buyers are protected more strongly than they are in any other environment.
“We all realize the economy isn’t the greatest, and we felt like over the years that we have instilled buyer confidence by the success of the horses that have come from the 2-year-old sales. Everybody who is a strong player in the Thoroughbred market understands that. But we wanted to instill some additional buyer confidence into a broader base of buyers and wanted to give them that extra feeling of confidence when they come to the 2-year-old sales. We are pleased with how it all came out.”
Do you believe juvenile consignors had enough input into the development of the policies?
“Absolutely. There were several key consignors who are on the board of the NATC who were involved, and, of course, I was involved in conversations with all the sales companies. We worked very closely with the sales companies throughout the process. I think it was a win-win situation for everybody. First and foremost, we wanted our buyers to have confidence and feel like they are getting a great product from the 2-year-old market. And, secondly, we wanted to have a comfort level so that the consignors felt at ease and the sale companies felt at ease. I think we accomplished all those goals.”
Of all the issues addressed by the policies, which one do you believe was the most important?
“I felt like the steroid issue, because of the media attention throughout other sports, was probably the one that was the most important from a buyer confidence standpoint. It was addressed last year and was just reiterated at this stage (in the uniform policies, which don’t permit their administration in sale horses within 45 days of an auction).
“I really think the vast majority of consignors have been judicious and used good horsemanship when we’ve cared for our horses throughout the years. So, I don’t really think there are going to be a lot of changes, because of the policies, in the day-to-day care and horsemanship that goes into the horses while they’re at the sales or before they go to the sales.”
How do you feel about the riding crop issue?
Again, I think that was something that hasn’t been a problem with the vast majority of consignors and the riders who breeze the horses. But on occasion, there might have been a horse that might have been hit a couple too many times through its work, and that’s the last message we want to send. I don’t think it (overuse of the whip) is the rule; I think it’s the exception to the rule. But to instill confidence in our buyers – and even if it only happened one out of 100 times – we’ve taken measures to make sure that it doesn’t happen at all.”
What about the policy for horseshoes, which addresses the types of footwear that won’t be allowed on horses training for juvenile auctions?
“The horseshoe part was pretty simple. We just went along with the policies that were instilled at the racetrack. There were very few 2-year-old people who did anything (special) with front shoes. That probably would have been the least issue of all. Nobody even had a comment about it. Our babies are in very, very passive shoes for the most part, and I think that is pretty consistent among 2-year-old consignors.”
What about the prohibited practices?
“I certainly don’t think they were common practices in the 2-year-old market. First of all, I don’t think there are very many veterinarians out there, if any, that would do such things. But we just wanted to put to rest any concern that any buyer would have about any sort of misrepresentation, or any sort of masking of lameness, or anything like that because that’s not what we are about. 'If you have a problem with that horse, I’ll take it back’ is something that I’ve heard from so many consignors’ mouths. We want our buyers to feel confident, have success at the races, and come back and buy from us again.
“We have to have an exceptional athletic horse, and we have to have a good physical horse in order for the horse to be well-received. Most of the major pinhookers and consignors have major investments in their horses. Sure, they (the horses) have to show their maximum abilities during the breeze show so the buyers will pay attention, but we need to make sure that those horses are brought along in a proper manner.
“You can’t take a slow horse – or a horse that’s not supposed to start until he is 4-years-old and run a mile and a quarter – and get him to work :10 1/5. It’s just not going to happen. They have to have the athletic ability to do that naturally.”
Are there other issues that need to be addressed?
“I don’t think so. I’m really very comfortable with what we’ve accomplished. There are a lot of positives out there. OBS made a significant investment in its track and it seemed to reduce (bucked) shins and some of the other things that slow down the selling process. Graduates of 2-year-old sales won the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), the Preakness (gr. I), and four Breeders’ Cup races in 2008. They continue to prove they can run at the top levels of the game. The more we can do to make buyers comfortable … that’s what we want to do and that’s what this was all about.
"It was definitely a joint effort between the consignors and the sale companies. I don’t think anything else is pressing right now, but I sure would like to see the stock market get back up to around 12,000. I think that would make everybody feel a little bit better. But other than that, I’m pretty comfortable with what we have going on. I feel good about the quality of the horses that are going to be presented at the 2-year-old sales this year.”