On top of America’s economic woes, the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. (OBS) might have to deal with a tropical storm or hurricane during its yearling sale, which is scheduled for Aug. 18-21 in Central Florida. The day before the sale was scheduled to start, Tropical Storm Fay was dumping heavy rains on Cuba, and weather forecasters were predicting that she could eventually turn north, head up the West Coast of Florida, and possibly strengthen into a hurricane. Projections showed the storm might cause problems in Central Florida Aug. 19 and 20.
Florida's governor, Charlie Crist, declared a state of emergency Aug. 15.
According to consignor and OBS director Francis Vanlangendonck of Summerfield, there have been fewer out-of-town shoppers looking at the August sale’s yearlings this year, and he believed the threat from Fay contributed to the lower attendance.
“People have been turned off by the storm coming up,” he said. “I’ve talked to some of them and they say they’re not coming because they’re in Saratoga or Del Mar and they don’t want to get down here and get stuck here for a day longer than they planned. Everybody who lives in Florida, we’ve been through this before. By the time it (the storm) gets here, it’s going to just be a heavy wind. The land is going to drag it down and slow it down tremendously, but it’s hard to convince people coming from out of town who aren’t used to it that it’s going to be OK.”
Vanlangendonck estimated that the number of out-of-town shoppers was down by half from a year ago.
“We keep pretty good records on who’s looking, and we’re missing trainers like Ron Ellis and the guys from Ireland and England who were here last year,” Vanlangendonck said. “It’s kind of got me worried. While a lot of the out-of-town buyers have their representatives here -- the guys doing the short lists – they won’t take you as far (in the bidding) as the principals will.”
There are 1,342 horses catalogued for the auction, most of them in the three open sessions that follow the Aug. 18 select session.
“I’m sure people, in the back of their minds, wonder what’s going to happen,” said Sergio de Sousa of Hidden Brook. “But you can’t worry too much about it. It may stop some people from traveling here from Miami or from Kentucky for the sale. Mostly, I’ve just seen the usual people who are doing the short lists and a lot of pinhookers. I haven’t seen a lot of trainers or a lot of principals. But that could be because it’s still early or it could be because of the storm. It might just be because it’s a tough year to sell horses.”
Consignor Beth Bayer reported that Fay was causing some owners of yearlings in the sale to fret.
“As far as the buyers who are here, they’re not worried at all,” she said. “But I’ve had a couple of owners who are in a little bit of a tizzy and want to ship their Wednesday and Thursday horses in here early because they know the weather is going to hit and they want to get them here before it does. They’re also worried about buyers not coming to the sale.”
Richard Kent of Kaizen Sales was looking for a silver lining in the cloudy forecast.
“It adds a little spice to the August sale in Ocala,” he said. “It might make people a little bit more nervous about coming down here. But by and large, the ones who are going to buy the horses are already here. I’ve been to a lot of sales when you thought the weather was going to make them less buyer friendly, but it can make them better. Maybe the buyers won’t be able to get out of here, and, for once, the OBS pavilion might be full.”
Said George Isaacs of Bridlewood Farm: “If it’s an all-out storm, I’m sure it’s going to affect the sale in some way. Obviously, we’ve had to deal with a lot of rain here before, but they’ve got a very nice facility, and as long as they don’t lose power, I think they can conduct the sale. We’ll just have to all kind of work together to get her done. Hopefully that storm will go around us a little bit.”
Jim Perrone, a consignor from North Carolina, said there had been talk around his sale barn about Fay, but, so far, the buyers seemed to be more interested in looking at horses than in discussing the weather.
“Right now, it’s not a hurricane, so we’re just going to try to do business as usual and keep going until someone tells us different,” he said. “We’ve been real busy. So far, everybody is paying attention to the horses.”
OBS officials “are monitoring the situation closely,” said Tom Ventura, the company’s general manager and director of sales. “It’s still too early at this point to make any decisions. We’ll just see how it goes -- if the storm strengthens and what direction it takes. I haven’t heard of it being an issue with the buyers. I would think that most of the people who are planning to come are already here or are on their way.”