With many other auctions struggling to keep up with last year's record pace, Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. (OBS) director of sales and general manager Tom Ventura was cautious heading into the Monday start of his company's August yearling sale in Central Florida.
Last year's August auction posted numerous all-time highs in its select and open sessions while the combined results established marks for number of horses sold, gross revenue, and number of yearlings sold for individual prices of $100,000 or more. The average price was the sale's second-highest ever. But according to Ventura, surpassing last year's figures will be difficult.
"If we're within 10% of where we were last year, that would be in line with the way the Thoroughbred market has been so far this year," he said.
The auction does have some good things going for it. A 1995 graduate, champion and dual classic winner Silver Charm, recently was inducted into racing's Hall of Fame. In addition, no fewer than five horses offered in the select session of last year's sale already have scored in added-money events. They include graded winners Kodiak Kowboy and Tasha's Miracle.
"To me, that's pretty significant this early in the 2-year-old racing season to have that many stakes winners; I think that’s impressive," Ventura said. "The price range of this sale fits a lot of customers, and they can get horses that can run. Pinhookers will be very active here shopping, but we do have some end users looking as well, which is promising. We also have a couple of different buyers from overseas. Richard Galpin (of Newmarket International) is here with some clients from England, and we have someone else coming in from Ireland."
Even though Brent Fernung of Journeyman Bloodstock was expecting the correction in the Thoroughbred marketplace to spread to the OBS yearling sale, he was optimistic.
"There's been a pretty good crowd so far," Fernung said the morning of Aug. 18. "It looks like people are here early, and they’re working hard. I think there's going to be an adjustment, but probably not as great an adjustment (as at other yearling sales, so far) because of our quality of horse. This is a time when people are feeling more cautious with their money. But buyers can look at these horses and see that they can get in at moderate prices, and if the horses work fast at the 2-year-old sales, they can get out at big prices."
Another seller, Beth Bayer, also saw reasons to be positive.
"The jury is still out on how this sale is going to be, but I think the top is still going to be strong and the middle market is going to level off a little bit more," she said. "You might see a small percentage of change (in the statistics), but I don't think you are going to see a major drop in this sale. We've been very busy. The traffic through here is very good."
Monday's select session will be followed by four open sessions. Selling begins each day at 11 a.m. (EDT).
Following are comments from other consignors and some buyers:
Janie Roper, consignor: "I think it's going to be tough. This particular sale might see a bit of a drop in average because the market is correcting itself. The right horse will still go on and bring a significant amount of money, but I think if (buyers) can fault a horse at all they’re going to be a little careful about buying it. Some of the 2-year-old people (yearling-to-juvenile pinhookers) are going to cut back a little on the numbers and what they spend. They're just going to be real careful and very selective."
Francis Vanlangendonck, Summerfield: "We did 1,420 shows yesterday (Friday), which is a lot for anywhere in one day. I think it's going to be a good sale. This my third yearling sale of the year, following the Fasig-Tipton July and Saratoga New York-bred preferred sale, and in both of those places, there may have been a correction going on, but to me it was minor. The other side of it is that I think there are more people buying, and they're willing to buy. It wasn't like they were just looking for the best horses and not looking at anything else. We had more of a completion rate than I've ever had at either sale. The buyers maybe had a little more discipline and they weren't blowing them out of the water, but that, to me, is a far better market than just hit and miss. When you drop a horse to where it's a salable horse, it will get sold. You may not get what you're ecstatic about; you may not even be happy, but it's sold. Everything has a value, and they're all willing to buy a horse at a value. I'm very positive about the market."
Mike Paramore, Southern Cypress Stable: "I think it's going to be a decent sale; I really do. It's going to be like all the other sales have been. The better horses are going to sell fine, but your low end is probably going to hurt a little bit. I don't think your high end will get affected here because the high end here is not a true high end. We're not talking about million-dollar horses, which have been affected and seem to be a little weaker."
Eddie Martin, Martin Stables South: "There is going to be a correction, but probably a reasonable correction. The top horses will always bring the top money; where the correction is going to be is in the middle and at the bottom of the market. At the very top of the yearling market, in general, you're talking $800,000 or $1-million horses; here, at the top, we're talking about a $150,000 to $250,000 range, which has been a very solid market elsewhere. I don't see that portion of the market being in a correction. Thank God for cell phones and the Internet. If there's a good individual here, the right people get to know about it."
Barry Berkelhammer, Florida agent: "I think there's going to be some adjustment. This sale has always been a popular sale amongst the pinhookers, and the pinhookers have readjusted their spending habits, so it's going to have an effect. I think we will see a dip in average for sure."
Tommy Eastham, Legacy Bloodstock: "I think it's going to be typical of previous sales. The demographic of buyers here is very similar to that of the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale. You're probably going to see a correction similar to July's. There are a lot of pinhookers here; they're really good horsemen; and they're going to buy the really good horses. If you've got some (horses) that are maybe on the fence (in terms of quality), there are going to be buyers for them, but they're not going to reach as far."
Lisa McGreevy, Abbie Road Farm: "I feel really good. I think we always have good racehorses that come out of this sale, and if everyone can bear the heat, there are plenty of horses in here for everyone. I think people will find just what they are looking for. There are all different levels and all different types. But I do think we are going to see a little bit of correction in the market and people are going to be more conservative."
Richard Kent, Kaizen Sales: "I think it will be a good, solid sale. The horses here are going to fit into people's racing stables. They're the middle-of-the-road kind of horses that sold really well at both the Fasig-Tipton July sale and the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select sale. Maybe we're seeing the top end of the market ease off a little bit, but I think the $50,000 to $150,000 yearlings really sold well at the two sales I attended and I think the markets at both sales were really healthy. We've been steady (with lookers); we haven't been swamped. But it seems the horses they are looking at they have a real interest in, whether they’re end users or people who want to resell."
Dean De Renzo, pinhooker: "It’s pretty darn busy. I think the sale is going to be very good. I like a lot of the horses here, which is nice. It's a very even group. There's very good selection."
Dick Wilson, Big C Farm: "The top part (of the market) is going to be real good. There are a bunch of good horses on the grounds, and the buyers are here to buy good horses. People can pinhook them and make a profit, and there's good horses for end users."
Dr. Cara Erwin-Oliver, Marion Bloodstock: "I think it's going to be an all-right sale. From what I hear, there're no big, top horses here, but there are a lot of usable horses. Pinhookers have been looking hard."
Kimett Powell-Aldoff, On Course Sales: "I didn't get to go to the Fasig-Tipton July sale or to Saratoga because I was trying to get ready for this sale. But I've heard some positive things from other consignors and buyers. They still think the market is strong. Everybody is still really being optimistic from what I understand and whomever I talk to."
George Isaacs, Bridlewood Farm: "The market ought to be solid -- certainly in the select part of the sale, for sure. There are some nice horses here, and there are plenty of people here from what I've noticed. I'm sure they’re in a buying mode."