Shopper evaluates a yearling offered at Saratoga sale.

Shopper evaluates a yearling offered at Saratoga sale.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Walking the Walk: Consignors Cater to Buyers' Preferences When Showing Yearlings

Buyers have different routines when looking at yearlings, and consignors keep those individual preferences in mind when showing horses.

Buyers have varying routines for looking at yearlings, and one of a consignor's jobs at a sale is to cater to an individual’s preferences when showing horses. Some shoppers spend a long time scrutinizing each yearling, while others glance at the young horses just briefly until they find the one they really like.

"The biggest challenge we have as consignors is trying to let the buyer get into a rhythm," said Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales Agency before the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling auction in New York. "Some guys are looking quick, and they want to keep looking quick, so you've got to tell your people in the shed row, 'Hey, he's looking at these for 10 seconds; keep them coming.'

“Each buyer seems to have his own rhythm, so the showman needs to try to get in tune with that. There's a lot of tension sometimes, especially if the buyer is tired and the sun is beating down on him. If he's in a bad frame of mind, he won't be focused on looking at the horses."

He noted that Irish agent Demi O'Byrne likes showmen to stand the yearlings a certain way.

"He wants a horse's legs a little more spread out than usual," Taylor said. "If Tony Leonard is coming out to take a conformation photograph, for example, the horse's left (front) leg is in the front and the right (front) leg's toe will be right there, nearly level with the left leg's heel. But Demi likes them spread out about twice that far. He wants at least a whole hoof, if not a hoof-and-a-half, spread between the toe and the heel on the front legs, and he doesn't mind the back legs being like that, either."

Kentucky bloodstock agent Mike Ryan doesn't like to rush while studying a yearling's walk.

"Mike usually likes to see them walk two or three times, and he likes to get right behind the horse," Taylor said. "Sometimes he'll be about 10 or 15 feet behind the horse and will actually follow it, marching up the path almost like he's in lock step with the horse. He watches how the horse tracks going away from him.

"If he's at our farm (in Kentucky)," Taylor continued, "Mike likes them to walk down off the gravel showing area onto the grass and to keep going. I don't know if it's just because he wants to see them walk on the grass. Most of it is probably because he likes to really see their stride once they get their momentum going."

Kentucky bloodstock agent John Moynihan, whose clients include wine mogul Jess Jackson, usually works much faster than Ryan.

"John is somebody, much like Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert, who looks at horses quickly," Taylor said. "They all are buyers who are looking for a certain prototype. Seven out of 10 horses really don't come close (to what they want), so when those horses come out, they look at them for 10 seconds and say, 'That's good, next.'" Then, when they get a horse that comes close, they start doing something similar to what Mike Ryan might do. They really dial in on that horse."

Buzz Chace sometimes likes to take an exceptionally close look at a yearling.

"Buzz finds some intangible characteristics in the ones that he ends up buying," Taylor said. "It's something about the way they carry themselves and their presence, along with the physical (appearance). Some are big; some are small. Some are real compact; some are real 'scopy,' but he's looking for a certain kind of class in them all.

“Buzz, if he likes a horse, sometimes he'll just walk right up to it and lay his hand right between its eyes. Buzz was a horse dentist for 25 years before he got into (buying horses), so he might have been used to looking at good horses right in the eye when he was working on their teeth, but I've never asked him about that."

Florida horseman Barry Berkelhammer likes yearlings to just act naturally.

"Barry is a guy who really doesn't have a set protocol," Taylor said, "but he likes to see horses walk the way they want to walk. He doesn't want you out there chasing them too much. He likes to see the horse just do what it’s going to do. He said to me one time that he's looking for horses that are the ideal manifestations of their pedigrees. If a sire's offspring have pasterns that are a little bit long and that's how they're supposed to look and they run with that, he'll buy them."