Published in the Dec. 1 issue of The Blood-Horse
Most commercial breeders peering into a crystal ball in 1999 saw nothing but blue skies. However, as are the rules, planning out two or three years ahead can prove to be a tricky game. Breeders selling weanlings from first-crop sires in 2001 have experienced more than a little turbulence from the time they planned their 2000 matings to when they brought their crop to market at last month's major breeding stock sales. Remember those heady days of less than 24 months ago? The global marketplace was still on the rise, riding the wave of the "new economy." The bloodstock market also was gaining altitude, reaching numbers unseen since the early-to-mid 1980s. This time, optimists said, the market had stronger underlying fundamentals than the preceding bubble and inevitable pinprick. The average price for broodmares at 1999's bloodstock sales rose for the fourth year in a row. Weanling prices moved forward for the fifth consecutive year, hitting what was to be a record $61,634. Stud fees were on the rise. Everyone who has taken a basic economics course knows the rest of the story. Even while most industry indices moved forward, weanling prices fell in 2000. They fell again last month at the Keeneland November sale, with 1,063 weanlings selling for an average of $43,244--a drop of nearly 30% from two years ago. Stallions with their first crop hitting the weanling auctions in 2001 are a solid if not spectacular bunch. There is not a "breakout" horse like Fusaichi Pegasus should be next year, or Point Given the year after that. Only one horse, Forestry, had a first-year stud fee as high as $50,000. There were five others pegged with initial fees of more than $25,000. Despite driving into the wind of a declining marketplace this fall, there were plenty of bright spots while breaking down the average-price-to-stud-fee ratio. Among first-crop sires that had more than three weanlings offered at Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton's November sale, Tactical Cat earned the highest ratio. Tactical Cat had 16 weanlings sell for an average of $65,750, and based on his 2000 stud fee of $10,000, his ratio was 6.47%. Other leaders include Mazel Trick, who stands at Brereton C. Jones' Airdrie Stud near Versailles, Ky., with a 5.72 ratio from a $15,000 '00 stud fee and $85,818 average; and General Royal, who stood for $5,000 in '00 and had a $26,800 weanling average, good for a ratio of 5.36. They were followed by a 5.15 ratio recorded by average-price leader Forestry, and a 5.13 ratio scored by runner-up (by average) Exploit. Both Forestry and Exploit continue to stand at Taylor Made Farm near Nicholasville, Ky. Tactical Cat, who stands at William T. Young's Overbrook Farm near Lexington, is "a different kind of Storm Cat," according to syndicate manager Ric Waldman. "He stands more ground and is more balanced. His horses seem to have the precocity of the Storm Cats, but he can sire a horse that should be able to get a distance of ground." From top to bottom, the demand was steady for Tactical Cat's weanlings. "I was impressed how consistently well they all sold," Waldman said. "The market confirmed that they like what he breeds. That's the bottom line." Waldman is quick to point out the importance of pricing, as Tactical Cat, a grade I-winning son of the hottest sire on the planet, stood for $10,000. "It's all based on demand. Having the right horse is only half the battle. You also have to be right on price. This is a sophisticated market that pays attention to what is going on. And by market, I mean breeders. They play close attention to what is going on at horse sales. The demand for his third book of mares (upcoming) has been the best of all." General Royal has "an outstanding top line and body and is bred so well," according to Pope McLean, owner of Crestwood Farm near Lexington where the son of A.P. Indy stands. "All of the ingredients are there." General Royal, a grade III winner out of Bald Facts (out of Kentucky Broodmare of the Year Too Bald), "wasn't an outstanding racehorse, but he's the kind we are looking for," McLean said. "He's a beautiful animal. "Now, people are looking for racehorses. They don't have to be by sires that stand for $40-$50,000, and a stallion doesn't have to have won $2-3 million on the racetrack. They have to have some ability, but it's more how they are bred and their conformation." The overall leader (with more than one sold) by stud fee ratio was the South African-bred Horse Chestnut, who stands at the Hancock family's Claiborne Farm near Paris, Ky. Like Tactical Cat, Horse Chestnut was retired later in the breeding season than what is the norm for a first-year stallion. In neither of their cases did it prove to be a problem. "I wouldn't say it was enough of a sample to be significant," Seth Hancock said of Horse Chestnut's three weanlings which sold for an average of 6.46 times his stud fee. "He had one horse in book one and the others were in books five and six (of the Keeneland sale). He did get a late start (at stud), but we like what we've been seeing and we're hopeful that's what the buyers are looking for. He's in his third year now and people are still wanting to breed to him, and that's the best sign I know of."