OBS March Select Sale: Ridin' High

Published in March 31 issue of The Blood-Horse
Rubbing his eyes, Randy Hartley tried to stop the tears from flowing. His voice cracked with emotion as he described what it was like to sell a son of Dehere for $1,050,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's March select auction of 2-year-olds in training.

"A horse like this is everybody's dream," Hartley sobbed. "Oh gosh, this is just unbelievable!"

The muscular chestnut ridgling, with powerful-looking dappled hindquarters, established a record for the highest-priced juvenile ever sold at an OBS sale. He also distinguished himself as the most expensive 2-year-old offered at public auction, so far this year.

Even more important to Hartley and his partner, Dean De Renzo, was the huge return on their investment the transaction represented. They had purchased the ridgling for only $50,000 at the 2000 Keeneland September yearling sale.

"I walked around the corner of the barn and had a little cry," De Renzo admitted. "If he had brought $450,000, I would have been ecstatic. But so many people wanted him, and they just kept going."

While improving the financial fortunes of Hartley and De Renzo, the seven-figure price for the ridgling also provided a big boost to the OBS March auction, helping lift it to a better performance than many horsemen expected. The average price increased less than 1%, but that was still enough to improve on last year's sale record. Meanwhile, the decreases in gross revenue and the median price were moderate.

To Tom Ventura, the OBS director of sales and general manager, the results were more than satisfactory, considering they were preceded by bad business omens. First came the plunge in the American stock market, which was followed by financial setbacks in other parts of the world. Then heavy rains pounded Central Florida, making it difficult for prospective buyers to inspect horses the day before the OBS March auction started.

"With all the uncertainty, especially in the financial markets, I thought it was a good sale," Ventura said. "And the million-dollar horse was obviously a thrill. We were hoping to maintain what we had last year, and I think we accomplished that with our average."

The key business trends for the two-day auction, which was conducted March 20 and 21, were as follows:

  • Number sold: Down 13.6%, from 250 in 2000 to 216 in 2001.
  • Gross revenue: Down 13.4%, from $17,518,000 to $15,166,000.
  • Average: Up 0.2%, from $70,072 to $70,213.
  • Median: Down 7.3%, from the sale record of $55,000 to $51,000.

The buy-back rate increased from 34.4% in 2000 to 37.0% this year. And the number of horses sold for prices of $100,000 or more dropped from the sale-record high of 48 a year ago to 37.

Even though it produced a $1,050,000 sale topper, the OBS March sale is primarily considered a test of the middle market for 2-year-olds because most of its offerings are medium-priced racing prospects. To this point, it is the only major juvenile auction in 2001 that has not suffered a decline in average. Its decrease in median is the smallest registered thus far.

"Not everyone will agree with me, but I don't think it's all that tough here," said consignor Eddie Woods. "From my point of view, most horses sold for their value or a little bit more, in some cases. This is a blue-collar sale, and it attracts the professional guys. They're going to buy horses even if the stock market goes right into the tank. There are a lot of people here that we see at the sales all the time, a lot of trainers. We saw them way back when, and we'll see them again down the road. There may not be many new faces, but there are plenty of steady customers."

Another consignor, Mike O'Farrell of Ocala Stud, expressed similar opinions.

"We've gotten premiums on a couple of horses, but the rest are bringing fair market value," he said. "There are a lot of people here, and we have bidders for horses at all levels. From a market standpoint, I think it's been a positive sale."

Continued . . . .