With Ocala Breeders' Sales scheduled to close out the major 2-year-olds in training sale season June 13-14, it will mark the end of a robust year that has seen across-the-board success for pinhookers and sales companies.
According to BloodHorse MarketWatch data, through the first seven juvenile sales this year, receipts are up 14.7% (from $155.9 million to $178.8 million) over 2016, a year in which prices declined from the record-setting 2015. This year's buy-back rate has fallen from 25.8% to 20.9%.
For a variety of reasons, this year's June sale has been slashed in half from four days to two, with 755 juveniles cataloged in the regular and supplemental books, compared with 1,222 last year. There are an additional 12 horses of racing age entered in the auction that begins at 10:30 a.m. EDT daily.
As with any public auction, there is an ebb and flow between number entered and the total that will go through the ring, and as of the close of business June 10, there were 182 horses withdrawn.
Last year's June sale was topped by a City Zip colt purchased by Frank Fletcher Racing Operations from Stephens Thoroughbreds for a June record $800,000.
For the four day sale last year, 635 horses were sold for gross receipts of $18,078,900, down from the $24,176,500 for 609 in 2015. The average price of $28,471 was the lowest since 2012 and was 27% less than 2015's $39,699 and the median price of $13,000 represented a decline of 27.8% and the lowest since 2011.
OBS president Tom Ventura said the smaller catalog was anticipated since pinhookers, who play a major role in the success of juvenile auctions, apparently bought fewer yearlings last year. Many yearling-to-juvenile pinhookers said they would be emphasizing quality over quantity in response to buyer preferences.
"Based on the earlier sales, we anticipated that June would have less horses," Ventura said. "There were probably fewer horses bought to pinhook, based on last year's results in that lower- to moderate-price range, so people probably upgraded some of their purchasing so there weren't as many 2-year-olds to sell this year."
Ventura said what the sale lacks in numbers will be made up for in quality.
"I think we have a quality group of horses, as indicated by the sire list, which is pretty substantial," the OBS executive said. "Hopefully we can pick up where we left off in March and April."
As with any auction, the June sale is gauged by the success of its graduates, which include $3 million earner Goldencents (bought for $62,000) and Queen's Plate winner Sir Dudley Digges (a $130,000 OBS sale purchase). Millionaire Celestine, who graces the June catalog front cover, went through the ring in 2014 but was bought back for $975,000.
June graduates in the headlines recently include Rockingham Ranch's Stormy Liberal, who scored his fourth straight stakes win in the $147,000 Daytona Stakes (G3T) at Santa Anita Park May 27 and grade 3 winner Shane's Girlfriend, a graduate of last year's sale.
As the last sale of the season, the June auction gets its share of horses that were entered in earlier sales but were either withdrawn or bought back. In recent years, however, many more are targeted for June, especially if they need additional time in which to mature mentally and physically.
"As the sale has grown in stature, the confidence level of consignors has gotten to where they are comfortable putting a horse of any quality here and feel they will get proper exposure," Ventura said. "Consignors have become more and more comfortable in giving that horse the time it needs to show its best."
Consignor Ciaran Dunne of Wavertree Stables said that at this point juvenile consignors have either already made their profits or accepted their losses.
"If it hasn't happened by now, then it isn't happening," Dunne said of consignor profitability. "It's been a good year to sell 2-year-olds. Across-the-board everybody has had a little bit of success. There will be a couple that jump up here like every June and sell really well that could make the difference in someone's year.
"You don't come to June looking to make your fortune."
Dunne said the June sale has rightly earned a reputation as a good venue in which to buy, since many consignors, especially pinhookers, are ready to let their horses go, even at a loss.
"It's a buyers' market here," he said. "Generally, you don't bring them here unless you want to sell. From a buyer's perspective, it's a great place to buy because no (consignors are) saying, 'look if I don't get it done I'll plan on a later sale.' This is it. There will be some good horses to come out of here; it's just a matter of doing your homework and finding them."
Kevin McKathan of McKathan Bros. concurred, noting that a lot of the sellers do not have racing stables to absorb unsold 2-year-olds and are ready to move on and begin re-stocking for next year.
"This is the end of the year; the last shot," McKathan said. "There are plenty of horses here from people who are not in the racing market, so it presents some opportunity. Not everybody wants to go to the racetrack and run. They want to go to July and start buying yearlings."