Not unlike prospectors who return to the mines where they had previous success, Thoroughbred pinhookers were trolling the barn area of Fasig-Tipton's Newtown Paddocks in Lexington over the weekend, inspecting horses entered in the July 11 selected yearling sale.
Fasig-Tipton has cataloged 300 foals of 2016 for the sale that kicks off the yearling auction season, providing breeders a market barometer and affording buyers a first chance to see offspring of young stallions represented by their first crops of yearlings. The one-day auction, which was preceded by a July 10 horses of racing age sale, begins at 10 a.m. EDT.
This year's catalog represents a 14% decline from the 347 head entered in last year's sale that resulted in 183 yearlings grossing $15.76 million. The total receipts reflected a 21% dip from the previous year and the average of $86,101 and the $60,000 median were down 12% and 22%, respectively.
There was an air of optimism prevalent on the sale grounds leading up to this year's auction, as consignors' spirits were buoyed by the strength of this year's 2-year-olds in training sales and the relatively stable U.S. economy. Also, July sale graduates have excelled on the track, and BloodHorse MarketWatch recently ranked it at the top of all major North American yearling sales by percentage of grade 1 winners, graded stakes winners, and stakes winners produced from horses sold. Grade 1 winners and July sale grads Connect and Klimt grace the front cover of this year's catalog.
"The July catalog is reflective of what people expect—good-looking, attractive, athletic horses that look like racehorses," said Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning. "Buyers expect to find a precocious, athletic group of yearlings when they come to our July sale, and that's what they will find once again this year."
That athleticism was on full display at this year's 2-year-olds in training sales, as three yearlings bought out of last year's July sale each went on to bring in excess of seven figures, producing sizeable profits for their owners.
The 2016 sale-topper, a Curlin colt bought by Randy Hartley and Dean De Renzo for $475,000 from St George Sales, went on to light up the bid board at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale in mid-May when he sold to Michael Hall's Breeze Easy and John Oxley for a sale record price of $1.5 million.
Hartley and others from the Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds team were among those inspecting yearlings Sunday morning in hopes of finding another yearling like that Curlin colt now named Curlin's Honor.
Like other pinhookers speculating on young horses who can be bought at a price that could provide potential profitability down the road, Hartley said he and De Renzo believe there is a benefit to striking early by being at the first sale of the year, especially since there are fewer end-users in attendance.
"For us, it's been about striking early," the Florida-based horseman said. "There are some big buyers here, but not as many as there will be down the road. That Curlin colt would have cost double last year in a later sale. We always strike here and try to buy the best horse. There are a lot of nice physicals here with pedigree. If you can buy one of the top three or four horses here, they will be at the top at a sale down the road."
Cary Frommer, who with business partner Barry Berkelhammer struck it big with two yearlings bought from the July sale last year, also sees opportunity in being on the early train when it comes to yearling sales.
"The only advantage is that sometimes people are scared to do it," said Frommer of reluctance on the part of buyers early in the season.
Among the Frommer/Berkelhammer July purchases last year were two yearlings that cost a total $485,000 that were re-sold as 2-year-olds for an aggregate $2.6 million.
"I truly believe the horses we bought last year we couldn't have afforded at the later sales," said Frommer, who is based in South Carolina. "As the season went on, the yearling sales got stronger and stronger."
While pinhookers play a vital role in the yearling marketplace, it remains a solid venue for owners who are also looking for value early in the year.
"A lot of people think it's strictly a pinhooking sale, but it certainly is not," said Kerry Cauthen of consignor Four Star Sales. "Pinhookers are definitely active here because these horses are the physical types they are looking for, but there have been a lot of good runners that have come out of this sale and it is a heavier end-users' sale than it is a pinhookers' sale. But we want them all."
Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales Agency said some of the July sale's appeal is that the yearlings were selected by the sale company on the basis of their physical traits rather than their pedigrees and there is a smaller group to consider than in the fall sales.
"Generally you get a very consistent group of good-looking horses to choose from," Taylor said. "A lot of people are going to find a lot of physicals that are going to work for them. At bigger sales you have to comb through a lot more horses to get a short list of what you want. There are a lot of forward horses here and they are a hand-picked, good-looking group. There is usually not a ton of pedigree to choose from."
Joe Seitz of Brookdale Sales said there is an air of optimism at the outset of the yearling sale season.
"Indicators are that the U.S. economy is strengthening and that, coming on the heels of a good 2-year-old sale season, makes me optimistic that this is going to kick off a good sales year," Seitz said.