When Fasig-Tipton conducts its winter mixed sale this week, the horses presented to buyers will reflect a sea of change of offerings, as consignors respond to market preferences, with an increase in short yearlings and fewer broodmares and broodmare prospects comprising the catalog.
With 574 head cataloged in the regular and supplemental books—down 10.9% from the 641 entries a year ago—the 223 short yearlings represent 39% of the total, compared with a 29% rate in 2017, when 186 were offered. Conversely, this year's broodmare category totals 162, representing 28.3% of the total and down from the 231 in 2017 that comprised 36% of the book.
Horses classified as racing/broodmare prospects declined from 92 a year ago to 38 this year, and the broodmare-only prospects fell from 92 to 76.
Those numbers reflect the strong demand among buyers for foals, when they were offered as weanlings during last year's fall mixed sales and as short yearlings earlier this year in the January sales at Keeneland and Ocala Breeders' Sales.
"Certainly there has been vibrancy in the marketplace for short yearlings from October through January, and people have confidence in selling foals and yearlings," said Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning Jr. "The pendulum will swing back at some time, but right now it is a lot easier to sell a quality short yearling than it is a middle market mare."
With sessions beginning at 10 a.m. ET daily Feb. 5-6 in Lexington, the sale is the final opportunity for breeders to purchase stock prior to the mid-February traditional start of the breeding season.
Last year's sale was topped by the $700,000 successful bid from Oussama Aboughazale's International Equities Holding for Cinnamon Spice, a Candy Ride mare who is a half sister to grade 1 winner and promising young sire Violence .
Fasig-Tipton reported 351 horses sold for $9,501,800 during the 2017 winter mixed sale, compared with the $8,260,600 for 341 sold in 2016. The average price was $27,071, with a $9,000 median, compared with a $24,225 average and $9,500 median the previous year.
The Fasig-Tipton auction brings down the curtain on a sales season that has been particularly strong, fueled by the spiraling U.S. stock market, changes in the federal tax laws favorable to horse ownership, and a closer balance between supply and demand.
Because of the nature of the January sale, in which the stock presented is variable, Browning said it is difficult to forecast from year to year whether the sale will be up or down, but that the quality lots should continue to dominate.
"There is going to be great demand for quality, but since this is an open sale, there is no way for us to evaluate the strength of the catalog," he said. "You have to see the commerce that takes place."
Most consignors see no reason why the bull market, especially for yearlings and broodmare prospects, won't continue at the two-day sale.
"The foal and short yearling market is insane, and I see no reason why it shouldn't be good," said Zach Madden of Buckland Sales. "The buyers are very advanced and picky and stringent on what they want. It's all about having the stars align—having a horse that is by the right stallion, is showing well, and kind of trending in the right way and hitting all those selling points."
"We're at a good place in the market," said Conrad Bandoroff of Denali Stud. "If you bring the right horse, you're going to be rewarded. Quality sells, and once you get to that middle or lower end of the market, it's going to be a lonely spot, but it has been for the past couple of years."
While the emphasis is on quality and strength at the top of the market, Mike Recio of South Point Sales believes there are some profitable niches being overlooked, especially broodmares in the middle market.
"This sale always does really well for racing and broodmare prospects, because this is your last opportunity," he said. "There is a lot of value in the $30,000-$50,000 price range for in-foal mares, with the hope you can get out on the baby right away. That's a part of the market not being paid attention to right now."
As with any domestic auction, there will be some horses offered for which there is little or no demand, especially at a price deemed acceptable by the breeder or consignor. The extent to which the seller tries to protect their product by setting its reserve could mean the difference between selling and taking the individual home.
"The middle market still remains a little bit sticky, whether it's a marginal foal or mare with some age or in foal to a stallion who has gotten cold," Madden said. "If you want to protect this mare or foal, you stand a risk that you're going to have to bring it home. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move on to one that may be closer to paying out for you."