The messages have been mixed so far in 2008 about the health of the market for select 2-year-olds in training.  The Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. (OBS) February auction turned in a solid performance, with sale records of $157,640 for average price and $125,000 for median price. But the Fasig-Tipton Florida and Barretts March auctions suffered significant setbacks.

The action moves back to OBS Tuesday and Wednesday for the Central Florida company’s March sale, which has more horses cataloged, 460, than any other major select juvenile auction this year.

“This will be the true test of the market,” said Tom Ventura, the OBS general manager and director of sales. “We’ve got over 400 horses, and the sale will be a good gauge not only of the top of the market, but of the middle market and the market overall. I’m optimistic based on our first sale, but I’m also realistic. I hope we can improve off of last year’s results, but I would be pleased if we stayed the same. I am confident that we’ve got good horses.”

The OBS March sale traditionally attracts a larger and more diverse crowd than any of the other select 2-year-old sales because it offers a big selection of horses in all sorts of price ranges. Juveniles have attracted seven-figure bids here in the past, but many also have sold for below $100,000.

“This sale has the best chance to be successful because there is such a variety of horses, and they fit in a variety of budgets,” said consignor Niall Brennan. “It’s a two-day sale, and there is a lot of stock. People know they can come here and find a horse they can afford. A lot of buyers at this sale have a budget in the $100,000 to $300,000 range, and many of the horses fall into that range. There will be buyers here who haven’t been to a 2-year-old sale yet this year.”

One worry is the increasingly bad news about the American economy and how it will affect the demand for 2-year-olds. But consignor Paul Sharp believes the cream of the OBS March crop will continue to command strong prices.

“The economy influences what we do, for sure, but good horses will still sell well,” he said. “ The political climate and the uncertainty about what’s coming in the next year also will probably have people a little conservative about what they want to do with their money, especially expendable income money, but they always pay for a good horse.”

On a more positive note, the OBS March auction has had some recent graduates that have raced very well here and abroad, something that is a big plus in attracting buyers. Midnight Lute, a $290,000 buy-back in 2005, scored in the 2007 TVG Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) and earned an Eclipse Award. Goshawk Ken, sold for $160,000 in 2007, went on to become a champion in Japan.

The auction begins each day at 11 a.m. (EDT).

Following are additional comments about the OBS March sale:

Norman Casse, Cardinal Hill Farm: “There are a lot of people here who can afford to buy these horses. I expect the sale to be very good. I just think that, basically, it’s the type of market that most people are interested in buying 2-year-olds in. I’m very enthused about it. It will be at least as good as last year.”

Barry Berkelhammer, Florida horseman: “The horses trained well, and there are nice horses in here. The market is going to continue to be selective, but that’s a trend that has been taking place for the last few years. The horses that jump through the hoops, so to speak, bring the big prices.”

Eddie Woods, consignor: “It’s the greatest sale in the country. Horses will get sold; they always do. People come here and know they can buy horses, and we come here and know we can sell them if we get it right on the reserves. In the other places, it doesn’t matter what the reserve is, if you don’t have X, Y, and Z on your horse, it’s not happening. When people come to Ocala, they think they’re coming to a small marketplace where they can buy horses. Miami and Barretts are the ritzy spots, where the regular Joe doesn’t think he can play even though actually he can.”

Robert Harris, seller: “I think the sale is going to be pretty good. You’ve got more of the middle market here. There are more than 400 head to choose from, and guys come in here and feel like they can get more bang for their buck for $150,000. You get guys who will come in here and buy horses for $50,000 and you get the heavy heads like Darley that will be here. You get guys from Philadelphia and Delaware, and you get some guys from Louisiana who will step up.”


Albert Davis, Old South Farm: “It will be kind of like usual; the good horses will sell good, and the other ones will have a hard time finding a home. These buyers are so educated; they really know how to land on the good ones. The ones they don’t want, they’re not buying for any money.”

Ryan Mahan, OBS director of auctions: “Honestly, I think there is a bit of a groundswell with this sale. I think some of it’s got to do with the racetrack’s new synthetic surface. I think some of it’s got to do with the way this sale has historically grown. The obvious answer is that good racehorses have come from this sale. I think that you’re seeing everybody looking at this sale as not only a workmanlike sale, but one where you can sell a million-dollar horse. You can buy a classic-type horse or you can buy a hard-knocking racehorse. For the last six months, I’ve heard from a lot of people who are pretty excited about this sale. Everywhere I’ve been, people are saying that they want to come here.”


Shari Eisaman, Eisaman Equine: “My hope is to make a profit after our last horse is sold and not be greedy. I just want to make money. We don’t have to have the sale topper. I just want to know, when it’s all said and done,  that we can make a living and go on to the next year. The horses here don’ t have to bring a $1 million. They can bring $75,000 and people can still make a profit. They are the bread and butter horses.”

Mike Mulligan, Leprechaun Racing: “I can’t speak for Barretts, but for the first two sales (OBS February and Fasig-Tipton Florida), every major buyer and plenty of other buyers were shopping really hard and looking for the right kind of horse. They’re not compromising that much. If they don’t find a horse that meets their physical criteria, they’re not settling on another horse and saying, ‘Well, I’ll just take this one.’ If you have the horses that they want, you’ll be well-rewarded, and if you don’t, it will be a struggle. I don’t think it’s been a lack of buyer enthusiasm; I think it’s been that there’s been a little bit lesser quality horse in the overall marketplace. I would imagine, and this is just a guess, that the pinhooking group spent $15 million less for yearlings in 2007 than they did in 2006. It’s shown in the physical quality of horses at this year’s (juvenile) sales.”

Reynolds Bell,  Kentucky bloodstock agent: “There are nice horses here; I think it’s going to be a good sale. The economy is a little more of a question mark in people’s minds. I don’t know whether it will have any influence on the sale or not, but it could.”

Holley Rice, Woodside Ranch: “This particular sale, for us, has been very good in the middle market in the past. We are seeing stronger players here than we’ve seen before and because of that, along with the fact that there’s always been a good middle market here, I’m expecting this sale to be better than all the rest. There have been so many good horses bought out of this sale, and we have the synthetic surface that’s showing that it’s easier on horses.”

Kenny McPeek, trainer: “There are always good horses that come out of here, and these horses have had a little more time (to train before being sold). We bought (grade I winner) Sweet Talker out of here (after she failed to sell at $115,000) several years ago.”

Kevin McKathan, McKathan Brothers: “This will always be a solid market. On a whole, people really enjoy buying horses here. You get a good crowd. There are more choices. You can come in here and feel like you don’t have to give $400,000 to buy a good horse. You can find a lot of very nice, useful horses here.”


 

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