California bloodstock agent Gayle Van Leer described the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. (OBS) March select sale of 2-year-olds in training as “awesome” and probably just about everybody who participated in the Central Florida auction would agree. The sale, by far the strongest of the juvenile selling season, ended Wednesday with its highest ever gross revenue of $33,380,000, average price of $143,262, and median price of $100,000 even though the American economy is swooning.
The number of horses sold over the auction’s two days, 233, was down 7.9% from 2007’s total of 253. But other statistics soared in comparison to last year’s figures. The gross grew 25.8% from $26,541,000. The average increased 36.6% from $104,906. And the median was up 22.0% from the former sale record of $82,000. The previous marks for gross of $31,044,000 and average of $108,545 were established in 2006.
“I thought it had as much buzz as I’ve seen in a number of years at a horse sale,” said OBS director of auctions Ryan Mahan. “I just said to somebody, ‘That was certainly a bountiful harvest.’ When you would have a reserve of say, $99,000, you might have three guys bid over that, and that’s unusual.”
Seven horses sold for $500,000 or more apiece, four during Monday’s first session and three on Tuesday. In 2007, only three 2-year-olds brought $500,000 or above.
The buy-back rate fell from 33.2% last year to 32.5% this year.
“Pick a superlative,” said Tom Ventura, the OBS director of sales and general manager. “It was spectacular. It was really beyond expectations. In this business and in my position, you try to keep an even keel because the highs are high and the lows are low. You try not to get overexcited when things are going good and not too down in the dumps when things are a little tough. But it’s hard to contain the thrill; it was just that big of a sale.”
According to Ventura, there were a couple of reasons why the auction performed so strongly.
“The consignors stepped up; we got the ‘A’ string from guys that we were getting ‘B’ and ‘C’ strings from in the past, and it pays off in the end,” he said of the quality of the March sale horses. “The racing performance of the graduates also helped. When you can put eight grade I winners (including Eclipse Award winner Midnight Lute) and a Japanese champion on the cover (of the sale catalog), it’s the kind of advertising that you can’t buy.”
To Jaqui de Meric, the sale was “unbelievable.” She and her husband, Nick, sold the sale-topping More Than Ready colt, whose price rocketed to $650,000 Wednesday afternoon. The winning bidder was David Clark, who was sitting in the sale pavilion with trainer Bob Holthus. Clark, who bought the colt in the name of Iron Horse Racing, purchased the equine air shipping firm H. E. Sutton Forwarding Co. in 1998 from Tex Sutton. Clark’s son, Rob, is the company’s president.
Clark's competition for the colt included New Jersey bloodstock agent Buzz Chace and Terry Finley of West Point Thoroughbreds.
“He was very athletic and breezed well within himself,” said Clark of the chestnut 2-year-old. “He was by far the best breezer that I’ve seen at this sale. He has a nice, powerful, long stride.”
The muscular colt, which worked an eighth of a mile in :10, is out of the 11-year-old winning Silver Deputymare Jouled Rhythms and is a half-brother to the two-time winner Blue Angel (by Golden Missile ), who finished second in the Lyrique Stakes and third in the Marie P. DeBartolo Oaks in 2007 at the Fair Grounds,
“I really loved the colt, but I didn’t think we’d have to give that much for him,” Holthus said. “But that’s the way this sale has been. It’s sky high.”
Nick de Meric, as agent, purchased the colt for $110,000 at the 2007 Keeneland September yearling auction.
“That was exciting,” he said after the colt brought $650,000 at OBS. “It’s not an everyday occurrence, so when it happens, you have to savor the moment. He was always special. He is a phenomenal mover, an exceptional mover. He just gathers ground with every stride and is phenomenally smooth; it’s almost like he’s hovering eight inches above the ground when he’s breezing. He also has tremendous balance and strength and a great disposition. He’s not a great big colt, as you could see, but if you measured his stride, I bet it would be as long as any horse’s on the sale grounds. I bought him as a yearling for a small partnership, just two guys. I owned a percentage of the package of horses that he (the colt) is part of, so I feel like he’s mine, too.”
Darley USA president Jimmy Bell signed $550,000 sale ticket for a Trippi filly named White Lamb. He purchased the dark bay or brown juvenile in the name of Sheikh Mohammed’s bloodstock manager John Ferguson.
Ferguson did not attend the sale, but he reviewed videos from the under tack shows and various information about the horses that were offered, according to Bell.
“When John went through all the horses here, he came out with a colt and a filly that he was the most excited to discuss with Sheikh Mohammed,” Bell said. “We got yesterday’s colt (a $550,000 son of Pure Prize and the Time for a Change mare Time for a Crown), and John felt like this filly was the one that he and Sheikh Mohammed wanted to pursue. We were happy that we got both of them. They are very, very similar types. The horses that perform the way these have, they answer all your questions. Both have a lovely disposition, and they are very straightforward.”
White Lamb worked an eighth of a mile in :10. She is out of the 13-year-old unraced Silver Hawk mare Chi, who is a half-sister to Sherriff’s Deputy, the dam of 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin.
“That’s obviously the most notable name running right now, and it jumps off the (catalog) page at everybody and would not go unnoticed,” Bell said. “But as we all know, the individuals have to step up and perform and that (Curlin in the pedigree) is an added bonus. John’s feeling was she had answered all the questions, and her physical prowess on the racetrack was really what persuaded him to want to follow her to an end.”
Bryan and Holley Rice’s Woodside Ranch consigned White Lamb as agent for New Bridge Bloodstock. Bryan Rice, as agent, bought the filly for $60,000 at the 2007 OBS August yearling sale. New Bridge Bloodstock is a partnership venture involving the Rices and Chester Weber, whose mother, Charotte Weber, operates Live Oak Stud, a prominent Florida Thoroughbred Farm.
“$550,000 was a surprise,” Bryan Rice. “We knew that she was very popular, and we thought she would maybe be as high as $350,000 or $400,000, but $550,000 sure is a welcome surprise. She was special because of her frame, and her balance, and her strength.”
White Lamb is the most expensive horse ever sold by the Rices at public auction.
“It’s new ground for us,” Bryan Rice said.
The third-highest-priced horse Wednesday, at $500,000, was a dark bay or brown Dixie Unionfilly that worked an eighth of a mile in :10 3/5. Kentucky bloodstock agent Mike Ryan purchased her for Bill Warren, who races 2008 Southwest Stakes (gr. III) winner Denis of Cork. Warren also owned 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam.
“She’s an exceptional filly – her class, her demeanor, her pedigree, the way she moved on the racetrack,” Ryan said. “She went down there (the OBS track) in a high gallop the other day, and it was unbelievable. She would look good with me on her back.”
The filly is the first foal out of the 7-year-old A.P. Indymare Open Flirt, who had one runner-up finish and a third in her five career races, but is a half-sister to stakes winners Jena Jena, Win With a Wink, and Up Like Thunder. Jena Jena and Win With a Wink are by Dixie Union’s sire Dixieland Band.
Niall Brennan Stables consigned the filly for her breeders: Dark Hollow Farm, Fast Kitty Farm, Arnold Davidov, and Mr. and Mrs. David Schwaber.
“I’m excited,” said David Hayden of Dark Hollow. “We bought the mare at Keeneland for $230,000 (in November of 2005) carrying this filly. Last year, when you had to enter for the Keeneland September yearling sale, Dixie Union was all but dead (as a stallion). She’s a gorgeous mover, a phenomenal mover, and we said, ‘Let’s not even go to a yearling sale; let’s go to a 2-year-old in training sale and take our chances.”
The overall results for the second session were 123 horses sold, a gross of $17,645,000, an average of $143,459, and a median of $130,000.
The OBS February select juvenile auction also was strong, posting sale records for its average and median while enjoying an increase from 2007 in its gross.