The Breeders’ Cup Forum: Buyers ‘Follow Good Horses’

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Tom Ventura Tom Ventura

Tom Ventura joined the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company in 1994 as assistant director of sales, was later promoted to general manager, and on July 1, 2012, succeeded Tom Chiota as the organization’s president.

Like all North American Thoroughbred sales companies, OBS took a hit when the global economic meltdown occurred in 2008 and 2009. Gross sales from its March, April and June auctions of 2-year-olds in training dropped from $63.7 million in 2008 to $43.2 in 2010, but have steadily regained and surpassed their previous marks. The recent June sale continued the trend of double-digit percentage increases that began in March, and gross revenue from the three juveniles sales of 2013 hit $85.7 million, a 34.5% gain from the 2012 gross of $63.7 million.

What have been the keys to the growth in the OBS 2-year-old sales program?
It’s been a work in progress over the years as the quality of horses has improved. We are surrounded by training centers and as long as we are able to produce the buyers, consignors would rather stay home than travel. Over time, the sales got stronger and we built off that momentum. There are two reasons for that: the horses performed on the racetrack, going back to Skip Away and Silver Charm, and the buyers will follow good horses; consignors, as time went on, felt more and more confident bringing any kind of horse here.

Has your synthetic racetrack made any difference?
It certainly has had an impact, especially when you sell over multiple days. In Florida, even within the same day, weather can change dramatically, and it’s not the same at two in the afternoon as it was at eight in the morning. The of the advantage of the Safetrack is its ability to handle rain, and handle it very well. We’ve eliminated at least a portion of the variance, the sloppy track. You can’t eliminate it completely, but it did a tremendous job. The drainage is very good, it’s a very forgiving surface.

Have the results of the last several years met or exceeded the goals you set out to achieve?
When the entire industry took the hit in 2008 and 2009, I think everyone collectively was looking for some light at the end of the tunnel. When we made that turn, we made significant progress over the last two years. We set records on top of records.
It goes back to the quality of the horse. The sellers were able to loosen up their wallets and buy better horses to bring here over the last few years and had complete confidence in all of our sales – and not just the March sale – to bring a select quality horse to April or June and feel comfortable that horse would get plenty of exposure.

How has the customer base transformed itself over the last decade?
It’s been gratifying to see that happen. Horses have left our sales grounds and made names for themselves on the racetrack. That is recognized by the biggest players. They know they need to pay attention to our sales, and many of the top buyers have focused not just on OBS but on other 2-year-old sales. We have more international influence, more Japanese, Korean buyers are buying in volume.
One of the things we benefit from in April, and also in March, is the pure number of horses we have to sell. It gives buyers comfort knowing they can come here and buy a horse that fits their criteria.
When you think about it, a four-day sale is really a 10-day sale when you count the breeze shows. Buyers know they’ll find something that fits their budgets and their likes.

This growth by OBS has occurred while the Florida breeding and racing industry has had some turmoil. You obviously depend less today on Florida-breds than you have in the past.
Florida-breds don’t have to race in Florida – they can compete anywhere. But it benefits all of us to have some stability in South Florida racing. There aren’t that many buyers anymore who are strictly based in South Florida; many of those trainers have multiple locations now.

What is the corporate structure of OBS, and where do the profits from operations go?
OBS is structured as a co-op, with 82 shareholders. It is for-profit. We have our own feed division. We also own a jai-alai fronton in the northern part of Marion County and have the ITW here on the grounds. We don’t operate the jai-alai business or the poker room, but we own it.

Do you foresee growth in your yearling and mixed sales as well?
I think the markets will be better for yearlings and mares on the heels of successful 2-year-old sales. I think we’ve seen the bottom in terms of production. There has been a 40% drop in the number of foals in Florida, and that pretty much corresponds to the decline nationally. That’s been a factor in the increase in prices. The number of horses has lessened; supply has caught up with demand.

Do you foresee any future changes?
We haven’t taken a deep breath to see what direction we’re going in. We think we do a very good job from the racetrack and logistics side and presenting horses for sale. One thing we might look at are the creature comforts for our customers once they’re here.

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