When a filly from the debut crop of The Big Beast sold for $850,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. March Sale of 2-Year-Olds In Training, it was a coup for consignor Ocala Stud. Perhaps more importantly, it was an establishing moment for a young member of Ocala Stud's stallion roster.
The yearling and weanling auction markets are based largely on the consignment wings of farms with stallion operations helping establish, promote, and maintain the commercial viability of its roster members. Taylor Made Farm, Lane's End, Gainesway, Airdrie Stud, Claiborne Farm, Hill 'n' Dale Farms, Mill Ridge Farm, Crestwood Farm, and Buck Pond Farm are just a few of the operations with a foot on each side of the line. Less common is the stallion operation that supports its own roster by consigning 2-year-olds.
With the bulk of the juvenile auction commerce coming from Central Florida, it is of little surprise that many of the stud farms that consign 2-year-olds are based in the Sunshine State.
The entire concept of the 2-year-olds in training sale was started in the late 1950s when Joe O'Farrell of Ocala Stud began selling homebred juveniles at Hialeah Park. Six decades later, selling homebred juveniles remains the bread-and-butter of Ocala Stud's consignment wing.
“We don't deviate from the program,” said Ocala Stud's David O'Farrell. “We've sold our entire crop at the 2-year-old sales since our inception. We bring them here and provide the buyers with the best that we have to offer and the worst that we have to offer. We don't try to do too many different things. It's gotten increasingly more difficult with the level of competition at these 2-year-old sales, but we're fortunate to still be able to compete, to be able to recruit stallions like The Big Beast and some others that we're fortunate to stand.”
Since the juvenile market is such a big share of the commercial landscape for Florida's stud farms, it informs the types of stallions the farms will target to stand. Physical makeup, race record, and probability of siring a horse that can get off the mark quickly are all viewed through a different lens.
Journeyman Stallions' three-horse roster is a young one, with the longest-tenured member of the group, Winslow Homer, having his first 4-year-olds in 2019. The others, Khozan and Fury Kapcori, have first juveniles this year.
“Being in Florida, if you aren't aiming for the 2-year-old sales, you're going to have a difficult time making it,” said Jouneyman's Brent Fernung. “This is our market down here, the 2-year-olds. If you don't think your horse is going to be a precocious sire, you probably shouldn't have him here.”
The Journeyman operation is not as rigidly committed to the 2-year-old sale formula as Ocala Stud, instead letting the horses and economics dictate who goes where.
“Largely, I try to pick out the really athletic ones that are a little light on pedigree with the female family, and they'll definitely go to the 2-year-old sales because I'm really looking forward to those horses performing,” Fernung said. “If I have a horse with a pretty good female family that can sell as a yearling, I might go there.
“I had a Khozan I sold as a yearling for $82,000 that was a half to Pay Any Price, so I knew he'd have some financial appeal,” he continued. “We had a couple that sold at Fasig July last year. That's mostly cash flow. You want money, but also it's nice to be able to put those horses out in front of people and let them see they're nice individuals.”
For better or worse, few things can dictate a juvenile sale prospect's price like his or her times during the under-tack show. Making an impression in those exhibitions pays off in the short-term, but O'Farrell said it's what the horses do after the breeze that keeps operations in business.
“Speed is a big component at 2-year-old sales, but any good racehorse, whether they win the Breeders' Cup Classic or the Breeders' Cup Sprint, every horse has speed,” he said. “Really, what it boils down to is we like fast horses, and we like breeding to fast horses. You just hope that your fast horse can carry their speed a route of ground. We're after the same types of stallions that any farm would be after.”
While Florida is the primary source of stallion operations doubling as 2-year-old consignors, it is not the exclusive domain for that strategy. Sequel Bloodstock's stallion operation is based in Hudson, N.Y., with a training operation in Ocala, and the juvenile market is one of several the farm uses to show off its youngsters at auction.
The marketplace and racing scene in New York isn't as heavily focused on the juvenile sales and their under-tack shows, so Sequel's Becky Thomas does not have to select stallions or breed mares with the same implied goals as her Florida-based contemporaries. That being said, a Sequel-consigned filly by the farm's cornerstone sire Freud covered an eighth of a mile in :10 seconds flat during the under-tack show for this year's OBS Spring 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale, showing the New York platoon can hang with the Florida-sired workers.
Sequel also consigns in the weanling and yearling spaces, primarily trading in New York-breds, but Thomas said the 2-year-old market is the one where she can best show her horses.
“My preference would be to get to the races or as close to the races as possible with every New York-bred,” she said. “That's the closest to the money that we have. If I have a 2-year-old here, I can say to the New York trainers, 'This is a horse that can fit here,' whereas I can say to smaller trainers racing at Finger Lakes, 'This horse is not going to bring very much, but it's a maiden special weight runner and you can do well here.'
“The same thing, with these New York-breds,” Thomas continued. “I can say to the Chad Browns, Todd Pletchers, and Kiaran McLaughlins, 'You not only have a top-end horse, you're eligible for every New York-bred restricted race, except for the stallion stakes.'”
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