Several factors contributed to the strength of the 2-year-old market at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s expanded March auction in Ocala, Fla., last week.
First and foremost, there was a deep pool of horse owners willing to spend significant sums of money for racing prospects that to date have not been asked to run at full speed more than a furlong or two. For the 25 juveniles that sold for prices of $500,000 or more, there were 17 different buyers. It's a healthy market when no one single buying entity dominates at the top end.
But this OBS March sale wasn't just about the top end. By expanding the catalogue by nearly a third, from 411 hips in 2014 to 610 in this year's book, OBS officials knew the average and median price would decline. They didn't inspect every horse entered and took the word “selected” off the cover of the catalogue.
The decision was twofold. First, it was a reflection of the widely held belief that buyers are more interested in volume and less inclined to attend a small, boutique-type auction. That's one reason Keeneland opted out of the 2-year-old sale market this year. The second reason was to bring back the March sale buyers who may have been frustrated in recent years as prices steadily increased beyond their budgets. Last year's average, when 201 horses sold for $37,627,500, was an all-time record $187,201 – more than double the price of a decade earlier. The middle-market median price was $135,000, also an OBS March record.
When this year's two-day sale ended last Wednesday, the results reassured OBS management the decision to expand the March sale was a good one. Of the 422 horses through the ring, 332 were sold for $56,172,000, a 49.3 percent increase in gross receipts from 2014. As anticipated, average price fell 9.6 percent to $169,193 and median dropped 22.2 percent to $105,000. The buy-back rate of 21.3 percent and overall clearance rate of 54.4 percent (percent sold from total catalogued) were improvements from 2014. (Figures include post-sale private transactions posted by OBS.)
“The new format worked beyond our expectations,” said OBS president Tom Ventura.
“Strongest sale in years,” said veteran bid spotter Pete McCormick, who works horse sales throughout the country. “The April sale is going to be something else.”
The four-day April sale (April 21-24) fills up all of OBS's 1,200 stalls. That auction has seen prices more than double in just four years. In 2014, the company generated $56,965,000 in gross sales and the average for 770 racing prospects sold in April was $73,981.
One veteran bloodstock agent said the strength of the 2-year-old market is driven by an increasing number of horse owners seeking instant gratification. Rather than purchase a yearling the previous summer or fall and pay six months worth of expenses before ever getting to the track, they are letting the pinhookers take care of that process.
And those pinhookers do it very well.
Exhibit A might be Hip 366, an Arch colt who was bought back by John Stuart's Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services after bidding stalled at $35,000 during the 2014 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Stuart sent the colt to Marne Fauber and Heidi Cecil and they prepared him for their Imagine consignment to the March sale. He breezed an eighth in 10 1/5 in the under tack show and sold for $580,000 to West Point Thoroughbreds, the highest-priced of eight purchases made by Terry Finley's partnership group.
Easy peasy, right?
One consignor reminded me that not every yearling RNA fits the profile of what pinhookers are looking for and not every breeder is willing to risk the attrition rate that comes with consigning a 2-year-old for an early season auction.
Another noteworthy accomplishment at OBS, this one not by a pinhooker, was the entry into the 2-year-old market by offspring of Ocala Stud Farm's Adios Charlie, a son of Indian Charlie whose first crop will race this year.
All four of the Adios Charlie 2-year-olds found new buyers, and two of them – both from the O'Farrell family's Ocala Stud consignment – were runaway success stories. Hip 428, a filly out of the Montbrook mare Siren Cove, sold for $675,000 to Narvick International, while Hip 515, a colt out of the Valid Appeal mare Unlimited Pleasure, brought $600,000 as one of leading buyer Conquest Stable's five purchases.
Not bad for a stallion who stands for just $3,000.
An offspring of a Florida stallion standing for even less – Northwest Stud's $1,500 A.P. Indy son United States – sold for $150,000 early in the two-day auction. The colt instantly became what OBS president Ventura said was “the poster child for the expanded sale.”
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