Sales, sales, and more sales! I am here to provide insight as to what my first auction experience was like.
The first auction experience is an overload of sensations: the sounds of the auctioneers, the plaintive whinnying of young stock away from home, huddled discussions between bloodstock agents and clients, seeing the hustle of veterinarians, scopes slung around necks, checking their lists to see what horses need to be evaluated. And the hundreds of horses – all connected by only their breed and birthday, but all so different in size, conformation, temperament, and untested talent.
Thoroughbred auctions are an integral part of the horse racing world. The vast majority of Thoroughbreds find owners through sales, and with more than 50 sales worldwide during a calendar year, at any given time throughout the year, there is sale happening, about to happen, or just finishing for yearlings or two-year-olds, horses of racing age, or breeding stock.
The OBS April Sale, which is currently happening right now, includes a broad range of purchases from $1,000-$1,100,00. Anyone of those horses could be the following year’s Kentucky Derby winner!
The Keeneland Yearling September sale is one of the most prestigious auctions. People travel from all over the world to evaluate that specific year’s crop of yearlings being presented for sale. In 2018, the Keeneland Sales company sold more than 6,000 Thoroughbreds with annual earnings of $600,643,700 million. With most of the profit coming from the September Yearling sale, where the profit was $377,130,400 million and more than 2,900 horses sold.
The leading sales companies in the United States are Keeneland, Fasig-Tipton, and OBS (Ocala Breeders Sales Co.)
I’ll start with the sale I personally have the most knowledge of, Keeneland. Now like I said above I am going to do my best to clarify this all. Keeneland Association hosts four different sales throughout the year. Starting with the January Horses of All Ages Sale, April two-year-olds in training and Horses of Racing Age sale, the September Yearling sale, and to close out the year, the November Breeding Stock Sale.
Each sale begins with a preview week or days, so potential buyers have the opportunity to go and look at horses they have noted in the sales catalog. For instance, the Keeneland September Sale had more than 2,000 horses up for sale. At the beginning of the sale are two full days of previews before bidding starts to evaluate the early selling horses. Afterward, as new horses arrive for who are selling later, previews happen while bidding on previously viewed horses are occurring. It makes for long, chaotic days!
For two-year-olds in training sales, there are breeze shows prior to the actual auctions. The breeze show is when every horse going through the ring will have a timed workout anywhere from 1/8th of a mile or 3/8th of a mile. This is for potential buyers to be able to watch the horses training. The consigners also take videos of the workouts and are posted online, for additional reference. Buyers will have a few days to examine the horses before the actual auction begins.
Those two full days of previewing do not mean that is the only time potential buyers can go look at horses, while the sale is happening, buyers continue to look at horses. There truly is not enough time in the day to look at hundreds — if not thousands — of horses.
Buyers can be any person who has the money to purchase a horse. With that being said, most buyers include trainers, owners, and breeders. Many buyers also use a bloodstock agent to have extra help with choosing horses, which buy and sell horses on behalf of specific clients.
Each consignor is assigned a barn. Those barns have numbers. Smaller consignors will share a barn and larger consignors may have more than one barn. At the barn, prospective buyers fill out a small sheet with their name and indicate which horses should be brought out for inspection. As the horse is brought out, the buyer goes through their mental checklist to see if the horse’s conformation is strong if the walk looks athletic if the horse’s mental attitude seems desirable, and any other criteria that particular buyer deems important.
I know during my first “go see” I was not sure what everyone is supposed to look for, it is important to look at the horse’s confirmation, which means the overall makeup of the horse. Is one leg longer than the other? Does the horse seem extra agitated or anxious? The list can go on from here, and each person looks at horses differently or has different qualities they prefer.
After the preview days, it is time for the actual sale to begin. (Finally!)
Excitement ensues as people walk into the arena. There is no way to explain how a sale is, in writing, impossible to describe, exhilarating to experience, there is truly nothing like it! From sitting in the chairs watching the bidding to the bid-spotters (men who watch buyers make movement or eye contact to show they are interested in bidding) to the auctioneer calling out numbers as fast as you’ve ever heard.
It truly is exhilarating. What I found to be so impressive was how — in the blink of an eye — not only can a horse sell without it even appear to the natural eye that anyone was bidding, but the horse can sell for millions of dollars in a matter of minutes.
Each sales company offers if not the same type of specific sales. It all depends on the time of year and the pedigree the horses.
Fasig-Tipton has 13 sales in 2019. Ranging all over the US from Los Angeles to Maryland. They started out the year with the only sale in the state of Florida, The Gulfstream Sale, which is unlike many others due to the short duration (three days including previews.) In May the Midlantic Two-Year-Old’s in Training sale takes place in Timonium, Maryland. June hosts the Santa Anita Two-Year-Old’s in Training. Two sales in July, The July Selected Horses of Racing Age and The July Sale both in Lexington, Kentucky. Two more sales are in August, The Saratoga Sale and The New York Bred Yearlings Sales in Saratoga Springs, New York. The year ends on the West Coast at the Santa Anita Fall Yearlings Sale in Arcadia, California.
OBS conducts six sales per year. They are the only sale to stay in the same location every time, in Ocala Florida. Starting with the January Winter Mixed Sale, March Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training, the April Spring Sale of Two-Year-Olds In Training, The June Two-Year-Olds & Horses of Racing Age, and two in October, the Selected Sale of Yearlings and the Open Sale of Yearlings.
To put this all into perspective, Bloom Racing’s own, Midnight Bisou was purchased for $80,000 at the OBS April sale in 2017. She has since run 13 times and earned more than $2 million dollars in earnings! And THAT opportunity is why people buy and race Thoroughbreds!
Now depending on the specific buyer, $80,000 might sound like too much money and to another perspective be too little. This is where the world of sales has a true bell curve. Just the other day at the March Gulfstream Fasig Tipton Sale, a horse sold for $3.6 million dollars. It all depends on just two things: What a buyer is willing to pay, and what a seller is willing to take!