10/03/2013 11:14AM

Lexington Yearling Sale: Learning some lessons


Somehow I have followed harness racing for over 20 years and worked in the industry for 16 without ever attending a horse sale. Even if you don’t love horses, the experience is certainly interesting and entertaining.

The action is fast-paced to say the least. You would think selling 100-160 horses would take a long time, but the auctioneers banged out 30-plus per hour and quite frankly it was like watching a good movie; time doesn’t matter.

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As you sit in the pavilion at the start of the auction and the first horse is paraded into the ring, the bidding begins somewhat slowly, especially on the first night. But once the sale gets rolling, if you blink, you missed the horse you were trying to buy. Often enough, you are watching the room to see who purchased the horse only to find out that the bidder wasn’t even in the room! I learned that the outside ring where horses parade before they enter the sales room is the hotspot for more than half of the buyers. Trainers Jimmy Takter and Swedish trainer Ake Svanstedt were among those making that their home base and bidding up a storm.

I learned that buyers with money to spend at the sale are like kids in a candy store. You have never seen people so happy to spend money. Some of these men and women can be seen hi-fiving after a purchase. From a logic standpoint, the risks are high in the yearling game and buying a $200,000 horse is hardly as down-to-earth as picking up a new Ferrari (for those of you who can imagine a Ferrari as a reasonable purchase). With the car you know what you are getting. With a horse, well, who knows?

At first my mindset was that it is really a gamble spending above $100,000 on a yearling. But after speaking with Tom Grossman, owner of Blue Chip Farms in New York, I decided to look deeper and did some research. Did you know that 45 of the 64 horses entered in the New York Sire Stakes finals at Yonkers Raceway on September 28 made at least $100,000? And plenty of those included 2-year-olds with only a few starts under their halters. Perhaps $100k to $200k is a reasonable price to pay if you like what you see in the flesh and the bloodlines.

I must admit that while I enjoyed watching the sale, bidding sure does look like fun. Maybe I can create a board game where you take the sales catalog and bid with “monopoly-type” money based on breeding.

If you want your lessons in a sentence, the sale seems to be the place. Here is some of the knowledge I gained:

“Anyone who tells you it isn’t a crapshoot is lying,” remarked one accomplished trainer.

“Buying yearlings is harder than training horses,” said a trainer that was mulling over another purchase.

“If I buy your horse, you are not happy,” said one prospective buyer who was only looking for bargains.

“You have to buy blood,” said a buyer in reference to looking back in the pedigree at the whole family.

I learned that preparation is the key. The number of buyers sitting there and bidding by the seat of their pants is certainly on the low end. Most show up with a list in mind and a price in their head. I did find one or two who make their final decisions as the horses parade prior to entering the sales pavilion. They were basically looking to see how the horse appeared on sales night and if something may have slipped through the cracks when they did their homework.

All in all, the experience has been great. If you have the good fortune to be in Lexington, Kentucky during the first week of October, I highly recommend stopping by and checking out the action. Maybe strike up a conversation with someone who is bidding and ask questions. Just don’t start waving your hands or you may be traveling home with an equine companion.

On the backstretch

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Trainer George Ducharme was feeling good about his colt Royalty For Life in Sunday’s Futurity. The veteran trainer said he had him as good as he could be going in.

Shawn Steacy (trainer Mark's son) said that Tattersalls starter Sunshine Beach is doing well coming into the race. While most have been pinning the sixth race on Saturday as a match race between Vegas Vacation and Captaintreacherous, he felt it was a four-horse race, adding his horse and Beach Memories.

Peter Foley felt Bolt The Duer was “fresh as a daisy”. The trainer was happy about his colt’s elimination effort for the Allerage and was already looking forward to a 5-year-old season in 2014.

Trond Smedshammer remarked that he was even a bit surprised with the word record-equaling mile by Arch Madness last week in the Allerage elimination. “He was acting badly all day,” said the trainer, who continued frankly, “I’ve never understood him and I never will.”