11/05/2012 1:50PM

Bergman: Uncertainty in the air as Standardbred sale begins in Harrisburg

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There’s going to be a different feel after the Standardbred horse sale at Harrisburg completes on Nov. 10. Murray Brown, the sale’s general manager and vice president, will end a more than 40-year relationship with the sale.

“I’m retiring but I’m still going to be involved with both Hanover Shoe Farms and the Standardbred Horse Sales Company,” said Brown.

The sale opens on Monday with four consecutive days of yearlings going on the block. On Friday and Saturday there will be a mixed auction that encompasses breeding stock and racehorses.

Uncertainty in the market remains at the top of the list of concerns of any sales vice president or general manager. “I don’t know what breeders are out there that are buying,” said Brown.

For Brown, who has a dual role with Hanover Shoe Farm, the focus for the coming week will be on yearlings. “I’m more involved year-in, year-out with the yearlings. We start looking into pedigrees in January and February. Then in March and April we’re inspecting the yearlings. Then we have to decide who gets in,” said Brown.

As for the mixed sale, Brown and company take entries two months before the sale and don’t worry about pedigrees or physical appearance.

Yet despite more than 40 years at the sale, Brown is effusive in his praise of this year’s pacing prospects from his Hanover Shoe facility. “I’ve got to tell you I can’t remember any crop we’ve sold where there are 20 colts that are that nice you just can’t separate them. Any of them could be the best,” Brown said.

Of course if you’re sitting at Hanover you can’t help but get excited about the second crop of Somebeachsomewhere. The champion pacer eclipsed the first crop of No Nukes with his juvenile earnings this year. Included in the first crop was the sensational Captaintreacherous and Breeders Crown champion Somwherovrarainbow.

“I think our group from his second crop is better than what we sold last year,” said Brown, obviously aware how hot the stallion has been this fall.

The yearling auction at Harrisburg always plays well in the Northeast as opposed to the Lexington sale. Key this year will be just how well the 200 plus yearlings by Ontario sires make out. Harrisburg has always been a hot spot for Ontario buyers and this year should be no different. What appetite those owners will have for Ontario-breds remains to be seen considering that there is still a great deal of uncertainty as to the racing and stakes prospects north of the border.

Paramount to the sale’s success will be the great number of yearlings sold by Pennsylvania stallions. The Keystone State has remained strong with three solid racetracks and a two-tiered sire stakes program that has proven second to none. Adding to the allure of the Pennsylvania program are breeders awards, a reason why the best pacing and trotting sires continue to be lured across the border.

Brown believes that Harrisburg’s yearlings will hold up well. “I think the yearling sale will be comparable to Lexington. I think we might have a territorial advantage,” Brown said, referring to the fact that buyers from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ontario are within driving distance of the Harrisburg facility.

Well Said’s first crop will be well represented and there are three colts on Monday’s opening session that attracted my eye. Hip No.  49, Pure Hunky, is the first foal from the $641,837-winning mare Vysoke Tatry. She was a 30-time winner as a racehorse and hails from the same maternal family as the top stallion Dragon Again.

Hip No. 115 is a Well Said half-brother to the Breeders Crown winning brother tandem of Sweet Lou and Bettor Sweet.

Hip No. 209 Fortis Deo is a Well Said half-brother to Shes A Great Lady winner I Luv The Nitelife as well as the 1:50 1/5 3-year-old performer Im The Pied Piper. This is just the third foal from Lisjune, the half-sister to Lis Mara.

On the trotting side, on opening day the first crop from Muscle Hill should attract a lot of attention. Hip No. 177, Sleepless Knight, is the ninth foal from Bold Dreamer, one of the top trotting broodmares in the sport. She’s produced only two colts from her first eight foals and both were stakes performers. She is also the granddam of this year’s outstanding juvenile filly To Dream On.

Buyers who come to Harrisburg are not just looking for first croppers. There’s a deep supply of proven pairings and perhaps one that will be in demand is Hip No. 158, Tacumwah Blue Chip. This is a full sister to Breeders Crown sophomore colt pace winner Heston Blue Chip and the late-season blooming Sunfire Blue Chip, a 1:53 1/5 winner in his first career start this past week at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.

A trotting filly that may be of interest to breeders is Hip No. 142, Demoiselle Hanover. She’s by Muscle Hill and is a half-sister to Donato Hanover and Here Comes Herbie, both successful stallions.

Then again that’s the big question that should be answered next week at this time. How many breeders are looking to increase their investment in the future?

Brown says that if Hanover does as well this year as they did a year ago they will be looking for top broodmares from the mixed auction. “If we’re around the $10 million mark from both sales [Hanover sold at the Lexington selected sale as well] then I expect we’ll reinvest in mares,” said Brown, noting that the farm generally invests in the highest level of mares available at the mixed sale.

What remains sketchy are the identity of other breeders with the willingness to invest in the future of a sport that appears to be contracting, at least on the breeding end.

If there is one certainty it is that a large majority of the Standardbred sport will be present at Harrisburg this week with a keen interest on its present and its future.