10/02/2015 10:43AM

Consumer confidence gets a test in Midlantic


The Fasig-Tipton Midlantic fall yearling sale joined the rest of the North American auction market in digging out of the industry-wide slump and back to levels comparable to before the crash. The question remains, though, where it will ultimately settle.

The auction took a significant step backward in 2014 after three years of solid growth, with average and median sale prices in 2013 even surpassing their pre-crash levels. Last year’s returns were hardly dismal, more closely resembling the averages seen before 2008, but it was down nonetheless.

With racing funds in Pennsylvania and West Virginia being targeted by their respective state governments, live racing withering in Virginia, and increased selectivity in the overall buying bench, this year’s auction will provide a measurement of consumer confidence in the region’s racing industry and show whether last year was a hiccup, a leveling-out, or the start of a trend.

“We’re hoping we can hold the same as what we had last year,” said Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sales director Paget Bennett. “We’ve got a lot of sires that have been very popular at previous sales, and hopefully they’ll be as popular to our buyers for this sale.”

The single-day Midlantic fall yearling sale will be held Tuesday at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern.

The catalog features 410 yearlings after supplemental entries, down 9 percent from the 450 horses included in last year’s catalog.

Included in this year’s catalog are 39 horses added to the sale after the initial books were printed, including 14 offered as property of Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm. Several of the new additions were initially cataloged in the Keene-land September yearling sale but were either scratched or finished under their reserves.

“Not everything works as originally planned with people’s sale schedules,” Bennett said. “People’s next option was going to be to come to Maryland to get them into another sale, so we were fortunate we were able to add to our numbers to offer.”

Like most sales held at the Timonium auction house, this year’s Midlantic fall yearling sale takes on a “melting pot” approach due to its proximity to several states with lucrative statebred programs. Yearlings from 13 different states are included in the catalog, led in number by host state Maryland and nearby Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia, along with a healthy supply of Kentucky-breds.

Renee Logan of consignor Darby Dan Farm said the auction’s broad regional spectrum helps her place certain horses for that spot on the calendar, but the yearling’s appeal can’t end at its birthplace.

“I personally target horses that are New York-breds or regionally bred,” she said. “Even a good Kentucky-bred can go up there and do very well. My biggest target is a good physical – something that looks the part and is well conditioned. You have to check every box. You have to have a good physical, you have to have a little pedigree, and you have to vet clean.”

However, Logan said buyers are becoming more particular in how the horses check those boxes, even as the market moves away from select offerings, using her experience in the middle and later books of this year’s Keeneland September sale as an example.

“Comparing this market to that market, I’m a little bit concerned,” she said. “I think the market is becoming highly scrutinized, very specific as to what people want, and they’re just more unforgiving. Whether there’s an oversaturation of horses or an oversaturation of the same stallion, I’m not sure.”

While the sale lacks the scope of other sales on the yearling calendar due to its single-day format, Clark Shepherd of consignor Allied Bloodstock said the setup can actually work to the seller’s advantage.

“There are some horses that may not fit [at Keeneland September], and they definitely don’t fit [Fasig-Tipton] July, and they may be pushed back,” he said. “We can take a horse up there and showcase them because it’s a one-day sale, and we don’t have to wait until Fasig October to do that.”

Shepherd said he has been selling at the Midlantic fall yearling sale for about five years, and one of the advantages is a new clientele in the region who may not travel to the Keeneland September sale to inspect and bid on similar offerings.

While Logan predicted buyer scrutiny will continue to be high at the Midlantic sale, she said the auction’s place near the end of the North American yearling calendar could help loosen some restraints among bidders.

“You still have October coming up, but people are beginning to get a little bit desperate if they didn’t get what they wanted, so you can go into that sale with a horse that has a really good physical and sell well if it vets clean,” she said.

Last year’s Midlantic fall yearling sale came down from a brief spike, with 275 horses selling for $6,023,900, down 19 percent in total sales from the 2013 edition. The average sale price dipped 15 percent to $21,905, while the median finished at $10,000, down 41 percent. Both were the lowest figures since 2011.

Ellen Charles’s Hillwood Stable purchased the sale’s two most expensive offerings, led by a $260,000 Flatter colt out of the stakes-winning Victory Gallop mare American Victory. Consigned as agent by Northview Stallion Station, the colt, later named Charmed Victory, is the second foal out of American Victory and hails from the family of Grade 2 winners Who Did It and Run and Hangover Kid. He has been training toward his debut start, most recently breezing at Laurel Park.

While the Midlantic fall yearling sale specializes in horses rooted in statebred programs, the auction has seen national-level success with its 2013 sale alumni, who are sophomores of this year. Leading the way are Grade 1 winner Stellar Wind, multiple Grade 2 winner International Star, and Grade 3 winner Cinco Charlie, each acquired for less than $90,000. The latter two have siblings on offer in this year’s sale.

“People know that runners come out of here,” Bennett said. “We’ve had a lot of proof on the racetrack, and we’re hoping that we can hold the same and people can find useful horses, whether it’s to pinhook or go to a racing stable.”