07/03/2015 2:00PM

Horses of racing age market on the rise

Coady Photography
Shortly after her victory in the Princess Rooney, Starship Truffles sold for $1 million to lead the inaugural Fasig-Tipton horses of racing age sale in July 2013.

The North American auction calendar follows a fairly rigid schedule annually, moving from 2-year-olds in the winter and spring to yearlings in the summer and fall to mixed sales at the end of the year. The fastest-growing segment of the market, though, is arguably the one that doesn’t play by those rules.

Interest in horses-of-racing-age sales has been on the rise as the bloodstock market rebuilds from the recession of the late 2000s and early 2010s, providing instant gratification for owners and an avenue for sellers to cull stock or profit from a high-profile win.

All four major North American auction companies – Keeneland, Fasig-Tipton, Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co., and Barretts – have at least one segment dedicated to horses in training, if not an entire sale, and each puts a unique spin on the format to play toward their strengths and spot on the calendar.

“We all have them at different times of the year, so I think we cover each market very well,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “At the moment, I think everyone has a good niche into it.”

The racing-age market draws much of its allure for the recognizable names its sales attract, but the success of its graduates shows it to be more than a place to sell when a horse’s stock is high or when it’s time to move on.

Notable racing-age sale alumni include eventual Grade 1 winners Hardest Core and Spring At Last; Grade 2 winners Hillaby, Race Day, and Dramedy; Grade 3 winners Falling Sky and Barbados; Grade 1-placed Street Girl; Grade 2-placed Oscar Party; and Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up Laugh Track.

The segment’s most visible auction, the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky summer sale of select horses of racing age, is the next stop on the calendar Thursday, immediately following the company’s July yearling sale in Lexington, Ky.

The auction has gained notoriety not only for its high-dollar offerings, including the $1 million Starship Truffles during its inaugural sale in 2013, but for its flexibility. Fasig-Tipton takes entries until just days before the sale, which has yielded several lucrative offerings in the past with key victories after the original catalog was released.

Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning said the rising popularity of the racing-age market is largely due to the security and transparency that the auction ring can provide on both sides of the transaction compared with private sales.

“There’s full disclosure,” Browning said. “There’s X-rays in the repository, you can scope the horses, which creates confidence in both the buyers and the sellers. The seller knows he or she is going to get paid by Fasig-Tipton. They don’t have to worry about when the money’s going to come. It just facilitates that commerce.”

Justin Casse is an active buyer and consignor in the horses-of-racing-age market, highlighted by the $425,000 purchase as agent of Falling Sky from the 2013 OBS winter mixed sale’s racing-age portion. The son of Lion Heart won the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes 18 days after the hammer fell and ran in that year’s Kentucky Derby for owners Newtown Anner Stud, James Corvello, and Joseph Bulger.

Casse said the potential for quick returns is one of the major drawing points of that portion of the market, instead of waiting months or years to see a younger horse on the track.

The older horses also eliminate an element of the unknown that can come with younger prospects. Casse said this can ease the burden on a seller, as the horse is often coming off the racetrack, instead of from the consignor’s training program. Thus, the consignor’s reputation is not as highly at stake.

“With the horses of racing age, you can look at the past performances and see what the product has accomplished,” Casse said, “as opposed to the 2-year-old sales, where if you’re a prospective buyer, you’re just looking at a 10-second breeze that the horse just had, and you have little knowledge of its prior history.”

OBS stands out as the only major company offering the option for horses of racing age to participate in breeze shows.

“It’s important in Ocala,” Casse said. “We have so many horses that are broke[n] in Ocala getting ready for the sales, and for one reason or another, they may get hurt or they may not make it, so I would say we have more unstarted horses in October and January than any of the other racing-age sales. Therefore, the buyers need something to base their potential purchases on.”

Keeneland’s horses-of-racing-age segment can be found on the second Tuesday of its November breeding stock sale. It was started by WinStar Farm. The segment has been a popular pipeline for WinStar to downsize its racing operation at the end of the year and has attracted other notable consignors, including Adena Springs.

“WinStar has always been very good to ensure that there’s live horses,” Russell said. “These horses have gone on to be very successful, and that’s the important part of it. They have to be legitimate racehorses.”

Barretts has made great strides in the horses-of-racing-age market in recent years, adding the paddock sale at Del Mar in 2012 and introducing a racing-age portion to its fall yearling sale this October.

The California-based auction company has used the paddock sale’s unique location to attract new owners, beginning the sale in the Del Mar paddock shortly after the day’s races. Barretts general manager Kim Lloyd said the idea has already paid dividends.

“It’s an opportunity to put the auction in front of people who have never seen an auction before,” he said. “Out of that first sale, just as an example of that, Gary Hartunian, who races under Rockingham Ranch, bought his first horse for $50,000, a horse called Fast N Furius Cat. The horse was claimed off of him, and now he’s a huge player in the game, one of the major owners in Southern California.”

Lloyd acknowledged that the racing-age market can be volatile. Because past success and future potential are easier to define in a horse who has already raced, the quality of the catalog falls on the caliber of horses who are consigned. However, Lloyd said the comparative figures were not the ones he used to gauge success.

“We’re not so concerned about our numbers, like the average,” he said. “We just want to make some money and have the opportunity for our sellers to cash out and make some money. It provides them a great opportunity, so that’s important. The numbers in terms of comparison from year to year are absolutely unimportant. What’s important is you get the horses sold, you give people the opportunity to buy or sell, and you put new people in the seats.”