06/17/2013 11:11AM

Jay Bergman: Shortage of owners affecting yearling sales, juvenile races

Derick Giwner
An $80,000 yearling purchase, Song in My Heart is eligible to the Peter Haughton.

Baby races at the Meadowlands in the 1980s were something special. The generous supply of two-year-olds brought out a host of owners back then, all with hopes of cashing in on their prior fall’s sales purchases.

Baby races in 2013 were held this past Saturday at the Meadowlands. A full complement of fillies, colts, trotters and pacers were on display in 19 separate events.

But something was missing.

While we shouldn’t expect things to remain the same, lost over time was the presence of a major number of owners at this session. There were breeders in attendance, for the most part, and some owners. What changed over time are the owners and their outlook on the business.

“It’s so easy to claim a horse and race for good money that there are less yearling buyers,” said David Reid, who runs Preferred Equine Marketing, a leading agency for selling Standardbreds.

“What we’re seeing today is definitely more like the Thoroughbred model. Breeders who are unwilling to accept less than $25,000 at auction would rather put the horse in training and race.”

Reid had just returned from Kentucky where he inspected yearlings for the coming season. He wears many hats in this industry and one helps run the Lexington selected yearling sale.

“I think we’re going to see probably a 100 less yearlings sell at our sale this year and probably 100 less at Harrisburg,” Reid said.

Even with fewer yearlings offered, Reid still sees difficulty in selling the mid- to low-range product to the public. In the 80s speculators were out in force looking for that needle in a haystack, the yearling that didn’t have the greatest pedigree but looked like a potential star. During that era supply was so much greater and demand was intense. Now with both markets shrinking, Reid wonders when the industry as an entire entity will wake up.

“The racetrack owners are going to have to see that it is the breeders that supply the horses," he said. "If less and less breeders are in business, how are some of these tracks going to conduct 15-race programs?”

The model for breeders has changed, and Reid also wondered aloud who if anyone stands on the perimeter and is willing to jump in to replace major breeding farms no longer in business.

“Sure, there’s still Hanover, Winbak and Blue Chip, but there are other farms that have closed down and some with ownership getting on in years,” said Reid.

Another aspect of the changing canvas of yearling auctions has come in a manner that Perretti’s Bob Marks so rightly picked up on nearly a decade ago. Marks had witnessed the sports rise and the fact that separate entities routinely battled for the best-bred yearling. More recently what we’ve seen is the same people who once engaged in a bidding war now conversing before a horse goes under the block and arranging partnerships.

Northwood Bloodstock’s Bob Boni also pointed out something that happens with regularity today that didn’t exist in a similar form in the 80s.

“You see so many breeders sell a colt and then ask the purchaser to buy a percentage of the horse back,” Boni said.

While most of those purchases are likely above board, there are those who have speculated that some pre-sale deals get done in order to increase the purchase price.

In another major departure, this year’s Meadowlands baby races will for the most part give owners the chance to prepare these horses to race at tracks other than the Meadowlands in the near future. With the track eliminating the Woodrow Wilson, at one time the jewel that drove yearling prices through the roof, owners of pacers today are more likely looking to debut their two-year-olds in stakes events in Pennsylvania and New York, as opposed to the Garden State.

Perhaps trying to protect the trotting market, the Meadowlands did not cancel the Peter Haughton or Merrie Annabelle, the premier events for two-year-old trotting colts and fillies, respectively.

That’s probably welcome news for many of the owners that raced in the 10 two-year-old events on Saturday for first-year trotters.

Shake It Cerry won for the second time in her young career, scoring in 2:01 3/5 for trainer Jimmy Takter and driver Ron Pierce. The Merrie Annabelle-eligible may not have shown the blistering speed we’ve seen in some of these events, but she has the look of an extremely fast, quick-gaited and classy filly.

Shake It Cerry is a full sister to the stakes-winning Solvato and a half-sister to Dontyouforgetit, a leading 2013 Hambletonian eligible and a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes winner on Sunday at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. The Donato Hanover-sired filly is a homebred from the $800,000 winner Solveig.

Trainer Linda Toscano has become a trotting aficionado over the last few years and there is no reason to expect that her magic won’t continue given the handsome-looking colt by the name of Song In My Heart in her care. While the son of Cantab Hall did not win his qualifier on Saturday, he was most impressive with a powerful gait and impeccable manners. Song In My Heart has a solid maternal line that dates back to the great family of Speedy Somolli. He’s eligible to the Peter Haughton and will likely head there with a little more seasoning. Song In My Heart was an $80,000 yearling purchase consigned by Brittany Farm. Marvin Katz and Joe Sbrocco (co-owners of North America Cup champ Captaintreacherous) and California Dreamin Stable (a group that includes Jeff Gural) share ownership with Brittany Farm.

Those trying to gauge the ability of the pacers from Saturday’s baby events may have a difficult time. Perhaps the track became a little tiring after the race 12 break, or it could have been a very slow moving starting gate that thwarted the opening quarter as five of the last seven events had first panels of :30 2/5 or slower.

Sweet Rock, a gelding from the Larry and Ray Remmen stable, paced his opening quarter smartly in :29 2/5 and completed his effort in :27 flat scoring in 1:56 3/5 with John Campbell aboard. What impressed about this gelding was his alertness on the racetrack and the obvious fight he showed when challenged in the stretch. Sweet Rock, a son of Rocknroll Hanover, will likely stay in New Jersey to do his racing.

Trainer Sam DePinto has proven to be quite adept at selecting yearlings in recent years having converted We Will See, a $30,000 yearling, into a career earner of $2.5 million and I Fought Dalaw, a $22,000 yearling, into a $200,000-plus earner at two. He paid just $17,000 for Goldin Parachute and that could prove an incredible bargain.

Though the son of American Ideal finished second in a 1:57 2/5 mile, he showed explosive speed for driver Dan Dube in getting the front. Since it was just his first start, he could be excused for getting passed in the late stages. Goldin Parachute has been nominated to the $700,000 Metro at Mohawk at the end of August but is likely to appear in New York Sire Stakes action. Saratoga Harness hosts the opening leg of New York Sire Stakes action for juvenile pacing colts on June 28.