04/15/2013 8:49AM

At juvenile sales, breeze times largely determine sale prices

Photo by Z/Keeneland
Dixie Blossom breezes a furlong in 9.80 seconds at Keeneland’s under-tack show April 4 and later sells for $300,000.

A single tick of the stopwatch can mean a difference of tens of thousands of dollars at sales of 2-year-olds in training.

A horse’s performance during the presale under-tack show, the Thoroughbred industry’s equivalent to the NFL Scouting Combine’s 40-yard dash, can have a significant impact on the price the horse will attract in the sales ring. At the top of the market, the breeze time often correlates to high prices brought in the sales ring.

[MORE: Analysis of breeze times by recent high-priced juveniles]

In 2012, the 14 horses who breezed one furlong in 9.80 seconds and sold at one of the eight major North American juvenile sales brought an average price of $200,125. The 99 horses who covered the same distance in 10 seconds flat, one-fifth of a second slower, brought an average of $170,146, a difference of $29,979, or 18 percent. (Horses who did not meet their reserve or were scratched before the sale were not included in the figures.)

The average price dropped to $113,809 for the 262 horses who breezed in 10.20 seconds, practically a snap of the fingers from the eye-popping sub-10-second drills. Despite the precipitous drop in the average price, five of the 10 most expensive juveniles of 2012 breezed in 10.20 seconds, including the two highest-priced horses – $1.3 million Darwin and $1.2 million Price Is Truth.

“Breeze times are important; the quick time is important, but they have to come with style points,” said prominent juvenile consignor Eddie Woods. “If they don’t come with style points, it doesn’t matter. We can’t sell a badly conformed, unattractive horse that works really, really quick, and it happens occasionally.”

Woods said a fast breeze won’t necessarily sell a horse on its own, but it is an effective marketing tool in getting potential buyers to look at the juvenile.

“It gets them to the barn,” Woods said, “and it’s easier for some of the agents to get a horse bought for a client by saying, ‘Well, he’s the fastest work of the day,’ or, ‘He’s a tick off the fastest work of the day.’ It’s safe to do that with a client, whereas if you find a horse you like that’s a second off the fastest work of the day, and you’re trying to talk your owner into buying that horse, if this horse doesn’t run, he’s going to tell you, ‘He couldn’t run the day you bought him.’ ”

With so many factors to consider when assessing a 2-year-old at a sale, breeze times are one of the few variables that can be directly stacked against one another for comparison.

John Moynihan, bloodstock adviser for Stonestreet Stables, said the breeze time alone doesn’t affect how high he will bid on a horse, but he echoed Woods’s sentiment that a fast time will increase his interest in looking at a horse.

“You kind of want to see horses at the top of the heap time-wise,” Moynihan said following the breeze show for the Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training. “All things being equal, you’re going to see good horses that maybe don’t necessarily go the fastest, but I’m not sure those are the horses that people really go in there pursuing and trying to buy.

“It’s just a piece of the puzzle. The horse has got to go fast, [and] it’s got to look good doing it. It’s got to come back from the workout well. It has to vet well. It has to look good in the next several days between now and the time it sells, so there are a lot of hoops for these guys to buy these things to jump through.”

While the very best horses will separate themselves as long as their breeze times are solid, statistics show that the rank-and-file offerings with the fastest times typically will draw a higher price.

The market’s general acceptance of this, both philosophically and monetarily, has been one of the biggest targets for criticism from sources inside and outside the Thoroughbred industry, and a point of frustration among consignors, for whom fast times have become something of an arms race.

Consignor Niall Brennan said the need for faster times at distances that are not typical in Thoroughbred racing has conditioned buyers to expect too much from 2-year-olds during the breeze shows and increases the risk of injury for any horse being pressed for speed. To remain competitive in the market, though, the horses must register those fast times or risk being overlooked.

“I can’t tell you how many times we’ll have people come to the barn to look at a horse that went nice but went in 10 and three-fifths, and they’ll say, ‘But why did it go so slow, Niall?’ ” Brennan said. “It’s frustrating for me because I’m around [the horses] all the time, and I know I don’t need a horse to go in 10 flat to tell me it’s a good horse. If I do, I need to get out of this game. But it bothers me to have to maybe take that nice horse and ask him to go in 10 flat at the breeze day, because otherwise, I can’t convince the owners to come look at them.”

Moynihan suggested that the breeze time itself is not as critical as whether a horse was among the fastest of the day.

“It all depends on the racetrack and what those fast times are,” Moynihan said, giving as an example that if Keeneland’s main Polytrack surface “had slowed down a lot, and the fastest time today was 10 and two-fifths, everybody would focus on the 10 and two-fifths, but it’s kind of the world we live in right now.”

For the horses who worked slower at the juvenile sales in 2012, the number of outs and horses bought back spiked sharply as times rose above 10.60 seconds for one furlong.

“It’s very difficult to talk people into looking at a horse that went in 11 flat, for example, or 22 and change for a quarter,” Brennan said. “Even though they might be bred to run all day and look good doing it, [buyers] still won’t come and look at them. They won’t give them any consideration if they don’t work fast. The day we can figure out how to get around that, we’re all going to be better off for it, buyers and sellers alike.”

On occasion, consignors have chosen to buck the trend of pushing their horses hard at the breeze shows and simply galloped them through the stretch. The practice has become less common since the major auction companies scaled back to one public breeze show instead of two in the past decade, and the 11 horses who galloped through their under-tack shows in 2012 typically were met with disinterest from buyers, averaging just $41,500.

“People have tried it over the years, but you always want to hit the home run, and unless you breeze your horse, you might make money on your horse, but to hit the home run, I think he has to work,” said Randy Hartley of Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds, noting that he would not want to buy a horse for $250,000 as a pinhooking prospect, “gallop it for the sale and hope to get $400,000 or $500,000. It’s hard to do.”

Moynihan signed the ticket for the most expensive galloper of 2012, going to $235,000 on P V Paul, a Stonestreet-bred Dynaformer colt sold by the farm as a yearling.

Before a juvenile even sets foot on the track, the first bit of information potential buyers will have about a horse at the breeze show is the distance of its workout, most commonly one or two furlongs.

Far fewer horses breeze two furlongs, especially during the select sales, but buyers showed respect to those who did in 2012, with higher average prices for the fastest at the distance and a smaller drop-off for those in the middle of the pack.

Consignors might choose to breeze their horses a quarter-mile or farther to separate them from the pack of one-furlong horses. During the later sales, usually starting around the Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training, they also may send more horses the extra furlong, given their additional time to mature and train.

Regardless of the distance, the portion of the workout that is officially timed is only the beginning for many buyers and other analysts, who time and assess the gallop-out as the horse gears down through the turn and into the backstretch.

“It doesn’t seem to matter anymore,” Brennan said about choosing a distance. “If you can sell a horse off of going just one furlong, why put them under the pressure to go two? Really, they’re not just going one furlong. They’re going that fast for one furlong, but they’re really going at least three-eighths by the time they’re pulling up, and people expect them to do that. If you’re going a quarter, you’re really going a half, and it’s just that little bit of extra stress on these horses.”