09/04/2014 12:19PM

Keeneland September: Q&A with Antony Beck

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As far as silver anniversaries go, the milestone 25th year marking the Beck family’s ownership of Gainesway has been one to remember.

The Lexington farm houses arguably the hottest stallion in North America in Tapit, whose 2014 accomplishments include siring Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist and Kentucky Oaks winner Untapable and having a pair of fillies sell for $1 million or more at the recent Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale. Through Aug. 25, Tapit was North America’s leading sire by earnings, as his runners have bankrolled more than $9.6 million. That is almost $3 million more than the second-ranked stallion, Candy Ride.

Gainesway’s sales consignment operation is poised for an active Keeneland September yearling sale, with 175 horses in this year’s catalog. Last month, Gainesway consigned the most expensive colt of the Saratoga sale, an $800,000 Bernardini colt from the family of the farm’s own stallion, Belmont and Travers winner Birdstone.

Antony Beck serves as Gainesway’s owner and president, overseeing one of the Thoroughbred industry’s most prominent operations. He is following in the footsteps of his father, the late Graham Beck, a successful South African businessman, winemaker, and horseman who purchased the Gainesway property from founder John Gaines in 1989.

DRF Breeding staff writer Joe Nevills spoke with Beck in late August about the state of the yearling market and the success of Tapit.

What is your assessment of the yearling market, and where do you see it headed for the rest of 2014?
“I think so far, it looks like the market is up. I thought the [Fasig-Tipton Kentucky] July sale was fairly strong. I thought the Saratoga sale was extremely strong. I think it’s a very fair market. If you have an attractive, athletic yearling that’s reasonably well bred, the market will reward you very well.
“Going forward, I expect [Keeneland] September should be up on last year, maybe somewhere between 10 and 15 percent, which would be a wonderful result for everybody. People want to race horses. They’re enjoying racing, they like the competition of the sport. I think people are feeling wealthier and are ready to spend money again.”

[More coverage: Sale preview | Horses to watch | First-year sires | Broodmare sire Dehere]

How do you see the middle market playing out?
“I think the markets are getting more and more differentiated. The top of the market is going to get even stronger, and at the lower end, it’s going to be tougher to find new owners for those horses. The middle market is the tough one and actually the most important part of it all. I expect it to be stronger for the right horse. I think breeders are a lot more market-savvy and don’t set crazy reserves.”

What are your thoughts on Keeneland’s revamped select format now that we’ve had a year to mull it over?
“I think it worked very well last year. Most consignors and most breeders liked it very much. These days, you see horses that maybe don’t have as select a pedigree but frequently are very good individuals and sell very well. Generally, I think it’s a winning formula.”

Did the select format change anything from your perspective as a buyer?
“I try to buy some nice colts if I can. It’s become very tough to buy them, both at the yearling sales and the 2-year-old sales. There’s a lot of competition for those really good animals, but maybe we’ll get lucky again this year.”

Gainesway partnered with Stonestreet Farm on a pair of purchases at last year’s Keeneland September sale. Can you discuss the importance to Gainesway’s strategy of working in tandem with other operations?
“Last year and this year, we’ve partnered with Stonestreet and Mt. Brilliant Farm, [whose owners are] very good friends of mine. Obviously, partnering on expensive horses does minimize the risk somewhat. It’s something that I certainly would like to do going forward. It’s all about trying to find horses that could become stallion prospects for Gainesway.”

What is the one thing you would most like to see change in the bloodstock market?
“I’d love to see a lot more buyers and a lot more people enjoying the sport. Right now, there are a lot of extremely wealthy people out there that are looking for ways to invest in their leisure activities. A lot of these people are very successful, naturally competitive businesspeople, and as a result would really enjoy horse racing. They would be more drawn to it if they believed there was a level playing field and the athletes never had any drugs when they competed.
“I’m hopeful that the new initiatives going forward to eliminate all race-day medication will have a beneficial effect on introducing new buyers to enjoy the sport and participate on the business end.”

Do you see Gainesway’s sales operation as a useful marketing tool for your stallions, for example, selling yearlings by Tapit?
“I think Tapit has been an exceptional phenomenon in America, and especially for Gainesway. Certainly, the market appreciation for him is incredible, and whether we sell the horses or other people sell them, there’s a tremendous demand. He’s had a phenomenal year this year, and fortunately, he’s got a large number of high-quality, big books of mares that he’s been bred to for the last few years.”

Describe the road Tapit has traveled from a $15,000 stallion to one of North America’s perennial leading stallions.
“I always liked Tapit as a stallion prospect. He had tremendous speed and tremendous ability as a runner. After his undefeated 2-year-old season, he won the Wood Memorial ... and was the [third] favorite going into the Kentucky Derby itself, and ran a terrible race on a muddy, sloppy track that day. We were lucky to acquire him after that.
“I always, frankly, believed in the horse. I generally breed a lot of my own mares to the stallions, and I did very well out of it. We didn’t radically increase his stud fee immediately, but every year, it’s gone up or at least stayed the same. This year, I think he was the co-highest-priced stallion standing in North America [tied with War Front at $150,000], and I think next year, his fee is most likely going to go up again.”

Gainesway stands two sons of established stallions on the roster in Afleet Express (by Afleet Alex) and Tapizar (by Tapit). How important is it for Gainesway to seek out those successors to the farm’s signature stallions?
“I don’t think one necessarily looks to get sons of one’s own stallions to stand at stud. But I personally believe Tapit is the best stallion in America by far, so I very definitely look to get as many of his sons to stand at Gainesway as I possibly can, particularly the very good ones.
“Tapizar was an amazingly fast, speedy miler, one of the best-looking horses I’ve ever seen, and he’s got amazing foals this year. I’ve been fortunate to breed to him, and I plan to breed to him again this year. I think he’s going to be a good one.”

How does the South African bloodstock market compare and contrast with the U.S. market?
“One thing in South Africa, we were never really able to get the best stallions to [stand] there, so we focused on pedigree. One of the best stallions we ever had was an unraced son of Danzig named National Assembly. He was a very good stallion in South Africa, and from his second-to-last crop, he had Soft Falling Rain, who won group stakes in Europe and Dubai.
“Pedigree since then has been uppermost in my mind, and Tapit has a superb pedigree.”

Do you find any parallels between the Thoroughbred market and the wine market?
“In both wine and horses, quality always sells.”

Do you have any goals for the remainder of 2014 or 2015?
“I would really like to win a Breeders’ Cup race one day [as an owner], hopefully sooner rather than later. Timber Country was in 1994 [winner of the Juvenile, in partnership with Overbrook Farm and Robert and Beverly Lewis], so it’s been 20 years since we won a Breeders’ Cup race, and I’d like to win one soon.
“We’ve sold yearlings for millions of dollars, we’ve sold many Grade 1 winners, and we’ve stood good stallions, but my main contribution [to the farm] is to have [assembled] a wonderful team of motivated and dedicated people. Going forward, I want the same people to look after the farm as well as they have, serve the interests of our clients as much as they have, and to have as much fun as we possibly can.”