08/09/2012 12:38PM

Louisiana sale season gets an earlier jump

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Louisiana is gearing up for its September yearling sales, and this season the state has two yearling auctions recruiting buyers who want a shot at the state’s purses and Louisiana-bred incentives.

A new auction house, Equine Sales of Louisiana, is putting the finishing touches on its recently constructed sale pavilion in Opelousas, where the company will kick off the yearling sales with its first auction Sept. 5, featuring a 282-horse catalog. Breeders Sales Company of Louisiana follows with 156 yearlings selling in West Monroe on Sept. 25, then has a mixed sale scheduled for Oct. 20.

The earlier September date is exactly what Equine Sales of Louisiana wanted, says Jay Adcock, one of the new auction house’s founders. Adcock also is a board member at the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association, which conducts the Breeders Sales Company auction at the Ike Hamilton Expo Center in West Monroe, about an hour and 20 minutes from Louisiana Downs. But he said it made sense to build a dedicated equine sales facility in the state’s south.

“We’ve always been obligated to have our sales at somebody else’s convenience, when the place that we wanted to have it could accommodate us,” said Adcock, who also owns Red River Farms in Coushatta. Adcock’s  father, former major league baseball player Joe Adcock, founded the farm. “We went to Monroe, and I’m not badmouthing them, because it’s served a purpose and we’ve had some good sales there. They have roping, car shows, a lot of different functions. They’re booked so far ahead of time, honestly, we couldn’t get in until the last weekend in September.”

That date, Adcock said, put the sole Louisiana yearling sale after larger yearling auctions at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company, Fasig-Tipton Texas, and Keeneland September. “So people had opportunities to spend their money on 6,000 other horses before they got to our sale to spend their money there,” Adcock said. “A lot of people, their quota is full. We wanted to be earlier and in a little more of a horse-population location.”

Initially, Equine Sales considered an August auction date, said the company’s sale director, Foster Bridewell.

“We did not want to be on top of any other major sales, and our climate is very warm, so the extra few weeks not only allowed us time as far as preparation, but hopefully the temperature will be more suitable for the horses and the people involved,” Bridewell said.

Equine Sales of Louisiana sits near Interstate 49, about 1 1/2 miles from Evangeline Downs, 2 1/2 hours from Fair Grounds, and about three hours from Louisiana Downs. The auction house sold out its 100 shares, priced at $20,000 each, and Adcock says many of the shareholders are breeders, most of whom also are members of the LTBA. Adcock and LTBA secretary-treasurer Roger Heitzmann III say they believe there’s room for both auctions.

“I hope there is, and I believe there is,” Heitzmann said. “Time will tell. People have been coming to Louisiana to buy horses and doing quite well whether they’re selling them or racing them themselves. I’m sure each sale company has quality stock, and each buyer probably will be looking to come to each sale.”

Louisiana’s foal crop has been falling since 2007, hitting 2,303 in 2010, the last year for which complete Jockey Club figures were available. But total purses, pumped up by racetrack slot machine revenue, climbed from $76 million to $86 million between 2010 and 2011, according to Jockey Club statistics. Average purses also ticked up in that timeframe, from $23,405 to $24,372.

“The majority of our money is fueled by slot machines at the racetracks,” Adcock said. “The money being bet is staying pretty true and actually is up a little bit in 2012 from 2011.”

Both Breeders Sales and Equine Sales hope buyers will spot those trends as good opportunities to invest in Louisiana-breds, whose incentives for owners include purse supplements, three state-bred races a day at each Louisiana track, four state-bred celebration days a year, and a three-pound weight allowance in open races other than stakes and handicaps. There’s some evidence that buyers are responding. Last year, the average Louisiana-bred yearling price jumped 32 percent to $12,496, and the $4,200 Louisiana-bred yearling median was up 20 percent.

“Our market, I think, is strong,” LTBA’s Heitzmann said. “Anyone who participates in the Louisiana program has seen the success that it’s had, and they want to continue. Being a smaller crop makes each horse worth more. But, naturally, because it’s shrinking, some people are suffering hardship, and we don’t want to see that.

“I think the market has turned a corner,” Heitzmann said. “Here in Louisiana we’ve seen an influx of better stallions, producing a foal that’s more attractive to buyers outside the state, because they know those stallions’ names and are a lot more familiar with them. People are improving their stock and buying better mares. And our program is strong. Around the country, the Louisiana-bred horse is a better horse than in years past, and they’re doing well in other states. Granted, we’ve had a couple of years where the profits weren’t up as much, but when you compare it to other states around the country, we weren’t nearly down as much as they were.”

The hope is that Louisiana’s yearling prices will continue to climb and promote some growth in the foal crop, a tricky balancing act as breeders try to maintain both supply-and-demand parity and desirable quality.

“Obviously, we’re hoping this isn’t a one-time deal,” Adcock said of the Equine Sales Company’s first auction. “My dad was doing this, I’m doing it, I’ve got two boys that are involved in the horse business. People are still coming to Louisiana to bet.

“I’ve got a breeding farm here, and I breed mares, and my numbers have pretty much stayed the same,” he said. “I breed between 300 and 350 a year, and those numbers have been pretty constant the last eight or 10 years.”