03/17/2011 2:48PM

OBS sale exceeds last year's gross, but buyers remain selective

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A dramatic format change that combined the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s February and March select juvenile auctions resulted in a higher total gross for the auction house, but consignors warn that the 2-year-old market is still highly selective.

The two-day OBS March select sale ended late Wednesday afternoon with $25,563,000 in gross receipts from 244 horses sold, up 44 percent from last year’s March select gross for 167 horses and 6 percent higher than last year’s combined February and March sale gross, $24,180,000.

The average price of $104,766 was down less than 1 percent, and the $70,000 median was 7 percent lower. Buybacks were 24 percent, greatly improved from last season’s 30 percent, although the number of buybacks and scratches together totaled 246 this year.

The reformatting made it hard to make a straight year-to-year comparison of the March auction’s results, but OBS general manager and sales director Tom Ventura said he considered the changes to the 2011 edition a success.

“I think it worked to our benefit, because having 490 horses cataloged provided enough variety and quality to attract not only the top-end buyers, but also that next rung of buyers,” said Ventura, who said he believes that, with smaller foal crops in the pipeline, the combined format could be here to stay for a while.

The million-dollar mark might be harder to crack than it was before the 2008 market crash, but clearly there are still wealthy buyers willing to pay a premium for 2-year-olds. Kaleem Shah, a regular upper-end shopper in the select juvenile market, went to $925,000 for the OBS March sale-topper, a Flatter-Silence Please colt that had cost $90,000 seven months ago at Fasig-Tipton’s New York-bred preferred yearling sale at Saratoga.

His OBS sale price was a personal best for consignor Shari and Barry Eisaman, who sold the colt on behalf of Cobra Farm and partners.

But home runs like that are rare in today’s market, Barry Eisaman said. And that, in his view, isn’t all bad.

“For a long time, many young horses, in my opinion, were somewhat overpriced, so people buying quality stock were really behind the eight ball for making a profit,” Eisaman said. “Not all horses are stakes horses. So I think overall it’s not a bad thing that the market has corrected where these folks that are buying horses to go to the races have a better chance to have fun and make money and come back and buy more.

“We’ve always bought yearlings that were modestly priced that we thought were nice horses, nice prospects,” he said of his operation’s resale strategy. “That way we could put the investment into them of breaking and training and getting them ready, and still be able to sell them profitably to someone at a middle-market price. Once in a while we’ll have one that’s really special, but we’re not after those kinds of large sales all the time. We’re after a good solid, make-a-living horses. We hope those buyers also make a profit and come back and buy again.”

Niall Brennan, the auction’s fifth-leading consignor with $1,469,000 in sales, experienced every level of the market. Brennan’s agency took 15 horses to the ring and sold nine for prices ranging from $42,000 for a Dixie Union-Dreamworld filly that Argo One Racing bought to the $500,000 Bernardini half-sister to Dream Rush that Lane’s End Bloodstock purchased; the latter was the auction’s highest-priced filly and second highest-priced juvenile overall.

“It was as good as we could have expected,” Brennan said of the March market, adding that the first session might have generated less enthusiasm among buyers partly because the horses in that session had worked into a slight headwind at their under-tack session the week before. “Overall, I think the market was solid. It was interesting that there were a lot of people spendng in the $200,000 to $300,000 range that weren’t at the first sale,” referring to Fasig-Tipton’s Florida select auction, which sold 81 juveniles March 3 at Palm Meadows. “They obviously had planned to come to this sale, and the bigger catalog appeals to a lot of buyers because they feel they’ve got more to choose from and may be a better chance to buy horses. And once you’re there and involved in the momentum, you might end up going above your budget to get the horses you want. The reality in today’s market is still polarization: a lot of folks are focusing on the same horses and then you’ve got other horses that just have no interest.

“But there’s a lot of people still loving to have racehorses,” he added. “As we go forward into next year, and with the casinos rolling in New York, if purses increase, there’s going to be a lot more activity up the East Coast with people wanting horses.”