08/19/2016 9:20AM

Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. building for future

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By Joe Nevills and Mark Simon

The Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. has come a long way in its four decades of existence, but some of the most visible changes will come over the next year.

The central Florida auction house is in the midst of an extensive renovation of its sales pavilion and offices. Chief among the planned renovations is an upgraded horsemen’s lounge that will feature an expanded bar and seating area and large windows for guests to view the walking ring and chute. The current dining area does not offer a view of the horses before or during their time in the ring. The building also will get a significant external face-lift.

“We started with six barns when the sales company started 40 years ago, and now we have 29, so it’s been an ongoing project to keep things moving forward,” OBS president Tom Ventura said. “The pavilion hasn’t had a lot of major work done to it. We’ve added a business office and added some office space, but the pavilion itself, we’ve done some interior work, but this would be a huge portion of it.”

Ventura said the estimated cost of the project remains in flux, as several specific decisions still need to me made, but he referred to the project as a “significant expenditure.”

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Francis Vanlangendonck, vice president of OBS and owner of Florida-based consignment company Summerfield Sales, said the project was 10 to 12 years in the making and was put on hold during the recession of the late 2000s. The OBS board of directors began to revisit the plan as the market recovered.

In deciding how to shape the new designs, Vanlangendonck said the OBS board took cues from domestic auction houses run by Keeneland, Fasig-Tipton, and Barretts, as well as international sales companies in England and Ireland.

“We were piecemealing some improvements here and there, so we put a steering committee together and tried to decide what we wanted the pavilion to look like,” he said. “At that point, we were going to do it over a five-year period, a little at a time. Once we started getting it all put together, we realized we could do it all at one time. To do it to the extent that we were going to do it, it needed to be done in a progressive manner.”

No October sale due to renovations

Construction will pause for the upcoming OBS August yearling sale and for the auctions on the 2017 calendar, but OBS announced in June that it would postpone its fall mixed sale in October to allow more time for crews to work uninterrupted. During that time, a significant portion of the exterior structural work is expected to be completed.

“I haven’t had anyone complain about it,” Vanlangendonck said. “We were going to lose about three weeks of construction if we’d had that sale, and most of those horses that were in that sale last year would have gone straight into January, so we felt like it was going to happen again. We weren’t going to lose the horses, they were going to go into January.

“January is an easier sale to prep your weanlings, and it’s becoming a better sale,” he added. “Combining the two is a concept we’re always looking at – how to move and reposition sales. This was an opportunity where we were going to get benefits for doing it, see how it works, and if we didn’t like how it worked, we’d go back to having the sale again, and more than likely, we’ll have it again.”

The October sale has been an important sale for OBS for decades, offering a large number of broodmares, broodmare prospects, and weanlings. It has been a popular place for pinhookers to look at a large selection of weanlings.

At last October’s sale, 104 weanlings were sold, which represented 9.2 percent of the 1,135 weanlings sold in North America for the year.

The $11,241 average price for the OBS weanlings, however, was well below the $64,406 overall average in North America for 2015, but pinhookers traditionally have looked at the sale as a bargain place to buy.

Last year, 153 mares were sold at the OBS October sale, representing 4.7 percent of the broodmares sold in North America. There also were 54 horses of racing age sold. Total receipts for all horses at the October sale last year was $3,158,000.

With the October sale no longer an option this year, the question is whether traditional OBS consignors will wait to sell their horses in January or take them out of state to sell them in this calendar year.

Tod Wojciechowski, OBS director of sales, believes consignors will wait for the January sale and that area breeders will not be adversely affected.

“We carefully looked at it and tried to weigh the pros and cons,” Wojciechowski said. “Given that we have our mixed sale in January, it wasn’t as if we weren’t giving people an opportunity to sell their horses; they just may have to wait a couple of months longer than they normally would if they planned on going to October.

“By having the January sale as an outlet, we felt it was important to get these renovations done, and given the size and scope of the project, we really needed that four-month window.

“As far as the feedback we’ve received, while some may not have been totally happy with the postponement of the October sale, the renovations are looked at very positively. And those people are willing to participate in the January sale.”

As for the important October market for weanlings being preempted, there is a chance that moving the horses back three months will work in the favor of consignors. The horses will have more time to mature, and buyers will not have to carry them as long before they either race them or resell them.

Wojciechowski said market conditions have been moving toward selling horses later in the cycle, which also may boost prices for consignors for short yearlings in January.

“If you look at the sales calendar and you look at yearlings as an example, the sales calendar has gotten later in the year,” he said. “You have so many yearlings now available for sale in October – and I think we’ve seen an effect of that in the 2-year-old market, where people are very willing to move their horses, any kind, back to April and June if they need it. They’re willing to give them time.

“I don’t know if there’s not a similar effect on the mixed sales, whereas it used to be norm a number of years ago to sell weanlings in October. I think there’s a comfort level between buyers and sellers to sell those short yearlings in January.”

The bottom line for OBS is really whether it loses any revenue from having to suspend the October sale for a year, but Wojciechowski doesn’t think it will.

“I think we’ll get a lot of those horses in January,” he said.