01/26/2006 1:00AM

Q&A: Dean De Renzo

"We want buyers to know that when they buy a horse at a 2-year-old sale, he's been hand-picked and developed in a manner that he would have if they had already owned them." - De Renzo on the purpose of the NATC

Dean De Renzo, chairman of the National Association of 2-Year-Old Consignors, has made a full career in the Thoroughbred business by playing in just about every part of the game. A native of Staten Island, N.Y., De Renzo started off with his family's Quarter Horses at rodeos, but when he moved to attend college in Southern California, De Renzo discovered the Thoroughbred world while hauling horses as a part-time job. Ultimately, he abandoned plans for a veterinary career and opted for a career that has made him one of the nation's leading 2-year-old consignors and a farm owner, too. With his business partner Randy Hartley, De Renzo founded Hartley/De Renzo Thorough-breds as a pinhooking operation in 1990. The company, which is based in Ocala, Fla., has since expanded into one of Florida's largest full-service farms, offering breeding, training, and stallion services. Among the farm's stallions are: Tiger Ridge, Essence of Dubai, Omega Code, City Place, Diligence, Full Mandate, Roar of the Tiger, and Werblin.

But De Renzo and Hartley have also stayed true to their roots in the pinhooking game and are still one of the country's most consistent and successful consigning teams. It was in his role as a seller that De Renzo, 46, helped create the NATC, a trade association dedicated to promoting the juvenile sales to potential buyers. De Renzo and other Florida-based juvenile consignors formed the organization in part to combat criticism that the juvenile sales were too hard on young horses and too permissive with medication and steroids. The group's first public task was to represent consignors in discussions with sale companies about random drug-testing at juvenile sales. The group signed off on new testing protocols at the juvenile sales. Now with a $350,000 annual budget and 60 members, the NATC has gone on to develop a marketing campaign highlighting racetrack successes of former 2-year-old sale horses. It has also established a pair of 2-year-old futurities for juvenile sale grads whose consignors paid into the group's advertising fund. And a new pair of futurities for 3-year-old males and females also is in the works.

Most of the NATC's members are located in and around Ocala, and they are encouraged to open their farms to potential buyers to show them how sale horses are prepared.

"Our mission is to show what we do and how we work to bring our product to you, the buyer," said De Renzo, who points out that 43 percent of the Triple Crown runners last year came through juvenile auctions in 2004.

"We're going to take advantage of marketing those facts," he said. "These horses aren't just sprinters. I'm probably partial, but if I were a buyer and I looked at the numbers, I'd have to go to a 2-year-old sale if I were looking for a racehorse to race in the next six months to a year."

Daily Racing Form's Glenye Cain interviewed De Renzo on Jan. 24, 2006.

Daily Racing Form: Why did the 2-year-old consignors feel they needed their own voice in the form of the NATC?

There were articles written about the 2-year-old sales that we as individual consignors felt were of no merit. There were a couple of horses that didn't work out, and it snowballed to where it was starting to look like 2-year-old consignors were hard on horses. We thought we should have a voice and show our product, because if we don't, nobody else will. We needed to advertise our success.

Sales companies had also had some talks with buyers and felt it would be a more level playing field and make buyers more comfortable if they had blood testing and urine testing as they do at the races, so we were behind that 100 percent. We just wanted to know what the rules were so we could abide by them. That made a wonderful turning around in building confidence for the buyers, which was what we were trying to do. We want buyers to know that when they buy a horse at a 2-year-old sale, he's been hand-picked and developed in a manner that he would have if they had already owned them.

Drug use was one of the main images we wanted to confront. We wanted to point out to people that, hey, these horses are fast not because they're on something but because they've been hand-picked for it. These horses are picked by some of the best horsemen in the country. We were having a lot of fast works at sales, and I think people felt they were using things they couldn't use at the races. After the drug testing, the works were still fast, and the quality of the horses stayed up because the consignors were buying better horses each year, and those horses were still precocious.

What kind of medications are used?

Sometimes, these athletes need some Bute or something like that. When we take these babies to Calder, for example, which has two large sales, it's an all-concrete barn area, and you may come up with what we call "asphalt fatigue." It's a totally different surface that they're not used to. It's as if you were used to working on concrete and then you had to work in sand. They use muscles they don't normally use, and they may need a therapeutic medication given by a veterinarian, and we disclose those medications from the time the horses are at the sales until they sell.

A lot of these babies are just barely two years old, and most of the farms they're on are dirt or turf all the way from the barns to the tracks. Sometimes they get a little body sore on that concrete. Then you're also asking them to breeze on a schedule. If they get fatigued or footsore - some of them might only have had shoes on in the last 30 days - we might have to medicate for that. That's disclosed to all the buyers at the sales company's office.

Does the NATC feel the current testing at sales is working or are there modifications you'd like to see?

I think at this time it's working pretty well. I don't see any consignors having any problem presenting their horses to the sale company for blood testing or urine testing.

Are buyers' demands for performance also changing?

You know, we as consignors pick a particular kind of horse that is going to be precocious and start earlier. But as time goes on, the breeze-show times are not quite as important to buyers as the way the horse goes. The buyers now want to see not only how the horse breezed and eighth- or a quarter-mile on the timer, but also how they gallop out and finish.

That is better for us, because the less stress we have to put on the horses, the sounder product we can sell. That's important to consignors, because if you don't sell it, you still own it. So it's as important to us as it is to them.

We have two breeze shows, and there has been some talk that consignors might want to have one instead. It used to be that you had to participate in both breeze shows, whether you just galloped or breezed. It isn't that way any longer. Now, the sales companies are giving the consignors that option, so if you feel the track isn't right because of the weather or if your horse has a little fever or cough from shipping, you can opt to go to the next breeze show seven or eight days later. The consignors are very pleased with that.

It's also helped that the sale companies started videoing the breeze shows, so it didn't matter which day you went. That's helped us make better decisions in presenting our horses.

There was a time not so long ago where a horse had to go in 10.20 seconds or so to stay on a buyer's list. Why do you think buyers may be softening on that?

I think they realize that when you have a horse that goes in :10 1/5 and one that goes in :10 3/5, it's very hard to choose which is the better horse in that eighth-mile breeze. Some horses are bred to go longer and not have as much speed, and some are bred to go a little shorter and would be a little faster. But two-fifths is a small difference in time. Over time, buyers have purchased horses that went in :10 3/5 or :11 and they've turned out to be good horses. Either they bought them because of the way the horse went or maybe because the :10 1/5 horse was way out of their price range, and found out it might not always be the fastest horse at the show that turns out to be the best horse. I think they've educated themselves.

It's happened so much in the past few years. Closing Argument was a horse that we sold, and he was a :10 3/5 horse, which wasn't the fastest by any means at the sale, and he was second in the Derby. Bellamy Road was an :11 3/5 horse, and they bought him strictly off the way the horse moved and his presence around the barn.

What other issues does the NATC want to tackle in the next couple of years?

We'd like to look at giving the gift of time to the horses. I think we'd all love for the sales to be a hair later in the year so that the horses could grow up, not so much for soundness, but so we can maybe buy a later foal and give that foal more time to catch up to its age group. We could market more product that way.

To make a sounder horse, we'd like a little better facilities. A lot of consignors don't like the pavement we have to go on at Calder, but the location there is convenient for buyers. So we're weighing that. We'd love to have some sand horse paths to and from the track. That would help us have a sounder horse at the sales.

What about track surfaces?

The tracks themselves are done well. I see Keeneland is trying new surfaces to help their situation, which is a weather issue. In April at Keeneland, it's still cold and the track gets harder, so they're trying the new surface they put on their training track. I've heard nothing but great things about that. The times aren't quite as fast, but it's very forgiving. Barretts has one of the most forgiving tracks, by which I mean it's so easy on the horses, they just bounce and flourish off of that. Calder's track, because of the rainy weather, has a lot of sand, so we have to bear the harder sand track. But our injury rate is very slim for the amount of horses that go through the sales.

The major select 2-year-old sales in 2005 generated a world-record $5.2 million colt at Fasig-Tipton Calder and a real buzz at the top of the market in general. But is it a healthy market overall for juvenile consignors?

I think it's good overall for our membership. It seems like each consignor has their own day in the light, and it seems to make us more competitive.

I think it's great at the top, and there's a need for a middle market. We've talked and talked about how we can build our middle market, and unless the buyers realize that there are good horses all the way through, they're going to have to figure that out on their own. There are good horses, and you have to do your homework.

It's a hard job for the buyer, but I think the buyers are also relying on the consignors. They're asking them, "Will this horse be ready early? Is this a two-turn horse? Is this a horse who needs to grow up? Do I need to give this horse two months off?" We're having a lot more communication with the buyers.

We see buyers who have a budget of $300,000, and they want the Tale of the Cat that brought $5.2 million. They walk out of the sale without any horses because they focused on that horse, and once they saw that one, they didn't want to see any more. They're going to have to keep looking, and they may find a better horse for less money, one that might not have quite the best female family or the real stallion's pedigree. Maybe instead of a Tale of the Cat it's a Tiger Ridge. But buyers are learning that.

In the future, we'd like to have maybe a cocktail hour for buyers and consignors at sales so they can talk to each other about horses, because there's a cover for every pot. We need to match them up.

Even if buyers are becoming less addicted to fast times and track surfaces are getting better, the 2-year-old sales are a risky business for consignors. What are the biggest pressures you face today?

The pressure is how much do buyers want us to do with these horses? How far do you want us to gallop these horses out to make you feel comfortable that this is the horse we said it was? That's probably the biggest pressure. We'd like them to say a quarter- or eighth-mile breeze with a one-eighth gallop out is sufficient, instead of wanting it to be an eighth-mile breeze with a three-eighths gallop out. Because we don't want to put those pressures on the horse, knowing that if the horse doesn't sell, we have to go on to the races with him ourselves. And if the horse is sold, we want him to be sound enough to go on to the races and keep and build our buyer base. We'd like to say, "Don't reward a horse that goes out strong for three-eighths over a horse that went out just as strong for one-eighth." We don't want to force the issue and have to push these horses that much farther.

But, as consignors, we have to know when we pay for these horses that we may have to race these horses someday. Be happy with what you're paying for it, and know that that's not case money, so to speak. You may have to race it, and you have to be fine with that.