03/01/2010 12:00AM

Quality remains key in recovering market


Sellers and auction executives are hoping for stabilization on Tuesday at Fasig-Tipton's select 2-year-old sale at Calder Race Course. But even if the juvenile marketplace is starting to recover from the Thoroughbred industry's economic crisis, sale officials say it's still likely to remain highly selective in the near term.

The 2009 Calder sale sold 111 horses for a combined $26,151,000, down 25 percent. Average ($235,595) and median ($150,000) fell harder, 32 percent and 35 percent, respectively. But buybacks improved, lowering from 40 percent to 35 percent as sellers opted to let horses off their payrolls.

Fasig-Tipton CEO Boyd Browning finds some evidence that Thoroughbred markets overall might have bottomed out.

"Hopefully, there's been a restoration of some confidence in the marketplace and in people's financial world," Browning said. "That would be the most significant thing that could lead to some stabilization and possibly some increases in prices this year: people feeling more comfortable, generally speaking, about their own financial situation in the world.

"We want to have a high level of activity amongst buyers and sellers to get a reasonable percentage of horses sold. I hope we'll also see an increased level of profitability for the 2-year-old consignor that will ultimately provide them with more ammunition to be stronger buyers in the yearling marketplace in 2010."

The Calder sale has a 237-horse catalog, down from last year's 272. That's a reflection of consignors' decisions to buy fewer yearling-to-juvenile resale prospects after last year's roughly 35 percent drop in 2-year-old prices. The smaller catalog could help Fasig-Tipton put up a better average price this year. But Browning warns that the buyers at 2010 juvenile sales are likely to be finicky. Sellers got a taste of that at the season-opening Ocala Breeders' Sales Company select auction in February. Three horses there brought $400,000 or more, beating last year's top price, but the sale still posted an 8 percent loss in average and a 27 percent lower median.

"I think there will be high demand for the quality offerings, but it will be very difficult to sell horses that don't work well, look good at the end of the shank, and have a nice video," Browning said of the juvenile season, adding that horses must "tick all the boxes" for these highly selective bidders as Darley Stud's buying representative John Ferguson is fond of putting it.

Whether Darley returns to the buyer's list will be a key question at Calder (as at most select Thoroughbred sales this season). Last year, Darley spent more than $4.6 million to buy four horses at Calder, including the $1.6 million sale-topper, a Medaglia d'Oro colt out of Bayou Plans. Now named Al Zir, that colt finished third in England's Group 1 Racing Post Trophy for Darley owner Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai.

Since then, Dubai, too, has faltered in the worldwide recession and received a last-minute bailout in November from its wealthier neighbor, Abu Dhabi. Ferguson has said the emirate's financial troubles are not likely to affect Maktoum's personal spending on racehorses, and sellers at Fasig-Tipton (which is owned by Dubai-based Synergy, a company with close ties to Maktoum) undoubtedly hope Maktoum will aid the Calder sale's bottom line.

Browning hopes that other buyers will feel financially confident enough to take the plunge on a racing prospect at a time when they might still spot some discounts in the market.

"Dreaming of a big horse is the stimulus for an awful lot of activity in our industry," he said. "I truly think the quality of the horses will impress people who have lowered their expectations about what they think they'll find."

Yearling-to-juvenile resellers may have trimmed the number of horses they bought last year, but this year's catalog contains a load of horses with Grade 1 connections in their pedigrees.

Vinery Stables launches its new 2-year-old sale division with quite a number of these. Among its horses are a half-sister to Hot Dixie Chick by Speightstown (Hip No. 5), a half-brother to Sweet Talker by Badge of Silver (11), a three-quarter-sister to Henny Hughes by Giant's Causeway (122), and a Gone West colt that is out of a half-sister to Gone West's son Elusive Quality (75). Vinery also has a Pulpit half-brother to Rachel Alexandra's dam, Lotta Kim, selling as Hip No. 100.

Rachel Alexandra's sire Medaglia d'Oro also is likely to excite interest. His cataloged juveniles include half-sisters to My Cousin Matt (34) and to major earner Gaff (93).

Now pensioned, Storm Cat makes an appearance as the sire of two horses, a half-brother to Horse of the Year Point Given (220) and a son of Grade 1-placed Miss Lodi (131). First-crop sire Bernardini has a three-quarter-sister to Tapit (212) and a half-brother to Andromeda's Hero (119). Another freshman sire, Henny Hughes, is represented by a half-sister to Spring Meadow (73) and half-brother to Diplomat Lady (159).

Other Grade 1-related juveniles include a Tiznow half-brother to Mystery Girl (4), an Unbridled's Song half-brother to Newfoundland (32), a Lion Heart half-brother to Kodiak Kowboy (102), an Unbridled's Song half-sister to Rockport Harbor (168), a Lion Heart half-sister to Pretty Prolific (177), a Distorted Humor half-brother to Mr. Sidney (218), a Songandaprayer half-sister to Cowtown Cat (219), a Smart Strike half-brother to Erinsouthernman (190), and a Tapit half-sister to Massive Drama (156).

Major earner J'ray also has a half-sister in the catalog, Hip No. 24, a Street Cry filly.

The one-day sale begins 11 a.m. at Calder Race Course. It will stream live at Fasig-Tipton's website, www.fasigtipton.com.