11/01/2017 1:10PM

Successful weanling pinhookers share a discerning eye for development

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Keeneland Photo
This War Front colt was a successful $1.1-million pinhook at the Keeneland September yearling sale.

Plenty is written each year about the pinhook market’s buying of yearlings for resale at the following season’s 2-year-olds in training sales. It’s a cornerstone of the juvenile auction space.

Less heralded are the pinhook buyers about to take action during the November sale season, buying weanlings to flip at the 2018 yearling sales.

Comparing the most populous events in their respective marketplaces, last year’s Keeneland November breeding stock sale featured 284 weanlings that changed hands at that auction and went on to sell at this year’s Keeneland September yearling stock sale.

As a group, the 284 horses brought $17,224,550 as weanlings and re-sold in 2017 for $35,697,000 (13 percent of the overall Keeneland September gross), more than doubling their combined sale prices. Those numbers expand even further when factoring in horses that finished under their reserve as youngsters or were bought or sold in other auction markets.

While not an overwhelming slice of the mixed-sale economy, the young horse pinhook market has produced some lucrative returns in the sale ring and successful graduates on the racetrack. Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist fits both of those categories, bringing $180,000 as a weanling, then $230,000 as a yearling before going on to an Eclipse Award-winning racing career.

Chris Baccari of Baccari Bloodstock buys 20 to 30 weanlings each year for resale and hit a home run with the most expensive filly of this year’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale, a first-crop Strong Mandate filly that sold to Live Oak Plantation for $825,000. Baccari bought the filly for $270,000 at last year’s Keene-land November breeding stock sale.

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“You have to have the physical, and then the pedigree is going to dictate what they’re going to bring, or what they’re going to cost me,” he said. “It’s always about buying what I think should be a racehorse. You have to make profit on them, but at the end of the day, they have to be a racehorse.”

While prospects must surpass a baseline physical standard to warrant serious consideration, Baccari said forgiveness for minor physical flaws is key for weanlings, much more so than when shopping for yearlings. The young horses are in an awkward stage in their development when they hit the sale grounds, and as long as the issues are not severe, they can sometimes grow out of them practically overnight.

Knowing his clientele in the yearling market also is on Baccari’s mind when replenishing his stock.

“When I’m buying horses, I’m always thinking of people I know that might like that style of horse,” he said. “Most of the time, we try to buy classic-distance dirt horses because I feel like that’s the biggest market. In New York, it probably pays for me to have a couple grass horses because probably 40 percent of the races up here might be grass.”

Brian Graves, director of public sales at Gainesway, also had a big showing in Saratoga as head of the Clear Ridge Stables partnership, turning a $110,000 Animal Kingdom colt around for $750,000 and a $525,000 Tapit filly for $675,000.

Graves said pinhooking weanlings goes hand-in-hand with what he does at the farm – helping bring quality offerings to its consignment, and hopefully making some money along the way.

In recent years, Graves has pinhooked notable runners including Practical Joke, Showing Up, and Afleet Express from the weanling market. Like Baccari, Graves said it was important to look at weanlings not for what they are, but what they could become.

“It’s pretty easy to see a perfect specimen in front of you, a horse that’s mature and fully grown, but I think people that have an eye for what’s to develop in horses can have a little more success pinhooking,” Graves said. “If you have the ability to look at something that’s a little rough around the edges and know what it will become in eight months, or at least be positive about what it could become, you can be rewarded for that. When something’s not perfect standing in front of you, it’s easy to just say no, but people that give it a chance and develop it and make the right decisions for the horse can do well.”

The auction process bombards horses with the stimuli of shipping, showing, and selling, which can be a lot for a weanling to take in, even for the most polished of the group.

It can be a crash course in manners and interactions, but Graves said buying a horse as a weanling does not necessarily mean the experience will help make them a more polished auction yearling when they return to the sale grounds the following season. Much of that rests on the individual.

“Horses are at all stages of maturity at all points of their lives,” Graves said. “You get a feel for what works and what doesn’t work by what you’ve succeeded and what you’ve failed with. Once you’ve had a few successes, you start steering toward the horses that have that athleticism that made you successful. The market shapes you pretty quickly, unless you want to go bankrupt.”

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