08/02/2016 8:16AM

Yearling sales preview: Sellers worry about feast-or-famine conditions

The Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale runs Aug. 8-9. "We’re excited and enthusiastic about what we have to offer," said Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning.

The prognosis for the 2016 yearling market among consignors is so uniform from person to person that it feels as though a cue card of talking points had been passed around the sale grounds and memorized.

Almost to the number, they describe the increasingly selective nature of the market, with buyers swarming toward the horses with the fewest perceived flaws and driving up their prices while trying to land them. If you have one of those in your shed row, you’re golden.

Then their tone gets somber as they express their concerns over the uneasy status of the middle market and the near-disappearance of the lower market, both foreshadowed and perpetuated by a feast-or-famine season of 2-year-old sales earlier this year.

They all know what’s coming. The question is what they plan to do about it.

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Those responses are a bit more varied, with consignors of different sizes and philosophies approaching the potentially turbulent yearling market in different ways.

For large operations like Taylor Made Sales Agency, the strategy involves using its vast marketing resources and deep list of contacts to find the right match for each horse under its consignment.

“One advantage we have with our size is just more traffic and talking with more people,” said Mark Taylor, the operation’s director of marketing and public sales. “We’ve talked to a lot of people that come through, and there are some people with orders and some new money, and you’ve got to figure out what they’re looking for and try to help them find the right horse in your consignment that fits their order.

“There’s not a lot else you can do about the big picture,” he added, “but you’ve got to try to find the pockets of strength that do exist and try to promote your clients’ horses the best you can to those people.”

Furthermore, Taylor drove home the importance of setting realistic reserves and being willing to adjust with the tide of the marketplace if consignors and clients are serious about getting horses sold.

The 38 percent buyback rate seen at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July selected yearling sale, the first stop on the major North American yearling auction calendar, suggests that this could be a moving target for sellers throughout the season.

Carl McEntee, sales and bloodstock director for Darby Dan Farm, said proper sale placement is key to play up a horse’s strengths and help it stand out in the catalog.

However, he said the North American foal crop’s overwhelming shift from primarily breed-to-race programs to commercial operations over the past half-century has made finding those spots more challenging than ever, due to the sheer number of yearlings put through the sale ring each season.

“We try to position our horses in the right sale to put them in front of the buyers that will need to see them and probably buy them, and I think all the consignors are relatively in tune with the marketplace and know where we want to put our horses,” McEntee said. “If you position your horses properly, and they can go through the vetting scrutiny, I think you’ll be fine.”

Other breeders and consignors will employ the quality-over-quantity approach, trying to avoid the uncertainty of the lower markets by staying out of them as much as possible.

Gray Lyster, manager of Ashview Farm, said the decision to keep a fairly boutique consignment at any given sale in 2016 was made well before it was time to enter the yearlings in their respective catalogs.

“We never have big consignments,” Lyster said, “and it actually has less to do with the fact that we don’t want more horses or bigger numbers, but more to do with we go out there and we buy the highest quality [broodmares] we can possibly afford, because it’s so expensive to care for them.

“We don’t want to go out there and just try to chase the median at sales. We’re trying to go out there, buy the best we can buy, and get in the beginning of the big sales and the select sales. I think the broader market has done that. It’s tightened, and people know that.”

Though there are plenty of questions about what the yearling market will look like in 2016, there were few with doubts about the elite-level offerings that will be on display at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale.

The boutique sale will take place Monday and Tuesday at the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., with each session beginning at 6:30 p.m. Eastern.

“Aug. 8 and 9 can’t come soon enough,” Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning said. “It’s almost like waiting for Christmas morning or a major holiday. We’re excited and enthusiastic about what we have to offer.”

Further driving home the migration toward the upper portion of the market, the catalog for this year’s Saratoga sale grew 21 percent to 250 entries after last year’s edition put 206 yearlings in its book.

In putting together the select catalog, Browning said the Fasig-Tipton staff does not set out with a predetermined number of horses in mind, instead building the book around the potential entries that appear to best fit the marketplace.

“You find the horses you think fit,” he said. “This year, we were exposed to a greater population of horses that we thought were quality horses, both in terms of pedigrees and physicals, and that’s why the catalog’s grown.

“It’s whatever the combination of the horses you find and the horses that people want to send to you that makes that final number. Obviously, we’re pleased with the increased number of horses.”

Last year’s Saratoga sale was one of the strongest renewals in recent years, with 145 yearlings changing hands for $46,775,000, marking a 40 percent increase and the highest gross since 2009.

The average sale price also was the highest since 2009, rising 10 percent to $322,448, while the median grew 5 percent to $250,000 for the best performance since 2013. The buyback rate closed at 15 percent.

A Tapit colt topped the sale, going to the Miami-based partnership of El Capi Racing for $2 million. Consigned by Four Star Sales, agent, the colt was the most expensive horse to change hands at the Saratoga sale since 2009.

The Irish-bred colt, later named Glory or Nothing, is out of the Grade 3-winning Galileo mare Dress Rehearsal, whose first foal to race is the English stakes-placed Christophermarlowe, a full brother to the sale-topper. Glory or Nothing most recently breezed toward his debut start in May at the Stonestreet Training Center near Ocala, Fla.