"Cautious optimism" has been the catch phrase of choice in the Thoroughbred sales arena in recent years, with emphasis steadily landing on optimism as overall numbers continue to climb out of the doldrums.
Bullish results from juvenile sales and a shrinking foal crop have added weight to that optimism as Fasig-Tipton July prepares to kick off the yearling auction season with its one-day July select sale at 10 a.m. Monday.
The 2012 edition of the July auction posted double-digit gains in gross and average.
With a slimmer catalog of 258 this year and an inaugural Horses of Racing Age sale that immediately will follow the yearling auction, expectations are generally high after a 2-year-old sales season that saw a broad base of buyers spark upswings at virtually every major sale.
"I think we see the supply and demand being much more closely aligned, which would give us reason to believe there would be positive momentum," said Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning Jr. "We're seeing there is still very good demand for a wide range of horses, and I think we'll have a successful yearling sale season. I would expect prices to continue the upward trend. I don't think it's going to be a dramatic, steep increase in average price across the board, but I think you'll continue to see some upward movement."
As the less commercial horses have gone out of production, a stronger pedigreed, more consistent product has resulted — a factor that further heightens competition among buyers.
"With the smaller foal crops, I think there is more of a sense of urgency amongst serious buyers to get a critical mass of yearlings bought this year," said Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales. "And they don't want to let a sale like this go by because, come September, it may be really, really hard to get horses bought."
Sales officials hope the addition of the Horses of Racing Age sale, which has catalogued 89 horses including Grade I winners Starship Truffles and Jaycito, will fill a need in the market and lure buyers who might shop at both auctions.
Having proven and/or ready-made race products available for sale publicly rather than privately could draw trainers who otherwise would be preoccupied with their current stables. The steady stream of activity at the barns this weekend seemed to back up that notion.
"Selling them privately is always a little bit complicated, and you never know if you're getting enough or too much, but when they go through the ring, the hammer speaks," trainer Kenny McPeek said. "I think I've got a group of clients that seem to be interested in playing."
But, cautioned Headley Bell of Mill Ridge Sales, "It is still a very selective market, and people have to act accordingly as consignors and ... don't get carried away with all the people here, because there are a lot of people here. But I think the mood is very solid."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Twitter: @horseracinghl. Blog: Horseracing.bloginky.com.