The weather that greeted potential buyers as they made their way around the Fasig-Tipton paddocks this weekend could not have been more ideal. But the climate in the Thoroughbred marketplace heading into the first major yearling auction of the season remains ominous at best.
When the Fasig-Tipton July yearling sale begins its two-day run Monday, the catalog of 494 horses will not be the only thing that has shrunk since last season.
Despite a steady flow of traffic making its way around the barns the past few days, concerns about the economy and precipitous dips in the auction arena have prompted many to rein in their expectations about what this yearling market is capable of.
It's no secret that the Thoroughbred market has tumbled for the better part of a year, and given the way the 2-year-old auctions performed, there is little reason to think that relief is in sight.
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Much like the breeding-stock sales that preceded them, the juvenile auctions saw their numbers fall off by about 30 percent from 2008.
Things haven't been much better in other parts of the world. The recently concluded Japan Racing Horse Association foal sale suffered declines of more than 30 percent in gross and average.
"I think the top end will be off by about 25 percent, the middle end off about 50 percent and for the lower end, I don't see a market for it," Three Chimneys president Case Clay said. "The horses I'm worried about are the horses people aren't on. It's not like they're going to bring less; they're just not going to bring anything.
"I think the more people that are here, the better, but ... there's a shifting in peoples' attitudes with regard to parting with cash for a luxury good, so that's the scary thing."
The July sale has typically been driven by the presence of yearling-to-juvenile resellers seeking solid pedigrees at non-select prices.
But with the declines in the 2-year-old market, many people expect the pinhookers to be much more reserved in their spending because they have less money to play with this year.
"The pinhookers unfortunately had a less-than-special year, so I think they're going to, as a group, have less buying power," said Boyd Browning, president of Fasig-Tipton. "One of the things we've done for this year is make a concerted push to bring in more trainers, and we've sorted through to find yearlings that are a good group of physical horses.
"I think the buyers will be selective and it might keep us from having as many breakout horses. But there is a high level of interest."
Another issue hindering sellers is that the current group of yearling was bred when stud fees were at their peak, before farms began slashing fees this season.
The goal of getting horses sold for profit might take a back seat to the task of simply getting them sold.
"We're in for a bit of a long haul here to sort out the oversupply," said Headley Bell of Mill Ridge Farm and Nicoma Bloodstock. "I think you have to take each situation as it is and evaluate your horse for what its value is. Some won't cover their costs, and some will double what they're worth. You hope in the end it all adds up to survival, to go on to another day."