If has often been said over the past several months that where blue skies were driving the Thoroughbred marketplace a few years ago, reality is what's selling right now.
Count the Fasig-Tipton July yearling sale as the latest dose of actuality thrown at the commercial auction arena. But, unlike last season, its participants have become much more prepared for what they have to digest.
The first major yearling sale of the year concluded the way many expected it to — respectable, if unspectacular. Paced by the ongoing appeal of top Darley stallion Medaglia d'Oro, the Fasig-Tipton July sale ended its two-day run Wednesday with reasonable across-the-board declines as buyers and sellers continue to adjust to the new marketplace.
While the overall gross of $18,414,500 was down 12 percent compared to 2009 when 25 more horses sold, the average of $75,780 declined 2.4 percent with the median of $50,000 off 9.1 percent from a year ago.
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Unlike the opening session where the rate of horses not sold came in at 37 percent, however, the second session was more balanced in that regard as the overall reserve-not-attained (RNA) rate for the sale came in at 28.7 percent.
It may be a long way from the best of times, but there is hope the worst of the current correction has already shown itself in the Thoroughbred market.
"To see the RNA rate down is a real plus, I think," said Kerry Cauthen of Four Star Sales. "I think we need more end-users but at least there's been trade. There's not as much fear in the market. There are people here willing to buy horses for $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 and that's what we need."
Where freshman sires used to be all the rage at the July sale, the shift back toward yearlings by proven stallions was highlighted during this year's auction as buyers are still ultra-conservative with their discretionary dollars.
Offspring by Medaglia d'Oro accounted for the two highest prices of the sale, with the sale-topping colt selling for $450,000 to John Ferguson on Tuesday and a bay filly going to Virginia-based bloodstock agent Debbie Easter for $350,000 Wednesday.
"She's a Medaglia d'Oro and a half to a Grade I winner so it's hard to beat that," Easter said of the half-sister to Grade I winner Divine Park. "I didn't know if I could get her; that was about as far as I could go."
While it will be hard to get a true read on the yearling market until it gets past Fasig-Tipton's select Saratoga sale in August and the marathon that is the Keeneland September sale, the July exercise did demonstrate that — in absence of a full blown recovery — the free fall has at the least begun to subside.
The most desirable horses continue to command top dollar, but the buyers' discriminating nature is not just limited to one area of the market.
"Good horses sold well, but people are awfully careful," said Fasig-Tipton chairman Walt Robertson. "It's not just a bottom thing; it's across the board."
Added Fasig president Boyd Browning Jr., "We all have to participate and do the best we can in the current market conditions. I would say we have reached some stability at a reduced level in the marketplace."