To cope with the correction that has hit the Thoroughbred marketplace in recent years, tempered expectations have become the norm among those who continue to participate.
The restrained attitudes and pocketbooks were on display again during the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July select yearling sale Tuesday, but the overall numbers provided some indication that confidence is creeping back into the sales arena.
In reaction to the reduction in the foal crop and the number of buyers in the game, Fasig-Tipton tightened its July auction, trimming the sale from two days to one and cataloging 303 horses, down from 407 in 2010.
Not surprisingly, the overall gross dropped from $18,414,500 last year to $13,349,000, and the number of horses sold Tuesday — 191 — was down 21 percent from 2010. The average sale price was $69,890, compared to $75,780 a year ago. However, the median sale price of $60,000 increased by 20 percent.
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"We anticipated a market similar to 2010, but ... this sale felt a little bit better," said Boyd Browning, president of Fasig-Tipton. "There seemed to be more bidding on horses throughout the day compared to how it felt through most of 2010. Buyers were still conservative in their evaluation and bidding patterns.
"There is certainly stabilization in the market, and honestly it feels like the beginning of a little bit of a recovery."
Though buyers were willing to spend money on the best-looking, best-pedigreed offerings, there is still a definite ceiling when it comes to the top end.
"I think we're getting down to the basics again because it was getting a little out of hand before," said Ben Glass, who purchased a son of Lemon Drop Kid for $230,000 on behalf of owners Gary and Mary West.
In the case of consignors Greg and Beth Burchell, their best prospect brought even more than they had hoped.
The Burchells consigned a bay colt by Harlan's Holiday under their Crossroad Sales agency and saw him top the sale when he sold to agent John Moynihan for $310,000.
Moynihan outlasted John Ferguson, agent for Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, to take home the colt, out of the Include mare Acrosstheborder, on behalf of Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton.
"The price was a little high but kind of right in line," Moynihan said. "I think the really good ones are bringing $200,000-plus." Having raised the colt from birth, Greg Burchell said the Burchells saw exceptional potential early on. In the current marketplace, however, the fact that the colt was able to reach the top echelon will go down as one of the consignor's most notable achievements.
"Coming in, we thought if he brought $150,000 it would be a good sale, so obviously we're very happy," Greg Burchell said. "He just grew up at the right time. Any time you can sell a sale topper, you feel like you've done your job."
In addition to being the first major yearling auction of the year, the July sale also featured Phase I of the dispersal of stock from Texas-based owners Bill and Corinne Heiligbrodts, who are taking a hiatus from the sport to devote more time to family and other business interests. Seventy-three horses — all consigned by Bluewater Sales — sold for a gross of $2,949,500; the 15-year-old stakes-producing mare Richbabe went to Ciaran Dunne for $240,000.