The Thoroughbred marketplace is aligned like dominoes, with the health of each segment determining buyers' level of vigor.
After the juvenile sales produced another round of encouraging results, the stage is set for that momentum to carry into Thursday's Fasig-Tipton July Select Yearling Sale in Lexington, the year's first major yearling auction.
For the third straight season, the yearling sale — which begins at 10 a.m. — will be immediately followed by a Horses of Racing Age sale, added as a companion auction for the first time in 2013. The marriage of the two sales has yielded positive results, with the yearling auction posting gains in gross and average in 2014 and the Horses of Racing Age portion increasing its gross more than 44 percent from 2013 to 2014.
"I think it's a situation where both sales complement and benefit each other and hopefully it's a case where one plus one equals three," said Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning Jr. "I think certainly it has attracted some additional people to town, some who were probably more in line with buying racehorses who now find themselves buying yearlings. And some yearling buyers have certainly stepped up and bought some horses of racing age.
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"I think we've seen some solid and consistent results throughout the Thoroughbred market, whether it be weanlings, yearlings, 2-year-old sales. I'm optimistic the market will be strong. Optimistic, but realistic."
The 2-year-old sales season featured several highlights, most recently with the Ocala Breeders' Sales June auction yielding its highest gross and average in history as well as producing its most expensive horse ever sold.
By and large, yearling-to-juvenile resellers were able to get strong returns on horses who were exceptional physical specimens even if they didn't have a flashy pedigree to match. Bringing top "physicals" to the table has long been the hallmark of the Fasig-Tipton July sale and, with the resellers having some funds to play with as they begin to restock, competition in the top end and upper-middle market should continue to be stout.
"From what I could see in the spring ... the guys in the 2-year-old game could take those horses who were $50,000 to $70,000 to $85,000 and turn them over into $350,000-$400,000 on a regular basis," said Meg Levy of Bluewater Sales. "What I saw in common with those horses at the 2-year-old sales was obviously their performance but their physicals were just outstanding. I'm hoping that translates to this because the guys at Fasig- Tipton know how to put a horse sale on. And they know how to put a good group together."
A total of 332 yearlings have been cataloged for the one-day July sale, up from 265 a year ago. Among the 123 Horses of Racing Age that are cataloged are graded stakes-placed War Story, 16th in this year's Kentucky Derby, and multiple stakes winner Temper Mint Patty, who is consigned by Bluewater.
The select nature of the July yearling sale leads to several buyers often landing on the same group of horses. The buyback rate at last year's sale was a soft 30.77 percent.
"I think any time you have a select sale, everyone is going to be galvanized toward the top tier," Levy said. "Even if you're trying to buy one for $60,000 or $70,000, you're going to be on the same physical that the person (spending) $300,000 is on because there is just no telling what they're going to bring."