So much of the Thoroughbred marketplace is about trying to get in on the ground floor with an unproven product, be it unraced juveniles, well-bred broodmare prospects or physically-impressive yearlings.
What transpires within the sales ring also represents the first chance for a freshman sire to make a ripple within the commercial arena. As the first major yearling auction of the season, Tuesday’s Fasig-Tipton July yearling sale once again offers buyers the prime opportunity to unearth future standouts for themselves and tab the next potential breakout performer in the breeding shed.
While it no longer sections off a portion of its catalog under the “New Sire Showcase” banner, the Fasig-Tipton July exercise continues to put freshman sires in the spotlight as no fewer than 30 stallions — including champion Animal Kingdom and 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb — will be represented by yearlings from their initial crop during the one-day sale.
The July yearling sale begins at 10 a.m. Tuesday and will be preceded Monday evening by a horses of racing age auction, which features Grade I winner Stormy Lucy and recent Grade III winner Donegal Moon among the 110 lots cataloged. Last year’s yearling sale saw its cumulative gross of $20,005,000 improve by 31 percent over the 2014 results.
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The past few seasons have been rich in quality with regards to the new stallions entering the ranks and, for a multitude of reasons, the market has responded in kind. Where many shoppers understandably gravitated towards proven sires in the aftermath of the economic crash of 2008, freshman stallions have come back into favor – particularly as the stud fees on the elite end continue to tick upwards.
Last season saw WinStar Farm stallion Bodemeister lead all freshman sires with a $176,580 yearling sale average, more than five times his $30,000 stud fee.
“I think that was definitely the trend for a couple years (towards proven sires) and I think you’re already seeing the shift back towards first-year horses,” said Ned Toffey, general manager of Spendthrift Farm, which has yearlings by its freshman stallions Flat Out, Awesome Patriot, Liaison and Jimmy Creed in the Fasig sale. “I think in general … people’s filters have gotten that much finer and they are really looking for a nice individual, and there has gone back to being some acceptance of first-year horses. They want to like that horse, they want to like that stallion prospect and like the individual. But yes, I think we are seeing a little bit more of a shift back there.”
Part of the reason freshman sires are surging in commercial appeal is they are getting more of an opportunity to have an opportunity.
One of the byproducts of the economic downturn was that the lack of support for new sires pushed some stallions out of Kentucky entirely. As the market recovered, there has been greater willingness to take a chance on a new stallion, particularly since the ceiling on what their offspring could achieve has not yet been established.
“When things got tough in the market, people went towards more of a proven commodity. And during that time, I think the number of mares bred was shrinking every year, and it was pushing some of the new stallions out of Kentucky,” said Mark Taylor of perennial leading consignor Taylor Made Sales. “I think now, once the mares being bred stabilized, you started seeing more of these horses cropping up. And I think there is also a situation where people grow fatigued of certain stallions as they get older.
“With these big stallion books, let’s say a horse is breeding 150 mares, some of them are breeding 200 plus every year, there is a lot more of that product in the marketplace. It used to take 10 years for 600 foals (by a stallion) to get out there, now it takes five. So it saturates the market with horses that maybe didn’t meet expectations a lot quicker.”
Further helping the appeal of freshman sires is the runway success of champion and Ashford Stud stallion, Uncle Mo. The son of Indian Charlie has hit it out of the park with his first couple crops of runners, including champion and Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, and, after entering stud at $35,000, his fee has already climbed to $75,000 as commercial demand for his offspring reaches a fever pitch.
“Obviously Uncle Mo…the way he has exploded, I think there is no question people want to see that potential there (in freshman sires) and when they do and they see the right kind of individual, I think it’s easy to get excited about that,” Toffey said. “Again for a lot of people, if you’re buying proven...it’s because it’s proven to a certain level. So when you have that first year horse, the sky is kind of the limit. I think people feel like that they are willing to pay for those even sometimes if it’s a little bit beyond what the stud fee might get paid because there is that optimism there.”