Monday, May 1, 2017

OBS April Sale -- A Bit More Depth

After the high-end two-year-olds-in-training sales at Gulfstream and Ocala Breeders Sales Co., both in March, come the mass-market events. The first of thoee was held last week by OBS in Ocala, with more than 1,200 horses in the catalog for a sale stretching over four days of breeze show and another four days of horses going through the auction ring. Still to come are the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale at Maryland's Timonium Fairgrounds this month and then the last-chance June OBS sale.

OBS April had a few blockbusters at the top of the market, notably Coolmore's purchase of a Tiznow colt, who breezed a furlong in a ridiculous 9 and three-fifths seconds, for $2.45 million. That's the highest price in the history of the OBS April sale, topping a Tapit filly who went for $1.9 million back in 2015. Not the highest price ever for a two-year-old, though. Coolmore, you may recall, paid $16 million at the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale back in 2006 -- after a pissing, err, bidding contest between Coolmore's Demi O'Byrne and Godolphin's John Ferguson -- for the then-fastest horse in the breeze show (albeit with a rotary gallop) ultimately named The Green Monkey. The horse never finished better than third in an actual race and, when last seen, was standing for the princely stud fee of $5,000 in Florida.

So how was the sale, aside from Coolmore's once again proving that they have more than enough money to feed every hungry child in Dublin? Basically, the message was business as usual, aside from a few more high-ticket horses than we usually see. Here are the basic numbers:

Six hundred eighty-one of the 1,208 horses in the catalog were actually sold. That's about 56%, compared to 54% last year and 56% the year before. Some 388 horses were scratched before entering the auction ring, and another 139 failed to meet their reserve price. All just about in line with past years.

The average price rose from $78,923 last year to $89,913 this year, largely on the strength of Coolmore's big buy and a couple of other million-dollar babies. But the median increased only from $47,000 to $48,000; it had been $45,000 in 2014 and 2015. As any statistician knows, the median is a more meaningful number, since the average can be affected in any year by the presence or absence of just a few high-end purchases.

Korean buyers, who entered the market only a decade or so ago and who for some years set absolute limits of $20,000 and then $30,000 on what they would pay, were very active, buying 15 horses at OBS April for an average price of better than $82,000. And New York trainer Linda Rice emerged as a force in the market, buying six horses for various ownership groups for an aggregate price that was almost equal to what Coolmore paid for their one stallion prospect.

So, no collapse in the market. There was steady buying not just at the high end, as had been the case in the earlier sales this year, but also at much lower prices, where buyers actually have some slim hope of recouping their investment through racing earnings. For the time being, breeders and pinhookers -- at least those who survived the past decade and are still in the business -- can take a deep breath and continue on.

But remember, this is thoroughbred racing, and there are always storm clouds on the horizon: betting handle is flat or declining; the number of races still needs to shrink; prospects for federal drug regulation are looking stronger, and Donald Trump's laughably titled "tax plan" would apparently eliminate the income tax deduction for losing bets (up to the amount of winnings). If that last proposal ever passed, every moderate or large bettor would be out of the game in a heartbeat, and there would be no more racing.

Enjoy it while you can, folks.

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