Thursday, April 12, 2018

F-T Gulfstream 2YO Sale -- Picky, Picky

The movable feast that is the Fasig-Tipton Florida two-year-old sale (at Calder for many years, then Palm Meadows, now Gulfstream) moved on the calendar this year as well. Long the first of the juvenile sales, F-T Florida was moved back to March 28th, leaving the debut spot to Ocala Breeders Sales Co.'s March selected sale. (For my analysis of that sale, see here.)

Did the change in timing make much of a difference in results? If you look at the typical indicators, the sale can be reported as a success. Both the average price for the 61 horses sold ($385,000) and the median ($295,000) were comfortably above last year's numbers at the same sale, although the buyback (RNA) rate was 33%, more than double last year's 14%.In a sale that typically produces multiple million-dollar babies, there were three this year.

But on some other measures, not so much. Originally, there were 166 horses catalogued for the sale. Of those, 75 were scratched before the auction began, in many cases because their breezes weren't fast enough to attract buyers' attention. Including those scratches in the calculation means that the sale's clearance rate -- horses sold as a percentage of the catalogue -- was only 36.7%, well below last year's 44%. So, as has become the pattern in these select sales, buyers concentrated on the very best prospects, leaving a bunch of potentially good but not great race horses to head home without a new owner.

At the very top of the sale were the usual suspects. Barbara Banke of Stonestreet went to $1,200,000 for Hip 9, a Medaglia D'Oro filly out of the stakes-placed Distorted Humor mare Mi Vida. New shooter Larry Best of OXO Equine also spent $1,200,000, in his case for an Into Mischief colt. Best entered racing only two years ago, spending at the top of the market. So far, his most successful purchase has been the three-year-old colt Instilled Regard, who won the LeComte Stakes at the Fair Grounds earlier this year and who has earned in purses about half the $1 million-plus that Best paid for him last year. The third million-dollar horse was Hip 31, a Scat Daddy colt out of New York-bred stakes winner Risky Rachel. In the absence of Coolmore's usual Irish buying crew, Todd Pletcher signed the ticket for the colt.

Coolmore and its longterm rival, Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin operation, were very low-key at the Gulfstream sale, compared to their very visible presence some years past. It was Coolmore's Demi O'Byrne, remember, who went to a ridiculous $16,000,000 some years ago for a colt that became The Green Monkey, who's now 11 years old and still a maiden. Coolmore is in the business of making stallions, and this year's purchase might be seen as an attempt to find a replacement for Scat Daddy, who died at the early age of 11 and whose final crop are two-year-olds this year.

As usual, buyers concentrated on the horses that breezed the fastest. One consignor who tried to buck the trend was Kip Elser of Kirkwood Stables, who sent five horses to the sale and, instead of breezing against the clock, just had them gallop through the stretch -- the way two-year-old sales used to be done. Elser sold three of the five, although for relatively modest prices, and the other two were RNAs.  Some years past, Frank Stronach tried a similar approach at his Adena Springs sale, but never managed to wean the major buyers away from their stopwatches. Since horses breeze faster at the juvenile sales than they'll ever run in their racing careers,  and since there's only the most tenuous correlation between horses that breeze fast and those that do well on the race track, it would be good to see some other important consignors follow Elser's lead and reject the time-trial competition.

There were some nice horses that were scratched out of the Gulfstream sale. You might look for them at Fasig-Tipton's follow-up at Timonium in May.

With Barretts' California sale out of the way already, and with Keeneland no longer hosting a juvenile auction, the next big two-year-old auction will be OBS's April extravaganza, from April 24th through the 27th, with some 1222 horses in the catalog. Usually lots to choose from for buyers at all levels in that sale, so one would expect the clearance rate to be a lot higher than in the select sales. We shall see.