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Lissa Oliver's Spring Sales Analysis

INDUSTRYWeb Master
  Are the elite sales horses being prepared for their big day in the ring or a career on the track?    A decade of Top Ten purchases at major breeze-up and NH store sales provide some clues       A question that has divided commercial breeders and racehorse trainers since Tattersalls first decided to auction thoroughbreds is the definition of The Big Day. For trainers, it is a major race at a major festival. Although every commercial breeder dreams of a high-profile winner, their big day is a major price at a major sale. Why else do we differentiate between commercial breeders and those who breed to race, lamenting the loss of the traditional owner-breeder at every dispersal sale?    If the outcome of the matings and sales preparation resulted in The Big Day for both parties, there would be no complaints, but as some have learned to their cost, the sales topper doesn’t always reach such dizzy heights again. The excitement and anticipation generated by the final knock-down figure builds to hype if and when the sales topper makes its racecourse debut, but can sometimes be followed by immediate disappointment and obscurity.    But is this always the case, and for all of the elite sales horses? And how does a big day in the sales ring affect the elite two-year-olds, prepared for the breeze-up sales that are often referred to as ready-to-run sales? Are the juveniles ready to run or, as some trainers suspect, over-boiled?    To see if any emerging pattern can shed light on these questions, I looked at the racecourse performances of the best-selling breeze-up juveniles and three-year-old National Hunt store horses from certain sales. I chose the period of 2005 to 2014 to obtain 10 years of data and to allow for the most recent of the graduates to reach their potential on the track, and I followed the careers of the 10 highest-priced lots sold (not unsold or bought in) at each selected sale. Because the Goresbridge Breeze-Up sale only began in 2006, a total of 490 horses were included from the five selected sales.    As most trainers earn a living by trading horses, career earnings often have little relevance on whether or not a purchase turned a profit. Many of the graduates here have gone on to long careers in Japan, Hong Kong, Dubai, Australia, or the USA, so their second-hand value is likely to have exceeded their original purchase price. In the case of the fillies, a residual paddock value also renders their career earnings redundant. However, the earnings on track do provide a measure of the ability of the individual and the longevity of career. A non-blacktype winner amassing more than €30,000 has undoubtedly been a top-class handicapper or a tough and consistent performer throughout a lengthy career.    What is quite shocking to see is that some British-trained horses who have both won and placed second during their career have amassed only €4,000 or less in earnings. This covers just eight weeks of training fees and is surely scant reward for a winning horse, particularly when in Ireland, for example, minimum prize money has risen from €6,000 to €10,000 and a single win could pay the bills for five months.    Regardless of whether a Flat breezer or National Hunt store horse can recover its purchase price, we can be sure that the store horse will at least recover its physical and mental well-being by the time its career begins. Many trainers of two-year-olds argue differently when it comes to the breeze-up graduates and so we must also examine the results to see if the preparation for these sales has any negative effect. Though times are not officially taken at European breeze-up sales, it can be assumed that the 10 highest-priced two-year-olds put in the most impressive gallop, so it will be of interest to see how this impacts, if at all, their immediate career.    National Hunt stores    As might be expected, given the advantage of maturity of a three-year-old store horse, there were significantly few unraced purchases. The Derby Sale saw only 8% fail to reach the racecourse, while the Land Rover sale boasted an even better 4% of unraced purchases from its Top Tens of the decade. Seventy percent of the Derby Sale horses became winners, compared to 59% from the Land Rover sale. When it comes to getting a day out at the races, owners chasing the choicest lots do well to shop at the NH store sales.    What was also noticeable was the significantly high number of elite store horses who recovered their purchase price on the racetrack. Bear in mind, too, that the most recent purchases are still young horses at the start of their career, so these figures can only improve. Of those only narrowly failing to give a full return on their investment was the ill-fated Wrath Of Titans, costing €150,000 at the Goffs Land Rover sale and earning €145,095 before his untimely death. At the Tattersalls Derby Sale, Mozoltov earned back €126,624 of the €130,000 he cost.    Nevertheless, it is interesting that the added maturity of the three-year-old store horses has, in the end, proven to be of very little benefit to buyers, other than providing them with a greater chance of actually having a runner.    There were no surprises among the top represented sires; the seven stallions with the highest number featuring in the Top Ten of the decade showing a strikingly high rate of those earning €100,000 or more and recovering their purchase price. Kalanisi may only have had four here, but all four won.    Breeze-Up Sales    With breeze-up sales, buyers could be expecting to recoup their investment by purchasing ready-made horses prepared to hit the racecourse, without the added expenses of idle time and pre-training required with store horses.    In common with Tattersalls Derby Sale for store horses, the Craven Sale produced a high percentage of winners, 69%, but this was counterbalanced by Goresbridge, with by far the lowest proportion of winners. The overall figure from the three breeze-up sales analysed was 56% winners. Rio De La Plata, bought at the Craven Sale for £170,000, was the only millionaire among the selected breeze-up graduates.    It appeared that the maturity of the store horse did result in more of the graduates reaching the racecourse, but in surprising contrast the number of unraced breeze-up graduates was 14%, and in fact Goresbridge produced the highest percentage of unraced graduates from all of the nine analysed sales. Goresbridge did, however, produce the highest percentage of the Flat horses to recover their sales price.    If there is no obvious benefit to the buyer in having more mature horses to choose from, is there a benefit to the trainer in receiving a horse already brought to a certain level of fitness? That is, of course, up to the individual trainer to decide, but the pure statistics show that, from the 10 highest-priced graduates from the three major breeze-up sales between 2006 and 2014, 14% failed to reach the racetrack, 60% raced as two-year-olds, and 26% managed to win as two-year-olds.    Quite a large number of the breeze-up graduates later won under National Hunt Rules and the results would suggest that there is as good a general mix of type among the breeze-ups, and these aren’t simply a source for precocious two-year-olds.    As to whether the breeze-up graduates are truly ready to run, 40% of the graduates did not start their careers until three-year-olds or older. Of those that raced as two-year-olds, the highest number of debuts were made in July, with August close behind. More started in September and October than in May and June, and 11% managed to win first time out at two.    Bucking this trend was the Goffs UK Breeze-Up, where 73% raced as two-year-olds, 33% won at two, 15% won on their two-year-old debut, and 10 of the graduates made their debut in May. Twice as many did not appear on the racecourse until July, however, and the sale produced the lowest proportion of blacktype winners and no Group One winner within the Top Ten highest-priced over the decade.    Of note when looking at the sires of the featured two-year-olds, Kodiac came out well, with all four of his winners winning as two-year-olds. Similarly, both of Dubawi’s and Approve’s winners were successful at two.    As we’ll see in our next issue, when it comes to future performance, the breeze-up sales are on a par with the yearling sales, but are not necessarily the place to go for guaranteed two-year-olds. They appear to be no more likely to make an early debut than a yearling and their career is likely to be just as long-term.

By Lissa Oliver

A question that has divided commercial breeders and racehorse trainers since Tattersalls first decided to auction thoroughbreds is the definition of The Big Day.

For trainers, it is a major race at a major festival. Although every commercial breeder dreams of a high-profile winner, their big day is a major price at a major sale. Why else do we differentiate between commercial breeders and those who breed to race, lamenting the loss of the traditional owner-breeder at every dispersal sale?

If the outcome of the matings and sales preparation resulted in The Big Day for both parties, there would be no complaints, but as some have learned to their cost, the sales topper doesn’t always reach such dizzy heights again. The excitement and anticipation generated by the final knock-down figure builds to hype if and when the sales topper makes its racecourse debut, but can sometimes be followed by immediate disappointment and obscurity.

GOFFS

But is this always the case, and for all of the elite sales horses? And how does a big day in the sales ring affect the elite two-year-olds, prepared for the breeze-up sales that are often referred to as ready-to-run sales? Are the juveniles ready to run or, as some trainers suspect, over-boiled?

To see if any emerging pattern can shed light on these questions, I looked at the racecourse performances of the best-selling breeze-up juveniles and three-year-old National Hunt store horses from certain sales. I chose the period of 2005 to 2014 to obtain 10 years of data and to allow for the most recent of the graduates to reach their potential on the track, and I followed the careers of the 10 highest-priced lots sold (not unsold or bought in) at each selected sale. Because the Goresbridge Breeze-Up sale only began in 2006, a total of 490 horses were included from the five selected sales.

As most trainers earn a living by trading horses, career earnings often have little relevance on whether or not a purchase turned a profit. Many of the graduates here have gone on to long careers in Japan, Hong Kong, Dubai, Australia, or the USA, so their second-hand value is likely to have exceeded their original purchase price. In the case of the fillies, a residual paddock value also renders their career earnings redundant. However, the earnings on track do provide a measure of the ability of the individual and the longevity of career. A non-blacktype winner amassing more than €30,000 has undoubtedly been a top-class handicapper or a tough and consistent performer throughout a lengthy career.

What is quite shocking to see is that some British-trained horses who have both won and placed second during their career have amassed only €4,000 or less in earnings. This covers just eight weeks of training fees and is surely scant reward for a winning horse, particularly when in Ireland, for example, minimum prize money has risen from €6,000 to €10,000 and a single win could pay the bills for five months.

Regardless of whether a Flat breezer or National Hunt store horse can recover its purchase price, we can be sure that the store horse will at least recover its physical and mental well-being by the time its career begins. Many trainers of two-year-olds argue differently when it comes to the breeze-up graduates and so we must also examine the results to see if the preparation for these sales has any negative effect. Though times are not officially taken at European breeze-up sales, it can be assumed that the 10 highest-priced two-year-olds put in the most impressive gallop, so it will be of interest to see how this impacts, if at all, their immediate career.

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