Nearly half of new turf catalogue unsold
Bruising buyback of 48.9 per cent makes for tough initiation
The horse industry is traditionally slow to embrace change, as was apparent during Fasig-Tipton's inaugural Turf Showcase in Lexington on Sunday night – topped by two colts from the last crop of Scat Daddy selling for $250,000 each.
While there was competitive bidding for top offerings, the buy-back rate was an exorbitant 48.9 per cent for the auction, which was designed to offer yearlings more likely to compete on turf based on their pedigree or conformational traits.
Fasig-Tipton reported 74 sold for gross receipts of $5,035,000, an average price of $68,041 and a median of $52,500. Of the 145 through the ring, 71 went unsold.
Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning said the numbers reflect a selective marketplace and hesitancy by buyers to participate in the new venture.
"Clearly we saw that selectivity was very, very important," he said. "You hate to have an RNA rate in the 40s. Certainly we were a little disappointed in that. I thought there was great diversity among buyers. I think one thing we learned on the buyer side is that it takes time to change behaviour. They came, they shopped, and some bought, but not as many bought as shopped.
Browning said the reluctance to gravitate toward a new venue may have been most noticeable with the lack of buying by Europeans.
"I was pleased with the number of Europeans on the sale grounds the last three days and I was disappointed in the amount of horses we sold to European buyers," Browning said. "I think that may be part of the change in behaviour."
Browning said Fasig-Tipton officials underwent a learning curve throughout the sale, especially in terms of how the selection process could have been handled.
"We were a little too lenient on some physicals and maybe said, 'It's the Turf Showcase. We have this momentum and everybody is loving the concept and it will work.' But they hit us over the head with, 'a good horse is a good horse is a good horse,' and that is how we have to operate. We may have had a little stallion overload in a few spots from North American-based stallions we thought the world would accept, and the world really didn't, despite some of the success those horses have had in the United States."
Browning did not say Fasig-Tipton was committed to the sale next year.
"We learned an awful lot and I think we can improve," the executive said. "I think the general reaction was mostly positive. I am not going to make a great stand and say absolutely yes or absolutely not. We will evaluate it in context of our yearling sales and see how we best serve the marketplace."
Florida horseman Nick de Meric signed for a Scat Daddy colt who is the first foal out of the Danehill Dancer mare Luvly Rita. Consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency, the colt bred in Kentucky by Don Alberto Corporation is from a top European family that includes Group 1 winners Yesterday, Quarter Moon (IRE), and Diamondsandrubie (IRE).
"He is just such a wonderful sire," de Meric said of Scat Daddy. "They run everywhere. We're so excited to get one from his last crop. They are collector's items."
De Meric said he believes the Turf Showcase will continue to grow and noted that turf racing in the US is on the upswing.
"I think there is an indigenous factor that will help the sale. ... I think the sale has a future once it finds its legs, and I wish the company well for thinking outside the box and doing something innovative."
Sharing the top price was Hip 50, a Scat Daddy colt out of the stakes-winning Rockport Harbor mare Harbingerofthings purchased by Bob Lothenbach's Lothenbach Stables. The colt was consigned by Vinery Sales, agent for breeder Spendthrift Farm.
"We thought he was a very nice individual," said Drew Nardiello, who helps manage the Minneapolis-St. Paul businessman's breeding and racing stock and signed the sale receipt. "(Lothenbach) wants to buy quality racehorses that run on Saturday afternoon and we hope this horse will get there."
Nardiello said he also liked the Turf Showcase concept, but that Fasig-Tipton faces a stiff challenge with the auction that precedes the marathon Keeneland September yearling sale, which starts on Monday.
Taylor Made's Duncan Taylor said the results indicate a paucity of quality horses needed to sustain a niche sale like the Turf Showcase.
"The market in America for turf horses is that, if you have a really good turf horse, you can sell it, but if you have an average to below-average (horse), it's tough to sell it," Taylor said, adding there appeared to not be much of a European presence on the buyer bench. "That wasn't pushing the demand so Americans got to buy what they wanted."
Taylor said the Turf Showcase "was a good first shot, but I think they have to be more selective. They sort of did this at the last minute. If they could get a more select group, I think it could be [held again], but if it is the exact same kind of horses we sold this year, I don't think it would be sustainable."
With Hurricane Irma rolling across the state of Florida and the Kentucky yearling sales heavily attended by horsemen from the Sunshine State, Fasig-Tipton announced it would provide stalls for horses purchased at the Turf Showcase or at Keeneland's September yearling sale until they could be transported to Florida.
"It's the right thing to do, plain and simple," Browning said.