Sales Process: Buying a race horse from a yearling auction.
September Yearling Sale has evolved into the world's largest yearling
sale. In 2006, a record 5,161
cataloged for the September sale. This year, 3,908 are entered;
five books; and the sale dates run from September 9 through September
With all of the horses going through the sale ring, what’s it
take to select
the “right” one?
At this time of year, the yearling auctions are in full swing.
sales start in July with the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky, next up is the
Select, then New York Bred, the Ocala Breeders Sale, the Texas Sale,
and the grand
finale is the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. There are lots
opportunities to buy a one-year-old (yearling) Thoroughbred. So,
should you shop?
I think about
buying a race horse, the first thought that comes to mind is
As a transplanted Kentuckian, I’ll admit that I’m a bit
biased toward the
horses sold in the heart of the Bluegrass; but the reputation of
graduates stands alone on its own merit. That’s not to say
sales companies haven’t produced their share of successful
they have—and, I’ve bought and sold horses from the others
Keeneland grads have won the Kentucky Derby 19 times, the Preakness 20
and the Belmont Stakes 17 times. Horses sold at Keeneland have
races in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
Keeneland is also the world’s largest Thoroughbred auction.
to racing at tracks across the United States, Yearlings purchased at
go on to win major stakes races in Europe, South America, Russia, and
Buyers from every country that conduct Thoroughbred racing go to
Lexington, Kentucky in September.
The Keeneland environment is a showcase in and of
itself—everything about the
grounds, the people, and the horses exude excellence. It’s
easy to be
swept away in the glory of the experience and have a temporary lapse of
about the purpose—to buy and sell some of the best Thoroughbred
being offered on the planet.
a race horse
from a sale is about planning for the future. Yearlings sold at
are unproven—they’ve never had a saddle on, they’ve
never had a bit in their
mouths, and they’ve never stepped foot on a racetrack. They
beautiful physical specimens of their bloodlines.
People pay great sums of money based on the hope that the horse they
yield even greater financial and historical results. On the
some of the most successful race horses have been purchased for very
prices: Seattle Slew, the 1977 Triple Crown Winner, was purchased for
$17,500. Real Quiet, the 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Winner
runner up in the Belmont by a whisker) was purchased for $17,000.
So, when you’re sitting in the sales pavilion, how do you know
will be successful and which one won’t? You don’t,
really. At this
stage of the game, they’re all on equal footing. And,
that’s the exciting
allure of buying yearlings. They all provide the ever-important
of “potential” that fuels the dream of owning race horses.
the sale works is important.
Horses going through the auction are assigned a “hip
number”—this is a number
the sales company gives to the horse when it is listed in the sale
catalogue. The hip number is the main identifier for a particular
to be sold (the horse’s name [if registered], the sire [father],
[mother], and the page number are secondary ways to locate a
little oval sticker with the corresponding catalogue number is placed
horse’s hip on the sale day.
The horses are ranked, assigned a hip number, and listed in the sale
according to the sales company’s pre-sale assessment of the
entered by the consignors (sellers). The perceived best
listed first—this is based on the pedigree, the results of the
physical condition of the horse. The catalogue ranking is not a
of that horse’s future racing performance—buyers mistakenly
(and, biased) opinions of racing ability according to a horse's
location in the
catalogues. For every high-priced winner, there's also been an
not greater) number of high-priced duds.
Based on the number of horses entered, the sales company schedules the
numbers to be sold each sale day. If there is a large volume of
entered, there could be multiple sale dates and multiple catalogues
“books”) for the particular sale dates. Thus, a particular
horse (for example)
may be assigned Hip #2901 in Book 5 which will be held on Day 9 of the
To be a legitimate buyer, credit has to be established with the sale
prior to the sale, and that credit has to be for the maximum amount
intended to be spent.
The buyer is also responsible for removing the horse from the sale
less than 24 hours after the purchase is made. Thus, making
with a transportation company to ship your horse to its intended
should also be taken care of in advance.
Gameplan and Homework
the sales process is
speculative, there are reliable methods for selecting a yearling to
and it starts with making a gameplan before going to the sale.
First and foremost, decide your racing intentions. Where do you
race? At what competitive level are you trying to achieve?
want a sprinter, a distance runner, a horse that runs well on dirt,
artificial surface? How much do you want to spend? And, how
are you insofar as the amount time you’re willing to wait before
your horse starts
The sales companies publish (online) their catalogues in advance, and
those catalogue pages, you can start to identify the pedigrees that you
like. (More about this in the “Horse Evaluation”
Once you’ve settled on what you want to purchase and how much
you’re willing to
pay, then you have to decide what days you plan to attend the sale.
sales companies also publish the sale results from previous
Reviewing this will allow you to determine the average prices of the
on the given sale days, and that will help you determine when you
to attend. If you have an unlimited spending budget, then knowing
doesn’t really matter; but, if you have a cap on what
you’re able to spend,
then knowing the average prices for the sale days makes a difference
when you’re likely to make a purchase that fits your budget.
your sale dates
in mind, catalogue selections flagged, and budget set, plan to visit
the day before the horses go through the sale ring. The horses
available for inspection/evaluation one day before the date they are to
What’s printed on the catalogue page is only part of what each
is all about. In fact, “the look” of the
horse—the conformation—is the
important element. So, you’ll want to be on hand to inspect
the horses up
close to see their size, straightness of their legs, the condition of
feet, the way they walk, and their overall disposition (keeping in mind
each horse is only a baby and will fill out more and get bigger,
stronger in the coming months).
And, after you “size up” the individual, you’ll also
want to review the vet
records and x-rays to see if there are any internal physical ailments
that might limit the horse’s ability to reach its full racing
Thus, plan your day around the horses you intend to bid on.
visits based on the barn numbers. If the first horse you like is
1, the second horse is in Barn 24, and the third horse is in Barn 2,
only make sense to visit the horses in Barns 1 and 2 before hiking over
When evaluating the horses, make notes on the catalogue page and take a
to assess your thoughts in relation to the other horses you’ve
If you have a question, go back to the barn and get that answered
horse enters the sale ring.
all comes down to
this—being the highest bidder when the gavel hits the block.
I get a nervous energy, an elevated level of internal excitement,
the horse I want to bid on is led into the sale ring.
Increased heart rate. Sweaty palms. Intense focus. These
same feelings I get when one of the Mojo horses enters the starting
These are the same feelings I get when one of the Mojo horses
move” at the top of the stretch. It’s an awesome
Bidding requires discipline and patience. And, I recommend two
when making a purchase: Come up with a buying strategy and stick to it.
Keep in mind, the purchase is just part of the cost of owning a race
horse. The other financial obligations are training, vet,
entertainment costs. Don’t blow all of your money on the
then not have anything left over to cover the remaining 2/3rds of your
Set a practical price that you’re willing to pay, give yourself
room, and don’t go above that. There are plenty of horses
out there, and
it’s too easy to be sucked into a bidding war that could bust
your budget or
create a situation that makes it extremely difficult to generate any
return on investment.
As the bidding starts, see if any momentum builds before jumping
patient and let the market work its Mojo. If the bid stalls in
range, then make your move. The auctioneer will always ask for
offers before dropping the hammer. So, unless you’re not
attention, you’ll have an opportunity to get in.
If the bid goes above your cap, then quietly and politely bow
out. Let it
go and move on. Don’t feel rejected—just get ready
for the next horse
that you would like to buy.
You can read more about the Sales Process on the Mojo
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Mojo Thoroughbred Holdings, LLC (which conducts its racing
operations as Mojo Racing Partners) is based in Fort Worth, TX and was
formed in 2006. Since then, Mojo has raced at Arlington Park,
Churchill Downs, Indiana Downs, Keeneland, Kentucky Downs, Lone Star
Park, Remington Park, and Turfway Park.
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