Thoroughbred Sales Resist Covid Uncertainties – so far
One of the conundrums of what this Covid-19 will do to business and international economies is something that we all have and this is no exception to the equine world in terms of prices obtained for horses and what demand there may or may not be? Traditionally, the thoroughbred market has been extraordinarily resistant to recessions and other major worldwide economic meltdowns, but this one is very different. For a start, the sales which were scheduled to take place this year in Europe have all had a battering and most have had to re-schedule. Unlike the sport horse auction sales, which are not nearly so dominant in the horse sport sector, the sales have been simply cancelled, but the thoroughbred sales companies have worked together to ensure that the sales take place, even if at a different time, or in some cases a different country.
The ‘Breeze up’ sales have been the most severely hit this year as they normally take place in the early spring. The Breeze Up sale format started in the 1970s by the then Doncaster Bloodstock Sales and after a year or two they proved to be so successful that all the other major thoroughbred auctions houses jumped on the band wagon.
The concept of the Breeze Up sale was vendors would sell racehorses as young two year olds, most of which they purchased as yearling in the previous autumn. For the buyers, this type of sale had, and still has two huge advantages. First, the horses would gallop for three or four furlongs up the race course and so could be assessed for their ability, thus you could see rather more of what your purchase may turn out like; and second, the buyer would save money on about six months of training fees and having the horse broken in etc. All this was now done for the prospective purchaser. This set of sales have now become nearly as important as the autumn yearling merry-go-round, with several top yards buying yearlings to sell on six months later they hope, and this has become their sole occupation, rather than the traditional stud which has a bit of everything.
This year, there were to be five main Breeze Up sales. Kicking off the season was to be Goffs in Ireland followed fairly shortly by the Doncaster Bloodstock, (now Goffs UK) at Doncaster. Add to those two, there were to be two sales at Tattersalls in Newmarket, one in April and the second in May; and finally, Arquana, the French version in Paris in mid-May. None of these sales could take place, and with different governments making different lock down rules for each country, it is not surprising that each had to re-schedule their sales several times. In the end, all the sales have come at once, and all the auction houses have introduced on-line bidding. Actually, this is a remarkable achievement as this idea of buying your steed off the internet was banned by all auction companies until they were forced by this pandemic to look at the possibilities again.
Although two months late, three breeze up sales have taken place this week. Tattersalls was the first, and their figures were down dramatically on previous years, partly as many of the horses originally catalogued were sold privately by the vendors when it looked unlikely that any sales would take place at all. For those who did attend the sales, there were protocols to be observed. If you wanted to attend the sales, you had to register, ask permission to do so, and once there, you had to wear face coverings at all times and every time you went anywhere new within the complex, you had to have your temperature taken. In some cases this meant having you temperature taken about ten times during the day! Once the sale started, those buyers in attendance had a new rival – the internet. Rather like current racing regulations, with only the horse and one handler and a couple of buyers in the auditorium, the whole thing quickly became very surreal. The first of the Tattersalls sales had 154 two year olds catalogued of which 70 were withdrawn. Of the rest, 70 found new homes for an average of 95,000 with a top price of 525,000 gns for a Night of Thunder colt who must have breezed really well as the price was a huge amount for his pedigree. This was not the norm however, just the previous lot, a well bred son of Kingman sold for 62,000 having cost the vendor 95,000 last autumn – much more typical! The average and median prices at this sale were the lowest since 2014 and were both over 25% lower than last year.
Next up was an amalgamation – both Goffs UK and Arqana Sales from France decided to have one sale between them. The sale was held at Doncaster in the UK with the same protocols as there were at Newmarket. There were 330 lots offered with 165 from Goffs Uk and the rest from France. There were 153 horses withdrawn. The sale was really in two parts, those catalogued by Goffs UK and the rest catalogued by Arquana. The results were also in two as those from Goffs faired considerably less well than those from France. The top price for a Kingman colt in the Goffs section of the sale making £290,000 was a great pinhooking success, as he cost only 95,000 in the autumn. The median and average for the Goff’s graduates were both slightly up on 2019. Of the rest from France, 77 of them, the top price was £650,000 for a filly by War Front out of Beauty Parlor, a Group 3 winner in France. She came from America with a yearling price tag of $185,000, so this was a spectacular success. She has been brought to return to race in
Saratoga. There were some other big prices in this part of the sale, and one of particular note must be the £200,000 price tag for the three parts sister to Kameko. This filly was purchased in America last September for just $5,000, but Kameko winning two Group 1s in the interim period, including the Two Thousand Guineas at Newmarket a week or so ago, gave her price a decent lift. With the French contingent, this sale was an astonishing success with all the usual sale stats up by over 100%. No doubt Goffs UK may well think that they should keep the new sale format in the future, however, I am not sure the French would be quite so agreeable?!
All in all, the bloodstock industry has yet again shown its resilience to matters outside its control and economic reality. The sales were a resounding success and the new internet bidding arrangements have been deemed so successful that the sales houses are intending to keep the new arrangements in the future after this Covid fiasco has been done and dusted.