by Jerry McMahon
From Hokkaido, Japan to Newmarket, England and points in between, vibrant Thoroughbred auctions hum along in support of regional, national, and international racing circuits. It’s been my longtime observation, particularly as industry costs and risks have increased, that very few individuals have the wherewithal to breed horses as a primary means to achieve success on the racetrack. Nature being what she is, the odds against success are simply too high to be borne by one individual, except in very unique circumstances (aka lots of luck or VERY deep pockets!). It’s no coincidence, then, that in this country the old-money families that dominated racing through the 1940s were gradually replaced by owners who utilized the auction ring or the claim box to fill their racing stables.
Other than the happy outcomes brought by the occasional Stymie or Lava Man, claiming is usually for those who love the day-to-day action and arbitrage that goes with it. Owners shooting for the home run most often find their way to auctions composed of unraced Thoroughbreds: weanlings, yearlings, or 2-year-olds. Perhaps the best West Coast example of this type of owner would be the late, great Bob Lewis, who rode the auction ring to success in the Triple Crown races and beyond.
So what makes a successful commercial market? The simplest answer would be a credible market that has a large, dependable supply of horses with enough depth in quality to attract large numbers of buyers. The only way to achieve this is for the auction company to have access to plenty of professional breeders and consignors whose over-riding goal is to produce the best runners possible. For the whole process to work, the auction prices have to be high enough to support the investment by the breeders; and… oh yeah, the resulting runners have to be successful enough to keep the whole cycle in motion year after year, even through difficult economic times like these. Ultimately, buyers have to believe they’ll get runners from that particular auction.
Next up: Sires and the Ring
McMahon is an auction industry consultant and former founding president of Barretts Equine Limited, California's premier regional sales company. He has more than 35 years experience in the racing industry, having previously served as auction sales manager for CTBA Sales and vice president of Fasig-Tipton California, Inc. Watch for his upcoming guest posts.
Photo by Benoit & Associates