<Donny makes plans to travel to the Keeneland Yearling Sale. Here’s what happened next!>
It’s about a week before my departure date, and I’m locked in through my travel agent of choice (Hotwire.com). I’m spending every spare moment looking up sales results, race charts, and any miscellaneous info I can find about siblings not listed on the catalogue pages, all with the Keeneland live stream video playing in the background. What’s cool is a small video player is embedded in a page listing recent sales results, and the catalogue page of the horse currently in the ring. So I can see the yearling in the ring, see the pedigree, and quickly guestimate what price they’ll fetch.
And I’m consistently underestimating the prices by 10-20% or more. Uh-oh. I’m an amateur, but I can tell the sale is pretty strong for the sellers. Will that hold up change before I am in the mix?
Paulick Report – “The buoyant pace continued at Keeneland on Monday when gross sales of $273,298,000 through seven sessions of the 12-day September Yearling Sale surpassed total sales of $272,890,500 recorded during last year’s entire 13-day auction.”
It’s amazing how much information you can scrounge for free…which is also conveniently bundled and available at the click of a button (Visa or Mastercard accepted). Because I have 50 horses to investigate, I figure I’ll put in the time and save upwards of 4 figures on automated reports. And I must admit the thrill of the hunt is an interesting incentive as well (sounds better than saying I’m cheap).
Many of us are familiar with pedigreequery.com from this game, and I find that a useful tool, but its neither complete nor completely reliable for getting the whole story. I soon learn that equineline.com has a free search engine for auction results, and this proves invaluable for finding info on horses who do not appear on the page or the equibase.com horse search. For instance, the catalogue might indicate a dam has 5 winners and only list 3… pedigreequery lists 7 foals but race records are incomplete or non-existent, so I felt the need to determine who did what. Equibase only shows data for horses that have raced in North America, and Racingpost is great for the UK and Ireland but the rest of the world is a crapshoot. The auction results will list the sales info, including the horse’s registered name, if any. If the horse was sold to an obvious exporter (KOID for Korea, various European, Russian and Japanese interests, etc.) I could Google the name of the horse and/or the racing jurisdictions’ websites to elicit further info on the runner that isn’t provided domestically. I was happy to find one such sibling who sold for about $10k and earned the equivalent of $200,000 in South Korea, despite being invisible in the US.
I looked at as many race charts and videos as I could, trying to ‘paint a picture’ of what each dam or family’s runners were doing. In many cases, obvious trends emerged… but the variability of the sires of the half-siblings (not to mention the trainers and every other variable you can introduce in a horse’s life) was a wildcard. It helped immensely, in that I could disqualify yearlings whose families produces winners (looks good in a blurb) but didn’t last long or face quality company. One mare was G3 placed… but the chart showed it was a 5 horse field. The chalk was eased, and she beat one other entrant, a 60-1 shot. She was 3rd by 25 lengths. More often than not, the quality of the mare was worse than the perception – which you would expect, as the catalogue is advertising and they’re trying to maximize the sale price. Still, too many unraced foals, or foals bred to expensive sires that had modest results on the track made me thankful that I introduced this screening method.
Bloodhorse Stallion Register and the embedded TrueNicks analysis become quite useful as well. I can quickly see medians and averages for yearlings by crop, and figure out which sires really are in my price range. TrueNicks gives their teacherly A through F rating based on percentage of stakes winners from all crosses of the sire line and dam-sire… but this can be fuzzy when there aren’t any of those crosses. Some were going back 2 generations on each side to extrapolate data (for instance, a new stallion by Uncle Mo out of a daughter of Bernardini would have TrueNicks data based on crosses of Indian Charlie and AP Indy mares). Still, it gave me a snapshot of what worked and what didn’t, as well as names of the most successful foals of the matings, which I could then look up and compare with the yearling in question. Great nerdy stuff.
I take copious notes on all 50 that I’ve earmarked, printing each catalogue sheets on 11” x 14” paper. The books are easy to flip through and carry around but there’s nowhere for me to scribble. I start packing Tuesday for my Wednesday morning flight, but right on cue, life happens again. I need to stay an extra 6 hours on Wednesday, which shouldn’t have complicated things too much, but this is a Donny Beisbol story so of course it gets messy.
A sample of my handiwork. I’m sure it may look like it’s just one neuron removed from the conspiracy theorist locked in the basement with the red string on the bulletin board, but I’m ok with that!
I had opted for the ‘insurance’ on the Hotwire travel package, which means no penalty for changes or cancellations – you just pay the difference in ticket prices. A solid deal, considering my track record. I find available flights that would put me in Kentucky in time to see my first candidates go through the ring – although I wanted to do multiple physical inspections beforehand – so I call Hotwire and try to make it happen. Of course, they want to charge me about $350 in updated ticket prices for the change. The price of a one-way ticket (SFO-Northern Kentucky) on the new flight I wanted was actually LESS than the price I paid for the existing reservation. What gives?
After much puzzled inquiry with my call center representative, he explained that the prices they offer are for the entire package, meaning round trip, hotel, car, etc, and he could not replace one leg of the trip with another ticket – it would have to be a ‘new’ round trip ticket, despite having the same return flight. And apparently a one-way ticket on a flight with low demand can be had by the resale agencies at a discount, but they don’t make that available with your vacation package. OK… but I have this cancellation insurance… there must be a way out.
I hang up with the guy and go back to the website, and do a new search for the same round trip package, just leaving later than originally planned, and returning Saturday night instead of Sunday morning. It’s $180 cheaper than the first package I booked.
I quickly booked the new one, then called back to cancel my original one. I almost thought they’d report me to the FAA or try to void my new purchase, but I get a full refund on all but one of the various reservations, and a ‘credit voucher’ for the balance. It’s a mess, but I’m back on track and accidentally saved some cash.
The only catch is that the new flight is a red-eye, departing 11:30 pm Wednesday night and arriving 8:00am the next day. Horses enter the ring for Session 10 at 10 am Thursday.
No one said it was going to be easy!