What a difference a day makes… or in this case, a night.
After a hectic but eventually fruitless first day at the sales, I got a real meal, a shower, a good night’s sleep, and another shower just for the heck of it. At Keeneland the day before, I had not changed out of the clothes I wore for the flight, and was badly prepared for the heat and humidity in my collared shirt and slacks. Somehow I forgot that this was normal September weather in the Midwest. I felt closer to myself again and – now equipped with a cotton shirt and shorts – looked forward to another cruise down I-75.
Hotel Covington – surprisingly chic. Covered, diced, and peppered is my hash brown combo of choice.
I wouldn’t call them ‘comforts of home’ but there’s clearly still some Ohio left in the boy.
You want to hear about the horses, am I right? I had another batch of around 15 yearlings that met my initial criteria for Session 11, but that number quickly shriveled. First, the outs. Next, a couple of the choices that might fall into my range were priced out with their updates – a close relative who recently won a Graded stake, or a 2yo which broke maiden at a first asking since I last looked them up a few days earlier. Then, a couple of late “Donny scratches”. I researched two fillies by Paynter and Tapizar, thinking their dam-side pedigree might scare away modest bidders despite the stud fees ($20,000 and $15,000 in 2017, respectively). I changed my mind after seeing some in the walking rings and casually monitoring sale prices throughout the day. Sure, it was a small sample size and I didn’t know the details of each, but they were getting brutalized in the court of public opinion. Many, many of them went for less than half of the stud fee, to my surprise.
My overall impression was that they were “common”, for lack of a better word, and gave no visual indication that they would be fast someday. The market hated them. After the fact, I confirmed that the median sales price for 2017 was exactly half that of 2016 for both stallions. Tapizar’s first crop is 4 and Paynter’s is 3, so my guess is the world got a look at the ‘finished products’ on the track and recalibrated their assessment.
I couldn’t stomach another variable in the mix, so I backed out as well.
No offense to anyone invested in Paynter or Tapizar. I’m sure yours are fantastic!
The end result was that I only had five horses I wanted to inspect. I’ve heard that I can be picky, but this is ridiculous. The silver lining was that due to the magic of social media (his wife has a Facebook account) I was able to reconnect with my old friend Mark Doering. Mark trains on the emerging Thistledown – Mahoning Valley – Presque Isle circuit, and was at the sale scouting Ohio-breds for his mostly family owned and operated stable. Mark will never be confused with Bob Baffert but is a solid trainer who often gets a lot out of a little; he’s a former Ohio HBPA president and tireless horseman’s advocate who helped me out back in the day when I was less than nobody. We won three races in two months in his barn, so perhaps that adds to my favorable impressions. Nevertheless, it was cool to reunite, talk shop, and observe another mind at work in the context of the sale and shopping for value. In Mark’s case, he’s also shopping for need as he typically replenishes his stock with four or five modest yearling buys per season – no 2yo’s or private sales, with the occasional claim of an older horse here and there.
Two dudes cruising for prospects. I taunted my 7yo daughter with this selfie when she grabbed her Mom’s phone and texted “Don’t buy any horses”.
Mark and I checked in with each other throughout the day, but we inspected horses separately. He was getting grossly outbid on horses he valued in the high four to low five-figure range, as Ohio-bred MdSpWt purses were now over $30k at Thistledown, and volume players like Looch Racing Stables snapped up anything that looked like it could compete in restricted stakes. I too saw the continued trend of elevated prices… this was supposed to be the cheap stuff, but agents kept snapping up anything that looked like a runner. I should mention that many of the barns have TV’s tuned to the auction overhead, which was great for multitasking and keeping on schedule for Saturday’s entrants. Since the Saturday sale yearlings were shipped in on Friday morning, I was able to check some of them out while making the rounds on my Friday group.
But that Friday group was mostly bunk. Everything I looked at had gaping holes in their physical appearance or big no-no’s on the vet report. “Deviation of aryepiglottic folds”? “Moderate to severe osteochondritis of the fetlock”? These were not things I wanted to have a crash course in managing, regardless of whether or not I actually knew what they meant. I was still curious what the market thought they were worth, but it wasn’t going to be me signing the ticket.
There was one that checked out… and she was fabulous. I had pegged Gio Ponti as one of those potentially useful, late-blooming turf stallions that might be ignored by the yearling crowd. He stands for $7,500 and his median yearling price is just $6,250, down from nearly $14k last year despite the emergence of BC Sprint winner Drefong. Gio Ponti won Grade 1’s at 4, 5, and 6, so this precocious sprinter thing seemed like an anomaly.
Despite the nice family, I imagined some scrawny runt that was placed in this portion of the sale due to an obvious physical defect. Even if she never raced, maybe I could get out on her as a broodmare prospect, however modest. Those hopes were quickly dashed when the consigner brought out a compact but strapping beast of a filly, with muscle definition you usually see on a 3yo at Churchill. Everything was straight and balanced and her vet report was spotless. I congratulated the owner, who hung around the barn and proudly detailed all the horses on the catalogue page that he and his family had bred over the years. I knew this one was nice, and imagined that she might bring something like $35,000. Gotta be there for her turn in the ring, just in case, right?
I’m going to have a lot of free time in the afternoon, as the Gio Ponti is hip 3667 and they’re starting at 10am with hip 3603.
While at the barn, I overheard one of the sales agents flippantly bragging to the owner that this filly was the best so-and-so trainer had looked at. I blew it off at the time as idle chatter or blowing smoke, but it did come to mind when she graced the ring and the bidding stopped at $115,000. Wow, Gio Ponti. I guess I have Maserati tastes and a Geo Metro budget.
Now we’re down to Sunday or bust. I alternate back and forth from the barns to the back of the ring, watching Mark get outbid on another couple Ohio-breds – just out of reach. We’re both wondering if there’s ever going to be a break in the frenzy – there’s always the Fasig-Tipton sale in October, but I spent a grand and burned three days of vacation time on the trip so it’s unlikely that I’ll be back in 2017. I cool off enough to go back to the barns and scope out ten for the final session. Luckily, many of them had the same consignor or were in barns close to each other, so I knocked them out pretty efficiently.
Most of these Session 12 horses were noticeably light on pedigree – it was not difficult to understand how they ended up at the back of the book (Session 11 and 12 are part of Book 6, sorted alphabetically by dam). It didn’t take me long to weed out the ones I didn’t like, but the reasons to disqualify this time around seemed different. A Birdstone colt out of a nice Badge mare (her sire’s highest earner) who throws fast turf runners didn’t look fast or much like a turf horse to me. Another with A+ nicks and secret speedy relatives and underrated sire potential needed a lip shank and two handlers to get out of the stall. One sales hand used bottles filled with water which they sprayed at two balking babies in order to get them to move, as if they were house cats who were threatening to shred the new sofa. None of that for me, please.
With all the inspections complete, I felt pretty good about my assessments. There were two remaining options, one I liked OK on paper and loved in person; the other, a pedigree that sang love songs to me and was fairly nice in person, with a significant asterisk. The plan now was to spend the evening digging further into these two candidates and decide how to proceed. Things could get tricky if both of them are in my price range!
Temple City colt
Paddy O’Prado filly
Mark and I lick our wounds over seafood and beer at Malone’s Steakhouse, a Lexington institution. Perhaps we’ll pick up some karma from the heavily horse racing themed restaurant?
Plan A was a bust. Plans B, C, and D are forming for Saturday.