Buying at a Thoroughbred Horse Auction

I have owned thoroughbred racing horses for about 22 years.  I am small time, with usually 1 or 2 horses at a time that I own in a 50-50 partnership with my trainer.  They run most often at Finger Lake Race Track near Rochester, New York and occasionally at Saratoga, Aqueduct, and Belmont.

One can purchase a horse right off a farm where they are bred, by claiming them at a race track, or buying them at auctions.  In the fall, there are a number of auctions for yearlings.  In December through January, there are events called mixed sales where mares in foal, weanlings, and horses actively racing are sold.  In the spring, the sales are of 2-year-olds who are in training for racing.  I have purchased my horses over the years from all of these venues, but have grown increasingly focused on the 2-year-old in-training auctions. I have bought 3 horses over the past 4 years at these events.  They have all done well.  This year, my plan was to get another one.  The sale was at Timonium, Maryland from May 22 to 23, 2017.

Here’s how it works.

About a month before the sale, the auction company, in this instance Fasig-Tipton, sends cataloges with all the horses’ pedigree information.   Each horse has a page.  For weeks leading up to the sale, you peruse the catalog and rank the horses in which you are interested.  This year’s Timonium catalog had 575 horses.  My trainer and I narrowed the field initially by being interested only in New York bred horses because of the special incentives they have when racing in state.  We then each compiled our lists.

The week before the sale, each of the horses in the sale breezes (i.e., runs at their top speed) 1/8th or a quarter mile—the videos of their runs are available online for added information. On the days of your auction, you look first-hand at the horses in their barns to look for flaws, which almost all of the ones in our price range have.  You then finalize your bidding list .   When the auction starts ,what happens quite often is that the bidding almost immediately exceeds your budget.  The first one in the sale that we really liked sold for $100,00 which was about $70,000-80,000 over our budget.  Our next favorite sold for $210,000.  Given that the final range of sale prices ranged from $6,000-$1.5 million, there were some we could afford.

We ended up with Hip 326, an unnamed colt sired by Uncle Mo.  Uncle Mo is a very successful sire who sired Kentucky Derby winner, Nyquist.  His advertised price for each mare to whom he is bred is $150,000.   We got the colt for $20,000 because we were willing to take a big chance on him.   The chance is that he has a bone chip in his ankle that might require surgery, but might not.  He is a high risk-high reward purchase.   Talk to me in a year and I’ll know.

The views expressed by the blog post author are their own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Policy Research Associates, Inc.

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