Designer brands in bloodstock – Turf Talk: 26 August 2019

Designer brands in bloodstock and what they could do

Selfridges on Oxford Street - a top brand.
Selfridges on Oxford Street – a top brand.

THE National 2 Year Old Sale (15th-16th August) is one that this writer has attended pretty regularly. This time, we preyed on poor vendors paying paltry sums for nice yearlings by Vercingetorix and Soft Falling Rain, but we are always also a vendor being preyed upon while struggling to sell Allan-breds by stallions that suit the mares (in our way of looking at things) but are not really “wanted” by buyers who wish to buy designer brands from smarter stores.

Dare I say that in general these unwanteds get placed somehow and on the whole do rather well in the middle ground of multiple winners, decent AEPR and percentages, with a few flights to greater altitude.

But if one’s figure for getting a yearling or 2 year old to the sales is R150,000 excluding stallion fee – and it might be less or more – the situation is unsustainable. It is no good producing “trainer’s horses” if nobody recognises their value.

Many breeders know this and are thus contributing to sharp reductions in the production of thoroughbreds in South Africa.

Of course the improvement in figures year on year at the 2 Year Old Sale is good to see. This used to be a rock solid sale, utterly reliable, with the occasional star such as Jackson getting a proper price and doing well. But in a nation of whopping inflation, the medians have gone more or less nowhere.

Harvey Nicks.
Harvey Nicks.

In 2017 the drop in median of 38.5% contributed to a hell of a sale – and I mean “hell”. Recovery in 2018 meant that for many vendors the temperature of hell was slightly lower but it still burned. This year, we are back to a bit below 2016 medians and something like 16% lower than the average of that year.

What does it all mean? That 2016 median was R65,000 (now R60,000) which is no good to anyone and half the sale sells below it, sometimes because the individual is not so brilliant, often because buyers only want a few brands and partly because there are few buyers.

Big outfits have already made their money at higher level sales. True. But not everybody fits into that category of bigger outfit. Horses are being bred that are really good but do not get into the upper bracket sales. “Wait for the 2 Year Old Sales” say sales companies, volume producers and volume consigners. All very well for them.

The reality is that bloodstock sales are shopping arcades with some bi name outlets. People are branddriven or brand-loyal and make bee-lines for their
favourites. In London, well-heeled local residents sniff at the tourist mecca of Harrod’s and go to Harvey Nichols. Everyone calls it Harvey Nicks, but they know nothing about matings.

Selfridges has a great following even if on increasingly horrible Oxford Street while Fortnum & Mason’s food hall is magnificent.

SA sale grounds have their Harvey Nicks and the like. Buyers are magnetically attracted. Brand conscious folk would like to shop at a famous store. Many breeder/ vendors should follow international trends and sell
through consignment companies that have, over twenty years, developed their own clientele to which they sell on behalf of every Mum and Dad breeder exhausted by the sale process. But we don’t have that type of company.

I have selected some smart department stores with well above average averages and significant numbers on offer: Wilgerbosdrift, Mauritzfontein, Varsfontein, Maine Chance and Klipdrif, the latter included because it is a de facto consignment company, albeit a boarding farm as well.

The people involved with these names weigh heavily in the constituent parts of South African racing and breeding. Invaluably so. Without them, we are stuffed.

But if we take the results of these smart stores out of the sales results, we, the hoi polloi, are left with an average in the region of R76,000. (I value life therefore have neither trawled through nor condemned some poor soul to trawl through the entire results to work out the median but I’d guess at around R45,000).

This is even less sustainable than the numbers convey.

Incidentally, I am very pleased to be hoi polloi. It is Greek for “the many” or – strictly – “the people”. I can understand some being offended because “hoi polloi” is often used in the same category as “the great unwashed”, but simply smile and reflect on the fact that the snooty sod looking down his or her nose is just thick.

Hoi Polloi Restaurant in Shoreditch London.
Hoi Polloi Restaurant in Shoreditch London.

2017 births: 3200 foals registered. 2018: 2500. 2019: 2000? 2020: 1500?? so they say.

2019 covering means foals of 2020 means yearling sales of 2022. 1500 to be born less reductions along the way? Yikes!

That ain’t enough. Cover more mares! But the anticipation of the supply / demand equation kicking in and making averages way higher then than now does not necessarily compute.

The dwindling cadre of racehorse owners has, below a certain recession-proof group, become used to getting horses for two thirds of bugger all or on leases. Why – in the absence of a booming economy with fat salaries for all – should they be keen to cough up lots more?

If “exports” happens, there will surely be a psychological boost but the numbers of yearlings bought for export may not make such a big dent in local supply. (Horses in Training – Yes, creating significant revenue. And exciting breeding stock opportunities – Yes. But dozens of yearlings not hundreds).

We are facing so many negatives. The outside bloodstock world hears more or less nothing about South Africa, and when it does it is negative. Nobody speaks up for us. If – for example – the enterprising change in the Cape Summer Grade 1 dates is a harbinger of more good “things to come”…

If we actually value this wonderful industry and sport and would like to take it to a greater percentage of the South African population as a career or a spectator sport or an expensive hobby…

If the currently mysterious group being formed is akin to the Horsemen’s Groups in UK and USA… then we must get on with it quickly to maximise demand in 2022.

If our present institutions and industry forums will not shout us from the rooftops, then others of us must do it as a South African Bloodstock Racing and Breeding Broadcast Station.

Perhaps those top department stores – if resisted by the entrenched existing institutions – could finance us in flying the South African bloodstock flag in a truly meaningful manner at home and abroad.—tt.

allan bloodlines

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