Today in Newmarket and the evolution of elite bloodstock sales – Turf Talk: 3 October 2016

bloodstock sales new market

IN earlier despatches here, we noted the demise of the sales races for Europe’s top yearling sale.

Actually “demise” is a word that can be applied not only to various sales races, but also to elite yearling sales in general.

Keeneland July used to be isolated from the company’s huge September Yearling Sales at which (in 2016) the first Lot was Lot 1 and the last Lot was Lot 4,479. The six consecutive Books included at the top end what used to be the July Yearlings. The July Sale had become reliant on most of its money coming from a narrow band of buyers.

OK, USA being USA, their “narrow” is broad, but the fire was fuelled by the Sangster and Maktoum battles and on from there. Eventually with yearlings being primed for sales a couple of months earlier than their somewhat less “elite” cousins, the whole thing became too specialised to work if demand dropped off even a little.

Right now in Newmarket, inspections for Book 1 (starts on Tuesday) are going on apace. The old Highflyer later Houghton Sale had also relied on – largely – half a dozen buyers. If you were not one of the “ones they wanted” and you were in that sale, you were up a gum tree because relatively few other buyers attended. Later, they would flood Park Paddocks for what used to be the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale – the engine room of the yearling market in Europe. That is now Book 2. Kind of.

When two main Houghton buyers passed away in rather quick succession, the projections changed. This and other factors took that sale into a new Book 1. Larger than the elite sale. Not by too much, but enough to encourage a broader buying community to have a go. Many breeders were – and some still are – wary of Book 1, not wanting to be “unwanted” by the fewer buyers. Top end prices in Book 2 are very nice, thank you very much.

But Tattersalls has worked hard to make Book 1 a cross between elite and egalitarian. Last year’s Book 1 & 2 medians were 150,000 guineas (currently about R 2.8 million) and 47,000 guineas (around R 880,000) respectively but there is more cross-over than you would think. Books 3&4 then follow 1&2. Nearly a couple of thousand yearlings all told.

To further bolster the “commercial” sector of demand in Book 1 – as opposed to deep pockets wanting this or that yearling and going hammer and tongs – Tattersalls dropped their Millions Races (of which there were six – and at the risk of harping on about this point – entry like all other sales races is three months later onwards and voluntary with no levy on vendors).

In the new Bonus Scheme, by making a fairly modest voluntary payment later in the year, owners can benefit from a great many £25,000 bonuses for winning maidens. A kind of very widespread “extra stakes”. As a result, the more commercial buyers are encouraged to have a stronger go.

What does this mean for South Africa? Well that’s not really the point. The point is that the more stakeholders and fans in South Africa are familiar with how things work elsewhere, the broader the perspective when making decisions or giving opinions.

It is hard to see the demise of Cape Premier Yearling Sale when it is – as I have described it in these columns – a logistical masterpiece and an event unto itself. As long as its economics can be sustained by promoters and visitors alike, it ain’t broke so don’t fix it.

If any factors change – and reliance on just a few individuals or institutions in any walk of life engenders the risk of change, however currently unlikely – that would be different. Would it elide with CTS March like Keeneland July did with September? In theory, but the Keeneland Sales were at the same owned venue thus occasioning only a minor change in “feel”.

The same brilliant complex. Same pizzas. The difference between CTICC and the Durbanville Sales Centre is somewhat more marked.

There is another factor that is unique to South Africa. CTS is backed and/or run by people who actually buy horses. You can have one of two points of view about this:

One is that it is a different experience to travel to a sale and be outbid by the sales company people who have urged you to come. “Anywhere else” in mainstream bloodstock, sales company shareholders and directors generally don’t own racehorses and do not expose themselves to the risk of conflict of interest. Market places have room for – and need – all layers.

The other viewpoint is that of the vendors whose interests are the fundamental duty of a sales company. To have a corps of buyers “built in” to a sales company, bidding and underbidding, is a heck of a bonus.

Another positive feature of CPYS in its January slot is that it clashes with little else globally. People can come. As we urge the SA sales companies to continue their efforts to streamline the sales programme, we also urge them to avoid clashes such as the new Johannesburg Ready To Run dates “taking out” the few very dedicated overseas participants, be they pinhooking vendors or buyers.

Tattersalls Foals just cannot be missed. Readers would be very welcome to come and see why! – tt