by Frank Vespe
The numbers at Monday’s Fasig-Tipton Eastern Fall Yearlings sale weren’t pretty. Yet for Maryland-breds, the results were solid.
That, said several sale participants and observers, was the result of both the reality of new programs to bolster the state’s breeding industry — and the growing perception that the state’s breeding and racing industries are on the rebound.
“We are perceived right now as being on the upswing, and the numbers bear that out,” said Maryland-based consignor Bill Reightler, who sold 37 horses at the sale, more than any other consignor. Two of those, a Congrats filly that brought $100,000 and a Friesan Fire colt who fetched $130,000, were among the nine six-figure horses in the sale.
Overall, total sales volume was down almost 20 percent, to a little over $6 million. Moreover, the buyback rate doubled to over 27 percent.
Yet for Maryland-breds, the picture was considerably different. The number of Maryland-breds to sell rose from 71 to 89, and the average value of those sales also rose, by a quarter to $29,467. What’s more, a lower percentage of Maryland-breds were bought back — less than 22 percent — than of the other major states represented at the sale.
In part, participants said, that’s because recent strides made in the state — including the completion of a 10-year deal to govern racing and the increase in owner and breeder bonuses — have made doing business more attractive, and profitable.
“We’re happy the the reformulated Maryland-bred program is working,” said Maryland Horse Breeders Association executive director Cricket Goodall. “We breed quality horses here in Maryland, and now they have a chance to recoup their production costs pretty quickly.”
“In my opinion, it was the 10-year deal and the bonuses,” added David Hayden, a Maryland Racing Commission member whose Dark Hollow Farm consignment also included two of the sale’s six-figure horses, among them a Pure Prize filly whose $200,000 price was the highest paid for a filly at the event. “I was happy to see the number of Maryland trainers that bought Maryland-breds. All of our horses that were sold were bought by Maryland people.”
Beyond the actual dollars and cents, the perception that Maryland’s house is now in order is a powerful incentive to purchasers. Other nearby states, like Pennsylvania and West Virginia, have found their share of gaming revenue increasingly under siege, while Maryland, late to the slots party, remains, most observers believe, on solid footing.
“We’re right in that honeymoon period of when we’re all excited,” Goodall pointed out. “There’s a lot of buzz about the Maryland-bred program; I think that helped.”
“I had a couple people requesting Maryland-breds,” Reightler agreed. “The perception becomes the reality.”
Of course, some of the relative strength of the Maryland-breds in the sale has to do with the quality of the horses on offer. The sales top three sellers were all bred in Maryland.
“Maryland-breds have sold reliably well,” Goodall said, “and pinhookers loved them because they were often good horses.”
For his part, Reightler pointed to “a little more quality in the broodmare bands” in Maryland as contributing to their offspring’s popularity.
Still, for a sale whose major metrics have declined precipitously, it’s clear that there’s work to be done. Back in 2007, 574 horses were sold at this sale with a total value of $13.3 million. Some of that is due to softness in the horse-buying market generally and some to the increasing popularity of other sales, including Fasig-Tipton’s own Kentucky yearling sale starting October 20; that sale has more than 1200 hips.
For Reightler, some of that is a quality problem, while some is demographic.
“Like any sale it’s a reflection of what’s in it in terms of the quality,” he said. “If your horse checked all the boxes you were rewarded.”
And if not?
“I thought really in that middle area we needed more buyers,” he said. “Clearly we’re in a mode where there were more horses than buyers.”
Hayden suggested that breeders need to raise the quality of their broodmares to make their product more attractive to buyers. What’s more, he suggested that the fall sale should become more of a select sale, focusing on the 300 or so best horses. Those yearlings excluded from the sale, he suggested, could be pointed to the December Horses of All Ages sale, bolstering that event.
“Why should a guy in Kentucky ship a horse to Maryland to sell?” he asked. “We’ve got to realize what we are and where our strengths are.”