Of Fools and Foals

December 4, 2016

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by Trey Nosrac

One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning — James Russell Lowell

The Lyft company has programs that flash and make strange sounds when a bridge is out, a hurricane is brewing or a flash mob is ahead. These apps can save aggravation, time and money. This harness report falls into this category of an alert or warning without the flashing or the noise.

The yearling sales are over for 2016. Happy buyers are heading home with babies that have never lost a race. Many happy sellers marketed yearlings for a profit. Some sellers were disappointed. We did not attend any of the sales this year for reasons that will soon become obvious.

In the fall of 2015, my partner in mayhem and I stood, holding our breath, as our first entry into the business/hobby/insanity of growing and sending a yearling to market was offered to the public. This escapade took about three years. The breeding game proved fascinating. The people on the breeding side of the fence were very nice and we learned a great deal. We also learned that marketing yearlings is about as chancy as a vacation in downtown Aleppo; the visit can be good, the trip can be intriguing, but danger lurks around every corner.

The adventure began when, for the first time, we decided to breed a mare we had raced. We chose the top stallion in the state as the sire. The baby grew big and strong. Our mare was a sub-2:00 solid racehorse from a decent family.

Events proceeded nicely. The baby was born without incident at a beautiful horse farm under watchful eyes and careful tending. He grew and was chosen for the Select Sale. We carefully compared our entry to every other horse out of the sire and predicted (unbiased of course) that our yearling was in the top 25 per cent. We drew a decent placement in the sale. We invested about $16,000 and felt confident that we would double our money, maybe more. We dodged many of the obvious bullets that breeders face.

This was all very exciting. Everything looked perfect for our big score in the breeding game. Watching this baby head to the spotlight was nerve-wracking, in a good way. Then, kablooey… it was nerve-wracking in a bad way.

The horse went into the ring and bidding froze at $12,000. The auctioneer shouted, “I have twelve” and suddenly we were standing in a room of mutes who would not nod or raise their hands. For a very long, heart stopping minute he tried to raise another bid without success.

To put this in laymen terms – “what the hell!”

We were stunned, gob smacked, astonished and bewildered. The experience was like getting to the stage, completing a great performance, taking a bow and waiting for applause that never comes. You just slink off the stage.

Ironically, we were correct and the buying public was incorrect. Fortunately, our colt that could not get a decent bid raced very well and was indeed in the top tier of his class. Unfortunately for us, the bidding for his services took place many months before racing.

While in the depths of depression after our little piggy came home from market, we took the time to ask several non-bidders who looked at this horse why they did not bid. The response was unanimous; they hated the video. Personally I did not see anything alarming in the video but as one viewer said less than gracefully, “That video was…. well… yuck,” another said, “I thought I saw a funky step on the video.” Thought I saw a funky step! Three years work and money thwarted by one funky step on a video?

The moral of this story is that one little oops in a market filled with yearling racehorse buyers who do not like any oops, can lead to disaster. Again, to put this in laymen terms for anyone considering following our stumbling footprints – about a hundred things can go wrong between deciding to breed a mare and selling the foal at public auction. Should one of those hundred things go bad, then it is like trying to sail a boat with just one hole the diameter of an oil drum in the hull.

Still, overall, we enjoyed the adventure in breeders land. We will take a few more voyages, but take note if you are on the brink of entering the world of breeding horses. Not only can things go wrong, they can also snowball quickly. The additional issues were more complex than we imagined in our fevered dreams. Obviously we did not think this through past the, “heck, let’s raise one ourselves phase”. Suddenly, almost magically, like dandelions sprouting overnight on a well-manicured lawn we have:

1. the mare
2. a weanling on ground
3. stud fees due
4. another baby in the belly of the mare
5. a partridge in a pear tree
6. a steady rainfall of bills
7. zero income assured
8. irate spouses, girlfriends and creditors

Oh well, like boats against the tide we ceaselessly beat forward against the waves and common sense. This year we will try a new twist. Since the first dance was stressful and unsuccessful, we have a new plan. The second baby out of our mare, a nice looking filly, was not consigned to a sale for that terrifying two-minute dance on the public stage. We hope to avoid the sudden shock of selling a yearling, where two minutes in front of a fickle public will determine the fate of three years, an experience much like bungee jumping off high cliffs without ropes.

We will try another approach. Our latest brilliant plan is to put our second yearling into training (more money out the barn door). Then we will shoot a video of her trotting and try to market her privately as “an almost ready to go prospect.” We may make a few cold calls or advertise on a site like this. As usual, our plans are fluid and perhaps foolish.

What can go wrong?

I actually laughed out loud when I typed that last sentence.

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