London sale beyond expectations

The inaugural London Selected Yearling Sale was a success thanks to increases in average and gross compared to the two 2016 Ontario sales that it replaced and a record consignment by Seelster Farms which sold the seven highest-priced yearlings, including the $220,000 sale topper.

by Dave Briggs

Ann Straatman was so delighted with the results of the inaugural London Selected Yearling Sale she was practically gushing about it in the sales office immediately afterward when she learned 306 yearlings grossed $7,536,000 total for an average of $24,627.

“How great is that, huh? That is beyond our expectations,” said Straatman who managed the sale — held Saturday and Sunday at the Metroland Media Agri-Plex facility at the Western Fair District in London, ON — in partnership with Standardbred Canada’s Heather Reid. It was the first year of a partnership between the Forest City Yearling Sale and Standardbred Canada’s Canadian Yearling Sale.

“It was good, make that great,” Reid said. “The crowd was wonderful.”

Combining the results of last year’s two sales shows 276 yearlings were sold for a total gross of $6,452,200. The 2016 average was $23,378. By that measure, that means this year’s gross was up 16.8 per cent and the average was up 5.3 per cent compared to a year ago.

“If we had an equal sale to last year — which was phenomenal — we would have an average of $23,000. I thought if we could maintain that average this year, we would have a phenomenal sale and look, we’re well beyond that,” Straatman said.

The difference maker was a Sunday session that was twice as strong as Saturday’s opening session. The Day 2 gross of $5,051,500 was nearly double the gross of $2,484,500 from the opening session. The average from day two ($26,309) was up 20.7 per cent from the day one average ($21,793).

“The very last thing I said yesterday was, ‘tomorrow is a new day’ and it surely was,” said David Reid of Preferred Equine, the sale’s leading consignor by gross with $2,414,511 in sales for 99 yearlings sold. “The atmosphere was different… Good sale, good rhythm. Seelster Farms looked like they had an outstanding sale. I couldn’t be happier for them. It’s good for them, as they are one of the predominant breeders (in Ontario). My clients, Tara Hills and Warrawee, they had good sales and some of the smaller breeders, too. I think everyone is going to leave here on a positive note and rightfully so.”

Seelster Farms had an outstanding sale, grossing $2,283,988 from 49 yearlings sold. The Lucan, ON operation led all consignors by average ($46,612) and sold the seven highest-priced yearlings. Seelster was responsible for 12 of the 15 highest-priced yearlings sold.

“This is the best sale we’ve ever had, for sure,” said Straatman, who doubles as the family farm’s reproduction manager.

Her sister, Karen Favacho, is Seelster’s farm manager.

“We’re ecstatic. When you’ve grown up doing this… you see it happen to other people and it’s good to see, but when it happens to you and you’re doing it with people that you love and family, it’s even better,” Favacho said of having a record sale.

Seelster sold the session topper on both day one — $150,000 Shadow Play colt Silas Seelster — and day two — the overall sale topper Mohawk Seelster, a Sportswriter colt out of Macapelo Rose that fetched $220,000 from George Millar of Millar Farms of Stouffville, ON.

Favacho said it was an all-time record for a Seelster yearling, surpassing the previous mark of $180,000 from many years ago.

The bidding on Mohawk Seelster was particularly intense with bids in play from all sections of the sales floor.

“I thought he’d hit $200,000. I didn’t think he’d hit $220,000,” Millar said. “I don’t know who the last bidder was, but it was just a little pissing match… I think he should have gone at $200,000, but when you get up in that range it doesn’t really make a difference. You’re taking him home.

“I told the guys when we were coming down here, ‘We’re taking him home, so bring the trailer. We’re taking him home.’”

Millar said he didn’t mind paying a premium price for Mohawk Seelster.

“He’s a premium colt. There’s nothing really wrong with this colt at all. He’s got a great pedigree. He looks like a three-year-old and he’s just a nice-looking colt. You never know when you pay this kind of money if you’re going to get it back out of them, but he’s a nice horse to start with and I think he’s well worth the money,” Millar said.

Beyond the $220,000 and $150,000 yearlings, Seelster also sold horses for $115,000, $100,00, $90,000, $85,000 and $82,000. Dr. Ian Moore bought the second- and third-highest priced yearlings sold.

Straatman said it was a welcome reward for continuing to invest in the business even when the Ontario industry was thrown for a loop by the cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks Program in 2013.

“We didn’t do anything differently. We continued to raise our horses the same way. We upped our broodmare band,” Straatman said. “We are choosing stallions by trying to predict how good they are going to be in two years after we’ve bred them. I think we’ve done a job that people have recognized as quality work and that’s very, very rewarding.”

Favacho agreed that seeing their hard work pay off was rewarding for every member of the Seelster staff.

“I can’t imagine us doing anything else, but we did choose to stick through those difficult times and persevere. I’m glad we did and that’s paying off. It’s just icing on the cake,” Favacho said.

Seelster will immediately reinvest in their operation and the economy.

“We had already planned to build a new barn and this really does make it a whole lot easier,” Straatman said. “It’s a mare barn — some stalls, some storage, some run-in sheds — all together at a property other than the main farm. So we’re upgrading and this is money that is going to be put to good use, for sure.”

As for continuing to have one strong Ontario yearling sale in the future, Straatman said it was clearly the way to go and the Metroland Media Agri-Plex, where the Forest City Yearling Sale has been held for years, was the facility to use.

“I think everyone can agree that this is the place for a sale,” Straatman said. “The weather was terrible and, boy, you didn’t even know it was raining outside. I think this facility is the best. I think bringing all of the horses together is the best and making a sale that is convenient for buyers and consignors… we can’t stop doing this, this is great.”

Trainer Ben Wallace, who was both a buyer and seller at the London sale, agreed.

“I think that it’s been a great venture for both sales companies,” Wallace said. “Personally, I would have done it all in one day, but that’s another thought. To me, the venue is much more progressive than the old (Canadian Yearling Sale) venue at Flamboro Downs. It’s much more appealing. Can you imagine if we would’ve sold yesterday at Flamboro? How depressing… so we’ve just taken that right out of the equation. I think going forward they can build on this.

“It was a very strong sale, especially today. I think that’s going to be the feeling on both sides that you had to step up and buy a horse if you wanted one. If it was presented well, (consignors) were going to get the right kind of money.”

Straatman said the strong results, “shows that you can sell good horses in Ontario and get good money for horses. People want to participate in the OSS (Ontario Sires Stakes), so this is the way to do it – get yourself an Ontario-sired horse.”

Reid, who has sold horses at both sales in the past said the two venues no longer makes sense to either consignors or buyers.

“Today was proof that one venue worked and it was a very strong sale today,” Reid said. “I heard no negatives and, truth of the matter is, you’ve got to judge it by the results and right now, just looking at it five minutes after the sale is over, it looks like the sale was pretty good today and overall it was a good sale.”

Reid said the fact the opening session was held the same day as the $1.8 million Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final card that night at Mohawk likely negatively impacted sale numbers on Saturday.

“I would probably try to lay off Super Final night (in the future), but, that being said, this time of year the calendar is full for everybody,” Reid said.