Notes from Harrisburg

Notes from Harrisburg

November 17, 2019

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by Murray Brown

To say that I felt a little apprehensive going to Harrisburg last week would be somewhat of an understatement.

After all, this was going to be the first time in over 50 years that I would not be working the sale after 52 years as an employee of Hanover Shoe Farms and 37 as the general manager of Standardbred Horse Sales Company.

What would I do? How would I feel?

For emotional support, I brought my dear wife Carol along. She was there to provide it, if necessary. She was certainly an asset as she always is. But I got along just fine.

The first thing I did was fulfill my lifetime contract with my buddy David Reid of Preferred Equine Marketing.

Four years ago I suggested he add hot dogs to his menu of lunches that he provides to his employees and many of the prominent, and some not so prominent, individuals in the sport.

Reid’s response was that if I bought him a hot dog machine together with the hot dogs and buns, he would be more than happy to do so.

Thus, a lifetime contract was entered into. It’s been three years now and hopefully if I last long enough, Preferred will be providing hot dogs for many years to come.

I was met at the door by my adopted son, Simon. He had his cart ready to bring the dogs and buns to PEM’s cook, Marty.

Aside from Reid and Steve Bray, there is no people more important to the PEM operation than Simon Wise and Lillie Brown.

Among the people being regularly fed by PEM are the entire auction crew.

Speaking of the auction crew, they were wonderful. They are a terrific young group of go-getters who should be involved with the sales crew for many years to come. The “young” sobriquet also fits my friend, the venerable Richard Patterson, who to my eyes will never appear old.

It was so wonderful running into so many people who said they regularly read this column and enjoyed it.

It was especially nice visiting with so many of my former colleagues at Hanover. As usual, they did a remarkable job and enjoyed an all-time record sale at Harrisburg.

Dr. Bridgette Jablonsky heads this team of great people.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again there is nobody in this industry who does a better job at what she does than the remarkable Dr J.

They say that nobody is irreplaceable, but Bridgette Jablonsky comes very close to meeting that description.

As most know, the yearling sale was a blockbuster.

From the very beginning to the very end of the yearling segment, even extending to the small number of yearlings selling on Thursday morning, what was perceived as quality was very much in demand.

If you had what people wanted, especially a combination of pedigree and conformation, the prices were terrific.

Some observations:

1. The trotting market was especially vibrant. One statistic that really stood out to me was that two trotting stallions, Muscle Hill and Father Patrick, out averaged the highest priced pacing stallion Somebeachsomewhere by a significant margin.

Even more demonstrative of the tremendous demand for trotting yearlings was the fact that eight different trotting stallions out averaged the next leading pacing stallion.

Nevertheless, you had to have the individual to go along with the pedigree. There were several blue-blooded Muscle Hill yearlings who were early foals out of outstanding and well-bred mares which brought very low prices.

2. I’ve been preaching since Betting Line entered the stud that if he didn’t become a top stallion, I would never make a prediction on a stallion again.

I still stand by that.

Apparently others felt the same way as the Betting Lines were extremely well accepted. Sixty-six of them grossed $3,469,000, averaging $52,561 and out averaged such proven stallions as his sire Bettors Delight, Sweet Lou and his first year rival Always B Miki.

Here’s an interesting fact about the Always B Miki yearlings: Allowing for my sometimes poor arithmetical skills, his yearlings on the second day of the sale both out averaged and out grossed those selling on the first day.

On Monday, his 17 yearlings sold for $743,000, averaging $43,710. On Tuesday his 13 yearlings brought $749,000 and averaged $57,110.

3. I thought the New York and Ontario segments were especially, strong providing one had the right individual. Pennsylvania was also very strong, but because of the very large numbers of them, buyers could afford to be a little more discriminating. Nevertheless, if you had the right horse, the sky was the limit. New Jersey-sired horses, mostly because of the dominance of Muscle Hill, sold very well. I thought the Trixtons might have sold a little better, but the main reason they probably didn’t was because of the dominance of that same Muscle Hill.

Of course, with the high prices that the right Muscle Hill yearling brings, he or she isn’t being bought to compete in regional events.

There was definitely a premium received on yearlings eligible to more than one regional jurisdiction with those having Kentucky eligibility as well as another state’s being very much in demand.

Which brings me to a slight pet peeve. Why are these secondary stakes eligibilities referred to as sires stakes, when in most cases they have nothing to do with stallions standing in that particular state?

4. I thought that the European presence was stronger in Harrisburg than it has probably ever been. Traditionally, especially in recent years, European buyers have been much more of a factor in Lexington than they have in Harrisburg. This year, they probably still were. But without knowing it for a definite fact, I would guess that the gap might have been significantly narrowed.

As usual, Canadians were multi-present and made their presence felt. For some reason, at least from my perspective, I’ve found that more Canadians have always been greater factors in Harrisburg than in Lexington. Perhaps it has something to do with so much money being available to race for later on in Canada. I’m of the belief that its more likely a consequence of habit. They’ve always come there. It’s closer than Lexington. Harrisburg doesn’t have the great racing that Lexington has. It has no racing at all. It also doesn’t conflict with anything monumental or with the preparation for major events.

In short, both Lexington and Harrisburg have their adherents. Most of the major buyers are significant factors at both venues.

I suppose that, as always is the case, what it comes down to is what is in the catalog and how the horses look.

Mixed Sale

I’ve always said, and firmly believe without reservation that there is no better place or time to sell a quality broodmare or a broodmare prospect than Harrisburg.

The stars just come together there in perfect alignment.

Many of the breeders have just hopefully concluded a successful yearling sale.

They have money burning a hole in their pockets.

The consignors to Lexington have already been, or are just about to be, paid for the horses they sold there.

Anybody and just about everybody who professes to be or wants to be in the breeding business is there.

Before I go any further, I need to say that I don’t claim any expertise in the racehorse end of things. It used to be the area where I hung my hat and in which I was most interested. That was a long time ago. No more.

Without the knowledge myself, I will go along with what I’ve been told. This one, as are most racehorse sales, was very successful. There is a shortage of good racehorses pretty much everywhere. If you’ve got what people want, especially a horse that you can put into the box immediately, there are plenty of people willing to pay you a very fair price for it.
The breeding stock portion of the sale was headlined by the dispersal of the White Birch Farms broodmare band.

For me, it provoked a feeling of great sadness. I actually once met Joe Parisi’s father who was the founder of the farm over 60 years ago. I believe it was called Joe-Mar Farms then.
I considered Joe and his son Michael to be wonderful friends.

Joe could be a little tough sometimes, but he was always fair.

Michael was one of the sweetest and nicest people to ever inhabit the planet.

All in all, I thought that segment of the sale was very strong.

There is an old saying that says “A dead man’s horses always sell better.” I don’t know if that was the case here, but they sold darn well. If there was any weakness, it might have been among the pacing mares. There were some who were very good value relative to their cost.

In general, trotters sold better than pacers in just about every segment of the sale.

In terms of trotting broodmares, if you had a mare in foal to what was perceived as the right horse, it sold quite well and, in most cases, brought more than I thought it would bring.

Just my opinion, but I thought that there were very few trotting mares available that came from top families. The few that did sold through the roof. There were quite a few others though that brought inordinately high prices.

That was not always the case with pacing mares. The high-quality ones sold very well, but not with the premium that the trotters did.

I felt that there were definitely good buys to be found in the mid-priced pacing mare selection.

I was helping a friend who bought two well-bred mares in foal to popular stallions for about half of what I thought they might bring.

Whether they turn out to be as good buys as I think they will be remains to be seen of course.

The top breeders were very much in evidence. Cameo Hills, Diamond Creek, Fair Winds, Hanover Shoe Farms and Hunterton Farms were very active in the high-priced mare department, as was Winbak Farms in the mid-priced group.

There was some new money in both the yearling and broodmare segments, but not nearly as much as I wish there would be.

Our owner base continues to get older and diminish, yet we still have great sales such as the one we had last week.
People, including myself, ask why this is the case. My stock answer is, as it has always been, that people just love horses and love to own them.

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