Diary of a tremendous week in Lexington

by Murray Brown

Oct. 5 — 1 p.m.

Heading into Day One of the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale, I find myself thinking back to Oct. 19, 1987. That was the day the stock market collapsed just two weeks before that year’s Harrisburg sale. By the time the sale came around, things were not quite as bad as they had been on Oc. 19, but people were still licking their wounds, some to the extent where they were still players but on a much lower scale. Others, such as the biggest buyer at that point in time, Tony Pedone, did not even show up.

I’m writing this before session one at Lexington, as I will be doing before each of the sessions of the sale.

At Harrisburg in 1987, we estimated that the yearling sale was off between 20-25 per cent of what was anticipated because of the crash.

The only comparable situation between then and today was in the aftermath of 9/11. The Lexington sale followed a little more than a week later and the results were not a total disaster, but they were nevertheless pretty bad compared to what was anticipated before that terrible happening.

By the time Harrisburg came around that year, things had improved. The sale was a little bit off, but nowhere as bad as Lexington had been.

As I write this we are entering virgin territory. Day One is stacked.

In my 62 years in this business I have yet to see a session as power packed as this one. Yet even with that fantastic book, we all know what a horror show 2020 has been. Most of us have no idea of what to anticipate.

My expectations for this particular session are pretty good. I think that they will probably be down somewhat, but more in the 10 to 15 per cent rate than in the 20 to 30 that I’ve heard expressed by some.

(I was close. They were down 16.3 per cent)

Oct. 6 — 8 a.m.

Going into Day One, the word on the street was that the session was much stronger on trotters than it was on pacers. Without having looked at a single yearling, I think I could have told you that. Even Stevie Wonder might have been able to.

The pages for the trotters were the strongest group that I’ve ever seen in 62 years in the business.

Those for pacers were very good, but in my less-than-humble opinion they didn’t come close to the trotters.

The results manifested those expectations, although there were significantly more trotters (68) than there were pacers (50). The trotters out averaged the pacers by an astonishing 50 per cent ($151,015 to $99,360).

I remember back when Mission Brief was purchased by the present ownership group for a reported $700,000, thinking to myself, “They’ll be out after two foals.” I was wrong. They are well ahead after two foals! Her yearling topped the sale at $725,000.

I said then if she were mine I’d breed her to Ready Cash. I thought that a first foal by Ready Cash out of arguably the fastest (pure speed) trotting filly ever, would generate more worldwide interest than any trotting yearling ever sold.

It’s not too late Steve Stewart. Just think that if the stars aligned, what a colt by Ready Cash out of her, could bring? Thinking even beyond that, think if he made it on the racetrack, what its value could be to the breed. None of my business Steve, but it’s just a thought.

I thought the first session, especially considering what is happening in today’s world was exceptionally strong.

I generally make a guesstimate on each yearling based on their page and in the past those that I have seen. This year I didn’t physically see a single yearling. Of the 118 sold last night 57 of them brought more than I thought they would; 51 of them brought less and 10 brought exactly the price I guesstimated them to bring. In most cases I was fairly close. But in 25 to 30 per cent, I was way off.

There were some surprises. American Ideal is a wonderfully successful stallion, but I don’t believe that there is a single person in all of harness racing who would have expected him to lead all pacers in average, considering his competition — Somebeachsomewhere, Captaintreacherous, Always B Miki, Sweet Lou, Bettors Delight and New York rival Huntsville.

Although there were some Chapter Sevens that rang the bell, relative to the great stallion he has been, I don’t believe he receives the respect due him in the sales ring. I consider him to be only behind Muscle Hill among today’s great trotting stallions.

The Walners were out of good mares, from the videos I’ve seen, they could trot up a storm and from everything I’ve heard they looked the part. They sold accordingly well.

As for Day Two, I obviously don’t expect things to be as good as they were last night, but I believe they have an excellent group selling. Based on their pedigrees, I could find 25 and probably more selling tonight that would not have looked out of place in yesterday’s session.

As far as making a prediction, I think they will be down somewhere close to the twenty percent range.

(I was again close. I believe they were down about 18.5 per cent)

Oct. 7 — 3:30 a.m.

I thought the sale was all over the place last night. From looking at the results, it was obvious that in addition to pedigree, people appeared to be more focused on individuals, likely videos and the flavor of the moment.

Some observations:

Contrary to what I posted yesterday, people seemed to be more steady regarding the Chapter Sevens. There was no huge highlighter like the sister to Gimpanzee as would be expected, but there were very few in the lower ranges. The prices on them seemed to be far more consistent than what is in evidence on Monday.

If I were looking for a bargain, I would be searching for a Cantab Hall. With the exception of Hip No. 294, Cold Truth, which was bought by Jules Siegel for $130,000, every single one of them brought less — in some cases much less — than I would have thought they’d bring.

Cantab Hall will go down as one of the greatest trotting stallions in the history of the sport. Sure, he has a lot more competition (as do all trotting stallions including Muscle Hill), but there is absolutely no reason why he is not capable of siring another Father Patrick.

One thing that can be said about most of the Cantab Halls — they generally get there. They may not all become champions, but their gait, manners and good heads will generally get you at the least a good racehorse, if not a champion.

A perfect example of one that was obviously overlooked was Hip No 163, Snorting Copper, who in the esteemed opinion of The Guru was the nicest and most athletic yearling of the session, yet he ended up bringing $27,000.

Speaking of The Guru, I thought his money picks for the first two days were excellent, contrary to what has been expressed elsewhere, even better on the second day than the first, when one considers that there were far more yearlings selling on Day Two and that it’s likely that those on Day One were probably gone over more stringently than those on any other day.

American Ideal continues to do very well, obviously not to the degree that he did on Monday, but very steady. Just about every stallion including the ones considered to be at the very top had some lows. The market for the American Ideals remained steady.

The top Muscle Hills and Walners still sold very well, but there were some soft spots. I assume the likelihood is that the individuals in some cases were not comparable to the pages or perhaps the possibility that the money available for a top trotting prospect has evaporated somewhat after Monday’s bang up session. There is only so much money available at a given range in a given time span for a given product.

On a relative basis, I thought the pacers sold quite well compared to yesterday.

The numbers were 87 pacers sold for $5,224,000, an average of $60,046; 94 trotters sold for $5,947,000, an average of $63,266. Fairly close to being even.

Two horse with some highlights, but who’s prices I felt were sometimes disappointing were Always B Miki and Father Patrick.

Always B Miki has had a sensational first year. There were some who sold well. There were also some sold last night who will almost certainly turn out to be real bargains. The prices were probably indicative of there being a lack of depth in the marketplace.

The seeming decline in the prices of the Father Patricks was mostly due to, in my opinion, only one word COMPETITION! Where formally he reigned supreme in Pennsylvania, there were two new kids on the block, Bar Hopping and Southwind Frank. Each, with relatively small crops, dominated in Pennsylvania this year. On the Grand Circuit, Muscle Hill and Chapter Seven just stand out — at least to these eyes they do.

Father Patrick is still a great stallion, but there’s the biggest pie I have ever seen in attractive trotting stallions out there and there are just so many slices of it available.

As for my guesstimates, I think I was a lot closer on most of my guesses. In many instance being less than $5,000 different than the actual prices that were brought of the 180 yearlings sold last night.

Oct. 8 — 7:30 a.m.

In case you are wondering about the time, yes I did sleep until 7 a.m. I might sleep that late three or four times a year. Last night was one of those nights.

I was watching the sales results and the Vice Presidential debate. I stayed up for both until the bitter end.

I thought that on a relative basis, that this session might have been the strongest of the three that I’ve seen relative to what was being offered.

Good horses, or those perceived as such, sold very well.

The American Ideals continued to sell very well. In terms of consistency, he, in my opinion has been the best sire, certainly the best pacing sire, in the sale. There have been very few that did not bring a decent price relative to their pedigrees.

I still don’t get the relatively poor prices for a good many of the Always B Mikis. This horse has had a sensational first year. By far the best of any new pacing sire. Yet his sales offering have been mixed at best. I don’t get it, but there are a lot of things about the business of horse sales, I will never get.

The Muscle Hills and Walners that were deemed acceptable sold very well. But there were more than enough of those that didn’t bring near what their pages indicated they should have brought.

The Cantab Halls generally speaking seemed to be devoid of any serious interest. This corner is wagering that several of them will turn out to be great bargains.

The Betting Lines were up and down — mostly down and certainly nowhere near what they brought last year. I believe part of the reason to be that they were tremendously hyped last year, including by yours truly. His numbers are very good, but nowhere near good enough to justify the hype he received. The Bettors Delights get better with a little age and maturity, I certainly expect the same from the Betting Lines.

The Father Patricks continued to not bring the prices that I anticipated they should bring. Pennsylvania sired horses were disappointing in general. Of course, there were no Captains nor SBSWs available.

I thought that in terms of geography, the Pennsylvania breds were quite disappointing; the New York breds did just fine, the few New Jersey breds, exclusive of Muscle Hill and Walner primarily by Trixton sold somewhat below the level I thought they would bring. The Ontario sired horses, considering the fact that only a fraction of the normal group of Ontario trainers participated at the sale, sold quite well.

The top buyers for the most part continue to remain the same, with the Millers, Andy and Julie at the top. That is likely the way it will end.

Since I don’t know for sure, but am just guessing, I believe that there were a large numbers of bid ins. I don’t blame the people who did that. Their horses were worth more to them than they would be if they were sold at a loss.

On a personal note, I sure miss not being there. This is my first year in the last 63 that I have missed the trots and/or the sale. I’m nowhere near my buddy Dean Hoffman in seeing consecutive Kentucky Futurities, though. I doubt that I’ve even seen half of those 63 Futurities, since I’ve had to get home to help fry my own fish.

Onto the numbers: 86 pacers sold for $2,799,000, an average of $34,988; 100 trotters brought $3,698,000, an average of $36,988, not too much difference.

On my guesstimates, 71 brought more than anticipated; 97 brought less and 13 brought exactly what I thought they might bring.

Tonight should be more of the same with a lower average expected. But look for things to turn around on Friday.

Oct. 9 — 4:30 a.m.

As the time above will indicate, I am back to my normal, abnormal sleeping habits.

Contrary to what I said yesterday about the previous day’s sale being on a relative basis being the single best one in my opinion to that point, in the same manner, last night’s session using the same gut feelings, was the worst.

Going through the results, I would say that 70-80 per cent of the yearlings that were sold, were done so on a loss to their owners.

I don’t think it’s the product, because based on the pedigree pages, it was the strongest Day Four that I believe I’ve ever seen.

I don’t know the reason. They are probably numerous including:

1. People ran out of money, at least for that segment of the sale.

2. The crowd was down, perhaps indicative of people going home.

3. The Pennsylvania market was softer than it has been since the introduction of slots revenue for purses and stakes.

The Father Patricks and Cantab Halls continued to sell quite disappointingly. I’ve brought this up before. There is in my opinion, great value to be found there particularly with these two horses but with Pennsylvania sires in general.

There were two blips, but the American Ideals continued to sell at a fairly good and consistent price level. Probably more so than those by any other sire in the catalog.

The Always B Mikis continued to bring less money than they should have.

There was one Captaintreacherous sold. It didn’t sell well. But that was probably a reason it was in Day Four. There were a few surprises in the upper ends, but not too many.

The Trixtons in my opinion sold terribly, considering how well he did in last week’s Grand Circuit 2-year-old events here at the Red Mile.

The Ontario market was the only one which I felt was reasonably well, although there were many holes in that. The Resolves were pretty well received.

Overall, 70 pacers sold for $1,493,000 an average of $21,329; 90 trotters brought $2,221,000 and average of $22,333. Both numbers were close to each other.

In terms of my pre-sale guesstimates, 102 brought less than what I thought they would: 49 brought more and 18 brought exactly what my estimate was.

On a better note, I expect tonight’s session to be considerably stronger than that of last evening. The session is greatly composed of very well bred Ohio and Indiana sired yearlings. I would guess the averages to be higher than those of Day Four and close to that of Day Three.

We shall see.

Oct. 10 — 6 a.m.

Before beginning my ramblings, I’d like to extend my sincerest congratulations to my two buddies Randy Manges and David Reid and their staff for putting on a great sale despite encountering numerous difficulties. As has been said before, a few months ago, we had our doubts as to whether there would be any horse sales at all. The team pulled it off in an extraordinary good manner.

The only negative was that so many of the customers and even some of the consignors failed to abide by the mask rules that were in place.

I can understand the reluctance of those in charge to confront the people who were not abiding by the clearly defined rules. But the fact is that those were the rules and by entering the premises, they agreed to abide by them. There are many out there who might feel that these rules encroached on their rights. That’s fine, then don’t agree to them, if you are not going to abide.

Folks, we are in the midst of a worldwide disaster. I understand that masks can be uncomfortable. But in this case, the ends satisfy the means. Lives are at stake.

Onto last night’s session: As I said yesterday, the was a significant rebirth.

Prices were up, in some cases way up.

The Downbytheseasides sold exceptionally well. All five pacing bred $100,000 yearlings sold were sired by him. There were others by that horse that also sold well.

The Fear The Dragons also sold well.

I thought that trotters in general and perhaps those by What The Hill were a little lighter than I had expected.

The Swan For Alls sold all over the place as did the few Rockin Images.

Ontario-sired horses also sold quite well with an Archangel colt bringing $100,000.

All in all, I thought it was a very good session.

Looking at the numbers, 82 pacers brought $2,660,000, an average of $32,439; 86 trotters brought $2,283,000, an average of $26,547.

As for my own guesstimates for the session, 94 brought less than I thought they might bring; 65 brought less and seven brought the exact price I thought they might bring. I was very close on more than in any other session, but what hurt my guesses was that each one ended in a five or a zero. Anything that didn’t end in those numbers was automatically off.

For the entire sale, 369 pacers brought $17,144,000, and average of $46,461; 447 trotters brought $24,408,000, an average of $54,604.

For the entire sale, 816 yearlings sold for $1,552,000, an average of $50,922; the second highest in the sales history — not too bad at all considering all the world’s problems in 2020.

Best of luck to everybody who went away with a horse.

Now on to Timonium, which I expect that I will also be reporting from the sidelines.