Spears: Timonium the right location to hold safe SHSC sale

Standardbred Horse Sales Company’s mega-auction — normally held in Harrisburg, PA — kicks off today at noon at the Maryland State Fairgrounds.

by Dave Briggs

How will the Harrisburg sale be different in the COVID-19 era? First off, it’s not in Harrisburg, or even in Pennsylvania, for that matter. In fact, Standardbred Horse Sales Company’s (SHSC) mega-auction, long colloquially referred to as “The Harrisburg Sale,” will be held at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, MD for the first time in its 82-year history. The first of three yearling sessions kicks off today (Nov 3) at noon. The two-day mixed sale starts Friday.

The move was necessitated by the pandemic when the all-indoor, long-time home of the sale, the Pennsylvania State Farm Show Complex, opted to remain closed to the auction. Sale president and CEO Dr. Pete Spears said the move to the Maryland State Fairgrounds has proven to be the right location given the need for social distancing.

“I think a very important part of our COVID-19 protection plan is the fact that our attendees can spend almost their entire sale experience outside, if they choose to do so,” Spears said. “We have shed row stalls in the existing barns and have a number of tents for the rest. Everything is very well ventilated and all of that can be considered an outdoor activity and, therefore, minimizing the risk of COVID-19 exposure.

“We do have a capacity-restricted sales pavilion, but we also have a large tent immediately adjacent to the sales pavilion where people can sit and bid with bid spotters if they don’t want to go inside.

“We also have a side door to the cashier’s office, such that we can take care of settlements right there at the door with the attendee standing outside.

“So I think with our attention to social distancing and mandatory masking and the opportunity to remain in an outside environment, I think we’re doing everything possible to make the sale as safe as we can for everyone.”

Spears said the guidelines were established by the Maryland Department of Health and will be enforced by the fairgrounds’ security team.

On the horse front, Spears said he believes the sale will follow the mostly positive trends of other major sales held in 2020. The one downside at SHSC is the yearling sale is down about 30 horses from its original pre-pandemic lineup.

“We lost 30 yearlings in the very few days that passed by between when we announced we weren’t going to Harrisburg and when we came down here to Timonium, and 16 of those 30 were first-day horses,” Spears said. “I haven’t really looked at all of those horses, most of which went to Lexington, but I know that nine of them averaged $175,000 in Lexington. So those would’ve been transactions that likely would’ve enhanced our first-day results and we’re not going to have them.

“But we have plenty of good horses. Hanover has all of theirs and I’m sure Dr. J (Dr. Bridgette Jablonsky) has told you what a nice bunch of trotting fillies and other stars that they have. But, you don’t lose 10 per cent of your first-day horses, and a large number of them would’ve been high-end horses, and not have it show up in your revenue figures.”

Despite all the challenges COVID-19 has posed, Spears said the new venue, “in general, will be fun. There’s a lot of new things to see. To the extent that dining is possible, there’s new restaurants to try. There are a lot of nice hotels here and I think it will be kind of a refreshing break from Harrisburg, frankly.”

And the good news for a sale that will have a huge outdoor component is the weather report for this week is favorable.

“I hear that the weather is supposed to become very mild during the week, so that’s good news,” Spears said.