Despite economic woes, the horse racing economy still offers plenty of reasons for people to be bullish.
by Dave Briggs
Last year, buyers were so thrilled the Standardbred Horse Sales Company sale returned to its traditional home at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex (PFSC) that they drove the yearling sale to new records for average ($54,653) and median ($32,000), and a near-record $42,465,500 in gross sales.
The year prior, the SHSC had to find a temporary home in Timonium, MD due to the PFSC being closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think being away for a year made people appreciate Harrisburg. I think people were focusing on the negatives at Harrisburg and then it took a year to not be there for people to realize that there’s a lot of positives there,” said Hanover Shoe Farms’ executive vice-president Dr. Bridgette Jablonsky. “It’s under a roof so it’s not weather dependant. It’s a very, very easy place to see horses. You can get from one consignment to another in a couple of steps, so for that amount of yearlings it’s fairly easy to see a large amount of horses in a short amount of time. You don’t spend a lot of time walking.
“Harrisburg has a really strong catalogue for pacers and it really has something for everybody. Also, the area, there’s very good restaurants in Harrisburg and it’s a nice city. I think, like in most things in life, you take things for granted and then when you risk losing them you realize that there are much more pluses than you realized.
Preferred’s David Reid said, “There’s no doubt that when they were forced to move to Timonium due to the COVID situation, I think people found the indoor to be more accommodating in November than they did the outdoors at Timonium.”
This year’s sale — the 84th edition — begins Monday (Nov. 7) and runs through Friday (Nov. 11). The first three days are devoted to selling yearlings. The last two days are reserved for the mixed sale.
But let’s focus on just the yearlings for now.
With 777 yearlings sold, 2021’s sale just missed the all-time-record gross of $42,784,000 in 2007 when almost 300 more yearlings were sold. Nonetheless, 2021’s yearling sale became the third in SHSC history to break $40 million with a gross of $42,465,500 (up 5 per cent from 2019’s record cumulative gross of $40,736,000).
“The overall sale was just wonderful,” SHSC president and director of operations Dale Welk a year ago after the yearling portion concluded. “It’s amazing and I can’t thank the buyers, bidders and consignors and everyone enough. It was just an amazing sale – we’re over $40 million.”
This year’s SHSC catalog is as strong as ever.
“There should be no excuse for someone not wanting to come,” Reid said. “They have online bidding and they have everything available to the customers and I’m expecting them to have a good week here.”
Despite global economic concerns, Blue Chip Farm owner Tom Grossman said, “the market is normally ahead of consensus and has built in a lot of the negatives already. As we speak, the Fed is meeting so I can look stupid for saying all this stuff, but I would say that pretty much the worst case is built in.”
Reid said, “I don’t think the current political or economic situation with the currency is going to help (the SHSC sale). But people are resilient and hopefully that won’t impact too many of the buyers.”
Spring Haven’s Senena Esty said the SHSC sale provides, “a captive audience. That’s the only game in town. Hopefully, people will stop and see us.”
Hanover’s Dr. Jablonsky is bullish on the industry.
“Regardless of what’s going on with the economy in general, which isn’t good, I think right now there’s so much money to be raced for and there’s so many places to race, there’s so many good stallions that give you a chance to have a top horse that I think in our little bubble… in our little capsule, there’s a lot of positivity,” she said.
All American’s Rob Tribbett said he thinks the sale will be strong.
“It’s a great place to see everyone. Dale Welk does a great job moving that event along and we’re so appreciative for the job they do over there,” Tribbett said.
“We just had our last (major) thoroughbred sale of the year that was 1,600 horses over four days and it was okay. I think the biggest difference between the two breeds is in the standardbred business you have the opportunity for racing on all levels that is very strong. The supply of horses, the demand for horses is larger. That sale kind of got a little flat with the last 1,600 horses to be sold.
“At Harrisburg, as opposed to being the last group of horses to be sold, this is your last chance to get a yearling. As we talked about in Lexington, yearlings are where racehorses come from. A lot of people do understand that in our business it’s very difficult to buy a racehorse, but you can definitely go to Harrisburg and buy a yearling.
“The one thing about Harrisburg is that it’s kind of a one-stop shop over three days. A lot of horses are going to get sold and if you’re someone that’s willing to put the work in, there’s definitely value because there are so many horses there selling in such a short period of time.”
Reid said, “If the market follows Lexington, I really see all categories holding up very well in my personal opinion.”
The 2022 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale set 16 records, including new standards for gross ($65,289,000), average ($73,690), median ($46,500) and number of yearlings sold for $100,000 or more (196). The gross exceeded the previous record ($56,692,500 in 2021) by more than $8.5 million.
Looking back at last year’s SHSC yearling auction, the leading owner by both gross purchases ($1,695,000) and average ($282,500) was Determination from Montreal which took home six yearlings.
The leading consignor by gross was Hanover Shoe Farms with total sales of $13,156,000 for 199 sold. Concord Stud led the consignors by average with $109,932 for 59 sold.
The leading sire by gross was Captaintreacherous with $4,430,000 in total sales for 39 sold. Walner led the sires in average with $172,737 for 19 sold.
Reid said it is a great time in standardbred breeding due to the depth of the sires.
“Going back to the Lexington sale, during the summer I kept saying, right from the time we started looking in the spring time until we finalized our list for the sale, I said it was one of the deepest catalogues we ever put together and that’s because of the stallions.
“It’s definitely the deepest sire representation, both pacers and trotters, that I have seen in a long time.”