Truthfully, my trip to Australia to cover the Easter sales and Sydney’s Championships of late has kept me very busy. In fact, so much so, that I largely lost track of what was happening back in the U.S. last couple of weeks. So, when I finally had time to catch up with what I had missed, I encountered a flurry of commentary regarding the American juvenile sales. The timing of racing’s latest hot topic was of even greater significance because of my presence in a parallel market situated on the opposite end of the world.
Quite coincidentally, I found myself exchanging ideas with some of the locals players about the 2-year-old in training sales. Prior to last week’s Inglis Easter sale, I had the most enlightening conversation with small, but well-regarded pinhooker from New Zealand. Ironically, this conversation occurred prior to Florida horseman Ciaran Dunne’s call to stop using gallop out times during pre-sale breeze shows. For those of you who might not be familiar, New Zealand’s Breeze Up sale in Karaka is largely considered one of the premier juvenile sales venues (if not the leader) in Australasia. During the course of our chat, my New Zealand friend and I had the opportunity to discuss several differences in our respective markets, including the importance of fast final breeze times and gallop outs. He explained that the final time in which a horse completed a pre-sale breeze was not of paramount importance, but more the way it was done. Yes, in principal, that was quite right. He explained that in New Zealand, ‘anything between 10 and 11 seconds, followed by a good gallop out,’ was generally considered respectable. “11 seconds?” Really?? Found myself thinking the reality is a horse working in :11 probably wouldn’t even make it into the sale’s ring because they would in all likelihood be withdrawn. Underscoring the point, I met yet another New Zealand breeder/consignor later in my trip and he reaffirmed what the first had said. He explained most horses breeze anywhere between 10.5 and 11.5. seconds. I laughed. I thought to myself, there is little chance in hell an American juvenile will sell after going an eighth in 11.5 seconds (equipment malfunction? Rogue bird attack?? Stopped for coffee??).
Among topics of discussion with the New Zealanders were the days when it was a significant feat for a juvenile to break the 10-second barrier for an eighth (by the way, still not all that common in New Zealand). However, given the lightening-fast track surfaces in addition to pushing horses for all-out efforts in recent times, that seems to have almost become the norm on this side of the pond. The Kiwis explained that nobody really expects for a horse to go that fast, that early (Really? We don’t?). They also pointed out, since a significant portion of the New Zealand juvenile market caters to buyers from Asia, an exacting jurisdiction in its importation policies and laws (in regards to soundness, breathing, etc), it didn’t really serve sellers to push them so fast or so early. The argument was it just doesn’t make economic sense to squeeze the lemon dry (the resounding logic was hurting my brain) and even a minor issue--that could possibly be otherwise overlooked in other markets (even though that’s not really the case, anywhere, anymore)–would be weeded out by many governing regulatory agencies (as is the case in Singapore, which has very strict importation laws on foreign stock).
Both conversations underscored several points: chief among them, the North American market’s obsession with speed, and how it is utilized at a very young age, before a horse has had the chance to mature. It is pretty clear that even the unschooled eye has the ability to access the simplest universal barometer to scout potential talent–the stopwatch. The only problem, it would seem, is the price many pay to strut their best stuff in front of potential buyers so early in their lives.
Having said that, I by no means think the Australasian system is superior to what we have in the U.S. In fact, I really do think we have some of the most talented, savvy and astute Thoroughbred professionals in the world, and our way of doing many things is still considered the standard among many of world’s leading racing jurisdictions. American juvenile sales have produced a significant number of high-class performers, including Grade I winner and 2013 juvenile Eclipse Award finalist Havana (Dunkirk).
What I am saying is that change can be a very positive thing, and just as we continue to lead others by example, we should also have the ability to look at other markets and see what we could adopt in an effort to continually improve our domestic system. After all, there is our way, their way and as the Buddhists would say, the middle way. And given recent events in our industry, it seems a very good time to start exploring a few different avenues.