Monday, April 28, 2014


--Christina Bossinakis  
    As some of you may have already noticed, I spent the first couple of weeks in April in Australia to cover the Inglis Easter Yearling sale and the inaugural running of The Championships in Sydney. Oh yeah, I also spent a few days in between enjoying the country. (For those of you who have not had the chance to visit Australia yet, I highly recommend it.) While I will dedicate another blog in its entirety to The Championships, I wanted to take a moment to outline my latest experiences at the Australian sales.

    Naturally, following some unfavorable press encountered by the American 2-year-old market early this month, the issue of the sturdiness of our stock became a regular topic of discussion between myself and several international players during my time in Oz. Is North American stock even bred to withstand the rigors of training and racing anymore? I pondered this question from a very basic level. Over the course of the last few years, I had the privilege of looking at yearlings with arguably one of the best American bloodstock agents in our game, Buzz Chace. He taught me about many aspects in assessing the finer points of young horses. On countless occasions, he would point out an individual with ‘good bone’, and while I thought I understood what that meant, I recently began to doubt my ability to identify it. More often than not of late (truthfully, it was far more a question of not), it seemed that most horses lacked significant bone, both at the sales and racetrack. That is, until I had a look at the yearlings in Australia. It’s like they’re a different breed down there. The reality is, American horses are vastly more athletic and racier, and they are certainly more refined than the type of athlete I saw Down Under. Interestingly enough, a couple of well-respected American interests marked their debuts at this year’s Inglis Easter Yearling sale –B. Wayne Hughes (accompanied by Spendthrift General Manager Ned Toffey) and John Moynihan (advisor to Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet)–and both camps commented on the local yearlings differing physical structure to our native Thoroughbreds. The consensus was the Australian yearlings looked a lot more consistent (not as much variation between individuals), very significant bone (they look like cannons as compared to what we’re used to seeing) and lower to the ground than American yearlings. If one was tempted to think that the Australian contingent might not be as fast or early as their American counterparts, think again. After all, many of the biggest and most lucrative races in Australia remain the juvenile races (think G1 Golden Slipper and Magic Millions series in January).

    I also had the chance to speak to a few Australasian-based 2-year-old consignors (Australia and New Zealand) and everyone was pretty much in agreement that the goal is to develop fast and early horses to take advantage of 2-year-old racing program in those countries (their horses really do look like tanks). However, the juvenile sales are considered merely a stage in the progression to the racetrack; a source of unfinished gems that need to be polished. I was told time and time again, breeze times are just not that important–certainly not as it seems to be in the U.S.--in many sales overseas.

    One thing I will add to the topic of American versus Australasian stock: In recent years, a handful of astute agents have purchased American mares in the U.S. and bred them to Australian stallions and they have enjoyed significant success both in the sales ring and on the racetrack. International bloodstock advisor James Bester is one of those agents that comes quickly to mind, having previously secured a handful of U.S. stakes-winning mares on behalf of Kia-Ora Stud. One of the most notable products of that plan is Group 2 winner and Group 1-placed Zululand (Aus) (Fastnet Rock {Aus}), who is out of Dream Play (Hennessy). Victorious of the GII Comely S., Dream Play was purchased for $460,000 at the Fasig-Tipton November sale in 2009. Zululand also proved to be a home run in the sales ring, bringing A$1.5 million at Inglis Easter in 2013. Another Australian operation to profit from the purchase of American stock is Ron Gilbert of Highgrove Stud. In 2010, Ron purchased Tears I Cry (Chester House)–in foal to Curlin--for $735,000. One year later, he sold the resulting filly for $700,000 at Keeneland September. At the Easter sale this month, he sold the yearling a half-sister by Redoute’s Choice (Aus) A$400,000. Highgrove has sold over $1-million in offspring and still owns the factory. Savvy buy.

    Looking at the flip side, it would also seem that the American connections that recently ventured down to Oz to secure a few horses--who will most likely be bred back to U.S. stock--might prove equally profitable. Having seen the stock down in Australia and the success the Australians have already enjoyed, I am inclined to believe that the reverse will be an equally complimentary match. American athleticism and Australian sturdiness looks like it should be a match made in heaven. And something else to keep in mind, while the Australian stallion roster might be have been average at best 10 years ago, now offers several top class international caliber stallions including Fastnet Rock, Redoute's Choice, in addition to up-and-coming sires Snitzel and Sebring. Only time will tell, but I certainly applaud our American peeps' courage to give it a shot. My guess is we will probably see a few more Americans make the trip down to the Australian sales before long.

Bloodstock Advisor to The Queen, John Warren, yearling shopping at Inglis Easter
CBoss Photo
Buyer Beware: Literally...
   Something that I am quickly reminded of every time I step on the sales’ grounds of any Australian sale is early handling or schooling of young horses down there (read as ‘lack thereof’). I found them to be infinitely more ‘high spirited’ than their American counterparts (a well-reputed international agent that will remain unnamed most appropriately referred to the yearlings there as ‘feral’). Admittedly, Australian-raised yearlings do not receive nearly as much pre-sale ‘management’ as do American youngsters. I was told that, in many cases, youngsters might not receive any significant handling until right before the sale. And it shows. Australians feel it’s more natural for a developing young horse to be handled sparingly, but it never ceases to amaze me how quickly one erupting yearling will ignite a chain reaction that you just don't want to be anywhere near. In fact, a few years back, I encountered a serious run in with a volatile yearling, who almost lopped my head off. Luckily, I was in the presence of a most gracious not to mention chivalrous trainer, Paul Messara, who swept to my rescue (yes, he quite literally ‘swept’ me off my feet in assistance..and believe it or not, people still ask me about it). My thought on the subject is somewhere between the system in place in the U.S. and Australia may reside the sweet spot. The issue of sales prep in Australia could really command a whole commentary of its own, but I will leave you with this one thought, if you ever make it to Australia and make your way to a Thoroughbred sale, beware. You never know when one of those young creatures will hear the sinister whispers in their heads.

Clear as Day...
   Coming from someone who has attended her fair share of horse sales all over the world, several things jumped out at me during my latest stint in Oz, including the issue of transparency. Prior to any Australian sale, the covering press is provided with the short list of the most likely top lots for each of the sessions. The goal of the Australian sales companies (Inglis and Magic Millions both provide the same courtesy) is to familiarize journalists with the ‘talking horses’, which presumably, would facilitate and expedite the media process. Makes sense, right? It is fair to assume that, if sales officials are aware of who the top offerings would be prior to any given sale, that potential buyers--after having the opportunity to view the stock--would be as well. In the U.S., sales officials would be hard pressed to shout out one particular individual or one consignment over another (trust me, I’ve asked), in fear of slighting other breeders or consignors. As I’m sure any other member of the working media that has ever covered a Thoroughbred sale can attest, all the positive press in the world will not sell a substandard individual. So, at the end of the day, does it really make a difference if we were given a loose outline of who the top offerings might be prior to the sale? I will add, that even though the Australian sales company offers the courtesy of a short list, there will inevitably be a handful of lots that jump up and catch the eye of several buyers, thus creating some unexpected fireworks. Having said that, both the press and the buyers that I spoke to seem to appreciate the openness of the system.

    Speaking of transparency, I’ve always been a big fan of the entire bidding process Australia. As is also the case in Europe (at least the sales I’ve attended), the auctioneer identifies the buyer, if there is one, immediately after a horse is sold. And if the horse has been ‘passed in’ or RNAs, it is immediately listed as such (in Oz, the board actually lists the horse as ‘PI’ seconds after it is led out). It is not unusual for several buyers to already be back at the barn mere moments after a horse has passed through the ring unsold and looking to strike a deal. At American sales, it is hard to know who has purchased a particular horse, or whether it has sold at all, at least until the ticket comes out. And even then, one has to often wait for the hard copy of the ticket to have full clarification. With years of practice, one learns how to be ahead of the curve, but for many, the process currently in place just slows things down. I was involved in a recent conversation on the matter with Spendthrift’s B. Wayne Hughes and he seemed very receptive and appreciative of the open concept. And why wouldn’t he be? The bottom line is transparency lends to expediency, and even more importantly, buyer confidence.

Fit for a King...
   One final point I’d like to make about the sales in Australia. The concept of the marquee (a receiving area generally offering food, refreshments) is one that I am very fond of. In fact, I was properly introduced to it down there and I thoroughly love it. It was recently explained to me that the marquee was borne largely through necessity, since the Australian sales pavilions are generally not equipped with functional dining rooms and cafeterias as are their American counterparts. True, though I must admit the marquees in Oz are something I always look forward to. All of the major consignments have one and I recently found out that each of them of their specialties. If you want a rocking, (home-grown) steak, you go to the Turangga marquee (not to mention you will entertained by Stuart Ramsey’s sharp wit); if you want to hang with the big hitters in style, then pass by Coolmore; if you have a hankering for cold beer and prawns the size of your hand, the Highgrove marquee is where you need to be; and last but not least, if you’re in the mood for the five-star marquee experience, then you must make a stop at Arrowfield (I promise, you will forget you are at a sale and think you are in a proper restaurant). In fact, I’d like to give Arrowfield a special thanks for letting me set up shop and offering me the space to produce much of my Inglis Easter coverage. Not to mention they kept me well fed, hydrated and caffeinated. I am most appreciative. Next time I hope to get around to a few of the other marquees I didn’t have the time to stop at this time, and if any of you ever happen to make it down for the sales, I urge you to take the time and stop by a few. Not only is the hospitality warm, they are all quite unique in their own way and they offer yet another thing that makes Australia special.

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