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The greatest challenge at the sales, whether for yearlings or 2-year-olds, is finding the splendid young athlete who “ticks all the boxes.”

As one who has assisted and advised those looking for premium stock, I would attest that the search is nearly impossible. Almost every horse has something going on (internally or externally) that is less than ideal.

And in the current market of sales horses, that is enough to kick the animal off the list for buyer after buyer.

As a result, buyers looking for “the best” regularly all end up on the same few horses. The ensuing financial armageddon is a happy result for that lucky seller, but the rest of the breeders go starving.

And the sad thing is that the discernment of excellence is mostly misplaced.

No. I’m not joking. I’ve been there, and unless we advisers can assure the buyer that the yearling “passes the vet,” has a proportional heart for his function, possesses faultless conformation, is large for his age, is good-looking beyond average, and is a near-cinch to race well at two turns, most want to move on to the next option.

Well, I for one, would much prefer they did not. For the very simple reason that the perfect horse can’t run.

OK, the secret’s out. Perfect horses — those on the day who are faultless — do not make super-successful racehorses in a corresponding degree to their cost. Some can hardly get out of their own way when the gauntlet is thrown down and they are expected to win the best races.

One reason might be that they have never faced a challenge before. They never had to toughen up mentally because they couldn’t keep up with their fellows in the pasture unless they just put their head down and kept trying.

Instead, for the perfect horses, everything came easy. They were perfect. Yet when the time came for them to bear down and win the race, they punked out.

And one of those “imperfect” and rather inexpensive yearlings put his owner in the winner’s circle.

In short, the sum of things that make a top horse are much more than lines on a vet report, more than being the prettiest colt on the grounds in September, more than standing tall as the biggest 2-year-old who can bust a furlong in :10. The things we can’t see — heart, mental toughness, and desire to win — put you in the winner’s circle.