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There’s clearly nothing wrong with the way that Hip 55 sold at Monday’s Keeneland April sale of juveniles in training. By Malibu Moon out of Tap Your Heels, and therefore a half-brother to leading sire Tapit, Hip 55 brought $1 million from Gainesway, Mt. Brilliant Farm, and Robert LaPenta, and the beautifully balanced, quick, and grandly pedigreed chestnut colt is a shining example of what can go right at the sales.

Overall, however, the select sales of 2-year-olds have been a bloodbath for sellers this season, and Becky Thomas, who has Sequel Bloodstock, noted that “this is obviously not the same market as last year.”

As seen at Fasig-Tipton’s Florida sale last month, a handful of major buyers can be relied upon to purchase elite juveniles for large sums, and Thomas said that there is “strength at the top of the market but nothing underneath. Even yearlings bought for a lot of money can’t be expected to bring good prices.”

Simply buying a really nice yearling apparently won’t make that horse a super-select 2-year-old sales horse unless “you work fast, vet good, look right, have sire power, and all the stars align,” according to consignor Eddie Woods.

The selected juvenile sales are the first auctions held by Barretts, Fasig-Tipton, Ocala Breeders’ Sales, and Keeneland, and yet “selected” doesn’t appear to be good enough for buyers in the current flux of the market.

“Partly, it’s because some of them haven’t progressed as much as we’d have hoped when we nominated them for these sales,” Woods concluded.  ”But there’s a lot of money for them if you have what the buyers want. They’ll pay a lot for them, but there’s not a lot of depth in that pool, and you have to have everything.”

If the consignors did not bring horses who had everything that the top of the market wanted, there was not a lot of support underneath.

Thomas said, “There’s a shortage of buyers, especially in the middle market. Trainers who’ve bought from me for years tell me that they don’t have as many buyers with money. There was no more middle market at OBS, but there was a broader base of buyers because of the greater catalog.”

The OBS March catalog was about the size of all three other select sales combined but posted the strongest stats of the four opening sales of the season.

The stats for the Keeneland April sale were tough to take. Of 125 2-year-olds cataloged, 65 breezed, and 38 sold. Not surprisingly, the gross was down to $8.7 million, but the high prices pulled up the average to $230,763 and the median to $200,000.

Consignor Kip Elser said that the sale was “solid, not spectacular, but I’ll have sold everything I brought here. It’s a very demanding market at every level. You just have to keep after it.”

Among the other constructive comments from consignors was the observation from Thomas that “we’ve got to get track management to slow the tracks down. As a consignor, you can’t take a horse for a client that he paid $100,000 for and not run him fast. You can’t tell the jock, ‘Go slow!’ The fastest horse is the fastest horse, and buyers pay for that.

“But it doesn’t matter if the track puts the fastest horse at :10 3/5 or even slower. I think I speak for every consignor that we’d like to do away with the clock at the breeze shows and go to an open gallop for everything. That would be better for the horses, as well as the buyers and sellers.”

Those comments come after the fastest breeze show in history. Keeneland’s track was extraordinarily quick for last week’s breeze show on Thursday, and Elser described the situation: “Weather conditions: really cold weather that produced frost deep in the track surface, a hard rain, and a strong tailwind produced this year’s times. They’re not a reflection on anything else.”

Then Elser added his perspective on the responsibility of all parties to provide the best conditions for these young athletes. He said, “With all the added scrutiny, we need a surface that is kind to the individual, and this surface has been kind, and I’m sure that Keeneland is working very hard to make sure that next year’s surface will be just as kind. The surface doesn’t have to be as fast.”

Keeneland will have a new track surface and drainage system for the fall meeting this year, and that will be the surface that any future juvenile sale horses will work over.

*This story was first published at Paulick Report on Tuesday, Apr. 8. In the five days since, several comments relating to this topic have been published in other outlets, although principally at PR and at Thoroughbred Daily News.

In Saturday’s TDN, 2yo sale consignor Ciaran Dunne of Wavertree Stables penned the following open letter:

Wavertree Stables Inc., has been part of the U.S. 2-year-old sales market for the past 20 years. It is safe to say that juveniles and the juvenile market have been very good to us.

We were there when an 11-second workout garnered high fives on the back side and we were present last week when we saw a 2-year-old colt breeze in :9 2/5 seconds. This can be seen as a progression in the quality of stock, training, riders and track conditions that have occurred as the 2-year-old market has grown; it is also something, we have been a willing part of–for better or worse.

However, another facet of our industry has mutated to Frankenstein-like proportions and is something to which we will no longer be party. The days of how far our horses breeze being dictated by the gaggle of stop watches in the grandstand are over. Our breezes shall finish at the wire.

Starting at the OBS Spring Sale, our riders will be instructed to drop their hands and rise up in the saddle and allow our horses to gallop out in a natural fashion upon finishing their workouts.   It is in no one’s best interests, least of all our horses, to keep pushing these boundaries. How far is more dangerous than how fast in our opinion.  I have listened to and seen much written on this topic of late and would encourage all prospective buyers to leave their stop watches at home if they are serious about slowing these things down.

Then in the TDN for Sunday, the letters to the editor picked up on Dunne’s declaration, with such as the following matching the consignor:

TERRY FINLEY, WEST POINT THOROUGHBREDS:   This letter is in response to Ciaran Dunne’s declaration that his 2-year-olds in training will not be urged in any way after the wire in their breezes.

In a show of approval, West Point Thoroughbreds commits to the following for the upcoming training sales:

We will no longer use ANY gallop out times in our selection process (pushing these 2-year-olds to, in essence, breeze a half mile is just plain wrong). We will not use a stopwatch in any form and ask other buyers to do the same.

We ask all consignors at the upcoming sale to not urge their horses after the wire.

We will take a very negative view of consignors who have their breeze riders use any physical or verbal means to cause horses to maintain or increase their speed after the wire.

We’ve talked to a large number of 2-year-old buyers and sellers. Every single person felt this was the right thing to do for the horses involved.

Simple, straightforward changes that will allow all of us to take better care of horses.

To commit to this movement email a note to the following email address: nogallopouts@gmail.com