For the last three weeks a select group of yearling sale participants have been travelling across Europe; from Ireland to England, to Chantilly and back, there have been thoroughbred sales aplenty. The European bloodstock stage is renowned for sourcing superstars, and attracts buyers from across the globe. So what is it like at the sales? What happens, how does ‘it’ work and why do buyers pay more money for a yearling than the majority of people will ever put down for a house?
First of all, the thoroughbreds are there to be sold. An important phrase and motto of the auctioneering house as well as the vendors, frequently repeated across the sale complex. However, those couple of nerve-wrecking minutes in the ring are only a small aspect of the sale traject, with preparation starting from birth.
The majority of yearlings will find themselves on a first ever trip to the sales, although some might have been purchased as a foal. There will be showings, new surroundings and plenty of people invading their space. Daunting? Certainly. Plenty of action can be encountered when simply strolling around the complex, with yearlings stamping and snorting, showing their bellies and strength.
On the other side of the spectrum one finds the bloodstock agents, trainers and owners, flocking from sale to sale, trying to unearth the next champion. How does one select an individual, still in the early phase of his/her development, that will have the potential to be a global sensation?
A trained eye, knowledge of bloodlines, as well as familiarity with the studs and vendors goes a long way. They need a bit of luck too. Everyone does, but this industry thrives upon it. It’s a silent building block, a foundation that ties everything together. That one moment, when years of preparation and horsemanship join the natural ability and willingness of thoroughbreds, resulting in a beautiful yearling blossoming into a quality racing athlete.
Apart from the fickleness that seems to define this fast-paced industry, there is one sole incentive fueling this continuous cycle of breeding, sales, racing, and retirement: hope. The unyielding belief that maybe one day as superstar will cross your path.
And that slightest bit of faith, the excitement that stems from pursuing a big gamble, is what you sense around the sales. It is in the eyes of the vendors, the owners and buyers, but also in the stud- and auctioneering house staff.
You can sense it in the air: when the ring goes quiet and one doesn’t even dare to cough. The faint sound of a ticking clock is all you hear when a fresh 7-figure bid has been made, followed up by a stellar counter from the other party.
However, these adrenaline fuelled moments are rare occurrences, outnumbered by the long hours put in by all involved prior to the commencement of the sale. Long days of showing horses, eating on-the-go and sore feet from navigating around the complex, combined with weeks away from home, all by choice, of course. Agents looking at yearling after yearling, sometimes up to 200 a day. By the end of the week you might be needing glasses from squinting and concentrating on disseminating and assessing every individual put in front of you.
It is safe to say the industry isn’t for everyone, and perhaps the hard work doesn’t always outweigh the highlights; but the people that have made horse racing their love and life, they wouldn’t trade it for the world.
And the story continues…