“Tough going in the middle . . . it’s either chicken or feathers . . . all soup and no crackers . . . the horses at the top always sell, it’s the ones in the middle that are a struggle . . . the middle market is important to people . . . the middle needs to be better . . . I don’t know what we’re going to do about the middle . . .”
I’m still trying to parse the soup/crackers one, but the comments after a Fasig-Tipton Midlantic yearling sale typically center on the struggle breeders, owners and consignors face with middle-market horses. You know the ones – they don’t get the headlines or make auction-watchers stop and, well, watch – but they power a regional sale like the one at Timonium, Md., each autumn. The point was always that demand exists for the absolute best yearlings and buyers will pay for them. But the counterweight to that is a relative lack of buyers for horses in the middle price ranges – perfectly fine, mind you, but nobody’s sales-ring superstar – near the sale’s average or median.
Well, that may be changing. Finally.
The 2021 sale in October realized big jumps in the average ($29,578) and median ($20,000), and showcased a far lower buy-back rate (16 percent) than usual. Those are the facts. Anecdotally, the sale seemed to have far more $25-30,000 price tags than usual, more bidding on those horses and more buyers saying how much work it was to get the horses they wanted.
Things like that help everybody. Yes, even the buyers in the long run as breeders get rewarded for producing good horses and aim to improve on this year’s success next year and beyond. “It seemed like the sale had more depth to it,” said consignor Bill Reightler, who sold 35 yearlings for $606,500. “In the past it’s been the select top end of the market and then everything else. It was very competitive through the middle, which is good. It’s still a selective market. There are very few neophytes buying horses, and the people looking are very good judges and they know what they want. But that benefits horses at all levels.”
As for a reason for the 2021 shift, Reightler and others pointed to several factors impacting the Thoroughbred market. The foal crop is smaller than its been in decades. Purses are higher than ever. The coronavirus pandemic, while not over, appears to be waning. State-bred incentives to owners, breeders and developers are plentiful. People in the business already – pinhookers and trainers – need horses every year to stay in the business. Owners and potential owners have options and, apparently, money to spend.
All that matters. And all that impacts sale prices.
“I always thought there was going to be some year where the supply and demand factor would kick in,” Reightler said. “If there are less horses and the same amount of buyers, you’d think the horses would get more expensive. It hasn’t happened, entirely, yet, but you saw some of that this year. I think you’ll see it start to come along even more.”
Like Reightler, consignor Marshall Silverman saw an improved climate for his clients. “The middle market was definitely better this year, we had Covid last year but this year was still better than it has been for a while,” said Silverman, who sold 55 yearlings for $1.17 million to lead all consignors by gross. “I heard from plenty of people who didn’t get horses and I’m sure it’ll carry on to the other yearling sales this year and hopefully it’ll make the weanling market better too later this year.”
And that’s the real impact of a healthier middle, an expanding marketplace that rewards buyers and sellers over time. A sale is only as good as the horses in it, and rising prices (in the middle, not necessarily at the top) encourage breeders to add a broodmare or upgrade a stallion choice.
The industry still feels top-heavy, could still use more breeders and mare owners. The region still needs a breakthrough stallion or six. But, the sales returns hint at better times for breeders. Fasig-Tipton and the Maryland State Fair are doing their part as the sales facility continues to be improved. It was easy to see barn upgrades, new fencing and other steps this year. Timonium’s spring 2-year-old sale found its niche a few years ago and continues to flex its way into a can’t-miss stop for buyers. The yearling sale, which saw a $2.1 million increase in gross from 2020 to 2021, on just two more horses sold, might not be too far behind.
“Everybody in the game is reading and studying, even the Kentucky guys,” said Reightler. “They’ll look and say, ‘They had a pretty darn good Maryland sale there. Maybe I’ll take some horses to Maryland.’ It all comes down to the horses and the quality of horses. Buyers feel they get good value coming here, and it’s always refreshing when breeders are rewarded. This was the best middle market for a yearling sale here that I can remember in a while.”
Long may it continue.