There’s a growing disconnect between the supposed requirements of the racing fixture list and the reality of the sales ring.
The BHA’s desire to see an extra 1,000 horses in training is doubtless one shared by trainers and breeders but there’s one vital element missing from the equation and it’s not horses, it’s owners.
A cursory glance at the headlines from Britain’s flagship yearling sale last month at Tattersalls could lead one to believe that all is rosy in the bloodstock world. Record turnover – this year more than 131 million gns – from the combined Books 1, 2 and 3 for the fourth consecutive year and buyers from all over the world for the elite three days of Book 1 are both positive factors, but anyone who stuck it out to the end of Book 3, after 219 more yearlings than last year had passed through the ring within a fortnight, will bear testament to just how tough life remains for those operating at the less rarefied end of the breeding and sales spectrum.
A median price of just 9,000gns for the 483 Book 3 yearlings sold – 79% of those offered – paints a stark picture. Many breeders selling homebreds will have barely covered their production costs and probably will have lost money, while plenty of pinhookers will also have had their fingers burned.
Those owning the 21% of yearlings who failed to find a buyer at Book 3 are now faced with the decision of whether to race the horses themselves, form syndicates or to test the market again at next year’s breeze-ups.
If there was one word overheard more frequently than any other during the last few days of the October Sale, it was ‘overproduction’
If there was one word overheard more frequently than any other during the last few days of the October Sale, it was ‘overproduction’. It’s one we thankfully haven’t heard much in recent times since breeders reacted with good sense to the heady years prior to the global financial crisis. The market correction was sharp and foal crops retracted accordingly, with the most dramatic reduction occurring in Ireland.
Thoroughbred numbers are creeping back up, however. At the time of writing, the latest figures for the 2015 foal crops in Britain and Ireland were still being ratified by Weatherbys but early indications are that they will reflect a steady rise in both countries.
We’re still nowhere near the high point of 2007 but overproduction is governed by supply and demand. The supply is increasing steadily while the demand for horses in training within the domestic market is in decline. Hardly a month has gone by this year without another trainer handing in a licence, citing dwindling numbers of horses and patrons as the reason, and judging by the mood among some at Tattersalls, it won’t be long before small breeders start to follow suit.
A cyclical rise and fall in the horse population is hardly a new phenomenon but the current fear is that we’ve already been gathered up in the rising tide of a few recent positive years of sales results and, with catalogue sizes creeping up in all sectors, the cracks in the market start to appear.
The next two months will be interesting. Last year’s foal sales were buoyed by particularly bullish pinhookers. While there have been some notable coups landed at this season’s yearling sales, these are counterbalanced by plenty of tales of woe. Though a bold and hardy breed by nature, pinhookers may well exercise more caution at the forthcoming foal sales.
Both Tattersalls and Goffs have announced extra sessions for their foal sales this year. Goffs has increased its November Foal Sale to five days, with 214 more weanlings catalogued than in 2014, while Tattersalls will start its December Foal Sale on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 24 – losing its traditional blank day between the yearlings and foals – and has an extra 159 to go through the ring, meaning a total of 375 more foals being put up for sale in Britain and Ireland than this time last year.
It will be hard to sustain last year’s good trade and breeders will doubtless study the results carefully before deciding on mating plans for 2016. Not even the clamour for offspring of first-season sires will help a mare with little page unless she can be relied upon to produce a cracking physical specimen.