The list of Group-winning graduates from European breeze-up sales in the past five years is looking ever more impressive. From champion and Group 1-winning two-year-olds to Classic-winning milers all the way up to St Leger winners, it seems that these days you can find classy racehorses with just about any aptitude. The appeal of this sales format is obvious. You are so much closer to the finished product, and you know they have withstood a certain amount of training to get to this point.
I recall a conversation with Godolphin’s David Loder, who was seriously tempted to buy Native Trail as a yearling but was worried about his size. Seeing him working at the 2021 Tattersalls Craven Breeze-Up Sale allayed those fears and the rest, as they say, is history.
Best of all at the breeze-ups is the economics. The last five-year average selling price of subsequent Group winners in this sales format is only £137,545, but despite seeing them closer to their racecourse debut, they are still hard to find. By my reckoning, there have been 46 Group winners listed as sold in the past five years at the Craven, Guineas, Doncaster, Arqana and Goresbridge sales and if you were relying on price to find the 46 best prospects, you would have spent an average of £535,289 and unearthed just four of the 46. However, that four would have included Eldar Eldarov (£480,000) and the Mill Reef Stakes winner Sakheer (£467,464), plus the Group 1-placed Summer Romance.
It is safe to say that this year’s versions of the big five sales have collectively been the most successful. Moreover, the additional benefits of this success are many and varied. For one, it drives demand at the yearling sales, and it will be no surprise to know that 76% of all horses sold at this year’s main five auctions were sourced at the yearling sales last term. Five years ago, that number was 67% but it has climbed steadily ever since with the exception of 2021 when the 2020 Covid pandemic interfered with many of the industry’s economic dynamics.
This year the average price at the five sales was £74,892, representing an increase of 17.3% from the 2020 average, which was itself better than the three previous years.
More significantly, the cost base also rose, which again is further proof that this sales format is becoming more popular with an ever-higher grade of yearling being selected by the yearling-to-two-year-old traders. Typically, the average yearling cost £38,578, which is more than at any time in the past. It left a gross profit margin of £36,945 from which to fund upkeep and other associated sales costs, which represents a gross profit margin of 49%. We can therefore conclude that the 17.3% in average price was required in order to try to maintain profit margins of the previous two years, which came in at 50% and 54% respectively.
This year, there were more profitable transactions with 151 (25%) making a gross margin of £50,000 or more, while 80 (13.4%) recorded gross profits in excess of £100,000. In 2022, the corresponding numbers were 114 (23%) and 50 (10.1%). Two years ago, only 102 (21%) broke the £50,000 profit barrier and 42 (8.8%) the magical £100,000 margin. And in 2020, it was 49 (18%) and 26 (8%) that met or surpassed those two benchmarks. Again, all signs of a strong market place, but only if you have the right product.
Just as there were more winners this year, there were also more losers. No fewer than 174 (29%) of pinhooked yearlings failed to match last year’s purchase price, so there will be even more in the red once preparation costs are factored in. The corresponding percentages of loss-making two-year-olds in previous years are around 23%, 2021 being an exception as buyers behaved cautiously at the 2020 yearling sales due to the Covid pandemic. That year yielded 19% of unprofitable transactions.
Since the 2019 sale, Arqana has provided more Group winners than any other auction house. Its tally of 16 – featuring the Roger Varian-trained pair Eldar Eldarov and Sakheer – is five more than supplied by second-placed Goffs UK at its Doncaster venue. The Doncaster Group winners are headed by dual Group 1 hero Perfect Power, plus Group 2 scorers A’Ali and Bradsell.
Doncanster’s 11 Group winners were purchased for an average of just £112,092, compared to the £187,384 for Arqana’s Group scorers. Tattersalls’ Craven Sale has had seven Group winners (average £149,250) in the period, featuring Classic winners Native Trail and Cachet, the same number as produced by its Guineas Breeze-Up Sale (average £71,475), while the Tattersalls Ireland Goresbridge Sale (average £110,174) has supplied five.