As the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company (OCS) geared up towards another season of selling two-year-olds last March, there  was comfort in the knowledge that the Florida-based auction house could once again rely upon a consistent stream of graduates to advertise their brand. Approximately 3,000 two-year-olds are likely to be catalogued across its three juvenile auctions that run from March to June, a significant figure  that places any European sale in the shade, especially when the logistics of producing such a number to breeze is taken into consideration.

As such, those that shop in Ocala are presented with a serious wealth of opportunity, as borne out by a roll of honour that includes the Kentucky Derby winners Lil E. Tee (1992), Silver Charm (1997) and I’ll Have Another (2012), alongside Medina Spirit, who was first- past-the-post in 2021. Multiple champion sire Into Mischief is another graduate.

Yet it would be wrong to think that the prominence of OBS is restricted solely to American shores. Yes it is an American process, whereby the horses are asked to officially perform against the clock, although in OBS’ case over an artificial surface installed to promote safety and consistency. But in line with the evolution of the racing world, its reach is also becoming increasingly international. Last March, for example, OBS graduates pulled off the lucrative Middle Eastern double of the Saudi and Dubai World Cups courtesy of Emblem Road and Country Grammer. Cafe Pharoah also won a second edition of the February Stakes in Japan, while Lighthouse broke through at the top level in Australia by winning the Coolmore Classic. She later sold for A$1.7 million at the Magic Millions Gold Coast National Broodmare Sale.

More and more European-breds are being pinhooked with a trip to an American two-year-old sale in mind

However, it is from a European perspective where the growth has taken the largest steps forward. While dirt racing will always drive the American product, recent major investment in the country’s turf programme has also helped fuel interest in grass horses, something that has been highly influential in the growing influx of American buyers to our recent rounds of yearling sales. As a result, more and more European-breds are being pinhooked with a trip to an American two-year-old sale in mind, whether it be OBS or Fasig- Tipton. And on the other side of the coin, some buyers are now working OBS and Fasig-Tipton with a return trip to race in Europe pencilled in.

Indeed, that strategy worked out beautifully in the case of Onesto, one of the stars of last year’s season who joined Fabrice Chappet’s yard in Chantilly via the OBS Spring Sale. Bred in Ireland by Adam Bowden’s Diamond Creek Farm, the Frankel colt was unsold at Book 1 of the Tattersalls October Sale and shipped to Ciaran Dunne’s Wavertree Stables in Florida, under whose banner he went on to sell for $535,000 to agent Hubert Guy.

Carrying the colours of Jean-Pierre Dubois, Onesto made a winning debut in September at Chantilly. He broke through in the Prix Greffulhe at Saint- Cloud the following spring and after running a creditable fifth in the Prix du Jockey-Club from an unfavourable draw, bounced back to land the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp with the subsequent St Leger winner Eldar Eldarov back in  fourth. By this time, Gerard Augustin- Normand had joined the ownership and Onesto went on to acquit himself well for connections when second, beaten just under a length by Luxembourg, in the Irish Champion Stakes.

“It is very rewarding,” says Tod Wojciechowski, Director of Sales at OBS. “Our graduates have enjoyed success internationally for some time but the number of countries to which that success has spread has definitely increased. We always enjoy seeing our graduates do well but to see them winning the world over only confirms the quality of horses and horsemanship on display at our sales.

“In 2022, OBS graduates won Grade/Group 1 races in France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and for the first time in Australia.”

Country Grammar: OBS graduate captured the Dubai World Cup. Photo – Bill Selwyn

Onesto is out of the young Sea The Stars mares Onshore, a member of Juddmonte Farms’ wonderful Hasili family. As such, he stood out on paper as Hip 1209 when catalogued deep into the  Spring Sale in April 2021. Yet paper rarely compensates for an average breeze and it was the Frankel colt’s work on the SafeTrack all-weather surface that prompted Guy to depart the day’s breeze show and run down to Dunne’s barn.

“Onesto is a medium-sized horse with a really great demeanour,” says Guy. “Nothing fazes him. The good horses that I’ve bought have all had that about them.

“He did a good work, he went in 10 flat [for a furlong] but 46 flat for half a mile. So his gallop out was exceptional, especially for a horse bred to go a mile and a quarter and further. I think only one other horse, a sprint-bred, went faster that day.

“I went straight down to Ciaran Dunne’s barn to have a look at him. I liked him and so I rang Jean-Etienne Dubois and said there’s a horse here you need to buy. And we put a group together to try and buy him.”

He adds: “The whole idea was to bring him back to Europe – although he was close to staying in the US as the underbidder was Larry Rivelli, a Chicago trainer. He’s a Frankel with that inbreeding to Urban Sea plus his third dam is Kerali, so he’s from one of the best Juddmonte families out there. It’s a family with some stamina in it but he worked like a sprinter and had a very efficient action, and that’s what sold me.

“After the sale, the horse stayed in Florida with Ciaran Dunne and he joined Fabrice Chappet – in fabulous condition – in June. He won first time out in September, so you can see it was a very smooth process.”

Onesto stays in training this year, with the Prix Ganay and Prince of Wales’s Stakes among his early objectives.

“After the sale, the horse stayed in Florida with Ciaran Dunne and he joined Fabrice Chappet – in fabulous condition – in June. He won first time out in September, so you can see it was a very smooth process.”

Meanwhile, three-year-old Dailymotion, bought for $150,000 in March last year, holds several French Classic entries. Placed on both her starts last season, the Medaglia d’Oro filly broke her  maiden at Cagnes-sur-Mer for trainer Jerome Andreu in late January.

“I’m an opportunist,” says Guy. “If I see something that I think might suit Europe there, I’ll ring a few people, see what we can do. Hugo Merry and Jamie McCalmont also buy out there, and they and others have done well looking for something to go to Ascot.

Hubert Guy: ‘Onesto stood out’. Photo – Keeneland

“Dailymotion was still immature at the sale and I was surprised to see her in the programme. She didn’t do an exceptional work, it was acceptable, but I liked her at the barn and she’s very well-bred [out of Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Dayatthespa]. I think she’s a nice filly and, given time, there is more to come.”

Wojciechowski is envisaging further European interest at this year’s sales, not just due to Onesto’s success but also the increasing number of pinhooks catalogued that have been sourced out of Britain and Ireland.

“We have definitely seen an increased European presence over the last few years and anticipate it will continue to trend upward,” he says. “There has been an increase in turf races in the US,  particularly sprinting. While dirt is still the dominant surface, 42 per cent of Graded stakes races are run on turf and five per cent on the all-weather.

“Interestingly, because of our all-weather surface, we are incorrectly tagged as selling turf-favouring horses. But while OBS graduates perform well in high-level turf races, 65 per cent of the Graded stakes since 2018 that OBS graduates won or were placed in were run on dirt.

“Ultimately, our consignors sell quality horses regardless of surface. Those who have travelled to Europe and purchased yearlings for resale have done well – this is definitely a trend we are seeing and I believe it speaks to the increased participation from European buyers. This increased participation prompts sellers to find horses that will appeal to them.”

The company’s first two-year-old auction of the year, the OBS March Sale, contained a Wootton Bassett filly sourced by Guy and consignor Nick de Meric out of last year’s Arqana August Sale. The larger April Sale is particularly well stocked with European pinhooks, with youngsters by the likes of Cable Bay, Calyx, Invincible Army, Kingman, Lope De Vega, No Nay Never, Night Of Thunder, Ten Sovereigns, Territories and Too Darn Hot catalogued.

The larger April Sale is particularly well stocked with European pinhooks, with youngsters by the likes of Cable Bay, Calyx, Invincible Army, Kingman, Lope De Vega, No Nay Never, Night Of Thunder, Ten Sovereigns, Territories and Too Darn Hot catalogued

One consignor who has done particularly well pinhooking out of Europe is Niall Brennan. Based in Ocala, the Irishman has had the likes of Gun Runner, Nyquist, Essential Quality and Point Of Entry through his hands to go with last year’s Preakness Stakes winner Early Voting. The Kingman colt Turf King, pinhooked for €100,000 out of the Goffs Orby Sale, still has a long way to go to join that roll of honour but he couldn’t have made a better start to his career when successful on his debut at Gulfstream Park for Chad Brown in mid-February.

“He didn’t sell in the ring but Chad had seen him on the farm, liked him and bought him off me afterwards [for $180,000],” says Brennan. “He was training very well last year at Saratoga but he came up with a little issue and they backed off him. I’m glad he won because we liked him on the farm, we thought he was good.”

Brennan’s draft last year also included the Irish-bred Kingman filly Akayla, who sold for $650,000 and the Invincible Spirit filly Rapid Queen, a €100,000 Goffs Orby purchase with Anthony Dutrow who went on to resell for $225,000 to Toshiyuki Fukumori. The filly made a winning debut at Fukushima in Japan last November.

“There is certainly more appetite for the turf horse than there was a few years ago,” says Brennan. “You’re still walking a tightrope in that a few buyers are still looking for strictly dirt horses but some are definitely more open-minded when it comes to turf. And the Japanese buyers will always  look at them – the Invincible Spirit filly I had last year has done well for them.”

Niall Brennan: regular pinhooker out of Europe. Photo – Fasig-Tipton

He adds: “In the past people would buy the older, accomplished horses out of Europe, but recently they’ve turned more to the younger horses. We’ve turned a corner with turf racing, there are  more opportunities, especially with the two-year-old programme, and they’re writing more races.

“I had a couple of clients who wanted to look in Europe for some fillies to race. It made sense for us to go over and have a look, and while we were there look at pinhooking horses to breeze if they were to fall in the right price point. You have to factor in the rate of exchange and transport costs, so they’ve got to fall right.

“They’re raised very naturally in Europe – they’re hardy-looking horses in general. We were a little unlucky last year to only get one – a hurricane hit Florida the week we were in Goffs for the Orby Sale and we had a short window of time to get back home, so we had to leave early. But we got a nice Violence filly out of it from Derek Veitch’s [Ringfort Stud] who goes to the Spring Sale. She’s from the family of [Grade 1 winner] Mandaloun so she’s well bred. She’s also very elegant with all the right angles and a good mind. So far we’re very happy with her.”

Onesto isn’t the first successful European runner to have graduated from the American breeze-up system, nor will he be that last. But it would be no surprise to see his achievements result in a renewed appetite from this side of the Atlantic for the product. One thing is for sure, Guy will be out there hunting this spring.

“I tell young people in France to spend time working in Ocala as they’ll see an excellent programme,” he says. “These guys consistently buy quality horses, sometimes those that others have knocked off as yearlings maybe due to conformation or pedigree. I think they’re the best yearling buyers in the world and the level of horse that comes out of these two-year-old sales proves that.

“You see really, really good horses come out of these sales. There are 3,000 horses that go through the system so there’s a great opportunity to buy a champion – four Kentucky Derby winners in the past 20-odd years shows that – and I think the fact it’s held on an artificial surface gives the Europeans a little bit of an edge.

“It’s a lot of work, you’re watching all the breezes and then working the barns, but in return there is great opportunity to find a good horse.


An established happy hunting ground

The idea of targeting American breeze-up sales for horses to race in Europe was particularly well executed during the mid-noughties by the buying partnership of Newmarket, Merry and Meehan.

The team – aka Richard Galpin, Hugo Merry and Brian Meehan – had early success as the buyers of Prestige Stakes winner Freefourracing, bought for just $47,000 on behalf of David Sullivan’s  Roldvale Ltd.

However, they later really struck gold with the purchase of a Pleasant Tap colt for $175,000 at the now defunct Fasig-Tipton Florida Select Sale at Calder in 2004, again for Sullivan. Named David Junior, he went on to win the Champion Stakes, Eclipse Stakes and Dubai Sheema Classic before being resold for presumably a hefty profit to stand in Japan.

As Sir Robert Ogden found, the American breeze-up scene was also a fertile ground for potential Royal Ascot runners. In 2005, his colours were carried to victory in the Albany Stakes by La Chunga, three and a half months following her purchase for $200,000 at that year’s Fasig-Tipton Calder Sale. The More Than Ready filly was sold by Niall Brennan and handled by Jeremy Noseda, as was Ogden’s Albany heroine the following year, $500,000 Calder purchase Sander Camillo. The daughter of Dixie Union also won that year’s Cherry Hinton Stakes.

Around the same time, trainer Paul Cole also successfully plundered Calder, coming away with the Group- placed Elusive Flash, Mata Keranjang and Thunderous Mood.

More recently, Kerri Radcliffe signed at $625,000 for Listed winner Mourinho at OBS and at $300,000 for the War Front filly Safra, who was highly tried during her time with Simon and Ed Crisford in Newmarket.

David Junior: Brian Meehan’s Eclipse Stakes winner was sourced out of Florida as a two-year-old. Photo – George Selwyn