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Throwing their hat in the ring

17 January 2022 Written by Michael Manley

Look around at any yearling sale and among the trainers, strappers, breeders, owners, auctioneers and more are some of the most important people in the room: the bloodstock agent. They are the ones who ultimately buy the horses, looking to set them on a path to glory.

With around 5,000 yearlings being sold each year in Australia, the pressure is on for bloodstock agents to pick the eyes out of the catalogues and find the best horses.

Doesn’t sound easy though does it? It’s not, and for bloodstock agents, their mission to find the best yearlings usually begins months before the sales when they receive their catalogues.

They will then go to work on the pedigrees. Then they will inspect and assess any prospective buy thoroughly.

Then, when they have decided a yearling is worth bidding on, they won’t necessarily come home with it as they might be outbid, or it goes beyond their valuation.

Each bloodstock agent has their own special recipe. They will either buy for a trainer, a syndicator, or for themselves to syndicate.

It’s a high pressure time for them, and their business lives or dies by their selections.

There’s a constant theme coming through when talking to the bloodstock agents that the only way they will find the horses they want is through painstakingly hard work.

Bloodstock agent Sheamus Mills said the yearling sales period is five months of hard work and pressure.

All agents have their own formula, but the key factors for them all when purchasing a yearling involve conformation, pedigree, and then value.

Mills, who has purchased the likes of Odeum and Night Raid, said for him it’s all about narrowing down the horses he likes.

When he has decided on a yearling he likes, he will constantly return to it looking at its strengths over and over again.

Mills said he’s a fan of successful broodmare sires and that’s one of his criteria.

“I’m really big on broodmare sires, that’s important to me. Usually, if a yearling is not out of a successful broodmare sire I tend to overlook them, but I can forgive that a little bit if the dam could run.”

Mills said if a mare has had six or seven foals to race and hasn’t thrown a smart horse, he will give that a miss. “I go in with a shortlist.

I go and check the ones I like via pedigrees two or three times to narrow down the list.”

Mills said a yearling’s physical appearance and how it walked was paramount for him.

“For me, the most important thing for a horse is how it walks. The vast majority of good horses walk well.

“I’m also really big on a horse’s attitude. Not necessarily that they are calm or really quiet. What I’m looking for is a certain level of confidence in a horse in that environment. They are herd animals and I’m looking for a horse to show dominant signs.”

Mills said he looked for a large girth on a yearling so there was plenty of heart and lung room.

“I like to narrow them down and narrow them down again. Once I’ve seen them five or six times, I’ll then go and do some more pedigree research.

“I’ll go and check what the other fillies in the family are up to. If they are being mated to Zoustar, Fastnet Rock, I Am Invincible that will also influence me.

“By the time we are bidding, I want to have seen them enough times to know I’m bidding on the right horse.”

Mills said once the sales began it was all about sliding door moments on the auction floor.

“Do you get beaten with the first one you bid for on your list or do you get the fifth one? It’s also about value.”

He said at each sale, about five per cent of horses meet his criteria.

Once he’s got his horse, it’s then about finding the right client if he doesn’t have a set order.

“The large part of the work is to find the right horse, then find the right client. If I see someone at the sales who has raced a relation of a horse I’ve bought, I’ll see whether they want to buy this one.”

Mills said he doesn’t buy a lot of horses at a sale and he’s keen to keep up his good strike rate.

“I’ve got clients looking for quality and that brings extra pressure.”

Mills said last year he purchased 10 to 12 yearlings for his clients. He also does work for Bluebloods Syndications and bought between 15 to 20 yearlings for them.

As Archie Alexander’s racing manager and also bloodstock consultant for Roll The Dice Racing, Jeremy Rogers said what he’s trying to do is find the diamond in the rough.

The key ingredients for finding a yearling for Rogers includes their physical makeup, movement and attitude.

“Physical makeup is the number one aspect I want to see. I want to see a good strong hindquarter, good girth, and a good rein.

“I’ll look at 500 horses in a sale and I might narrow it down to 10 in the end. That’s the challenge and that’s what makes it interesting.”

“From 500 I look at, 25 will be on my second-look list. I’ll go back and have another look and take off another ten. I’ll send my list to Roll The Dice with about 15 on it and they’ll have their list.

“Then we’ll get them vetted and by the time the sale starts we might be left with three or four to bid on. Then we’ve got our budgets. If it goes over then we’ll miss out.”

Rogers is also looking at and purchasing yearlings for Archie Alexander.

Melbourne bloodstock agent Suman Hedge said he looks for several things before purchasing a yearling.

“It’s a combination of things, but first and foremost I’m looking for elite athletic qualities such as good movement and good balance. Then strength, size, and bone, plus whether they display a good temperament,” Hedge said.

Hedge said a yearling’s pedigree was also to the forefront in deciding whether he would bid on a horse.

Another factor for Hedge is where they were bred.

“Some farms are more prolific than others. That comes into our consideration and then value comes into play.

“We try to buy horses within that framework. We have a value as to what it’s worth and then we match them all together,” Hedge said.

Hedge purchased dual Group 1 winner and top sire Zoustar for $140,000 at the Magic Millions Sales.

“Zoustar was an extremely athletic horse who moved well.”

Putting on the show for the bloodstock agents are the sales companies such as Inglis, and Melbourne director James Price said his team of ten were also essentially bloodstock agents.

“There’s a team of eight to ten of us and we regard ourselves as bloodstock agents as it’s our job to check in on horses and then source and rate them for our sales,” Price said.

He said from August 1 they spend a lot of time at stud farms looking at yearlings and working out where they would be best placed to sell.

“Our job is the management of sellers and buyers. It’s a twelve-months-of-the-year operation.”

It’s at a sale such as Inglis Melbourne Premier Yearling Sale at Oaklands Junction in late February/early March where the bloodstock agents compete against each other to land the best yearlings.

Then, once the yearlings are purchased, the long wait then begins to find out whether they have been on the mark, which will begin when the two-year-olds start racing the following season.

Images courtesy of Inglis.

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