Winter chose this day to make its annual appearance in Lexington. The morning started with temperatures near freezing. The sun of the previous day was replaced by a gloomy grey ceiling. I had breakfast with a former co-worker and could not help but hope that the red hot bidding of the past few days would not turn as grey as the skies had.
The horses Steve and David were showcasing that day would not sell until 4:30 or so, based on placement within the sales catalog. Around noon, I decided to go see the stallions at Darley’s Jonabell farm. The farm is kept in such immaculate shape that I immediately felt guilt as to how I care for my own yard. Along with two other visitors, I strolled from the farm’s trophy room to the stallion barn. There, I saw Alpha, Emcee and Desert Party. All were impressive in their own way. The two recently retired horses were sleek while the established stallion looked powerful. I took a deep breath and realized we spend so much of our lives in offices, that we have forgotten the benefit of fresh air, relaxation and the effect that the tranquility a peaceful setting can have on the soul. For that brief period of time, all of my cares, concerns and stresses of my life were removed.
I arrived at the sales pavilion around 1:15 PM. The action had been hot & heavy for over 2 hours. To get a feel for the sale, I sat in the sales pavilion and watched 25 or so horses be auctioned off. When one allows themselves to get caught up in the moment, you realize how magnificently prepared these horses are for the auction. They shine like a new car in the sunlight. Their eyes gleam with confidence and well being. They have been prepared for months for this moment and are the pictures of health.
Also eye catching to me was the connection that the horse handlers establish with the horse. These handlers hold the horse with a lead shank and display the horses under the auctioneer stand for the bidders to conduct a final inspection. They speak reassuring words to the horse and also with a reassuring twitch of the lead shank settle the horse down and make the process as easy as possible on the horse. A calm horse is a more appealing to a bidder and will yield a higher price. Auction price is not the only motive for their actions. Their handlers also truly care for the well-being of the animal and to a younger horse being paraded in the sales pavilion can be a traumatic experience. These young horses are used to the solitude of a lonely pasture, not being paraded in front of hundreds of eyes focusing on their every flaw or strength.
About 2 PM the team went to consigner Joe Sietz’s barn to inspect the horses being sold, one last time.
One final decision needed to be made. What would the reserve prices be set at for each horse? In a horse auction, the owner has the right to set a reserve price. This is the minimum price that an owner will accept for the horse. This is one of the most important decisions made during the auction process. If the reserve is set too high, then the animal will not sell at the auction. Yet, the owner is still required to pay the expenses to the auction house based on the highest bid as well as costs to the farm for marketing and preparing the horses. Van transportation to and from the sale is another expense incurred whether the horse sells or not. If the reserve price is set too low, the owner may be giving away the horse for less than market value.
The first reserve discussed was that for the weanling baby. Joe Sietz and his staff had done a perfect job of listing all of the people (107 groups) who had looked at the horse since her arrival on the sales grounds. This list was compared to auction prices for each of the other Bodemeister yearlings sold to that point. The range for Bodemeister weanlings was from $90,000 to $150,000. This weanling was considered well conformed and the reserve should be near the higher end of the range of prices received for the previous weanlings sold. After much discussion the reserve price was set at $124,000.
The time had come to set a reserve for Sage Cat. This was not as easy as a process. She is one of the older mares being sold in the sale. She has thrown some stakes wining horses, but also had thrown some horses that had never raced. Adding to the difficulty of this exercise was the fact that she was in foal to Union Rags, a former winner of the Belmont Stakes who has a stallion fee of $30,000. A lengthy discussion analyzing variables such as age, how many foals she could still be expected to have at 16 years old, the annual insurance premium, and an injured back foot that makes breeding more difficult than a traditional horse was discussed amongst all parties. The reserve figure was established at $104,000.
After a final inspection of each horse, the team moved to Barn 39. At that location was a weanling owned by Steve that is out of a Holy Bull mare named Downstream Bull who sired by Desert Party. He will be selling Friday in the sale. The weanling was walked in front of the barn and inspected. He “toed in” slightly, but appeared in good physical shape. The team then went to review the X-Rays and the recorded endoscopy that had been completed on the horse. The horse did have a slight cough, but this was due to the stress of being shown for the sale and travelling in the cold weather, not a lingering physical ailment.
The team took the magnificent stroll back to the sales pavilion. Even though the day was cloudy & cool, the activity mixed with so many pretty horses made this walk very tranquil. The team felt a calm before the storm of the horses selling back to back. There were still 60 or so horses to sell before the mama & weanling would sell.
Instead of sitting in the sales pavilion until the sale occurred, David suggested that we sit in the dining room. David took the pressure off and fetched a bowl of Burgoo for Steve. Burgoo is a Kentucky stew with vegetables and meat. Steve had never tried Burgoo before, so after David had doctored the stew up with hot sauce, he gave the bowl to Steve to sample. The doctor-owner indicated his approval, and so David joined him in a bowl.
The auction results were being monitored by the group closely. As each horse sold, comparisons were being made to their own duo that was to be sold. Sales results were still at a high rate and expectations ran high.
With about 15 horses to sell before the Sage Cat mare, the group headed to the Show Ring. This an area at the rear of the sales pavilion where about 20 horses are walked in a circular path around the ring and prepped before they are auctioned. This is an important area as it represents an area for buyers to conduct one last inspection of the horses before the auction.
First observation of Sage Cat is that she looked like she was ready to run a race. As she walked in the Show Ring her ears were perked up, she had a small amount of sweat and she pranced on her feet like Zenyatta did in the post parade. Horses can sense excitement and the effect of the group of onlookers combined with the public address system displaying the voice of
Keeneland race caller Kurt Becker as he conducted the auction made this 16 year old mare revert back to her days in the paddock before a race.
The weanling was a study of contrast. She was as cool as a cucumber. Even thought she had over 100 groups look over every inch of her, she kept her composure and she was walked in front of onlookers before the auction. Two different groups of two people stopped the weanling to give her a closer look. After their inspections were completed, they made notes in their sales catalogs. This composure was especially impressive considering she was late May foal. A weanling colt that was foaled in February was to be sold 2 horses after the Bodemeister filly and he was acting up raring, bucking and snorting. Dr. Sinatra feared that this would affect the Bodemeister weanling, but it never did. She kept her focus.
Soon the time had come for Sage Cat to be led into the auction ring. The auctioneer introduced the horse including detailing the offspring of Desert Party and fellow stakes winner Ellie Cat. The auctioneer spoke about Sage Cat’s Sire Tabasco Cat. Finally, the bidding began. The bids quickly reached $60,000. Then after a brief pause, activity again increased. Soon the bid was over $100,000. Then the reserve was met. Finally, the bidding stopped at $135,000. A sense of relief came over the group.
Then it was time for the weanling to be led into the sales ring. The auctioneer again introduced the weanling. The achievements of the father & mother were emphasized. The bidding started and within 90 seconds the bid was above $100,000. The bidding continued and soon the $150,000 mark was achieved. Bidding slowed slightly at $160,000. The horse was paraded again for the crowd and the bidding started again. The weanling stared into the crowd as if she was anticipating who would be her new owner. Finally, the bidding stopped and the horse was sold for $190,000. This was the highest Bodemeister weanling sold at the sale.
The team sat in a mixed state of relief, exultation and exhaustion. All of the walking around the sales grounds passing out fliers, all of the signs placed at the hotels, all of the ads in publications finally resulted in the successful sale of both horses.
About 10 minutes later, a nice lady came over to Dr. Sinatra and introduced herself. She represented the person who purchased Sage Cat. She indicated Sage Cat would be moved to Ocala to be bred. Dr. Sinatra asked about the quality of the home she would receive. Even after the sale, Dr. Steve’s primary concern is the well-being of the animal. Contact information was exchanged and soon the buying agent exited the sales pavilion.
Just when this observer though the drama was completed, one of Joe Sites’ employees came over to Dr. Sinatra and indicated that John Oxley had purchased the Bodemeister filly. He had scoped the horse twice and been interested from the time she hit the sales grounds. Steve sat for a moment and informed farm owner Julie Kent — who had brought the expectant broodmare and her filly— that she should approach John Oxley’s buying agent and offer her $95,000 for a 50% interest in the weanling.
Dr. Steve retreated to the parking lot to call his wife Jan and inform her of the good news. She had stayed at the hotel and was working on a manuscript for a book that Steve had recently completed and that would be shown to a publisher next week in New York. Steve could not reach Jan so we all headed back to the hotel to make plans for the evening.
After a brief period of celebration in the bar at the Griffin Gate, Steve joined Jan upstairs to get ready for a party that evening. David & myself enjoyed an appetizer in the concierge level. They do a first class job in the concierge level at the Marriott Griffin Gate and the attention to detail makes it a must stay for me when I am in town. I asked David what is the next step. Like every good horseman, David responded that the challenge is “to wake up tomorrow and start looking for the next champion.” You pick out a champion not only by confirmation, but also by heart. That is an immeasurable intangible. Identifying that is a talent acquired over time.
The racehorses.com team had been invited to a party that evening at Shannon White’s farm. Shannon White is an incredible horsewoman — and she really knows how to make a successful equine gathering come together. The party even had a theme: “Bourbon, Brews & Stews”. That event definitely showcased all things good in Kentucky. The event was attended by several people within the industry. What a great party to network. Steve met some great people and actually scheduled an appointment the following day with a veterinarian specialized in radiographic interpretation. Steve wanted an independent analysis of the x-rays taken on two of his horses. The Kentucky hospitality with the food, drink, and sharing of conversations was just the icing on the cake for all of us.
Around 7 PM I left the team at the party and started my drive home 5 hours to the West. About the time I crossed into Indiana from Louisville my mind turned from the events of the last 3 days, back to the stresses of work, dealing with a sick parent and the reality of life. The Kentucky trip was very successful and has energized me to put forth more of an effort to the website. It also made me aware that my future will again have me reside in Lexington. This trip showcased all that is good about this sport and whatever little part I can do to make it better I will give all my efforts to.