Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tuesday morning bloodstock agent, Part 2: The Surreal

My recent travel schedule and a week largely without Internet service interrupted the series I began last week, detailing my thoughts in the aftermath of Keeneland's annual sale of 2-year-olds in training.

All things considered -- the still-sour economy particularly -- it was a pretty good sale. Gross revenues actually went up by 1.8 percent instead of down, and the median price rose a healthy 14.9 percent. The buy-back rate declined, and while the average price dipped, it fell at only 5.4 percent vs. 2009, which had been more than 15 percent worse than 2008.

Last week's first installment of the series included my 11 "steals" of the sale; horses that, on pedigree and sire-power, I believe sold for comparative bargain prices vs. the average and median. Horses that, for the money, have what I believe to be a better chance of being runners at (for this business) reasonable prices.

Today I offer my thoughts on the opposite end of the spectrum; a group I've dubbed "The Surreal." Every one of these horses I mention today might go on to win a graded stakes race and make me look like both an idiot and a jackass. And, as someone who is yet to buy an auction horse or race a horse I've owned, I'd have to be considered a neophyte in judging these horses and their sales figures. (Read: Everyone who sold one of these expensive horses, or bought one, should they read this, is going to respond with an incredulous, "What the hell does he know?")

So I'm going out on more of a limb here than I do with the steals and the forthcoming second-chance deals (the RNAs that could be bought privately or turn up perhaps at a later sale). Those are horses that I'm saying might be better than anticipated; that's a good thing. In this case, I'm speculating that these horses cost more than they're worth -- without having seen them in the flesh.

It's sort of like kicking another man's dog -- something that could get you shot in some company.

That stated, here we go.

The Surreal (in order of Hip No.):

Hip 3: Bay colt by Birdstone-Elle Nicole, by El Corredor. I get started early with the price-point nit-picking, as this colt by sire surprise Birdstone was actually the second horse through the sale (Hip 1 was an "out") and with an RNA of Hip 2, was the first to sell. Now, I'm a big Birdstone fan -- not so much when he was passing Smarty Jones in the stretch of the Belmont Stakes, but pretty much all the time thereafter. He proved to be a huge bargain as a $7,500 stallion, and with two champions (Canadian 2-year-old champ and Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and U.S. 3-year-old champ Summer Bird) out of his first crop, he's realistically priced at $30,000 today. But this colt sold for $310,000 and I just don't see it. Maybe he looked like a million bucks and Prime Equestrian (a mysterious group of investors with a billing address in France, who spent the most at the sale) bought him for two-thirds-off. But I think this could be a case of now over-valuing Birdstone in a 2-year-old that did run a sharp drill (10.1 for an eighth) and has a fair female family. After all, 21 of the 88 sales babies to run an eighth, did it in 10.1 -- that's nearly a fourth of them. (And a couple ran faster, 10-flat.) So the breeze is good, but not "Green Monkey good." (And we know what happened to him despite the brilliant speed.) The same goes for the catalog page; the sales colt's dam placed at 2, but never won. She has produced one other foal who did win last year at 2, but she hasn't had time to establish herself as a stellar producer. And while there's evidence of soundness and stakes performance under the second and third dams, only one of those horses was a graded winner, and that a G3 (Greatsilverfleet). ... It's the kind of page that frankly a lot of my "steals" can match. ... So while I think this fella has a fair chance to be a good racehorse, bear in mind that merely "good" racehorses don't generally earn back $310,000 purchase prices; that takes a "great" racehorse. (Of nine blacktype-winning or -placed horses on this colt's page, in fact, only one of them exceeded $300,000 in earnings.) And while Birdstone's get have average earnings per runner of more than $85,000 -- pretty huge in this game -- that figure is skewed heavily by multimillionaires Summer Bird and Mine That Bird. Birdstone's median progeny earnings are under $14,000 per runner. ... Finally, Birdstone's 2-year-olds that sold in 2009 (just two of them) went for $12K and $40K, and his other two juveniles to sell so far this year have gone for $5,000 (a filly who RNA'ed at $19K as a yearling) and $50,000 (a colt who twice RNA'ed as a $14K weanling and $57K yearling). ... So even though this colt RNA'ed as a yearling for a lot more than those last two -- $150,000 -- a $310,000 price this spring still seems a bit surreal.

Hip 29: Dark bay or brown filly by Bernstein-High Heeled Hope, by Salt Lake. This one will reveal a bias of mine; I'm a little bit anti-Bernstein. It isn't that this son of Storm Cat has done nothing at stud; he has accomplishments -- but much of that performance is overseas (not necessarily a bad thing). Bernstein undeniably has his positives. He's a G3 winner. (Though he raced just eight times, a negative). He has full sisters who are stakes winners in CARESS(G3 on both dirt and turf, dam of SKY MESA) and COUNTRY CAT (G3), and a G2-winning half-sister by Danzig, DELLA FRANCESCA. And Bernstein has sired champions in Argentina and Japan. But in North America, from 360 foals of racing age entering 2010, Bernstein going into 2010 had sired 247 runners (69 percent of all foals) and 185 winners (51 percent), 20 stakes winners (6 percent) and two G1 winners (Dream Empress, Miss World) with average progeny earnings of $60,083. Those figures are good, but aren't exhilarating even among Storm Cat sons who went to stud in 2001. Catienus, standing for $10K in New York, entered stud the same year and has sired foals who have exceeded Bernstein's North American standards (and Bernstein stands for $25K): 79 percent runners, 61 percent winners, 6 percent stakes winners, $63K average earnings. Cat Thief, now $5K in Pennsylvania, has sired 78 percent runners, 60 percent winners, and 4 percent stakes winners with $59K average earnings. Bernstein is billed with the phrase "Top juvenile sire in NA," but how do we define "top?" He was 35th in the country among sires of 2-year-olds in 2009, a high fourth in 2008, but 122nd in 2007 and apparently didn't make the top 150 in either 2006 or 2005. So, generally speaking, Bernstein's advertised fee seems too high to me for the North American results, and from a running standpoint, I would be disinclined to spend $200,000 on one of his 2-year-olds. ... Now let me tell you why $200,000 for this filly might make sense, despite what I just wrote. ... Her dam was a listed stakes winner at both Keeneland and Hollywood Park, and was twice G1-placed (the Las Virgenes and the Hollywood Startlet). She's already produced a G3 stakes-winner who is G1-placed in SWEET HOPE (Lemon Drop Kid). And an A.P. Indy half-sister to the sales filly is stakes-placed, as well. High Heeled Hope's half-brother, KOENNECKER (Arts and Letters), annexed stakes races at Hialeah and Hawthorne and won 22 times in total. Half-sister Saratoga Honey (Boundary) was a winner who produced Irish-raced G3 winner JUPITER PLUVIUS (Johannesburg). And, the filly breezed her eighth in 10 1/5, which was plenty good. Even if she doesn't score blacktype of her own, she has a potentially commercial future as a broodmare because of the blacktype already on the page. ... So I have mixed emotions on this one. I love the female family enough to see why a buyer would want her, especially after the brisk breeze, but I remain nonplussed by the sire's price and popularity.

Hip 52: Dark bay or brown colt by Rockport Harbor-Limestone Landing, by Red Ryder. Prime Equestrian re-enters the "surreal" fray with this handsome, bald-faced, stocking-footed, $310,000 colt. While I listed one Rockport Harbor foal among my "steals," that was because I felt that colt (Hip 129) came from a rock-solid, if not heavy on blacktype, line of runners, and he sold for $13,000, only $500 more than the sire's 2010 advertised fee. In this case, there are some holes in the foal's pedigree (which I'll detail) and at $310,000, he sold for almost 200 large more than the average Rockport Harbor from this, the sire's first 2-year-old crop. Among the aforementioned "holes" in this pedigree, frankly, is the stallion. While any auction purchase is a risk, with the progeny of a freshman sire there's no prior track record to ease your mind that "this horse usually gets runners." We simply won't know for a few years how the Rockport Harbors will do at the track. And, what we do know about Rockport Harbor is that, while talented (five wins, three in graded stakes), he only lasted eight races; another in a long line of seemingly fragile Unbridled sons and grandsons. Meanwhile, this foal's dam was an 0-for-8 maiden -- although she is out of a multiple stakes winner and the mare herself has produced, with six winners from seven raced foals. The colt did breeze 21.4 for a quarter and is half to a Remington Park stakes winner who is Louisiana Derby-G2 placed (IT'SALLINTHECHASE), and also to G3-placed Upscaled (by the inexpensive sire Sir Cat, now in Chile). But even those two were only a combined 3-for-29 lifetime. ... It isn't that I wouldn't want this horse at all; I might. But I wouldn't want him at $310,000. Not when I feel like I could buy four to six horses for that money who all would, in my mind and at this stage, be equally likely as this one to succeed at the track.

Hip 62: Chestnut filly by Tapit-Malia, by Regal Classic. It might seem like I have it out for Prime Equestrian, which also bought this filly for $110,000. Or maybe it's just that we have a very different idea of what to look for. But here we go again. This time, the filly isn't inordinately expensive; in fact, she sold for about $25K less than the sale median. But while the breeze of 10.1 is among the best, unless she's just drop-dead gorgeous, I don't quite get it. Tapit does stand for $50K this year and his average filly price for the eight juvenile females to sell this year is a whopping $239,375. So maybe this girl is a steal. But her dam was just a modest winner of three races and about $30K. The Tapit filly's older brother by Stephen Got Even, her dam's only foal of racing age, did win last year at 2, but for only $6,075, so it wasn't a high-class race. Her second dam did win twice and earned about $94K, and has produced a stakes winner in the United Arab Emirates of over $300K (BURNT EMBER), plus a couple of other useful and sturdy winners. Third dam Very Sophisticated (Affirmed) was unraced, but did produce five winners, though no blacktype. Fourth dam Hire A Brain (Seattle Slew) was a modest winner in Ireland and half to G1 winner TWILIGHT AGENDA, and she produced three stakes-placers. Anyway, while it's unfair to crack too hard on a filly who sold for less than the sale median, six figures for this one was more than I would have paid, even if money weren't much of an object for me.

Hip 86: Dark bay or brown colt by Tiznow-Papa Sids Girl, by Souvenir Copy. I'm a big proponent of Tiznow, who has already proved his worth to the breed not only on the track as an Eclipse Award-winning horse of the year, but also in the shed, with champions Folklore (in the States), Bear Now (Canada) and Well Armed (UAE) and G1 winners such as Tough Tiz's Sis and Colonel John already to his credit from five crops to race. But $270,000 seems a bit much for my budget-minded preferences on this fellow, the first foal out of a dam who wasstakes-placed, albeit at Turfway and Indiana Downs. Second dam Woodman's Lady was unraced and had just two winners from four foals. Third dam My True Lady was a listed stakes winner by Seattle Slew and produced Saudi champion Le Oyoun Noorah and 10-race, non-blacktype winners in Vancouver ($164,265) and Colonel Kelly ($155,077), but no blacktype. You have to reach back to fourth dam Lady For Two, whose daughter Two to Waltz was the dam of TWO STEP SALSA, to find a graded stakes-winner. That isn't very much "recency" on the page for a $270,000 foal, even if he did run a 10.1. ... The buyer was Gary S. Broad, who also campaigns G3 winner Mr Gruff.

Hip 120: Bay colt by Bernstein-Spies in My Midst, by Elusive Quality. Here's where the "surreal" list deviates from the "steals;" on this roster I'm also offering a foal that I believe should've sold at the price offered, but didn't. This is that foal. If you've read this far, you already know what I think of Bernstein -- he's good, but not necessarily great, and not in my mind worth $25,000 a throw, his advertised fee. So when one of his foals goes through a 2-year-old sale, brings a $340,000 bid, and doesn't sell, I have to think that might be a decision the consigner will live to regret. Yes, this colt fired a sales-quickest 10-flat one-eighth. That would be an awesome credential if thoroughbreds ran eighth-mile races. And if five others in the sale hadn't run the same effective time, including a Speightstown (Hip 9) who RNA'ed at less than a third this boy's bid. And yes, this sales colt's dam has a half-brother by Bernstein (PROCEED BEE) who is a G3 winner. But the dam herself was unraced, and while the page as a whole looks pretty decent, I'd have taken $340,000 for this boy and grinned all the way to the bank -- and would have kept grinning even if he went on to earn $1 million for somebody else.

Hip 123: Bay colt by Indian Charlie-The Church Lady, by Valid Wager. Here's another of those 10-flat eighth-milers, and noteworthy players Padua Stables signed a $350,000 ticket to get him. It would be foolish to argue that Indian Charlie isn't capable of siring such an expensive foal; he's produced champions in Indian Blessing and Fleet Indian, and 9 percent of his get become stakes winners, quite a good number by today's standards. And, this mare already has produced a stakes winner and a stakes-placer in SHEYENNE GIRL and Codio, both by Doneraile Court. But most of those stakes performances were at "lesser" Canadian tracks in Northlands Park and Hastings Park, and other stakes-performers on the page have generally done their damage in restricted races; there is no graded blacktype anywhere to be seen. So while Indian Charlie certainly has a knack for upgrading his mares (1.92 AEI vs. 1.54 CI), and while I actually do agree this colt has a chance to be a nice racehorse, this son of Indian Charlie has his work cut out for him if he hopes to make that $350,000 price tag look like a steal.

Hip 135: Chestnut colt by Malibu Moon-Whirlwind Charlott, by Real Quiet. Speed sells, and this $575,000 colt breezed a lightning-fast 20.4 over a quarter. Certainly Malibu Moon is a popular and commercial sire, with successes such as G1 winners Funny Moon, Declan's Moon, Malibu Mint and Devil May Care to back him up. Blacktype on the catalog page also helps, and he's from the female family of three-time G1 winning, triple-millionaire BEHRENS, G1 twice-millionaire COMMENTATOR, G2 millionaire COWBOY CAL, G3 winners LEGISLATOR (11 wins) and HOT NOVEL (dam of Behrens), and other sharp stakes horses such as HYDROGEN (a dozen wins) and MAKINANHONESTBUCK ($362,711). But that speed will need to hold for at least two and a half or three more furlongs for the horse to win a race (which it might). Malibu Moon only made two lifetime starts -- something that always makes me a bit nervous with his get, though they presently average 13.6 starts per runner, which sadly is average durability by modern standards. And almost all that aforementioned blacktype is under one daughter (Hot Novel), under the third dam on this page. That third dam, Quite Honestly (by Believe It) was unraced. Second dam Dontstealmyroses (Storm Cat) hit the board twice from four starts, and has been sent to Australia where she has foaled at least one winner but not much I can find that's exciting. And the dam here, Whirlwind Charlott, was stakes-placed at Monmouth twice (including a G3) but has three other foals of racing age, only one of which has even made a start; Charlott Humor (Distorted Humor), who was a $300K auction sale himself but hasn't exactly set the world on fire, winning at 3 and placing at 4 for a grand total thus far of $39,335. Buyer Katsumi Yoshida paid the second-highest price of the day for this one, and he and his Northern Farm are global players in the thoroughbred game, including the record-setting purchase of a Green Desert 2-year-old for 625,000 guineas at a Tattersalls sale four years ago. That colt, later named Danon Augusta, broke his maiden at 2, but only raced three times in his life. ... Meanwhile, I probably should have credited Mr. Yoshida with a "steal" of Hip 139, though $200,000 is hardly cheap. That Songandaprayer colt is out of G1, multimillionaire and champion Xtra Heat (26 wins from 34 starts), who has already produced SW/G3-placed SOUTHWESTERN HEAT (Gone West), SW/G3-placed ELUSIVE HEAT (Elusive Quality), and stakes-placed X Rated Cat (Storm Cat). From the dam's success and the recency on the page, I have considerably more faith in the $200K purchase than the $575K colt. And the Songandaprayer colt was only one-fifth slower through the quarter than the Malibu Moon, to boot.

There were other horses who went for quite-expensive prices at this year's Keeneland sale, and while I might be able to quibble with them, as well, I can see more reasons in their pedigrees for why the buyers felt they were worth the money.

These eight, I felt, are among the more likely to be busts (for their prices at least) than most of the rest that were sold. Now I'll be watching closely to see how foolish they make me look.

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