From the Bottom Up
John Boyce delves into the strength of the lower end of the market and commerciality of the elite
Making sense of the weanling market is a challenge at the best of times, but with the 2020 pandemic intervening in the decision-making process of many buyers and sellers, it has clouded the picture even more so. At the three major weanling auctions in Europe – Goffs November and Tattersalls and Arqana December sales, 2021 was certainly a mixed bag. Whilst the number of foals offered for sale recovered to over 2,000 from just over 1,600 a year earlier, the average priced paid for these foals – £35,881 – still lagged 3.5% behind 2020’s mark. Truth be told, normal market dynamics suggest that this is precisely what we must expect when supply of a product increases substantially as it did last year. That said, the 2021 average of £35,881 was also behind the 2019 average of £39,037 when very similar numbers of foals were offered at these three premier foal auctions.
On closer inspection, there were however some very strong positives to be noted. The median price, for one, at £20,229 was the best of the past three years. And it was the bottom 50% of the market that drove this increase in median price with deciles five to ten posting double-digit improvements on 2020 and even greater growth compared to 2019. In fact, the bottom three decile averages improved by 36% 59% and 97% respectively on the last pre-Covid set of foal sales at Goffs, Tattersalls and Arqana.
It was the comparatively weaker trade at the end of the elite market that depressed the overall average foal price. The average price of the top 10% of foals at the combined three auctions fell from £182k in 2019, to £173k in 2020 and to £152k in 2021. That pattern was also replicated throughout the top third of the combined three sales.
The elite end of the foal market is traditionally volatile, as foal sales are not the typical outlet for commercial breeders with well-bred stock to sell. It takes a great deal of courage to go to the market so soon with what is typically a more unfurnished product than you would find at the yearling sales. Even so, some breeders are rather good at it, while the major owners will also be prepared to pay serious money for the right prospect at the foal sales. This time around, there were plenty of choice offerings by stallions that stood at advertised fees of £50,000 or more a year earlier.
Stallions with a fee of £50k+
Of those with three or more offered, the mighty Frankel led the way with an average of £362k for seven sold, which compares favourably to his £340k yearling average. The Juddmonte sire was well on his way to becoming the first British-based Champion sire since the days of Mill Reef, with Derby and King George winner Adayar heading a particularly strong cast of runners in 2021. Interestingly, of the 23 Frenkel’s of racing age that have been offered for sale in Europe as foals, only G3 winner Majestic Glory has got her head in front in Stakes company.
Sea The Stars has always been a favourite at the foal sales. Both end users and pinhookers love them and why not? No fewer than 209 now of racing age have been offered as foals and that group already features 13 stakes winners including triple G1 heroine Star Catcher, who couldn’t tempt would-be buyers to prise her from Anthony Oppenheimer’s Hascombe Stud at the 2016 December Foal Sale. And let us not forget that Sea The Stars added another dimension to his prowess this year by siring such an accomplished miler as Baaeed. This time around, the 20 foals by Sea The Stars sold for an average of £181k but only eight of them would have made any sort of money for their vendors based on his fee of €150,000 and I suspect those re-offered this year may do very well for their new interim owners.
Lope de Vega fared much better with five of his nine foals sold turning a profit. All told, the nine by him averaged an excellent £143k, which again compares favourably to his latest yearling average of £184k. The Ballylinch stallion’s career path has very much settled on his ability to sire high-quality two-year-olds, exemplified by his original mainstay Belardo and added to in recent years by the likes of Lucky Vega, Aunt Pearl and Cadillac.
Stallions with a fee Between £20k & £50k
The only other stallion in this fee range with a six-figure average was first-season sire Too Darn Hot. As this son of Dubawi had led his class with the highest number of elite mares in his first book, the demand for his foals was not at all surprising. His fellow Darley stallion Blue Point, with an average of £83k, was the best among the freshman sires in the £20-50k category. But it was two proven sires – Woottoon Bassett and Night Of Thunder – in this category that stole the show. Operating off a fee of just €25,000, Night Of Thunder foals proved very profitable with 17 of 19 making money for their sellers. Wootton Bassett meanwhile saw all eight of his foals make good money and average £121k. Both of these sires will have much higher bars to clear in future years, standing as they now do for €75,000 and €150,000 respectively.
Stallions with a fee between £10k & £20k
Coolmore’s Ten Sovereigns and The National Stud’s Advertise were other new boys to excite the foal market, posting average prices of £51k and £46k, while Ten Sovereign’s stud companion was best of the new intake in the £10-20k category, his average reaching almost £50k from a fee of €22,500.