September in Central Kentucky is busy time for horse farms, especially farms that prep yearlings for the largest yearling sale of thoroughbreds, held over two weeks at Keeneland beginning on Monday, September 14 and going through Saturday, September 26.
It’s a VERY nerve wracking time because so much is riding on the sales. For farms that sell only yearlings (many sell offspring as both weanlings and yearlings, but some do not), it’s virtually the only income producing time of the year on a crop that takes two and a half years (from breeding the mare to selling the resulting foal) to “grow”. You can get a horse all the way to the sales and a scrape loading in the trailer or case of sniffles can literally cost thousands of dollars.
Rosecrest Farm has a filly in Book 3 of the Keeneland September Sale. She’s Hip # 2118. Here’s a link to her pedigree page Hip 2118
Because yearling sales are so important to this industry, the preparation of the yearling has become a specialized business. Every yearling needs to arrive at the sale in top condition. To achieve this attention to every detail must be taken from nutrition to grooming to exercise and training. These yearlings are not just prepped physically, but also mentally. If they haven’t been trained to walk and stand calmly they could be the best physical on the grounds, but the buyer would not be able to see that.
Every farm varies how it preps yearlings. They all groom them and maintain good nutrition but vary in the amount and type of exercising. The farm that preps our yearlings will groom them everyday, maintain a balanced nutrition, walk them as though they are being shown and get them used to standing so they show well.
For their exercise they like hand walking better than automatic walkers but want them walking faster than the average person so they use a gator and have the horse walk along side in a two acre paddock. They start the horse out slowly but then add a little more every couple of days. Every horse is different and must be treated that way.
A lot of effort goes into teaching a yearling to show well, but the extra effort is usually rewarded at the sale.
Meanwhile, the buyers have been doing their homework. The sales catalogues have been out for a while so prospective buyers can evaluate pedigrees and mark their books to be ready to look at the yearlings they may have interest in. Some buyers do this work on their own, but many will hire a bloodstock agent to identify a short list of possibilities so they only have to spend time looking at those.
In the time we’ve been in the business I’ve learned that there are many characteristics to see and evaluate, and almost every buyer has a different idea as to what “physical” makes the ideal horse. Some of the factors are length of body, the hip, the shoulder, the angle of the neck into the body, the gaskins, the pasterns, the angle of the pasterns…Are the knees straight? Does the cannon bone sit straight or is it offset? Do they like the walk? Is there an overstep? Do the yearling have a “good eye”? As I said, everyone looks at something different.
Once a buyer has narrowed the list of prospects, they have their veterinarian go to the Repository to look at the xrays that have been taken on your specific horses. Every horse entered in the sale (this year 4,164) must have a complete set of x-rays taken within two weeks of the sale. These are x-rays of the legs from hoof to stifle or shoulder.
If a horse meets your criteria, you go to the sales ring, bid on it, hope it stays in your price range, and that it’s the next Kentucky Derby Winner.
So there’s work and worry, risk and reward for both the buyers and the sellers. If you’re a seller, you think the buyers have it easy. But if you’re a buyer, you think the sellers have the advantage! Another one of those “grass is always greener” situations.