Every (Fifth of a) Second Counts At US Breeze-Ups

Gulfstream_Park,_at_Hallandale,_near_Hollywood,_Florida,_the_track_by_the_sea._One_of_the_nations_most_scenic_race_courses

Ten seconds was the fastest any human had officially run 100m until American Jim Hines ran 9.95 at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. As well as being the time that the fastest humans can cover 100m, ten seconds or just under also happens to be the sort of time that thoroughbreds can run a furlong. Unlike humans, thoroughbreds are not raced over distances they can cover in ten seconds, but they are put through their paces, and timed over a furlong, at US breeze-up sales prior to going through the ring as two-year-olds.

It so happens that America’s 2015 champion two-year-old colt Nyquist was a graduate of one such auction, Fasig-Tipton’s Florida Sale. We know from officially published times that he worked a furlong in 10/2 (ten and two-fifths seconds), the timings being to the nearest fifth of a second. That was the third time Nyquist had been through a sales ring in his young life. He was sold for $180,000 as a foal at Keeneland in November, $230,000 at the same venue as a yearling the following September, and then for $400,000 at Gulfstream as a two-year-old.

Nyquist wasn’t the only good two-year-old to be sold at the Fasig-Tipton Florida Sale last year. The future Los Alamos Futurity winner Mor Spirit went through the ring having clocked a slightly faster time than Nyquist (10/1). Maybe that was instrumental in the market placing a very different value on him from the one he’d had just five months earlier. Sold for just $85,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale, he then joined Bob Baffert’s stable for $650,000 after the Florida Sale.

Let’s try to assess the relationship between timings and sales prices – and see where pedigree fits in – at the latest Fasig-Tipton Florida Sale which took place recently at Gulfstream Park.

First, the bare facts about the times recorded. 110 horses clocked times over a furlong. They were distributed as follows:

10/0       10

10/1       21

10/2       37

10/3       22

10/4       13

11           6

11/1       1

10/2 was therefore the mode time, 10/1 and 10/3 were pretty equal ‘shoulders’ either side of what might be called that ‘standard’ time of 10/2, while there was also an ‘elite’ group of ten who recorded 10 seconds flat, a ‘slow’ group of 13 who ran 10/4, and then a ‘tail’ of 7 who didn’t manage to break 11 seconds. Just four fifths of a second, then, is all that separated an ‘elite’ member from one of the ‘slowcoaches’ but, this proved a significant difference.

Not all the 110 horses who clocked times went through the ring 48 hours later. 22 were withdrawn from the sale, no fewer than 19 of those having recorded the ‘standard’ 10/2 or slower. Of the 88 who did go under the hammer, 61 were actually sold.

Now lets see how the different groups by times fared in the ring. We’ve given the number of horses sold who recorded that time, and the lowest price, average price, and highest price, for each group.

10/0       8              $200,000              $411,250              $1,000,000

10/1       15           $150,000              $555,667              $1,800,000

10/2       20           $110,000              $322,000              $1,000,000

10/3       8              $50,000                 $169,375              $400,000

10/4       7              $70,000                 $185,000              $400,000

11           3              $50,000                 $83,333                 $125,000

Or, putting these two-year-olds into groups of those who ran the ‘standard’ 10/2, those who ran it faster, and those who ran it slower:

<10/2    23           $150,000              $505,435              $1,800,000

10/2       20           $110,000              $322,000              $1,000,000

>10/2    18           $70,000                 $161,111              $400,000

What the figures in the top table suggest is made much more explicit in the lower table – at this sale at least, there was a clear correlation between time and sale price. In fact, on average, buyers had to pay pretty much exactly twice as much for a two-year-old that clocked the ‘standard’ 10/2 than for one who ran slower. There was naturally a premium for those who ran faster than standard.

However, only two of the ten horses who clocked a flat ten seconds figured among the eleven lots who sold for $500,000 or more, so clearly a very fast time alone was not necessarily sufficient to generate a big sale-price. Pedigree and conformation were evidently no less important than they would have been at any other sale of young, unraced thoroughbreds.

Caleb's_Posse_-_2011_Kings_Bishop
Uncle Mo (far side), sire of champion US juvenile Nyquist and a $1m colt at the latest Fasig-Tipton’s Florida Sale

The sale-topper at $1.8m (lot 131) who clocked a time of 10/1 certainly had plenty going for him on pedigree as a son of champion sire Tapit out of a half-sister to the Grade 1 winner, Kentucky Derby runner-up and successful sire Hard Spun.

Three other colts were sold for $1m apiece, among whom only lot 5 ran ten seconds flat. He is by Nyquist’s sire Uncle Mo. The other million-dollar colts were by Curlin (lot 56, 10/2) and American Pharoah’s sire Pioneerof The Nile (lot 94, 10/1), the latter colt from the family of Grade 1 winners Chaposa Springs and You And I.

Lot 131 was clearly an attractive proposition on breeding alone (bidding had reached $1.2m for him as a yearling when failing to reach his reserve) and his good time must only have heightened already considerable interest in him. In the case of the Uncle Mo colt lot 5, on the other hand, from an immediate family of minor stakes winners at best, and who had made just $90,000 as a yearling, his fast time no doubt proved crucial in sending his price soaring.

Were these, or others, future champions or Grade 1 winners from this year’s Florida Sale? Time will tell – perhaps.

[Gulfstream Park image courtesy of Boston Public Library; Uncle Mo image courtesy of Mike L Photos]