Guidelines and reasons for employing an agent
This is Part 1 of a two-part series focusing on the role of agents or bloodstock agents in preparation for selling and buying Thoroughbreds for clients. Part 1 deals with selling a yearling for a client and Part 2, which will run in the July issue of the magazine, will look at an agent’s role in buying at auction.
Don’t go it alone. Look before leaping into the race. Get educated. Make sure breeding a horse to sell is something affordable.
The business of breeding and raising a Thoroughbred horse to sell at auction comes with a myriad of decisions to make, many of which might have to be made possibly years before sending the horse through the sales ring.
Weigh the risk versus the reward. Understand the process.
For the newcomer, one without any experience in the breeding business, it’s important to buy a broodmare with a proven record on the track and/or proven produce record. For those starting from scratch, this will be the backbone of their breeding operation. At some point, assess whether your farm is adequate for raising a young horse or whether that responsibility will be turned over to a bloodstock agent or agent who can manage as much as the owner is willing to turn over.
The seller’s process also can start with “pinhooking,” or buying a weanling or yearling for re-sale.
Understand that raising or buying horses to sell as a yearling at the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association (WTBOA) Summer Yearling and Mixed Sale, or at any other public venue, requires patience, great care and sound advice from someone with experience in the business.
“Ultimately, you have to have a product that somebody wants,” said Dana Halvorson, a longtime bloodstock agent based in Enumclaw. “Usually, it takes a long-term investment. Most people want to do something positive, so if you don’t get good information, you leave yourself open to disappointment.”
The information process begins with a long look in the mirror and an ego check for the breeder/seller. Then, go through the interview process to select an agent after consulting people who are trusted members of the industry, starting with the WTBOA offices or consulting industry directories or publications.
Nominations for the Summer Yearling Session of the WTBOA’s annual sale close late March or April, including a nomination fee. Upon acceptance into the sale, an additional amount is due in early June to complete the nomination.
There are many decisions, starting with selecting an agent with the expertise and personality who fits the seller’s needs, which will affect a successful journey from raising to selling.
“You owe it to yourself to investigate things,” said Ralph Vacca, former WTBOA general manager. “Have the agent provide letters of recommendation. References would be one thing I would think an agent would want to provide. They should have records of what they have bought and sold. Go to an unbiased professional source.
“Call us at the WTBOA or call a sales company like Barretts or Fasig-Tipton. Ask how many horses [the agent] has sold.”
An agent can offer his or her most valuable opinions at many different points during the yearling’s growth, including the time and place to nominate for a sale. Then, once the decision is made to nominate, conditioning for muscle tone should start 60 to 90 days before the sale.
There are no guarantees about landing a spot in the WTBOA summer sale, but there’s a better chance if the proper homework is done. Success can start with selecting an agent that suits the seller’s needs.
“Just because you buy a mare and breed her to a stallion doesn’t mean you’re going to get in the sale,” Halvorson said.
Whether the horse has what it takes to get accepted into the sale is the first difficult decision in a long line of decisions. This is where the experience of an agent and his ability to arrange help from a full-service agency or a specific contractor can help.
“A reason some people use an agent is that they aren’t set up to raise and sell their own horses and they don’t have a farm,” Halvorson said. “They need an agent that can market their horse, handle it and hire the right people to sell the horse.”
An experienced agent provides expertise in pedigree analysis and conformation, thus giving a recommendation on nominating to a sale. Some horses just won’t qualify and it’s important to have the agent assess the horse’s growth, or in some cases, supervise it or find someone to oversee nutrition and conditioning.
“I can advise them and I’m capable of telling you what you’ve got,” Halvorson said. “The sales are a lot more of a beauty pageant than it used to be. People want future racehorses to look the part.
“In this process, (sellers) need someone to tell them the truth.”
Halvorson suggests that prospective sellers take the interviewing process seriously and
use it as an opportunity to ask important questions when looking for an agent.
“I tend to be on the conservative side, as far as expectations,” Halvorson said. “I don’t want to have people stunned by what happens. I try to give people all the parameters. Here’s what the worst can be and here’s what the best can be. I try to be realistic. My goal is to position them with people who have had success.”
Seattle bloodstock agent Claudia Atwell Canouse, who focuses mainly on the buying side, suggests sellers choose an agent based on documented successes and visiting the agent’s operation at a sale.
“If I’m going to sell a horse, I’d select an agent who’s had experience and has been set up
and geared for that,” Canouse said. “They usually have a better presentation at the sale. Go to the sale that you’re thinking about entering in the future, whether it’s the summer or winter sale here or elsewhere, and see what the various agents have in their consignments.
“See how they treat you when you go as a prospective buyer. It’s a good way to get a feeling of who’s doing the kind of job that you would like. You can see how they would present your horse.”
Some agents work on the honor system, meaning they will provide some advice without charge until some work toward reaching the sale begins. At the time of sale, the standard five percent of the selling price is due to the agent.
An agent has many responsibilities in preparing a horse for sale at auction, from advice on raising and feeding, to boarding, grooming and handling work. Some agents offer a means to work with young horses to prepare them to become more appealing in the sales ring.
“Babies now go to kindergarten,” said Canouse, also a Thoroughbred breeder. “When the
horse is still a baby, and you can still maneuver them, they learn to how to be handled and how to lead well.
“They also learn how to stand up and pose. They seem to remember those lessons. Then when they go for sales prep (60 to 90 days from the sale), they can continue those lessons without a lot of trauma.”
Canouse says that it’s obvious when a yearling has been prepared properly for auction and it will show.
“It’s a business and the cost of providing the product is substantial, but if you try to take shortcuts, it will be reflected,” she said.
The reward is worth the risk for most.
“It can be a really gratifying process,” Halvorson said. “It’s just like watching your kid grow up. I remember watching the first horse that I bred and sold at auction run for the first time at Longacres. I was more nervous than I’d ever been in my life. It was really exciting.
“I raised at him our farm and I’d seen him grow up. It was the beauty of watching that baby grow up. There can be a monetary reward, but it’s not just a monetary reward.”
Matt Massey, a Maple Valley resident, has covered horse racing in the state of Washington for various publications since 1991, including the Thoroughbred Times, The Seattle Times and the former Valley Daily News in Kent. Massey was first introduced to the sport of horse racing when his father, Melvin, was the state veterinarian at Longacres in the late 1970s.
Published online August 24, 2007