By Jennie Rees, national Turf journalist
March 24, 2022 -- The Texas Thoroughbred Association’s Two-Year-Olds In Training Sale April 6 at Lone Star Park comes at a time of great optimism in the Texas horse racing and breeding industry. In fact, trainers trying to buy horses just wish there was more of a good thing.
“Last year’s version of the sale was mind-blowing, to say the least,” said trainer Bret Calhoun. “With more purses to run at in Texas, there was a real demand for horses and supply wasn’t that large. It was simple economics, and the horses brought a premium - and I’ll expect they’ll do the same at this sale.”
Hip10 filly by Tapwrit
Among the good news is that the 2022 auction has 144 horses in the catalog, up from the 104 who went through the ring last year. The 2020 auction was canceled because of COVID.
Texas Thoroughbred racing’s average purse paid out in 2020 was a record $26,391, which then was topped last year at $30,378. Horse owners and trainers responded with renewed vigor at both the TTA yearling and 2-year-old sales.
That was the intended result of the 2019 passage of legislation that redirects up to $25-million per year from the state sales tax on horse feed, tack and other equine products back into the horse industry, with up to $17.5 million earmarked for purses at the state’s tracks. The idea was that enhanced purses would spark further investment in the industry, paying for itself and more while creating jobs and boosting the agri-business fostered by horse racing.
The sales followed suit: Last year’s 2-year-olds sale saw strong interest, with 89 horses totaling $2.91 million for an average of $32,670 and $20,000 median — the highest since the TTA and Lone Star Park took over the Texas sales in 2016 after the Fasig-Tipton auction company ended its 18-year run in the state. The 2021 numbers compare with 75 horses sold for $1.75 million in 2019, averaging $23,350 with a $15,000 median.
Another sign of the strength of the sale, the buyback rate — horses that did not reach their predetermined minimum bid — was slashed from 31.8 percent in 2019 to 14.4 percent last year, when only 15 horses did not sell after going through the ring.
“More purse money allowed for us to give a healthier price for the 2-year-olds they had there,” said Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, the lifelong Texan who last August became North America’s all-time winningest trainer. “I thought it was a very solid sale, some very nice useful horses at a reasonable price — made possible by the agricultural tax that Texas uses to supplement its horse racing purses.
“I’m obviously very familiar with the consignors who sell horses through the TTA. They consistently put out solid individuals that win multiple races. The stronger purses in the state of Texas have made these horses more attractive. I really feel the Texas-bred program is rebounding. The Scharbauers (at Valor Farm in Pilot Point) have moved some nice stallions into the state that I think will be outstanding state-bred sires (whose offspring) will also be able to compete in open company,” continued Asmussen.
Asmussen Horse Center, the prominent Laredo training and sales operation run by the trainer’s family, sold last year’s $240,000 sales-topping filly and is offering 19 horses this year.
Steve Asmussen as well as anyone knows the type of horse that can come out of the TTA sale.
“The market allows them to put a better horse in the sale,” he said. “Ironically, two years ago the Arkansas Derby winner was consigned to the sale, but because of the pandemic the sale was canceled. Plan B was win a Grade 1, win a million dollars.”
That horse was Super Stock, owned by Asmussen’s parents and Nashville talent mogul Erv Woolsey, who wound up keeping the colt to race.
While the sale is not limited to horses born in Texas or sired by horses residing in the Lone Star state, the demand for Texas-bred horses was particularly strong last year.
The 23 Texas-born 2-year-olds sold at auction last year, most of them at the TTA sale, averaged $29,674. That’s almost four and one-half times the $6,500 average in 2015, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems statistics.
“They’re getting better horses, so it’s definitely a place a guy has to go,” trainer Robertino Diodoro said of the sale. “Everyone is starting to step up, and I think it’s just going to get better.”
Producing a race horse is a three-year or more process that starts before conception. So Texas is still feeling the effects of a foal crop that shrank precipitously from 2,035 registered Texas-breds in 2000 to 354 in 2020. Even so, that reflects a bump up from 316 in 2019, suggesting the passage of the legislation encouraged some breeders to have their mares give birth in Texas rather than shipping out of state. That’s important because every broodmare domiciled in Texas is a micro economic engine.
“Everybody would love a Texas-bred right now, but you can’t just go and manufacture them overnight,” Calhoun said. “It takes a long time to build that inventory up. Now they’re really stepping up, stallions are coming in. They’ve created a lot of incentives to have Texas-breds — the open horses, too. But they’ve concentrated on giving more reason to bring more mares into the state. You get more mares, that’s more labor. More hay, feed and bedding and trailering - the whole thing. I think that’s what the bill is meant to do. It’s just creating it.”
The upcoming sale — which caters to a regional market that includes Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma — reached 144 horses thanks to 12 supplements added after the original catalog was printed. All the horses are included in the interactive online catalogue here.
Hip6 filly by Grasshopper
“The quality of horses is going way up,” said Texas-based trainer Karen Jacks. “Everybody wants to win the big races, and they’re increasing the purses. It’s just going to get stronger and stronger, I would expect, as far as breeding-wise.”
The TTA sale features progeny of some of the best stallions in the country in Distorted Humor, Malibu Moon, Ghostzapper and Hard Spun as well as the superb young sires Goldencents and Constitution, unbeaten Kantharos, champion Runhappy and the 2016 Horse of the Year and $17.4 million-earner Arrogate. Stallions represented with their first crop of 2-year-olds include the winners of the Kentucky Derby (Always Dreaming), Preakness (Cloud Computing), Belmont Stakes (Tapwrit), Breeders’ Cup Classic (Accelerate) and Breeders’ Cup Sprint (Midnight Lute) as well as Grade 1 winners Mendelssohn, Army Mule and Mo Town.
Texas’ leading stallions also are well-represented, including Competitive Edge, whose offspring include recent graded-stakes winners Edgeway and Bob’s Edge. Other Texas stallions include the popular Too Much Bling, Bradester and Eagle.
Clary Bloodstock is consigning a filly named Bubbles and Bling who is by Too Much Bling and out of the same mare (Miss Photogenic) as 12-time winner and 2019 Texas Horse of the Year Mr Money Bags. Pike Racing is selling a Louisiana-bred filly by Grade 1-producing stallion Custom for Carlos who is out of the same mare (Sammy Van Ammy) as 2021 Texas Thoroughbred Futurity winner Streak of Silver.
“I think it’s a strong catalog family-wise,” said TTA sales director Foster Bridewell, referring to the pedigrees of the broodmares who produced the sales entrants. “It’s diverse with a good variety. There’s a great deal of excitement regarding racing in Texas at the moment, and it makes sense that would translate over to our sales.”
Benchmark Training Center of Quinlan, Texas has a sales-topping 36 horses entered. About half are registered Texas-breds, including a half-sister to Texas champion Gold Pilot and the stakes-winning Pinky Ring Bling as well as a half-brother to Texas champion and 10-time winner Ima Discreet Lady.
“There are some nice horses catalogued,” said Taffy Jones, Benchmark’s owner and trainer. “The pedigrees are up, the mares are better than they’ve been in the past. I think it’s all a positive. And you’re getting a few more choices on what to breed to as far as stallions.
“Hopefully we can get new buyers in, and there seems to be some excitement.”
Jones said the 2-year-old Texas Thoroughbred Association Futurity, and Texas Thoroughbred Association Derby and Oaks for 3-year-olds set to start next year at Sam Houston Race Park, provide a lure to the auction. That certainly was a selling point last year for owner Carl R. Moore.
A Breeders’ Cup winner with Chamberlain Bridge in the 2010 Turf Sprint, Moore plays at the top end of the sport but also was looking for horses who could compete in the Texas Thoroughbred Association stakes races as well as the Texas Stallion Stakes Series. He bought three horses at last year’s sale, including the Texas-bred filly Texas Thunder for $112,000 and Streak of Silver for $95,000. Texas Thunder won a pair of $75,000 stakes this year at Sam Houston, and Streak of Silver won last year’s $100,000 Texas Thoroughbred Futurity before finishing second in a pair of stakes for Louisiana-bred horses. Both fillies are trained by Jacks.
“Everybody is excited about the future,” said Moore, from the Metroplex town of Kennedale. “The purses are good. The competition is getting better. People are bringing their horses here to run. I think it looks very positive for the future. I love the sport. I think Texas is definitely on the upswing.”
Eddie Milligan, traditionally one of the sale’s leading consignors under the Twin Oaks Thoroughbreds LLC banner, has 14 horses in the catalog.
“I think prices will be similar to last year, maybe a little better,” Milligan said. “Yearlings were awful expensive, and it looks like it may carry over to the 2-year-olds…. You get people like Carl Moore. He’s always wanted to run horses at Lone Star and Houston and support Texas racing. The (legislation) gave him a reason to go ahead and continue and feel like he had a chance to make his money back.
“It’s giving the trainers an opportunity to have a positive attitude and be able to make a living in Texas, where before it was tough. Everybody is upbeat.”