Are the yearling sales the place to buy?
If you have decided to purchase the racehorse of your dreams, the yearling sales are an excellent place to start looking. New Zealand breeders offer almost a third of the annual 4500 foal crop as yearlings every year, most of these being sold at New Zealand Bloodstock's Karaka sales facility. With such numbers comes considerable variety and a range of prices from $1500 all the way up to the Southern Hemisphere record price of $3.6 million paid in 2003 for a colt at Karaka. That colt since won a Derby in Australia, tripling his value.
There are sales to fit all budgets, but unless you know what you are looking for, make sure you ask the advice of a trainer or bloodstock agent before you get the urge to flay your arm about in the auction ring. A trainer will advise, inspect and even purchase for an owner with the expectation of training the horse, while an agent will charge either a negotiated fee or a percentage of the purchase price (5-10%).
What sort of money is needed to buy at auction?
Depending on the session you are watching, anything from a few thousand dollars right up to a few hundred thousand. The high-profile Premier Session of the NZ National Sales held every summer is likely to post an average in the region of $100,000-$120,000 but the horses become more affordable as the sales go on. The next tier down is the Select Colts and Select Fillies. And at the Festival session many horses are sold for less than a couple of thousand dollars.
However, many great racehorses have been purchased for well below the average price at the sales. Bonecrusher was purchased for $3000 at the Waikato Sales and went on to amass a whopping $2,888,085 in stakes in his 18 win career.
The highest priced yearling is not necessarily the best racehorse, just the most sought after in the sale ring that day. It is important for potential buyers to identify what they would like to do with a horse (a potential Melbourne Cup starter will have different breeding and physical attributes to a horse bought to race as an early two-year-old) and to take the appropriate advice before making a purchase at auction.
Do I have to buy one?
Not if you can do what Sunline's astute trainer did and lease a horse. Leasing allows the easiest entry to thoroughbred ownership, removing the capital component and meaning the lessee's only costs are the actual holding and training costs. Put simply, this means you rent the racehorse, usually from its breeder.
Many trainers will find a horse to lease for a potential owner, while studs may also be able to assist in this regard.