Working a Thoroughbred Sale: Part 1

What is a Thoroughbred sale, and how does it work?

The horse racing industry is big and small at the same time. It’s comprised of multiple components, including breeding farms, racetracks, sales, and media, and every one of these branches is interconnected.

I love diving in and learning about the different aspects of racing. The majority of my experiences have been concentrated in journalism and communications, however I’ve also worked as a clocker, gallop girl, pony girl and taking entries in a racing office.

Thoroughbred sales were an area that I had less experience with, so I took it upon myself to learn more by actually working a sale – the Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale. Fun fact: Keeneland is the world’s largest Thoroughbred auction house! They hold multiple sales every year, with the largest ones in September and November.


A Thoroughbred mare and her foal

The life of many Thoroughbreds goes something like this: A foal is born on a Thoroughbred breeding farm. That foal is raised there until it is a yearling, and then it goes to a sale. At the sale, one of three things generally happens:

A) The yearling is purchased by someone who sees its potential as a racehorse, and plans to raise and train it to race.

B) The yearling is purchased by a Pinhooker, an individual who buys a horse with hopes to re-sell it for more money later in its life.

C) The horse RNAs, which stands for “Reserve Not Achieved.” Most horses that go through an auction have a set reserve price. If the bidding does not reach the reserve, the horse does not sell. This prevents horses from being sold for less than their value.


Yearlings at the Keeneland January Sale are inspected by potential purchasers

Not all Thoroughbreds who are bred for racing make it to the track, for a variety of reasons. But if they do have a racing career, it opens the door to another set of possible outcomes.

A) They race until they have won enough to add to their value, and/or have good enough bloodlines to be retired and become breeding stock (ideal circumstance).

B) Another possibility is they turn out to be untalented racehorses, unsound on the racetrack or are unsuitable for breeding, so they are given second careers as riding horses (another satisfactory outcome)

C) They become unsound during their racing career and/or for some reason cannot be given a second career (very unfortunate and far too common).

It’s not only yearlings who go to sales. Racing prospects, generally ages 2-4 can be found at sales, and also breeding stock — horses that can be purchased and used to breed more racehorses. And it’s not uncommon for a horse to go through multiple sales. For example, a filly might go through a sale as a yearling, and sell again years down the road as a broodmare.

Check out Part 2, my account of working at the Keeneland January Sale!

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