2019 yearling sale review

4 min read
The state of the yearling market is often a good barometer when evaluating the health of the thoroughbred industry in general. John Boyce takes a look at the stats of the four major yearling sales, revealing a market of unprecedented strength.

Thoroughbred racing requires continual inward investment and although there will not be a positive return on investment for the majority of participants, Australia operates one of the best risk/reward ratios anywhere in the world.

Only 31% of all starters come via the yearling sales, but 65% of Stakes horses are sourced from the sales. So the relationship between the yearling market and top-end racing is a very powerful one.

A new record average

This year’s sales continued the upward trajectory of investment in the raw material offered for sale. Using the four major auctions – Inglis Easter, Magic Millions Gold Coast, Inglis Melbourne and New Zealand Bloodstock's Karaka – to evaluate the state of affairs, the first thing to note is that the average price topped $160,000 for the first time ever.

In 2012 – only seven years ago – these four sales produced an average price of just $93,000. That represents a phenomenal growth rate of 72%.

Table: Yearling sale statistics since 2012

2019 3,279 2,590 79.0 $160,866$100,000
2018 3,257 2,750 84.4 $155,521$100,000
2017 3,309 2,750 83.1 $143,584$90,000
2016 3,394 2,880 84.9 $128,234$83,381
2015 3,314 2,723 82.2 $120,253$75,436
2014 3,309 2,679 81.0 $104,700$65,611
2013 3,345 2,591 77.5 $100,442$60,000
2012 3,291 2,610 79.3 $92,734$60,000

Where else in the investment field can you find such good returns over such a short timescale? And it’s not as if it’s a volatile marketplace either. On the contrary, it’s a very stable, producing sustainable year-on-year growth, with averages of $93k, $100k, $104k, $120k, $128k, $144k, $156k and $160k, although it must be said there was a five-point fall in the clearance rate in 2019 from the year before.

The median price for the four majors in 2019 was $100,000, the same mark as in 2018, up from $90,000 the year before and a good deal higher than the $60,000 recorded in 2012. Yet more evidence that the yearling market is in good health can be gleaned by breaking down the returns into 10% segments which usually exposes fundamental weaknesses, especially at the middle and lower tiers of the market.

The top 10% of yearlings sold in 2019 averaged $535,000 up from $522,000 last year and considerably well in advance of the $304,513 seven years ago.

Vancouver leads first season sire averages

It’s a similar story in the middle market: the average for the fifth decile is $125,000, which has grown every year since the $70,000 average in 2012.

Even the bottom 10% of yearlings have moved up from $11,000 in 2012 to $18,000 this year, although this sector’s uninterrupted growth stalled last year at an average of $19,000. So, by all reasonable measures, the yearling market remains vibrantly healthy at all levels.

Stallions in demand

The most sought after stallions at this year’s sales offer no surprises. The late Redoute’s Choice posted the best average price of $490,000, well ahead of the up-and-coming I Am Invincible, who recently equalled the record of 26 Stakes winners in a season, also held by Snitzel and Danehill.

Mention of the great Danehill, it’s worth pointing out that five of the top six commercial sires by average are his male-line descendants.

Vancouver was the winner among first-season sires from barnmates No Nay Never and Pride Of Dubai, and the Darley pair Kermadec and Exosphere.

Brazen Beau leading second season sire on average

Darley provided the leading second-season sire in Brazen Beau, whose G2-placed son and one-time Slipper favourite Tassort – plus Stakes winner Accession – raised his profile considerably this year. Rubick was the other second-season sire that clearly interested the leading buyers.

Assessed by median price, none could match Snitzel’s $350,000, although his sire Redoute’s Choice came close with $320,000 as did I Am Invincible with $330,000.

With a conception fee of $55,000, and given what we now know, the I Am Invincible yearlings look incredibly cheaply produced, so it’s no surprise that 103 of his 104 yearlings sold made enough to cover their sire’s conception fee and costs of $20,000.

This measure tends to favour emerging stallions like Zoustar, whose yearling crop – produced on a $44,000 conception fee, saw 75 of his 80 make money for their vendors. Veterans Not A Single Doubt and Lonhro, also had high ratios of profitable yearlings. The small number of Lonhros at the sales certainly had scarcity value given the brilliant season he’s had on the track, principally through G1 winners Lyre and Aristia.

Three Kiwi sires – Per Incanto, Pins and Savabeel – also produced profitability ratios in excess of 90%.

No Nay Never offered the biggest return on investment

Perhaps the sire with the biggest upgrade on service fee was No Nay Never, whose current yearlings were produced on an $11,000 fee. His phenomenal first European crop – which lead to a hike in fee to €100,000 – won’t have escaped buyers’ attention at this year’s sales, so it’s no surprise that he’s the leading sire both by average/fee (12.8) and median/fee (9.1) multiples.

Stallions by average sale price

Redoute's Choice3832$490,241
I Am Invincible114104$410,479
Fastnet Rock5851$400,204
Not A Single Doubt5856$314,081
Exceed And Excel4138$299,184
Medaglia d'Oro2927$295,121
Brazen Beau5642$256,226
Written Tycoon118106$226,477
More Than Ready6654$161,696
No Nay Never2724$140,337
So You Think8063$128,322
Time for War1914$119,000
Deep Field10392$118,276
Pride of Dubai8164$116,160