Future stars and the foal market

With the industry’s focus on the Magic Millions National Weanling Sale, we look at its record as a source for future stars on the track when compared to buying from the yearling market.

The walls of the Magic Millions complex at Bundall are adorned with the names and images of racetrack stars who have passed through the Gold Coast sales ring.

Most prominent are those champions who have been offered as yearlings, but at this time of year, focus turns to those who made an even earlier appearance through the ring: the weanling graduates who have gone on to stardom.

Golden Slipper (Gr 1, 1200m) winner Stay Inside (Extreme Choice), purchased at the National Weanling Sale in 2019, is a headline graduate, as are fellow recent Group 1winners Ellsberg (Spill The Beans), Quick Thinker (So You Think), Krone (Eurozone) and Despatch (Written Tycoon).

But Pierro (Lonhro) is the one that comes to everyone’s mind. Bought as a foal on the Gold Coast in 2011, he would go on to win Australia’s two-year-old Triple Crown and is in the midst of a lucrative stud career at Coolmore.

Four of the elite winners above were purchased as foals for $60,000 or less, and all six of them were pinhooked the following year, with all-but-one returning a profit.

While they highlight the potential commercial upside of buying in the foal market, what their success, and that of the 76 other stakes-winning graduates of the National Weanling Sale since 2012, does is speak to the opportunities beyond trading.

‘End users’, trainers and syndicators looking to secure horses at the earliest opportunity for racing purposes, have become a growing influence in the foal market in Australia, helping drive the average price of a weanling through the Gold Coast ring up from $28,797 in 2012 to $88,805 in 2022.

That increase may be substantial, but when you consider that the average price of a yearling through Australia’s four select yearling sales – Magic Millions Gold Coast, and Inglis Classic, Premier and Easter has grown from $108,740 to $203,180 in the same time, you can see why ‘getting in early’ has growing appeal.

The gap between the two markets has decreased from a decade ago, when the average price of a foal at the 2012 Gold Coast sale was 26.4 per cent of what that crop averaged as yearlings a year later. In the most recent crops that foal-price-to-yearling-price ratio has been 50.2 per cent and 45.6 per cent respectively.        

Foal Crop MM weanling average Yearling Average* Weanling/Yearling ratio
2021 $88,805 $191,810 46.30%
2020 $101,958 $203,131 50.19%
2019 $40,830 $178,761 22.84%
2018 $59,559 $159,168 37.42%
2017 $61,713 $158,075 39.04%
2016 $50,253 $158,353 31.73%
2015 $55,283 $153,767 35.95%
2014 $50,363 $136,026 37.02%
2013 $38,816 $124,961 31.06%
2012 $29,996 $108,576 27.63%
2011 $28,797 $108,740 26.48%

*average of four major yearling sales

While demand has played a major role in that change, there is also evidence that the quality of horses offered through Australian foal sales has increased; presenting greater commercial opportunities for traders and racing opportunities for those end-users.

Investment in the foal market has long been viewed as riskier than buying through yearling sales, and understandably so. The horses are obviously at a much earlier stage of their development, making it more difficult to identify athletic talent. There is also the extra burden of another 12 months of costs, and risks, before they get to the track.

But what about racetrack performance, how does that compare between horses sold as weanlings and those sold as yearlings?

We looked at the sales graduates of the Magic Millions National Weanling Sale from 2012-2021 and compared them – crop-for crop – with the graduate statistics out of the four major yearling sales from 2013-2022.

Overall, the data takes in 27,778 yearlings offered through the four major yearling sales in that time period, and 4081 offered as foals on the Gold Coast. There is overlap between the data sets as some of those foals were also offered as yearlings, however, the comparison is useful.

In general terms, we see that in all major metrics, the racetrack performance of those sold as weanlings is inferior to those sold as yearlings.

Firstly, fewer of them make it to the track, with 73.4 per cent of those offered as foals on the Gold Coast having started, compared to 79.5 per cent of those offered at the major yearling sales.

The winners-to-runners statistic is similarly slanted in favour of those sold as yearlings, with 70.1 per cent of yearling-sold runners successful on the track compared to 63.6 per cent of those runners put through the weanling sale on the Gold Coast.

At black-type level, the stakes-winners-to-runners statistic for those sold as yearlings is at 4.95 per cent, while it is 2.7 per cent for those ‘Gold Coast’ foals. At Group 1 level, it is also in the yearling graduates’ favour, 0.77 per cent to 0.37 per cent.

Comparative racetrack metrics over past decade

Metric MM Weanlings* Yearlings*
Runners/Offered 73.44% 79.45%
Winners/Runners 63.26% 70.07%
Stakes Winners/Runners 2.70% 4.95%
Group 1 Winners/Runners 0.37% 0.77%

(Magic Millions Weanling graduates – 2012-2021, Major yearling sales graduates 2013-2022)

However, the crop-by-crop comparison figures do indicate that the performance gap between the weanling graduates and those sold as yearlings has decreased in recent years.

It is also worth noting that the data from the current twoand three-year-olds obviously hasn’t reached maturity, as not all horses have had their chance to get to the track and perform.

There are some interesting early trends emerging among the current two-year-old crop. To date this season, graduates from the 2021 National Weanling Sale have a higher percentage of runners – 21.9 per cent to 20.9 per cent – than those of the same crop sold through the major yearling sales. They also boast a similar winners-to-runners figure – 27.2 per cent compared to 28.7 per cent – and are close-up on stakes-winners-to-runners – 3.9 per cent compared to 4.7 per cent.

They have done this from a much lower price-point. As mentioned before, the average Gold Coast foal price for that crop was $101,958, compared to $203,180 across the major yearling sales.  

Comparative racetrack metrics – current 2YO crop

Metric Weanlings Yearlings
Runners/Offered 21.88% 20.87%
Winners/Runners 27.27% 28.66%
Stakes Winners/Runners 3.90% 4.78%

(Magic Millions Weanling Sale 2021, Major yearling sales graduates 2022)

The 21 winning graduates to date from that record-breaking 2021 National Weanling Sale were sold as foals at an average price of $133,690.

In comparison, the average price of the 176 winning graduates to date from last year’s major yearling sales was $290,139, again demonstrating the value on offer, admittedly with greater risk, when buying at an earlier stage.

The nature of pinhooking means we can look directly at those winning weanling graduates from 2021 and assess how their value grew from foals to yearlings.

Twelve of them were pinhooked and every one of them sold for a profit on their weanling price, with the average increase 78.2 per cent. Among those are stakes winners Veight (Grunt) and Princess Duhallow (Shalaa) and stakes-placed Rubicon Crossing (Rubick).

Among the nine winning graduates of that 2021 weanling sale which were retained as yearlings are Listed winner Ripcord (Written By), Group 1-placed Don Corleone (Extreme Choice) and stakes-performed Hell Queen (Hellbent).

What these stats tell us is there is a premium you pay in the yearling market for taking less risk and buying horses which have historically outperformed those purchased from weanling sales. Whether it’s worth paying that premium or taking the greater risk at a lower price with a foal, is of course, up to the appetite of the buyer. 

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