Inglis looks to maintain online momentum with blue-chip Chairman’s Sale
Australia’s oldest thoroughbred auction house Inglis has shown the rest of the world that online-only sales can be a viable alternative to live events during the coronavirus crisis.
Its prestigious Easter Yearling Sale, held in virtual format with no horses or buyers on site in Sydney last month, recorded a decline in average of just 13 per cent with remarkably only A$10,000 shaved off the median price.
Since then, the pioneering Inglis Digital platform, which hosted internet auctions of horses long before lockdown restrictions made them an essential tool, has received several positive updates.
The April Online Sale last week achieved a record gross of $4.14 million for 420 lots sold, and on Saturday Bella Vella (Commands) became Inglis Digital’s first Group 1-winning graduate when scoring an all-the-way victory in the TAB Classic (registered as Robert Sangster Stakes) (Gr 1, 1200m) at Morphettville.
Inglis is now doing everything in its power to ensure the momentum behind its virtual sales endures and even strengthens for two further important fixtures in its calendar that have been forced online – tomorrow’s Chairman’s Sale, offering a boutique selection of elite racemares tailored to appeal to the world’s leading breeders, and Sunday’s Australian Broodmare Sale.
Sebastian Hutch, general manager of bloodstock sales and marketing at Inglis, admits to some surprise that the Easter Yearling Sale held up so well in the circumstances, despite having confidence in the lots on offer.
“We were confident that the catalogue was of an extremely high standard – both in terms of the physical credentials of the stock and their respective pedigrees – while a huge amount of work, over an extended period of time, had gone into the promotion of the sale,” he says.
“But in the circumstances the outcome was a pleasant surprise. Irrespective of the amount of promotional work we do, or the regularity with which we liaise with buyers, we can never really know how much money is in the market, so to end up with such spirited competition through the sale was a huge relief.
“I would say that the results at the fall of hammer far exceeded the expectations of anyone involved, and the fact that in excess of 20 yearlings have been sold since then to bring the clearance up to near 70 per cent and a gross in excess of A$72 million has been a further boost to the sale.”
Hutch attributes the buoyancy of the online auction to a number of factors.
“It’s the best yearling sale in the southern hemisphere and people see an opportunity in the potential to buy quality stock at a discount, so I think that will have been a significant factor,” he posits.
“Racing in Australia is a very lucrative product relative to many other parts of the world, with prize-money levels far exceeding those in many other jurisdictions, while the fact that our racing authorities have been in a position to keep racing going in a responsible manner through this crisis undoubtedly helped the sale.
“There was some extraordinary promotional work done by vendors in the lead-up to and during the sale in an effort to give themselves every chance of achieving a positive result and certainly some were very well rewarded.
“Similarly, buyers and their agents approached the sale with a vigour and enthusiasm that gave the sale the necessary platform to be a relative success. That said, we learned a lot from the sale and identified plenty of areas for improvement, which will hopefully prove value in helping us to achieve better results for more people in future.”
A blueprint for the rest of the world
The success of the Inglis Online platform sets a benchmark for which the rest of the world can follow, with key northern hemisphere yearling sales due to take place later this year.
If the Inglis sales have proved anything, it’s that Europe and the wider bloodstock world might have to embrace online platforms due to Covid-19 restrictions, if not to sell the stock then at least to advertise it to prospective buyers who may not be able to travel.
But there has been plenty of chat about how pre-sale inspections on vendors’ farms – ingrained in Australian buying culture – were vital to the strength of Inglis Easter but may not be so easily replicated in Britain and Ireland.
Hutch cut his teeth working in racing and breeding establishments in Europe and so can offer valuable insight on the subject.
“Obviously the tyranny of distance is always going to be a factor, however investors in Australia seem to perceive there to be a multitude of benefits to pre-sale visits to inspect stock in advance of the major yearling sales,” he says.
“It allows people to monitor the development of the most valuable of stock over a period of time, while also making assessments in a more relaxed environment than the hustle-bustle of the sales grounds. It also allows buyers to familiarise themselves with the environments in which these horses are being developed, while also establishing relationships with the farms that are developing them.
“Breeders make up a huge percentage of racehorse owners in Australia and I think trainers in particular see the value of visiting owners at their respective farms as an important part of developing new associations and cultivating new owners.
“Theoretically it’s plausible to see this working to an extent in Europe in advance of the most elite sales, but there’s no disguising the fact that vendors in Australia were fortunate that the crisis struck towards the end of our yearling sales season.”
Just as crucial to the relative health of the Easter yearling sale was that Inglis had sown the seeds of success for online bidding with the launch of its digital platform three years ago.
“Our managing director Mark Webster has been a tremendous advocate for innovation in the bloodstock industry for a long time,” Hutch explains. “The development during his tenure of online bidding and digital auctions has been of huge significance for Inglis over an extended period of time and familiarity with these services meant there was an unwavering confidence in the ability of Inglis to deliver a viable sale irrespective of the circumstances.
“The co-operation and patience of both vendors and buyers was a hugely important factor in trying to deliver a positive outcome, but fortunately there was a real conviction among stakeholders to make the sale happen, which was very important.”
Chairman’s Sale tweaks
So to this week’s Chairman’s Sale, which was launched in 2017 and has needed a few tweaks to secure its position as the market leader in offering the cream of Australian breeding stock, Hutch admits.
“Like any sale, work is done with vendors and buyers to try and identify an optimum format,” he says. “In the first two years of its existence, the Chairman’s Sale ran directly after the Easter Yearling Sale.
“It was hugely successful in the first year, but not so in its second year, with an increased catalogue. Last year the decision was made to shift it to the current date, three or so weeks after the Easter Yearling Sale, and it worked very well.
“The market to sell the best fillies and mares in Australasia is hugely competitive, so some changes were made to the terms of the sale, which encouraged participation from people with some quality stock in 2019 and there was renewed focus on the standards of service being offered, particularly in the case of vendors.
“We put added work into research work for the catalogue for the Chairman’s Sale as well as other additional promotional work, and the response to that from sellers and buyers was hugely positive.
“In 2019, three of the four highest-priced pregnant mares sold at auction in Australia, including the two most expensive ones, were sold at the Chairman’s Sale, which was a tremendous reward for the work done by our bloodstock team.”
International buyers should disregard Australian broodmares at their peril, especially in the year after one, Believe’N’Succeed (Exceed And Excel), produced Anthony Van Dyck (Galileo), and another, the Epsom Derby (Gr 1, 1m4f) winner’s half-sister Bounding (Lonhro), was responsible for the son of Curlin (Smart Strike) who was the most expensive colt sold at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale at US$4.1million.
“Australian bloodstock is taking on an ever more prominent position in the context of the industry internationally,” says Hutch, who goes on to nominate five entries in this year’s Chairman’s Sale who might appeal to global investors in particular.
“Samaready (Lot 73) is the highest-rated two-year-old filly in Australia for at least the last ten years and is in foal to Snitzel, carrying a full-sibling to a high-class filly in Exhilarates,” he says. “It’s incredibly rare for mares of this quality to come on the market. As a daughter of More Than Ready, she is an outcross to most major international sire-lines, which adds to her appeal.
“In Her Time (Lot 42) has been a fabulous sprinting mare for a number of seasons mixing it with world-class sprinters with the security of Group 1 races against her own set as a safety blanket. She’s a granddaughter of Redoute’s Choice and is closely related to Everest winner Yes Yes Yes, so has a very persuasive pedigree and profile.
“Youngstar (Lot 78) is a Group 1-winning granddaughter of User Friendly, who was obviously a wonderful filly in Britain for Bill Gredley. Youngstar has a three year-old Group 1-winning half-sister named Funstar, while another three-parts sister by Galileo, Baggy Green, is the dam of recent Group 1 winner Tofane, so it’s a very progressive pedigree indeed.
“Go Indy Go (Lot 85) was a star two-year-old filly by Bernardini, winning the Group 1 Champagne Stakes beating colts. Daughters of Bernardini look to be making a big impression as broodmares around the world and this mare is from a quality pedigree that has the potential to make a positive impression anywhere in the world.
“Booker (Lot 31) won the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate over five and a half furlongs, just like Starspangledbanner, and beat Australia’s current sprinting sensation Nature Strip in the process. She’s a beautiful mare and in many respects has a lot in common with a mare like Bounding.”
The Chairman’s Sale catalogue also features mares in foal to blue-chip northern hemisphere-based stallions such as Lope De Vega (Shamardal), Frankel (Galileo), Kingman (Invincible Spirit) and Medaglia D’Oro (El Prado), which should leap off the page to the top broodmare owners.
You might think international breeders and their agents – not as used to purchasing horses online as their Australian counterparts – would be reluctant to spend big money on mares, sight unseen, with the click of a mouse.
“Far from it,” says Hutch. “There was a genuine appetite from international participants to engage with the online platform during the Easter Yearling Sale, with Marie Yoshida, Northern Farm and the Badgers Bloodstock team among those to embrace the technology and take part.
“A number of the major international parties who are invested in breeding in Australia have an affiliate or a partner here, which mitigates their need to engage directly; but, that said, there are still plenty of internationals looking closely at the opportunities that might be presented by the sale.
“We ran a test auction in advance of the Easter Sale, which debunked the concerns of many, to the point where the online nature of the sale has not been raised as a concern by any buyers so far in advance of the Chairman’s Sale.”
Prospective purchasers need to register to bid – “a very easy process,” says Hutch – on the Inglis website by following a few steps and applying for credit.
Looking further along the Inglis sales calendar, Hutch is unable to rule out further fixtures having to be held online with so much uncertainty surrounding the nature of the coronavirus and restrictions to everyday life that need to be made to deal with its spread and any second wave.
“The feeling is that the challenges presented by the pandemic will be prolonged and difficult,” he says. “In the short term, we have a series of weanling, yearling and breeding stock sales scheduled for July. We’re hopeful that we’re in the position to host these as traditional auctions with horses and buyers on site, but under the circumstances, it’s hard to be certain.
“There are sure to be plenty of other challenges to face as a by-product of the pandemic going into 2021, but we have a strong team of people who are determined to help our stakeholders achieve positive outcomes and irrespective of conditions. That will remain the focus going forward.”