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The search for an edge in a red hot bloodstock market

In a global bloodstock boom the ability to find value in the market is an edge every buyer is seeking. Bren O’Brien looks at how buyers at this week’s Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale are adapting their strategies.

Young bloodstock agent Will Johnson is simultaneously basking in both the late afternoon Queensland sun and the spotlight of having just signed the docket on a $1.25 million filly by champion sire Snitzel. 

He bounces between media interviews, photographer requests and accepting handshakes and backslaps, and has only the briefest chance to reflect on the most significant moment of a bloodstock career that has been gaining momentum over more than a decade. 

“The heartbeat has come down a little over the past five minutes,” Johnson tells Asian Racing Report after completing the post-Sale formalities. 

Over the past 18 months, Johnson has evolved his relationship with Peter and Paul Snowden, Australia’s pre-eminent trainers of Group 1-winning two-year-olds, from initially working as a consultant on international purchases to now being their go-to man when it comes to yearling selection. 

In many ways, the Snitzel filly selected herself. A three-quarter sister to the Snowdens’ stakes-placed filly Russian Conquest, who contests Saturday’s $2 million Magic Millions 3YO Guineas, she was on the radar for Johnson and the father-son training partnership for a number of months. 

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The $1.25 million Snitzel filly out of My Conquestadory was purchased by Will Johnson Bloodstock and Snowden Racing. (Photo by Magic Millions)

“We put a few calls out to the partners in Russian Conquest in that time and once we got here to the sales grounds, it came together pretty quickly,” he said.  

One and a quarter million dollars does not sit at the value end of the spectrum, indeed it puts her well inside the top 10 most expensive fillies ever bought at this sale, but key to the buying strategy of Team Snowden is to be targeted. 

That is, find the one you like and go hard at it. 

“They are quite selective in the style of horse they want to train. They require a few different conformational things that ensure they can stand up to their way of training,” Johnson said.  

“We are very particular with the style of horse. It doesn’t always have to be the expensive one. We always try and get the value but it is quite a select list that we work from.” 

The Snitzel filly was one of three million-dollar plus lots on the opening day, two of which were fillies. In a flip from the usual situation at a yearling sale, the fillies on the opening day averaged $40,000 more than the colts, something Johnson attributes to the strength of both Australian prizemoney and the residual value fillies carry through as potential broodmares. 

“This filly is in safe hands with Peter and Paul and we can sleep well at night knowing there is a lot of weight to her pedigree and physical to preserve that longer-term value,” he said. 

Magic Millions Managing Director Barry Bowditch has seen first-hand the increased faith the Australian market has in buying and selling broodmares and the yearling catalogue selection process has adapted accordingly. 

“I think on the whole this year, we have a very, very strong line-up of fillies,” he said. “When you come to the broodmare sales, you have seen the numbers at our Gold Coast sale over the last three or four years, they are unbelievable. 

A Zoustar filly out of Members Joy brought $1.1 million on the opening day. (Photo: Magic Millions)

“Whenever they buy a filly, whether they can run on the racetrack or not, the fillies that are good-looking and have that residual value, can turn out and get a sales result in two, three or four years’ time.” 

For one of the buying bench’s most experienced, the uncertain early hours of a yearling sale, when the market is finding its level, presents her with a great opportunity to find an edge. 

Denise Martin of Star Thoroughbreds has been buying on the Gold Coast for going on 30 years and together with her trusted advisor Brett Howard of Randwick Bloodstock, has had more success than most when finding future stars of the track through the Magic Millions sales ring. 

Ahead of the action kicking off on Tuesday, Martin was enthusiastically headed into battle, ready to make an early mark with the advice of one of her mentors, the late Tommy Smith, ringing in her ears, ‘go early and go hard’. 

In the last two editions of this Sale, Martin has picked up two yearlings inside the first two hours and she stayed true to form when she signed for two lots, a colt and a filly, within the first 35 lots on Tuesday. 

Tania Rouse, Denise Martin and Gai Waterhouse celebrate Sebring's Golden Slipper triumph. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

It was a similar approach for the Surace family’s B2B Thoroughbreds, building up the future prospects for their broodmare band at their Southern Highlands farm, through yearling purchases. They purchased two Snitzel fillies that they thought were very reasonably priced given their profile.  

“We thought she was probably one of the best fillies at the sale and we were lucky that she ended up as Lot 8 at the sale,” Ricky Surace Jnr said of the Snitzel filly who cost B2B, $600,000. “Who knows what she would have made in another hour’s time.” 

In a market where the numbers are stacked against you, getting an edge on price, or on selection can prove crucial.   

The stats tell us that since 2011, 35.3 per cent of horses bought through this sale have failed to win a race, less than six per cent won a stakes race, and just 0.8 per cent developed into Group 1 winners. Those stats compare favourably to almost every other yearling sale, but also paint a picture of how hard it is to source success, even with significant funds behind you. 

Bowditch has noted the change in buyer behaviour as they try and find ways to prosper in such a competitive market. 

“Some come in and go their hardest on the ones they like, and others keep their lists really long and wait for the opportunity. I urge plenty of buyers to do that, because I think when you have a catalogue as big as we do, opportunities pop up very regularly for the right buyer,” he said. 

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