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How do Thoroughbred auctions work?


The world of thoroughbred auctions is an exciting one. To the untrained eye it may just be a lot of people looking at horses and buying them. Simple enough right? But there’s more to it than that. There’s a buzz, there’s an atmosphere around the sales ring when people know that there’s about to be a bidding war. When horseracing’s major players converge on Tattersalls it becomes theatre. There is loads that goes into trying to identify the next wave of champions as they progress from stud farm, to sales ring, to training yard, the racecourse and then, if things go to plan, back to the breeding shed.

But how do the sales work? Let’s try and break down the process for you.

The Catalogue.

The starting point for any sale. This book has the pedigree pages listed of every horse being offered at a particular sale. Each lot has the details of their family tree (pedigree) laid out for all to see starting with their sire (father) and mare (mother) and working backwards from there. 

Once the catalogues are printed and ready it’s up to the buyers to research the pages and look at the pedigrees of the horses on the sale to see if there’s anything that catches their eye. Some of the pages will have black type, this means that a horse hails from a family that has had success in listed and graded races. Winners of such races are awarded with bold black type, their achievements are written in caps and bold for all to see.

If you wander around the sales complex you’ll see bloodstock agents, trainers and owners all clutching catalogues. Some of them will use sticky notes to keep track of horses that they have found in the catalogue that they want to cast an eye over.

The Inspections.

This is an important part of the process and takes place once there is a shortlist of considerations on any given sale. Trainers and bloodstock agents will tell you that it’s pretty much impossible to look at every horse on a sale. Some will split into teams and will seek second opinions if they’ve seen something they like and want the prospective trainer or owner to have a look at.

At this stage, horses are judged based on how balanced they are when they stand, their conformation is assessed and then they will also be walked to assess their movement. In the case of a yearling sale, buyers will also try and predict how a young horse might develop. Given their age, these are not yet the finished product and they are still growing.

In a breeze-up sale environment, horses will be asked to do a bit of work on the gallops as part of the build-up to their appearance in the sales ring.

The below video explains what buyers may be looking for  when trying to assess the conformation of a horse.

The Sales Ring.

At Tattersalls, horses are paraded in the outside rings before they are asked to step into the auditorium. Before they appear the stable staff make sure they are immaculately presented with manes and tails brushed, hoof oil applied and that their coats are gleaming before they are presented.

Once they enter, the order based on their allocated lot numbers, the fun starts. If there are several people interested in a particular lot the battles begin and it’s down to who is prepared to pay the most.

The auctioneers serve as the ringmasters, they convince bidders to up their price as it all plays out. The words and amounts rolling off their tongues. It is theatre. And then the hammer falls. It’s over. On to the next lot.

The purchaser then has to go through the process of signing for the horse they have just purchased and the auction house prepares the necessary paperwork in order for payment to be made.

The Future

After the auction, arrangements will be made for the horse to be transported from the sales grounds. Some may go back to the farm they’ve come from, others might go to a pre-training facility. Some might go straight into a yard. Every person will have their way of doing things.

What follows then is months of hard work and preparation with the goal to get the horse to the racecourse and hopefully a winning career.

While bloodstock agents, trainers, owners and advisors all have their own methods of trying to unearth future champions it does sometimes just boil down to luck. There have been countless success stories of horses bought for a steal who have gone on to achieve great things. Others have been expensive purchases who have not lived up to expectations. But that’s part of the reason why we keep going back every year.

Are you keen to immerse yourself in a behind the scenes experience to learn more about the world of the sales? Why not book your place on our Tattersalls Tour by clicking here