Written by: Alex Campbell

The track said the sponsorship is a good fit in an attempt to draw more attention to its turf program.

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Dave Landry Photo

A busy month of September for breeders, consignors, and buyers was even busier this year with a new select yearling sale added to the calendar. For the first time, Fasig-Tipton conducted the Turf Showcase sale on Sept. 10 in Lexington, KY, a sale consisting of yearlings suited to the turf based on pedigree and physical conformation. Seventy-four horses were sold, grossing $5,035,000 for an average of $68,041.

“This is an exciting addition to the sales calendar for Fasig-Tipton, and provides a great opportunity for buyers from around the globe to shop for yearlings with turf appeal,” said Boyd Browning, president of Fasig-Tipton, when the sale was announced back in March. “The performance of American-bred horses at Royal Ascot last year clearly demonstrated the quality of turf performers bred and raised in the United States. In addition, more than 40 per cent of 2017 graded stakes races in the United States will be turf races, and we are seeing North American racing and breeding programs investing in high class grass performers at an increasing rate.”

For Woodbine Racetrack, a new select sale geared towards yearlings with turf appeal matches well with the track’s strategy of endeavoring to offer more turf racing. In 2016, Woodbine ran more than 200 turf races for the first time since 2007. This year, the track announced in the lead up to the Queen’s Plate that they will be replacing the existing dirt standardbred track with a second turf course, which will be ready for the 2019 season after the standardbreds move to race year-round at Mohawk Racetrack.

As a result, Woodbine and Fasig-Tipton announced a unique partnership on July 13, with Woodbine being named the presenting sponsor for the Turf Showcase sale.

“Both organizations recognize the growing popularity of turf racing in North America and Fasig-Tipton’s innovative turf pedigree sale concept fits well with Woodbine’s exciting investment in our grass racing program as we add a second turf course in 2019 to go along with our world-renowned E.P. Taylor Turf Course,” said Jonathan Zammit, Woodbine’s vice-president of thoroughbred racing. “Our goal is to continue to promote Woodbine as the premier facility in North America for those owners and trainers with turf horses.”

As part of the sponsorship agreement, Woodbine will have a presence at the sale, which will allow them to sell yearling buyers from around the world on Woodbine’s racing program.

“It gives us access to prospective buyers during the sale to explain the benefits of competing at Woodbine,” Zammit said. “With the upcoming installation of an inner turf course to go along with our already existing turf course, and turf training track, it makes sense for owners and trainers to consider Woodbine as the place to be for their turf friendly stock.”

Prior to the sale, Bernard McCormack, who founded Cara Bloodstock sales agency in 1996, predicted current market conditions could lead to a positive sale in its first year.

“It’s innovative,” he said. “With the position in the calendar, there’s some maybe less obvious horses with a turf pedigree that could be highlighted. I don’t know what the response is going to be, but I do know the market is good right now. Timing wise, it’s a good year to try it. I know Fasig-Tipton is putting a lot of effort into getting people there and I’m expecting it will be a good sale. I think the market will be the judge of it, but I don’t see why the market won’t like it, so I think it might be here for the long-term.”

A total of 171 yearlings were catalogued for the first Turf Showcase sale, and McCormack was listed as the consignor for a pair of Ontario-breds. One of the yearlings, a filly by Data Link out of the Malibu Moon mare Druidess, was bred by McCormack at his Mapleshade Farm in Janetville, Ontario. The pair sold for $120,000 (U.S.).

“In terms of my filly, I was thinking (the) July (sale) when I showed her because she’s a very mature, correct filly,” he said. “She’s by War Front’s son Data Link, who was a multiple graded stakes winner on the turf and it’s a turf family.”

Breeder David Anderson of Anderson Farms is taking a “wait and see” approach to the Turf Showcase sale. Anderson will send 16 yearlings to the Keeneland September Yearling Sale this year, but said Woodbine’s second turf course, along with this new Fasig-Tipton sale, could have an impact on how he structures his broodmare band moving forward.

“There’s many different sales and many different opportunities, but I think Fasig-Tipton has done a great job by specifically putting together a turf sale and giving people with those heavily weighted grass pedigrees an opportunity to sell in that sale,” he said. “The fact that Woodbine (is planning to put) this turf course in, it’s certainly going to weigh a little more heavily on my purchasing plans towards my broodmare band in the future.”

In the short term, however, both McCormack and Anderson agreed that this new sale likely won’t change their breeding plans right away. McCormack said he already tends to lean towards breeding to turf horses due to Woodbine’s Tapeta main track.

“I don’t hesitate to breed to turf horses myself because of the synthetic and I always question breeding to Grade 1 dirt horses and how that transfers back to our program at Woodbine,” he said. “I’m certainly more likely to breed to a turf horse than just a Grade 1 dirt horse for the simple reason that our surface is unique in terms of not running on dirt at Woodbine.”

McCormack said Woodbine’s sponsorship of the sale can only raise awareness for Woodbine’s racing program, which could help increase the value of Canadian-bred yearlings.

“Woodbine’s sponsorship is unique,” he said. “It didn’t make me mad selling a Canadian-bred that could run back and get the bonus money as well as the turf opportunities. So there’s a little extra there for a Canadian-bred with a little bit of turf background.”