by Al Cimaglia
September 6, 2018
A two-year-old Indiana bred trotter selling for seven figures is big news. The person who was responsible for snagging Swandre The Giant out of the 2017 Hoosier Classic Yearling Sale for $17,000 was Anthony MacDonald of thestable.ca. The recent buyers of Swandre were Taylor Made Farms. They also made a really big splash in May with an estimated $4 million purchase of the New Zealand-bred champion pacer Lazarus. At the time of purchase Swandre was under the care of conditioner Brandon Bates at Hoosier Park and it has been reported Jimmy Takter will be new trainer.
Since 2016 I have purchased shares of yearlings through thestable.ca. Buying a yearling is the ultimate puzzle, for certain not something I have mastered. The range of emotions involved in getting a yearling to the race track is hard to describe as is the thrill of watching them battle to win a race. My success has been a thimble full compared to the connections of Swandre The Giant. But in any event, it has been fun and once again I will be trying to get lucky at upcoming sales. A grand slam like the sale of Swandre are few and far between, but this fall buyers will be trying for the same type of success.
Many would say there is a skill set involved in reading pedigrees and certainly there is some truth to that assertion. Often being successful requires deep pockets. Luck is certainly involved, and MacDonald credits his good fortune in making the buy. But the older I get the less I believe in coincidence. I do believe some people have a knack for eyeballing yearlings priced correctly and with a big upside. MacDonald could certainly be considered in that category and would be classified as a value buyer. His record in purchasing fairly priced yearlings, getting them to the races and then achieving success has been striking over the last few years.
Below are a few of the modestly priced purchases made over the past two years by thestable.ca that have done very well at the race track.
Recently, I contacted Anthony to find out more details about the purchase of Swandre and was also able to ask him a few questions.
A seven-figure sale is a wow and congratulations go out to the connections of Swandre The Giant.
Anthony, could you give us some insight into how the purchase of Swandre as a yearling came about?
Honestly, I could tell you some great story about how I picked him out weeks in advance. But that would be a lie. The buyers wanted to spend less than $30,000 either gate. The fact is, it was dumb luck how I found him. We were looking for a deal, and I didn't think we would find one with a Swan For All. His offspring are usually sought after pretty aggressively in Indiana. I was walking by the video viewing area and Swandre's video was playing. He was obviously a striking animal, but under further review, it appeared his first dam was 0 for two, and neither of his sisters raced.
I remembered saying to the guy I was with that this might be a horse we could afford and depending on what took place with the sisters, he might actually be a steal. After talking to Ruddick farms, I learned the fillies were small and didn't look anything like Swandre. To me, it was as simple as raising my hand after that and the rest is history.
When trying to price yearlings are you primarily concerned with reading pedigrees?
Pedigrees are important, but they are only one indicator used in pricing yearlings. Conformation and how the individual moves are also very important to me.
Do you have a sweet spot for purchases as many of your very good yearlings have been bought for around $20,000 or less?
For us, it's all about value. What I mean is $20,000 for us just means $200 per share for clients. Mostly everyone can afford that amount. We have a scale we are well aware of and a mix of buyers. We have speculators, leisure owners and now that we've done well, we have obviously an influx of clients looking for higher end stake horses. Accommodating all of them will be the chore of 2018/2019. But with 523 owners in ten different countries that is a problem we are glad to have.
Will there be a time when you will be able to take a swing at the most expensive yearlings or does that even interest you?
Everyone wants to be the guy with his hand up on expensive yearlings. But the likelihood of making any money with those horses is low. That's the owner with an incredible amount of disposable income. We would welcome such an owner, but our core clients are generally somewhere between university students and doctors. We cater to a different crowd. I like it this way also, as it keeps costs low and moral high. It's a ton of fun.
What three purchases are you most proud of making?
Lawmaker, Swandre The Giant and White Tiger are my top three. All three showcase what thestable.ca can do given a chance. Every trainer wishes they had good horses to develop and train. Few actually get the chance. We certainly don't forget how that came to be and its very humbling.
Although I haven't crunched the numbers, over the past two years (2017-2018) it seems like you have had a very high batting average in respect to preparing yearlings to get to qualify. How many yearlings were bought and how many have made it to the races?
89 yearlings in the last two years were bought and 78 have found the track so far. We have seven more slated to qualify within a month.
In 2017 sale prices were the best in quite a while. Do you have any feel for how prices will be this year?
I think this year will be much the same as the last. Some stand out sires will take a lot of the money which leaves lots of room for us to maneuver hopefully.
Last year I believe you made the most purchases at the Lexington sale of any individual buyer. You attend many sales and have already made some purchases this year. How do you think the number of babies thestable.ca buys will compare to last year?
We already have 21 yearlings under our umbrella, so I'd say we should end up with around 60-70 yearlings if everything goes right.
If you were given one wish what would you want to change with harness racing?
That's a loaded question but I truly believe the industry model is backward. We are so focused on gambling on racing we lost what drew the gamblers out. We have a watered-down product with an evaporating audience. Fractional ownership can help bring racing back. The numbers don't lie, I wish jurisdictions would invest in proven growth and stop looking for a magic bullet. Get back to the grassroots marketing where we will absolutely excel. We are selling TVs but are only marketing the remote.
Thanks Anthony, your candor is appreciated!
Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia.