With the Magic Millions sales happening in Perth next week, I thought I’d go through how you can pick out a horse. Other than Ace’s Wish, I’ve never owned a horse from the sales, but not everyone has the luxury of breeding their own horse (or having a trainer that breeds), hence the sales are very important.
When picking a horse from the sales, it’s really a process of elimination. So, in this post, I’ll step you through some key areas that I look at the sales (you can read how I picked my own horses here). I’ve only skimmed the first few pages of the sale book, so please don’t think the horses listed below are my favourites from the sale.
I must note though if your heart falls in love with a horse then just go for it. There was a horse I loved from the 2018 sale (now known as Mighty Vain) who unfortunately got sold to Singapore, so I couldn’t buy a share, but he was a stunning horse. As of writing this post, he has a record of six starts for two seconds and two thirds.
So, let’s get started!
The Breeding Page
When looking at the horse on paper, there are three aspects in particular that I look at. These are the black type in the family, previous foals from that dam and the family history. While I’ve never put much emphasis on breeding, because I believe there are too many factors in play, it is the quickest way to eliminate horses at the sales.
Black type can be identified in a family when there are horses whose name is in capital letters and bold, black text. This means that the horse has won or been placed in a listed or group race. From my point of view, the more black type further up the page the better because the further down the page you get the less related the horses are.
Lot 12 caught my eye in terms of black type of two reasons. The first is that this yearling is cousins to Mist Metal, a great racehorse here in WA. While I’ll talk about this later on, it suggests that the mares (females) in this family can have good foals. However, if we look further down the page you can see the Antique family, which is what really caught my eye. She is what is known as a “blue hen” which is a dam (mother horse) that consistently has fabulous foals. While very distantly related, if this yearling was anything like them then you would be very lucky.
Based on other factors, including looks and immediate family, I expect this yearling to go well at the sales.
An obvious thing to do is to look at how previous foals (brothers and sisters) have gone to predict how well this yearling will go. This method is a bit hit and miss, as I know with my twin sister and I that we are completely different, despite having the same parents. So, the same scenario can apply to racehorses as well.
However, when looking at the yearling’s brothers and sisters keep an eye out for two things. The first is how many foals the dam has had compared to the number of winners. As we can see with lot 17, the dam has had two foals to race for two winners, which is pretty good. One of these foals is also a black type horse. The second thing that gives me confidence in this yearling is that she is a full sibling to those two winners, so the mating does have a good track record. Plus, the breeders wouldn’t have done the mating again if it failed.
Some people do like to look at how the dam (mum) has performed in her career, but in my opinion it’s not necessarily important. You have dam like Doubleblack Velvet who never raced and produces The Velvet King and then you have dams like Makybe Diva who was a champion on the track but is yet to recreate that in her foals.
As with many yearlings, they are the first one from their immediate family to go through the sale, which means we can’t look at how their siblings have performed at the track. When this is the case, I like to look at how their cousins have performed.
To do this we go down to the “2nd Dam” section on the sale page. This outlines the siblings to this yearling’s mum. In this case, two of mum’s siblings have had foals themselves and both have produced winners. One of which is Black Sabbath, a black type and fantastic horse in my opinion. Genetically, this yearling is a cousin to Black Sabbath. While not exactly close genetically, looking at how cousins perform is the best option we have in this case.
The Full Package
Sometimes you get yearlings that tick all of the boxes I’ve listed above, and this is the case with lot 40.
As you can see, this yearling has had five siblings to race and four of them are winners. However, none of them are full siblings. The dam was good on the track herself and she seems to be putting that into her foals as well. There is also plenty of black type in this family, especially when looking at the cousins. This is a big tick.
After having a quick looking at this yearling’s photo online (which is shown below in the looks section), he’s stunning, so combined with his breeding, I expect him to go well.
As I’ve previously said, I’m not a big believer in breeding but looks are very important to me and it’s often the factor that helps me to decide what horse to buy. Your sprinters are going to look different to your stayers, so do keep that in mind when you’re looking at yearlings too.
Shoulders and girth
When looking at a horse’s shoulders you want to see some muscle definition, as a horse’s power comes from its shoulders and rump. As you can see, lot 40 has really nice shoulders. Nice definition leading into a straight leg. The shoulder on lot 47 may look better simply because of the way it’s standing but you’d think sellers would want their horse looking their best in the photo.
Lot 47 has a great girth too, which is the part between the top of a horse’s shoulder and to their stomach behind their front legs. I’m not sure if this is an old wives’ tale, but it was thought that the bigger a horse’s girth the bigger their heart and lungs, hence making them a great racehorse.
If we compare lot 40 to lot 47, we can see that this yearling doesn’t have as well-defined shoulders, though it does have straight legs from the side. Its girth doesn’t seem as deep either.
Haha maybe it’s the white markings on lot 40, but if I was going to buy either of these horses, I’d got lot 40.
A horse’s power really comes from their rump and in terms of overall looks, this is the area that usually seals the deal for me. It’s also, however, where horses vary the most.
As you can see in lot 64, this yearling is very lightly built, with a skinny looking rump. This is usually a sign of a sprinter (and this yearling’s breeding suggests that), but I’ve yet to work out the complete difference in looks between a stayer and sprinter. The thing I like the most is the muscle definition, which is noticeable by the lines and variations in its rump.
If we then look at lot 32, we can see this yearling has a much solid and heavier build (haha and the type I’m usually drawn too). This yearling shares that muscle definition like lot 64 and just looks really powerful. Looking at this yearling’s breeding, it does seem like it could be a stayer.
It was hard to find an example of what I don’t look for in a horse’s rump, but lot 80 didn’t have as much definition as I would usually like. It’s rump just looks very smooth. This may be because of the way it’s standing, or it may be carrying more weight than the other two. This lot does, however, have good shoulders.
In the Flesh
There’s only so much you can get from looking at a yearling on paper and it’s one photo online, so if you have the time, always look at a horse in the flesh.
You can’t see how well a horse is going to run before buying them, but you can look at their walk. This is actually a tip I learnt from the Watching Racehorses book by Geoffrey Hutson (which you can buy here) and it’s something I regularly apply when looking at horses in the mounting yard.
When looking at how a horse walks you obviously want to make sure it’s not limping because that’s clearly a sign that something is wrong. However, you want to pay the most attention to its hoof placement. First look at where the horse places its front hoof and remember that spot. Then look at where it places its back hoof. If that spot is further forward than it’s front hoof than that horse is nice and flexible, a big tick in my books. While they’re only a year old and will develop this flexibility potentially with time, imagine how good they’ll be if they are already this flexible.
This criterion is a very subjective one, as everyone has a different idea of what personality a good racehorse has, but in my opinion, there are a few key areas.
I want a horse that is not aggressive but not too shy. The aggressiveness will make them too hard to train while you still want a horse that will stand up for themselves. I want them to have that slight sassiness about them, confident but not arrogant. You can tell this by the way a horse walks (do they have that swagger about them) and by going up to them (do they try and bite you?).
Don’t be turned off if a horse is very calm and laid back though as this can be a positive. Do look for them to be interested in their environment though (do their ears turn to new sounds, are they’re eyes bright?), but then too nervous about the environment may not be a good thing. They are still babies though and this is something that is all new to them, so some nervous is to be expected.
This area is the easiest to tell if a horse has that x-factor about them. Does that horse make you want to look at them when they walk in the room? If yes, you’ve found yourself a winner!
So, I hope this you have found this post helpful when picking out a horse at the sales. If you have anything to add, let me know in the comments below what you look for in a horse or who your favourite lot is at the sales. Best of luck to everyone looking for their next champion and remember, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to win big!
*Photo credit of yearlings goes to Western Racepix and Magic Millions