The business of breeding, buying, selling and owning thoroughbred race horses is a volatile and risky endeavor. Every year, millions upon millions of dollars are spent at various auction houses around the world, with each bidder looking for their next "big horse". The reasons why someone would purchase a thoroughbred at auction are as varied as the horses themselves. Some buyers are looking for breeding stock, some for horses to race, while others are simply looking for well-bred, well-balanced horses that they can turn around and sell quickly for a profit.
The risk in buying a horse is extreme. Despite all the homework a bloodstock agent can do regarding a horse's pedigree, and all the vet examination of films and conformation, it's difficult to measure the heart and desire of a world class thoroughbred until they finally set foot on the track. For every horse like The Green Monkey (sale price: $16 million and never won a race; click the link for the incredible auction video), there are horses like John Henry (sale price: $1,000; won $6.5 million), Zenyatta (sale price: $60k; won $7.3 million), Funny Cide (sale price: $22k; won $3.5 million) and a horse on the cusp of the Triple Crown, I'll Have Another.
Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another was initially sold as a yearling at the Keeneland September Sale of 2010 for the sum of $11,000. From that point, his initial owner, Victor Davila, broke the horse and turned around and sold him to the current owner, J. Paul Reddam, for $35,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sale in April of 2011. A little over a year later and I'll Have Another has won over $2.6 million and is two-thirds of the way to the first Triple Crown in 34 years.
Davila has no regrets of selling I'll Have Another; he understands the inherent risk and reward within the thoroughbred industry. While the sale of I'll Have Another might look like a bad deal in retrospect, there are other deals that end up looking great after time has passed. Speaking to the Gainesville Sun, Davila noted the mentality one must have when buying and selling horses:
"It's OK. It's part of it." he said, saddling one of Eisaman's 2-year-olds-in-training thoroughbreds at the Fasig-Tipton Sale outside Baltimore this week, getting the horse ready for sale.
"This type of business has ups and down. But you have to play," Davila said with a shrug.
The same year he bought I'll Have Another, Davila bought another colt for $8,500 and sold him for $100,000. He said the sale helps make up for selling I'll Have Another at the lower price.
Horse racing is known as The Sport of Kings, partially due to its roots in aristocracy hundreds of years ago, and partially due to the large sums of money invested in the sport. But one of the things that makes the sport interesting to follow for us die-hard fans is the fact that despite the large sums of money invested by extremely wealthy people at auctions around the world, the purchase price on its own doesn't guarantee greatness.
Below is the auction video of I'll Have Another from the 2010 Keeneland September Sale.