Yearling sale faces fight for survival
PROMINENT thoroughbred breeder Neville Stewart is hopeful the postponed 2020 Capricornia Yearling Sale can be salvaged, but says organisers have their work cut out if they’re to ensure the annual event survives long-term.
The Rockhampton Jockey Club, which manages the sale, announced this week that the April 5 auction would not go ahead due to complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
RJC CEO Tony Fenlon said the situation would be reviewed again by May 29, with one possibility being a reconvened sale after August, but some vendors have said they can’t afford to wait for either and will try offloading their stock through other avenues including social media and online auctions.
Mr Stewart, a well-respected figure in the thoroughbred breeding industry in Queensland, and boss of Oaklands Stud on the Darling Downs, has long been a supporter of the Rockhampton yearling sale, and country and provincial racing in general, but like any successful businessman he also knows his job is to get the best possible return on investment.
He has consistently brought a draft of around 20 yearlings to Rocky - at the 2019 Capricornia Yearling Sale his Oaklands operation offered 21 lots and in 2018 it offered 20.
But this year, well before the COVID-19 crisis struck, Mr Stewart nominated just six lots.
“We made the decision to support the sale in Rockhampton a long time ago and we’ve tried very hard to get as many horses as we can there, and convince our clients to sell there,” Mr Stewart said.
“But you know last year, I thought the sale was okay for the horses at the better end of the market, but the middle of the row horses, there were just not enough buyers at the sale.
“One horse I sold, he was a lovely colt by Sidereus out of Red Raptor.
“I think he made $2500 at the sale and he (Goodbye Earl) won a QTIS race this week (collecting $19,000 prize money).
“You can’t sell horses at that sort of price year after year, when he was a lovely horse, absolutely nothing wrong him, good x-rays and everything.
“It’s just the economics of it - we are running a business.
“And we had to have a good look here at Oaklands at what we were doing.
“My son said to me, dad, we can’t keep producing these horses to help them (Capricornia Yearling Sale) and take them up there and get way below what they’re worth.
“I mean you might get $30k and $40k for one or two of them, and they’re worth that.
“But getting $2.5k, $3.5k and $5.5k for horses that are worth minimum $15k, you’re not moving forward.”
To his credit, Mr Stewart has always employed about seven or eight Rocky locals for duties each time he has come to a Capricornia Yearling Sale.
Mr Stewart said those managing the event had a challenge in front of them and if they were unable to deliver it may struggle to survive.
He said he was informed late on Wednesday that salvaging the 2020 sale via an online auction only was being looked at.
“I think that’s a sound idea. But let’s hope it’s not a sign of the times.
“I just hope this is a one-in-a-hundred year thing.”