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Racehorse Auctions: How to Buy and Sell Like a Pro

Published on: April 18, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

My passion for horse racing really took hold of me when I attended my first racehorse auction. It was there that I stumbled upon a yearling with an impressive pedigree and a striking presence. Little did I know this investment would turn into a successful racehorse and spark a lifelong interest in racehorse auctions.

Navigating the world of racehorse auctions can be both thrilling and overwhelming, especially if you’re new to the game. Whether you’re an aspiring owner or simply looking to sell a prized horse, understanding the intricacies of the buying and selling process is crucial.

In this post, I share my experiences to help you master racehorse auctions. We’ll explore auction types, cover how to make informed buying and selling decisions and tackle legalities and logistics. Let’s dive into the thrilling world of racehorse auctions, drawing on lessons I’ve learned since buying my first yearling.

Types of Racehorse Auctions

As a newcomer to racehorse auctions, you might be wondering about the different types of sales available. Let me introduce you to the most common ones, so you can decide which suits your interests best.

Picture of a chestnut yearling I bought.
Chestnut yearling I bought

Yearling Auctions

Yearling auctions are my personal favorite because they offer a unique opportunity to purchase young, untrained horses with great potential. At these sales, one-year-old horses, or “yearlings,” are presented for auction. The yearlings typically have not yet begun training, which allows buyers to shape their development from an early stage.

One of the main advantages of yearling auctions is the chance to evaluate the horses based on their pedigree, conformation, and overall appearance. With the right research and a keen eye, buyers can identify yearlings with promising bloodlines and physical attributes, potentially unearthing future racing stars.

Additionally, yearling auctions often provide better value for money compared to other sales, as the horses are still relatively unproven. With patience and a well-planned training program, buyers can mold these young prospects into successful racehorses, making yearling auctions an exciting and rewarding venture for racing enthusiasts.

Two-Year-Olds in Training

Two-year-old in training auctions are another popular option for buyers looking to invest in racehorse prospects. These sales feature two-year-old horses that have already begun their training for a racing career. One of the main draws of these auctions is that buyers can evaluate the horses based on their early training performance and physical development.

The horses at these sales often participate in breeze shows, where they perform short workouts, typically an eighth or a quarter of a mile, for potential buyers to observe their speed and athleticism. This allows buyers to gauge the horse’s aptitude for racing, providing valuable insight into their potential on the racetrack.

Compared to yearling auctions, two-year-olds in training sales may have higher prices due to the additional training and proven ability demonstrated by the horses. However, these sales can be an attractive option for buyers seeking horses that are closer to making their racing debut.

Buyers can assess the horse’s progress in training and make more informed decisions on their investment, reducing some of the uncertainty that comes with purchasing a younger, unproven horse.

Mixed Sales Auction

Mixed sales auctions offer a diverse selection of horses, making them an attractive option for various buyers with different goals and preferences. These sales typically include broodmares, weanlings, and horses of racing age, providing a wide range of investment opportunities within the racing industry.

Broodmares are female horses used for breeding purposes, and their value is often determined by their own racing performance and pedigree, as well as the success of their offspring. Buyers at mixed sales may be seeking to add proven producers to their breeding program or invest in mares with promising bloodlines.

Weanlings are young horses that have been weaned from their mothers, usually between six months and one year old. These horses present an opportunity for buyers to invest in a prospect at an early stage of development, often at a lower price compared to yearlings or two-year-olds.

Horses of racing age can range from those that are just about to begin their racing careers to older, more experienced competitors. These horses offer buyers the chance to purchase a race-ready horse or one with an established racing record, potentially providing immediate returns on investment.

Mixed sales auctions cater to a variety of needs within the horse racing industry, making them an appealing choice for buyers interested in diverse opportunities. Whether you’re looking to invest in a broodmare, a young prospect, or a seasoned racer, mixed sales offer something for everyone.

As you explore these different types of racehorse auctions, remember that each offers unique opportunities. Take your time to learn and understand the nuances of each sale, and soon enough, you’ll be well on your way to finding the perfect racehorse prospect.

Picture of a broodmare and her foal.
Broodmare and foal

How to Buy Like a Pro

Diving into the world of racehorse auctions can be an exciting yet challenging endeavor. To help you navigate this process with confidence, I’ll share my experiences and insights on how to buy a horse like a pro.

From research and preparation to bidding strategies and tactics, I’ll guide you through the essential steps to making informed decisions and securing a promising racehorse at the auction. So, let’s embark on this thrilling journey together and unlock the secrets to successful racehorse buying!

Research and preparation

Before attending a racehorse auction, thorough research and preparation are crucial for success. Studying pedigrees, understanding market trends, and getting familiar with the auction house and catalog can set you up for a winning bid.

Study pedigrees

Studying pedigrees is an essential aspect of selecting a promising racehorse at an auction. A horse’s pedigree provides valuable information about its ancestry, which can be indicative of its potential performance on the racetrack. Pedigrees can also help you identify horses with strong bloodlines, as successful racehorses often come from families with a history of racing achievements.

To study pedigrees, start by examining the horse’s sire (father) and dam (mother). Research their racing records, achievements, and any notable offspring they may have produced. You can also look into the horse’s grandsire and grand dam, as their performance and progeny can influence the potential of the horse you’re considering.

Additionally, pay attention to the nicking patterns, which are the successful crosses between certain sire lines and broodmare sire lines. This can provide further insight into the compatibility of the horse’s bloodlines and their likelihood of producing a talented racehorse.

Keep in mind that while a strong pedigree can be a good indicator of a horse’s potential, it doesn’t guarantee success. However, studying pedigrees can certainly increase your chances of finding a promising racehorse and making a wise investment at the auction.

Get familiar with the sale catalog.

The sale catalog is an invaluable resource for buyers attending a racehorse auction, as it contains essential information about each horse being offered for sale. Learning how to read and interpret the catalog can help you identify potential prospects and make informed decisions during the auction.

A typical sale catalog will include details such as the horse’s name, age, color, pedigree, and consignor (the person or entity representing the horse at the auction). Some catalogs may also provide information about the horse’s racing or breeding achievements, as well as any notable achievements of their relatives.

In a sale catalog, black type is used to indicate a horse’s notable achievements or the accomplishments of its close relatives. This distinction signifies that the horse, its sire, dam, or other close family members have won or placed in certain significant races, typically stakes races.

Black type is an important factor to consider when evaluating a horse’s pedigree and potential value, as it reflects a history of racing success in the horse’s bloodline. A strong black-type family can increase a horse’s desirability at an auction and may suggest a higher likelihood of the horse having a successful racing career.

To make the most of the sale catalog, start by browsing through it and highlighting the horses that catch your attention based on their pedigree, age, or other factors that align with your goals. Take note of the hip number assigned to each horse, as this is the number they will be identified by during the auction.

Once you have shortlisted your preferred horses, delve deeper into their pedigrees, performance records, and any other available information to refine your selections further. It’s also helpful to research the consignors, as their reputation and success rates can influence your confidence in the horse’s potential.

Arriving at the auction well-prepared with a clear understanding of the sale catalog will allow you to focus on inspecting and evaluating the horses in person and, ultimately, make smarter decisions when it’s time to place your bids.

Picture of a woman examing a horse.  This is a common practice at racehorse auctions.
Examining horse before buying

2. Learning about the auction house and sale catalog: Familiarize yourself with the auction house’s reputation, policies, and fees. Review the sale catalog, which contains detailed information about each horse, including its pedigree, race records of close relatives, and seller details. A thorough understanding of the catalog will help you identify and shortlist potential purchases.

Understanding market trends

Understanding market trends is a vital aspect of making well-informed decisions at racehorse auctions. Market trends can provide insights into the current demand, average prices, and popular bloodlines, helping you gauge the value of the horses you’re interested in and determine a reasonable bidding strategy.

To stay updated on market trends, consider the following:

  1. Research recent auction results: Review the results of recent auctions to get a sense of the prevailing prices for horses with similar pedigrees, ages, and other factors. This will help you establish a baseline for what to expect in terms of pricing and competition.
  2. Monitor industry news: Keep an eye on industry news and reports to stay informed about any significant developments, such as changes in racing regulations, breeding trends, or emerging sires and broodmares. This information can impact the demand for certain horses and influence their value at auctions.
  3. Network with professionals: Engage with trainers, breeders, and other industry professionals to gather their insights and opinions on current market trends. They can provide valuable first-hand knowledge and help you identify patterns that may not be readily apparent from data alone.
  4. Analyze seasonal fluctuations: Some market trends can be seasonal, with certain types of horses being more in demand during specific periods. For example, yearling sales tend to be more popular during the summer and fall, while mixed sales may attract more buyers in the winter months.

By staying informed about market trends, you’ll be better equipped to make strategic decisions at racehorse auctions and invest in horses that align with the current industry landscape. This knowledge can help you avoid overpaying for a horse or missing out on a great opportunity due to a lack of awareness of the market dynamics.

Pay attention to Stud fees.

Staying informed about popular stallions and their fees is an essential part of understanding market trends and making smart investment decisions at racehorse auctions. A stallion’s success is often tied to the achievements of its offspring, and as their progeny perform well on the racetrack, the demand for their bloodlines increases, leading to higher stud fees.

By keeping an eye on emerging sires with rising stud fees, you can potentially identify great value in their offspring before they become widely recognized and their prices skyrocket. This requires diligent research and a keen understanding of the racing industry, as well as the ability to recognize patterns and anticipate future trends.

Attending auctions with a thorough knowledge of popular stallions and their fees will allow you to make more informed decisions when bidding on horses. This insight can help you identify bargains on the offspring of young, rising stallions before their value significantly increases, giving you an advantage in the competitive world of racehorse auctions.

Check out this YouTube video of Gamine being auctioned.

Inspecting horses before the auction

After creating your shortlist of potential racehorse prospects using the sale catalog, the next step is to inspect the horses in person. This allows you to evaluate their physical appearance, overall health, and temperament, which are all critical factors in determining their potential as a racehorse.

Most auctions provide a two to the three-day window for inspections prior to the auction day. During this time, visit the consignor’s barn to get a closer look at the horses on your list. Pay attention to their conformation, muscle tone, and overall condition, as these can offer valuable insights into their athletic ability and suitability for racing.

For high-dollar investments, it’s common practice to have a veterinarian perform a pre-purchase examination before the auction. A thorough vet check can provide peace of mind and ensure you’re making a well-informed decision when bidding on a horse.

By taking the time to inspect your shortlisted horses before the auction, you’ll be better equipped to make confident decisions when it’s time to bid, increasing your chances of securing a promising racehorse and making a wise investment.


During the physical inspection of a horse, evaluating its conformation is essential. Conformation refers to the horse’s physical structure, shape, and proportions, which can significantly impact its athletic ability and potential for success in racing. A well-conformed horse is more likely to have a sound and efficient movement, reducing the risk of injury and improving its overall performance on the racetrack.

When assessing a horse’s conformation, consider the following key aspects:

  1. Balance and proportion: A well-proportioned horse should have a harmonious balance between its front and rear ends, with a strong, sloping shoulder and powerful hindquarters. Look for even weight distribution and a smooth topline that reflects a balanced overall structure.
  2. Legs and feet: Check for straight and correctly aligned legs, as deviations can increase strain and potential injury. Inspect the horse’s hooves for proper shape, size, and symmetry; healthy feet are vital for a successful racing career.
  3. Head and neck: A horse’s head should be well-proportioned to its body, with large nostrils and a clear, alert expression. The neck should be of an appropriate length, allowing for good flexibility and freedom of movement.
  4. Muscle tone and overall condition: A horse’s muscles should appear well-developed and symmetrical, indicating strength and athleticism. The horse’s overall condition should be healthy, with a shiny coat and a strong, sturdy frame.

Remember that while no horse is perfectly conformed, certain traits are more desirable in a racehorse, and some flaws can be more easily managed than others. By carefully evaluating a horse’s conformation during the physical inspection, you’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions and invest in a prospect with a higher likelihood of success on the racetrack.


Temperament is another crucial aspect to consider when inspecting a horse before an auction. A horse’s temperament and behavior can significantly impact its adaptability to training and overall performance on the racetrack. Selecting a horse with a suitable temperament for racing will increase the chances of a successful partnership and a rewarding racing experience.

When assessing a horse’s temperament, consider the following factors:

  1. Calmness and composure: Look for a horse that remains calm and composed in various situations. A relaxed demeanor will help them adapt more easily to the stresses of racing and training. A horse that is excessively nervous or high-strung may struggle to focus and perform well under pressure.
  2. Confidence and curiosity: A confident horse that shows curiosity towards its surroundings can indicate intelligence and a willingness to learn. These traits are desirable in a racehorse, as they suggest an ability to absorb new information and respond positively to training.
  3. Sociability and interaction: Observe how the horse interacts with humans and other horses. A horse that is friendly and easy to handle will likely be more cooperative during training and easier to manage in different racing environments.
  4. Responsiveness and adaptability: A horse that responds well to handling and demonstrates adaptability to new situations is likelier to succeed in the demanding world of horse racing. It’s essential to choose a horse that can adjust to the changing conditions of training, transportation, and race days.

Keep in mind that each horse is unique, and their temperament may change over time or in response to different situations. However, by carefully evaluating a horse’s temperament during the pre-auction inspection, you can make more informed decisions and buy a racehorse that is more likely to thrive in a racing career.

Determining a budget

Before diving into the thrilling world of racehorse auctions, it’s essential to establish a clear budget that takes into account the purchase, training, and ongoing expenses of owning a racehorse.

Allocating funds for the purchase, training, and ongoing expenses

When determining a budget for buying a racehorse at an auction, it’s essential to consider not only the initial purchase price but also the training and ongoing expenses associated with racehorse ownership. Allocating funds for these various costs will help you make a realistic and well-informed decision during the bidding process.

  1. Purchase price: Set a maximum amount you’re willing to spend on the horse itself, considering factors such as pedigree, conformation, and market trends. Remember that the final purchase price may include additional fees, such as auction commissions, taxes, and registration fees. During the excitement of bidding, it can be easy to get carried away. Resist the temptation to bid beyond your means. A disciplined approach will help you make wise investments.
  2. Training expenses: Factor in the costs of training your racehorse, which can vary depending on the trainer’s reputation, location, and the level of competition you’re aiming for. Training fees typically include daily rates for boarding, feed, and professional services, as well as any additional costs for veterinary care, farrier work, and transportation to and from the racetrack.
  3. Ongoing expenses: Don’t forget to account for the ongoing costs of owning a racehorse, such as insurance, race entry fees, jockey fees, and any necessary post-race care or rehabilitation. Additionally, consider setting aside a contingency fund for unexpected expenses, such as medical emergencies or extended periods of rest due to injury.

By allocating funds for the purchase, training, and ongoing expenses of owning a racehorse, you can establish a comprehensive budget that reflects the true cost of racehorse ownership. This approach will help you make responsible decisions during the auction and ensure you invest in a horse that aligns with your financial capabilities and long-term goals in the racing industry.

Bidding strategies and tactics

The auctioneer’s chant can be fast and confusing. Learn to recognize the increments and current bids to avoid missing an opportunity or accidentally overbidding. Be assertive when bidding. Make your bid noticeable with a clear gesture, such as raising your hand or nodding.

Timing is crucial—don’t hesitate, but avoid bidding too quickly, as it may signal eagerness and encourage competition. Observe the behavior of other bidders to understand their level of interest and potential budget. Recognizing when competitors are reaching their limit can help you determine if it’s worth continuing to bid or if it’s time to step back.

Picture of a man holding a horse before an auction.
Racing prospect ready for the auction

How to Sell Like a Pro

Selling a racehorse at auction can be just as exciting and rewarding as buying one. In this section, we’ll explore the strategies and best practices for presenting your horse in the best light and attracting potential buyers, ensuring you make the most of your investment and successfully navigate the racehorse auction process as a seller.

Sale Prep

Proper sale preparation is crucial when selling a racehorse at auction, as it can significantly impact the horse’s appeal to potential buyers and, ultimately, the final sale price. Sale prep involves ensuring the horse is in optimal health, well-groomed, and conditioned for auction presentation. The following are key components of effective sale prep:

  1. Health and fitness: Ensure your horse is in peak physical condition by providing regular exercise, a balanced diet, and appropriate veterinary care. Address any minor health issues, such as dental or hoof problems, well before the auction to ensure the horse appears fit and healthy.
  2. Grooming and appearance: A well-groomed horse will catch the attention of potential buyers, so pay attention to detail when preparing your horse for sale. Regular grooming, including brushing, bathing, and mane and tail trimming, will enhance your horse’s appearance and showcase its conformation. Ensure the horse’s coat is clean and shiny, and its hooves are well-maintained.
  3. Conditioning for auction presentation: Acclimate your horse to the auction environment by practicing walking in and out of the sales ring and standing calmly in front of potential buyers. This conditioning will help the horse remain relaxed and composed during the auction, making it more attractive to bidders.
  4. Proper paperwork and documentation: Obtain all necessary paperwork for your horse, including registration papers, veterinary records, and any relevant performance or breeding information. Accurate and complete documentation is vital for potential buyers who want to make well-informed decisions.

Pro Tips: In the months leading up to the auction, it’s important to maintain a consistent routine that keeps your horses looking and feeling their best. For example, by keeping them in the barn during the day, you can prevent sun bleaching and ensure their coats remain vibrant and shiny.

Regular exercise, such as daily walks on the walking wheel and lunging, helps to maintain their fitness and overall condition. Be friendly and approachable when people visit the sales barn to inspect your horse. Handling your horse confidently and showcasing its best features will leave a positive impression on potential buyers.

By investing time and effort into thorough sale preparation, you’ll enhance your horse’s appeal to potential buyers and increase the likelihood of a successful and profitable sale at auction.

Auction and consignors

Choosing the right auction and consignor is a critical aspect of successfully selling your horse. The auction and consignor you select will significantly impact the visibility of your horse and its exposure to potential buyers, as well as the level of professional support you receive throughout the sales process. Consider the following factors when selecting an auction and consignor:

  1. Auction type and schedule: Different types of auctions cater to various horse categories, such as yearling sales, two-year-olds in training sales, or mixed sales. Assess which auction type best suits your horse and review the auction schedule to find an event that aligns with your horse’s readiness for sale and your personal timeline.
  2. Consignor reputation and success rates: Research various consignors to evaluate their reputations within the industry and track their success rates at past auctions. Look for a consignor with a strong track record of selling horses similar to yours, as they will likely have the experience and connections needed to attract the right buyers.
  3. Reserve price determination: Work with your chosen consignor to establish a reserve price for your horse, which is the minimum amount you’re willing to accept at auction. Your consignor can help you evaluate your horse’s pedigree, conformation, and market trends to determine a fair and realistic reserve price.
  4. Consignor support and services: A reputable consignor should provide you with comprehensive support throughout the sales process, from initial consultation to post-sale follow-up. This support may include assistance with sale preparation, marketing, paperwork, and representation during the auction itself.


Marketing your horse is crucial in attracting potential buyers. Begin by creating an engaging sales catalog entry that highlights your horse’s pedigree, accomplishments, and standout features. Utilize social media and online platforms to showcase your horse and reach a wider audience.

Don’t forget the power of networking—connect with potential buyers and industry professionals to generate buzz and interest in your horse before the auction. Building relationships and being accessible to potential buyers can go a long way in achieving a successful sale.

Navigating the Legalities and Logistics

Embarking on the journey of buying or selling a racehorse prospect at an auction can be both exciting and challenging. As someone who has been through this process, I understand the importance of addressing legalities and logistics.

Start by familiarizing yourself with the auction’s terms and conditions. Each auction house may have different policies regarding payment, warranties, and dispute resolution. Knowing these rules can help you avoid surprises and protect your interests during the transaction.

Most auction houses require you to set up an account and confirm your funds before you’re allowed to bid. This process may involve providing bank statements or obtaining a letter of credit from your financial institution. Ensure you complete this step in advance to avoid any delays or issues during the auction.

When it comes to transportation and insurance, be prepared ahead of time. If you’re serious about buying a horse at an auction, I recommend either bringing your trailer or confirming with a friend that they can haul your horse home. Additionally, securing insurance for your horse, whether it’s for mortality, theft, or major medical coverage, can provide peace of mind and protect your investment.

Lastly, finalizing the sale and transferring ownership is a crucial step. Upon completing the bidding process, you’ll need to settle payment and sign any necessary paperwork to make the ownership transfer official. Ensure all documents are in order, and keep copies for your records.

As you navigate the world of racehorse auctions, always remember that knowledge and preparation are vital. Embrace the learning process, ask questions, and trust your instincts. With time, you, too, can buy and sell racehorse prospects like a pro.

Picture of racehorses running in a race.


Venturing into the captivating world of racehorse auctions can be a rewarding experience for both buyers and sellers. By understanding the various types of auctions, preparing and presenting your horse effectively, and mastering the intricacies of bidding and logistics, you can buy and sell racehorses like a pro.

Remember, knowledge is power, and taking the time to research, ask questions, and learn from experienced professionals will serve you well in your racehorse auction journey. As you embark on this exciting adventure, stay open to new experiences and always trust your instincts. Who knows, you might just discover the next racing champion or create lasting memories in the process. Happy bidding!