Hutch Optimistic Heading Into Inglis Chairman’s Sale

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Inglis’s Sebastian Hutch | Bronwen Healy

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In 2017, the Chairman’s Sale was added to the calendar at Australia’s William Inglis Co., a boutique event similar in nature to Fasig-Tipton’s Night of the Stars, the Goffs London and Champion Sales and the Arqana Arc Sale. The Chairman’s Sale was created to present Australian buyers–and, indeed, an increasingly internationally based clientele–the rare opportunity to buy into Australian bloodstock of all ages.

Last year’s Chairman’s Sale was topped by the then 7-year-old MGSP Maastricht (NZ) (Mastercraftsman {Ire}), whose daughter Loving Gaby (Aus) (I Am Invincible {Aus}) had won at Group 3 level and was placed in the G1 Champagne S. and G1 Sires’ Produce S. just prior to the Chairman’s Sale. Maastricht, carrying a full-sibling to Loving Gaby, fetched A$2.25 million from Coolmore and James Bester Bloodstock.

In Thursday’s TDN, we will take a look at a few of the horses on offer of interest to an American audience, but, as he did prior to last month’s Easter Yearling Sale, Inglis’s General Manager of Bloodstock Sales and Marketing Sebastian Hutch took time out of his schedule to field some questions about Easter and Friday’s Chairman’s Sale.

TDN: Can you talk about the Chairman’s Sale as a concept, i.e. what was the rationale in bringing a sale of this variety to the Australian marketplace in 2017?

Sebastian Hutch: The regard in which Australian bloodstock is held, not just domestically, but also internationally, has grown and grown exponentially over the course of the last decade. Australian horses have performed with distinction around the world. As a consequence, demand for Australian breeding stock has grown and grown and it made sense for Inglis to put together a boutique sale that showcases the best of the breeding stock that Australia has to offer. We very much feel that the 2020 renewal of the Inglis Chairman’s Sale is very fitting of that responsibility.

TDN: When it was inaugurated back in 2017, the Chairman’s Sale was held in the midst of the Easter sale and The Championships, Sydney’s fall racing carnival. In repositioning the sale to May last year, were there any impacts of that move–positive or negative?

SH: There was some concern with moving the sale, in the sense that it could otherwise piggyback off the momentum by an Easter Yearling sale or by The Championships, but it transpired that having the sale in this slot really suited the majority of our participants. It allowed some clear air between the Easter sale and the broodmare sale. It gave everybody some time to decompress after what is a hectic yearling sales season, and certainly, on the basis of the results of 12 months ago, it looks to have found an ideal spot on the calendar.

Part of the challenge of putting together any catalog is that you have to be confident that any change will work. The majority of participants, generally speaking, are conservative about change, so we took a gamble in moving the sale, but we did so with a degree of confidence, thinking that it would suit our participants better. There’s always been some concern expressed that this weekend clashes with Guineas weekend in Europe or the Kentucky Derby. There are particular years that the sale could fall on the same weekend as those major international events. But, in our experience, those invested in international bloodstock in Australia have an Australian affiliate or partner they’re invested with and we felt like it didn’t compromise their ability to be involved.

TDN: In terms of inspections of Chairman’s Sale horses, is that proceeding in a similar fashion as for Easter?

SH: We’ve been in the fortunate position whereby the farms, while respecting the necessary social distancing protocols, etc., have been very good in facilitating visits to the farm. We obviously learned from Easter that it was very evident that consolidating the majority of the stock–in this case, in the Hunter Valley–made it easier for people to do inspections. People have understandably been proactive relocating mares to that part of the country in advance of the sale.

We have tried to maintain an up-to-date schedule of where mares are available. There are obviously a number of race fillies in the catalog, some of them are still in training, others have recently come out of training, so there’s always a degree of fluidity about that. It’s worked quite well in terms of people knowing where they should go and when. While inspections have been taking place over the weekend and will continue to take place through this week, I think vendors are quite happy with the inspections.

TDN: Thinking back on Easter, there certainly had to be some reservations, an air of uncertainty of exactly how things would proceed with a digital sale. In the end analysis, how do you think the Easter market and the platform held up?

SH: I think it would be fair to say that the sale exceeded the expectations of nearly everyone involved. It was a hugely challenging period for everybody for a variety of different reasons, but from the perspective of the auction house, we were dealing with a number of variables in that we were hosting the sale in a manner that was unfamiliar to both our sellers and our buyers. Similarly, it was very difficult to know how much money there was in the market. We knew that the quality of the stock was there, but it was hard to know, given economic events, to what extent anybody was going to participate.

As it transpired, circumstances brought out investment from people who might not have ordinarily participated in an Easter sale or certainly enhanced their participation, which was great for the sale and was great for vendors. We took the approach that it was a sale that we expected to be selling stock out of for three and four weeks post-sale. As recently as Friday [May 1], a sale was finalized for A$380,000 and we are still selling stock out of the sale. It means that the clearance rate from what was offered will come very close to broaching 70%, which I think is an outstanding result, certainly relative to what we were expecting. The official gross will exceed A$72 million, which again is much higher than any one of us would have expected. Certainly much higher than what I expected going into the sale.

Much of it comes down to the professionalism of our vendors and their willingness to engage with the buying bench in a manner that the buying bench thought was necessary. Providing appropriate information being through video or whatever means, I think it gave the buying bench the confidence that they could bid and buy. It brought about a very positive set of results.

TDN: What was the feedback from your clientele in terms of the interface with the digital platform?

SH: It was very positive. We had a small number of clients whose preference it was to bid over the phone, but even in the case of some of those people, by the end of the sale, they had reverted to using the online bidding platform, given the ease of use with it. There was an air of caution around it until we held a test. I think the test we held before the sale reassured many people as to the functionality of the platform and the ease with which it could be used.

We tried to create a level of theater around the sale by having a sale-day live feed, one which was purely the sale and one which featured one of Australia’s more recognized bloodstock commentators, Caroline Searcy. I think people chose to tune in to one of the two feeds, depending on what your intentions were. The figures for the level of engagement with the sale were extraordinary, even from the standpoint of the number of people who registered to bid. We also saw a huge volume of new registrations, which is really quite interesting and it’s been interesting for us post-sale.

TDN: Thinking specifically about the catalog for the Chairman’s Sale, it seems like it’s a catalogue that has something for everyone. What are your expectations for the sale in broad terms?

SH: I think the sale is going to represent an unprecedented opportunity, certainly within the context of the last 10 to 15 years in Australian racing and breeding. Trying to acquire elite breeding stock or fillies with the credentials to go on and become elite producers is exceptionally difficult. There are extraordinary premiums paid for those all over the world every year through breeding stock sales. To have accumulated the quality of catalog that we have under the circumstances that prevail, given the way the market is, the currency fluctuations around the world…I just think this is an unprecedented opportunity.

There will be stock later on this week that will be bought for prices I don’t think people would have envisaged being possible six and 12 months ago. It’s an opportunity for people who are in a position to acquire quality breeding stock. To be able to catalog over the course of our Chairman’s Sale and Australian Broodmare Sale 11 Group 1 winners or producers is an extraordinarily high concentration of quality. Those mares really measure up, not only in terms of racetrack performance, but in terms of pedigree. As a consequence, it’s really hard not to be excited about it.

TDN: One final question, a bit off topic. [Inglis Managing Director] Mark Webster was recently extended with Inglis for an additional three years. From your perspective, what impact has he had on the auction house?

SH: The extension of Mark’s tenure is extremely positive for the business. Mark is very passionate, in particular about innovation and technology, and I think the benefits of that have been very much in evidence the last six or eight weeks. Without that technology and innovation, we would not be in a position to host an Easter Yearling sale, we wouldn’t be talking about a Chairman’s Sale this upcoming Friday. Those decisions and those investments that Mark has overseen over the last decade have been fundamentally important to the business over the last few weeks and over the coming months.

The state of the market over the next 12 to 24 months given the COVID-19 pandemic, there are significant challenges to be faced there along with other factors. I think it’s fantastic to have a guy of his experience at the helm and it can only be a positive for our business that he’s committed to being engaged with the company.

Click here for the Chairman’s Sale and click here to learn more about the online bidding process.

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