By Alayna Cullen
Horse racing is a global sport, heralded for its international festivals where the world’s greatest come to compete. Not only has racing become more of an international affair, but so, too, have sales. No matter what sale you go to in the world it is becoming increasingly common to see industry leaders from each jurisdiction congregate at major sales rings. One man who knows much about this is Kirkwood Stables’ Kip Elser, who has an exciting sales venture starting in Australia.
Known for his success at pinhooking yearlings to 2-year-olds as well as educating young racehorses, Elser has always had an eye for spotting emerging markets. As such, he has teamed up with former American-based trainer Murray Johnson to offer a ready-to-run consignment at the upcoming Magic Millions 2017 Gold Coast 2YOs-in-Training Sale Oct. 10-11 at their sales complex in Bundall, Queensland.
“My wife Helen’s dad had done some business in Australia and he suggested to us that we go take a look at things down there a few years ago. We went over for their 2-year-old sale last October at Magic Millions to see if there was room for someone new in the market and I think we see a market that is just starting to take off. I reconnected with an old friend of mine, Murray Johnson, who had been in America for a number of years but has moved back to Australia, and I went back in March and bought three yearlings to be over there with Murray and consign at the ready-to-run sale at Magic Millions in October this year.”
Based at Spring Dale Race Center in Camden, South Carolina, Elser has been pinhooking for the better part of 30 years and is no stranger to entering foreign markets.
“We have sold here (in America) at lots of different sales, and about 10 years ago we started selling at the Breeze Up at Tattersalls in England and did very well out of it. Then we started going to South Africa five or six years ago. We got introduced to a wonderful couple down there, Nicola and Mark Coppez of Balmoral Stud, and we started building a 2-year-old sales consignment with them. We’ve done great business and built the operation from 12 or so horses to over a hundred in this past year.”
Elser knows about the many variables associated with horses and sales, but thanks to the shuttling of stallions from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern, Elser was able to stay within his comfort zone to some degree when choosing yearlings to buy for the Australian venture.
“I bought a colt by Medaglia d’Oro out of Rose of Kentucky (Aus) who can go anywhere, and a colt by Animal Kingdom out of Never Fade (GB) at the Inglis Easter Sale. I also bought a Helmet (Aus)–Angel in Grey (Aus) filly. Helmet is a top 2-year-old sire in Australia and I bought the filly from Spendthrift, so I didn’t get too far off the beaten track for that part of it.”
Of the horses as individuals, Elser said he thought he had “balance in a small package. They are three very different horses, picked that way partly by design. The Medaglia d’Oro colt is a beautiful mover that looks like he will be all class for next spring in Australia. The Animal Kingdom looks a little earlier, probably quicker maturing, so she looks like she will be out early, and the Helmet filly looks to be an early 2-year-old, too.”
Although the venues and the time zones may change, some things are pre-destined to stay the same at a horse sale.
“At the end of the day it will all come down to ‘do we have the right horses?’” said Elser. “No matter where you are in the world, if you don’t have the right horses, then you’re nothing.”
That said, Elser said he was confident in his three representatives for the upcoming sale, and would be going into the Australian market with real hopes of continuing the project for years to come.
“We will make mistakes the first year,” he said. “But we will hopefully learn from those mistakes when we go back the next year, and by the end of the third year, we will have a small crop of 3-year-old graduates and hopefully a larger group of 2-year-olds out there. That will be a fair test of the market to see if there is a real opportunity there. It would be silly to go out there for a one-time deal. We want to show people that we are committed to the market down there and we want to give it a real try.”
Murray Johnson, who has been preparing the horses for the sale, said he was, “very excited about the partnership with Kip. It’s an evolving market and growing like it did in America a few years ago. There are results on the racetrack now from sales graduates and people are starting to see that the 2-year-old sales are a successful formula for the right horse.”
Speaking with Elser about the project, it is easy to see how enthusiastic he is about entering the Australian market. If the elated tone in his voice doesn’t give it away, the smile that spreads across his face when asked about the horses or his plan certainly does.
“This is the next stop,” he said. “I’m really excited by it.”