About ten years ago, I was at a Fasig-Tipton select yearling sale in Saratoga Springs, New York, and heard a bloodstock agent advise his client that if the client was “only” going to spend up to $300,000 for a yearling that he would not get one of the better prospects. I wondered about the rationale for such a statement, especially in light of the fact that some of the greatest racehorses of all time either sold for low prices or went unsold because they did not reach a minimum reserve price. This lengthy list would include Northern Dancer, Seattle Slew, Sunday Silence, and American Pharoah. The agent was suggesting that bloodstock selection is more scientific than it really is in practice.

I recalled this encounter and thought about the obvious difficulty of projecting athletic prowess while watching the 2019 overtime NFL playoff game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots, with the winner heading to the Super Bowl. New England’s narrow victory was largely due to a few players who excelled with the game on the line. Besides arguably the greatest professional quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, crucial plays in the waning minutes of the game and the overtime were made by Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, and James White. 

None of them were coveted players coming out of college. Brady was a 6th round NFL draft pick out of the University of Michigan. Hogan was a “slow” receiver who went undrafted out of Monmouth College. Edelman, 5 feet 10 inches, was a round 7 pick in the draft, a college quarterback out of Kent State University. White, the same height as Edelman, was drafted in round 4. 

These once-unheralded players were coached by Bill Belichick, who played football at tiny Wesleyan College, never in the NFL, and got his start in the NFL as a $25 per week intern. Similarly, New England Patriot offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel played at John Carroll University and, like Belichick, never in the NFL.

Picking out yearlings with racing potential is even more difficult than drafting players for the NFL. The players have a track record in college whereas the yearlings have never run a race. Most yearlings that sell at auction for seven figures will fleetingly get media attention but will ultimately fail to live up to their lofty prices. By contrast, equine equivalents of Brady, Edelman, Hogan, and White will dominate.

If a bloodstock agent told me he or she could not find a promising yearling for $300K, I would look for another agent, a bloodstock agent with Belichick-like insight, who has a knack for finding overlooked talent despite perenially drafting at the bottom of the NFL draft.

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