While reading a media report of 30 yearlings being auctioned for more than a million dollars each in the first week of the Keeneland fall sale, I thought of what trainer Kenny McPeek said in an interview during the recent Saratoga meet about his approach to buying racehorse prospects: “I’m not a pedigree guy.”  I took this to mean that what he looks for most is athleticism rather than ancestry, or what coaches refer to as “physicality.”

McPeek’s website states that he is a “proven buyer of moderately priced horses with graded stakes success.”  Indeed, his record shows that he is.  Consider some of his yearling purchases:

Bought two-times horse of the year Curlin for $57,000.  Won over $10.5 million.  Paid $35,000 for Swiss Skydiver, who had $2.2 million in career earnings.  Take Charge Lady, with $2.48 million in earnings, was a $175,000 buy.  Tejano Run, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby, was a $20,000 bargain.  Pure Fun won $487,000 after being auctioned for $27,000.

A high-priced yearling, with impeccable conformation and close-up relatives that have won Grade I stakes, obviously has a better chance of being a top-class racehorse than a yearling with a pedestrian pedigree, nondescript relatives, and some minor conformation faults.  However, a seven-figure price shelled out for a yearling is hard to justify, given the expected value owing to the high percentage of million-dollar-plus yearlings that disappoint as racehorses. (Click here for a detailed analysis by Ray Paulick that corroborates this point with data .)

The potential value (the price vs. quality calculus) of a bargain-basement yearling purchase is compelling when the person doing the selection has the keen eye and proven record of a Kenny McPeek.  He and other skilled buyers have demonstrated that a Grade 1-caliber equine athlete does not have to come from a family of exceptional achievers or have a nearly flawless physique. Moreover, the downside monetary risk of purchasing a relatively inexpensive yearling that does not pan out as a racehorse is mitigated.

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