Bill Oppenheim and Cox’s Ridge
(Image : Chef de Race / Summerhill Archives)
When it comes to stallion and sales analysis, Bill Oppenheim stands alone. Not only in the modern era, but in all of time. A couple of hours with Bill on his favourite topics, is like a semester at Harvard. He has a brain that means he would have been good at anything, but the racing and breeding industries just got lucky. A native of America, he now lives in Scotland, and he pops up all over the world, wherever horses and racing are found, where he is feted by the rich and the not-so rich, the famous and the not-so famous. He also knows his limitations (or rather, it might be more apt to say, he knows where his interests lie and where they don’t), and so he solicits the help of experts in other fields to assist him in the valuable work he undertakes.
He recently addressed a symposium on the breeding industry, and this is what he had to say regarding the things that intrigue him about the game, and specifically the area of his own expertise :
Most of you know me as a columnist for the Thoroughbred Daily News, so I’d like to briefly outline my credentials to speak here today. When people ask me what I do, I tell them, “I’m an analyst in the breeding and auction sales sector of the Thoroughbred horse industry.” The usual reaction to that is, “say what?”
As an analyst, one of my jobs is a journalist, and that’s how I’m best known. But another of my jobs is as a pedigree consultant, advising on matings and purchases at sales. I’ve also done this job for about 30 years, ever since John Ed Anthony hired me to help him select mares to go to Cox’s Ridge when that horse retired to Claiborne Farm, I think in 1980. I would advise on perhaps 200-300 matings a year and havebeen fortunate to have been involved with three major operations over that time, which means the advisor is working with at least some top mares and sires, which of course enhances your chances. I’ve been involved in advising on the matings of 13 Classic winners since 1992, including two winners of the Epsom Derby, three consecutive European champion 2-year-olds, two Arc winners, and the winners of the Epsom Oaks in 2007, 2008, and 2010. I report this simply to say this is a field I have worked in for 30 years with some success, so I do bring some practical experience to the table.
SECTION 1. THE CONDITIONS WE WORK WITHIN
There are a few things I really like about how the Thoroughbred business, especially as what I call the breeding and auction sales sector of it (as distinct from the racing sector) has evolved. I like that it is a truly international business, a ‘business without borders; ‘sure, there are a lot of wholly national characteristics of the industry in each country, but when we talk about, say, bloodstock agents who travel to and buy at the major international auctions, we mean Kentucky, Newmarket, Goffs in Ireland, Deauville, at least, but the buyers are coming from Australia, Japan, the Middle East, South America, South Africa, Russia, India, Korea, Turkey, and many other countries and regions as well.
In a very important respect, the ‘breeding and sales sector,’, anyways is a business without borders.
Second, we are fortunate to be working in an essentially unregulated ‘free market’ economy. Of course, there are rules and regulations, but there are not artificial, externally imposed barriers to, or conditions of, trade. It makes it more feasible to analyze how certain principles operate, such as one of the most important - the law of supply and demand. Also, this has become a big-money business.
Thoroughbred horses can be worth really big money, so much so that it has created its own economy. This is because Thoroughbreds are not just racehorses and breeding stock; Thoroughbred horses are also financial instruments, like, say, commodity options, or derivatives. The difference is these financial instruments are live animals, too.
Third, at the end of the day - I mean, at the end of the race - there is a finish line, and a result. Horse racing itself has to be a meritocracy - the best horse wins. As an aside, that’s what I personally dislike about handicap racing, because the intention is for the best horse not to win, but, fortunately, in the really important races from the long-term perspective of the breeding standpoint, the best horse wins. And, fortunately for many of us, in the last 30 years, the business itself has become much more of a meritocracy. If you have the best idea, you will be heard, maybe even funded. And the wealth in the business is spread out much more democratically; if you come up with the right horse, you will get paid, no matter who you are, because the best horse wins.
That, as I see it, is the essential landscape we are working in: these are the conditions in which we all operate - and I, for one, am grateful that we can work in a business, a real business, too, in which you don’t have to put a tie on to go to work every day. Being a big-money business, there is a fair amount of greed and chicanery to be found, but there is also a very serious demand for advice and assistance in the creation or discovery of the superior Thoroughbred. That’s where we all - the speakers at this symposium - come in.
For the rest of Bill’s address, visit TDN at www.thoroughbreddailynews.com.
Extract from Thoroughbred Daily News