Fillies Take Charge at Arqana Argentina (By Kelsey Riley, TDN Thurs 21st March 2018)

Buenos Aires, Argentina-Rarely is the first slot in the ring the most coveted spot at a yearling sale, but that is exactly the case in Argentina where, moments before the start of the sale, the catalogue order is suddenly scrambled to re-order the yearlings–based on the prediction of the vendors–from most expensive to least. In the case of Thursday’s inaugural Gran Venta Selecta sale at San Isidro Racecourse in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the sellers chose correctly, with Haras Vacacion’s full-sister to dual Group 1 winner Schoolmistress (Arg) (Equal Stripes {Arg})-the first horse through the ring, but lot 8-topping the sale with a final bid of ASD5.6-million (£103,960/€119,991) from a new Argentinean-based buyer. It was a new record price for an Argentine yearling in pesos.
The sale’s leading light is a daughter of the Southern Halo mare Stellify (Arg) who, in addition to producing Schoolmistress, a Group 1 winner at two and three, has left the dual Group 3 winner Saetta (Arg) (Mutakddim), and the Group 1-placed colt Si Vieras (Arg) (Not For Sale {Arg}). Though unraced herself, the 19-year-old Stellify is a full-sister to two Group 1 winners. Equal Stripes was responsible for another filly that made ASD3.6-million (£66,843/€77,137), and that one (lot 13) is out of an unraced half-sister to champion 2-year-old filly Inca Noble (Arg) (Ride the Rails {Arg}). Overall, well-bred fillies from families rarely offered for sale dominated the market and were scooped up by an international cross-section of buyers.
Gran Venta Selecta is the first yearling sale in Argentina staged in partnership by Arqana, Arg-Sales and leading stud farms Haras Vacacion and Haras Abolengo. The venture is an effort to help elevate Argentina’s breeding and yearling sales industry onto the world stage; as it stands, horses born in Argentina are regularly sold on globally as horses in training or broodmares and go on to race and produce with success, but the yearling sales have largely remained a local affair. Whereas regularly in Argentina stud farms will hold individual small farm sales throughout the season, Vacacion and Abolengo each committed their best yearlings to Gran Venta Selecta with the hopes of building a sale that will one day attract a strong international buying audience.
And they’re certainly well on their way. Before the halfway point of the sale was reached, each of the overseas visitors-from the U.S., Hong Kong, Malaysia and South Africa-had bought at least one horse.
Incidentally, none of those were doing business in Argentina for the first time, and French-born, San Diego-based agent Emmanuel de Seroux in particular has been involved in South America for more than 20 years.
“I think this is a very good first experience to show the Argentine yearlings to the world,” he said. “I think people will be more and more interested to come and they need to, because they can access some fantastic pedigrees at 20% of the price of what they’d have to pay at Keeneland or Newmarket.
“You can come to a sale like this and buy half a dozen very well-bred fillies for $50,000 or $60,000 each, and you start a very nice breeding program. If you have one or two good ones out of the five or six it’s fantastic, and the others, due to their pedigrees, they’re still very nice broodmares for the future.”
Statistics were not immediately available upon conclusion of the sale, but Arqana’s Freddy Powell said, “Pablo Zavaleta and Julio Mediteguy [of Vacacion and Abolengo] are delighted with the sale today. For us it was complete unknown territory but we knew the horses were really nice and action was good in the ring. I think it’s a very good start to build something. It’s been a long-term project but it couldn’t have been a better start.”
Of the fact that international buyers were so active, he added, “we were expecting that because we knew they were so impressed with the horses, so we would have been very surprised if they’d gone home empty-handed.”
On the sire front, the sale was predictably dominated by leading local sires Equal Stripes and Roman Ruler-the former stands at Abolengo and the latter stood at Vacacion prior to his death, and this is his final crop of yearlings. Roman Ruler was responsible for the evening’s second-highest price, lot 6 at ASD4.8-million (£89,124/€102,857), and she is a filly with a pedigree that will resonate with Americans. She is out of Que Piensa Cat (Arg) (Easing Along {Arg}), a Group 1 winner who was exported to the U.S. at the start of her broodmare career but later returned to her homeland. She left in America the listed-winning filly Always Thinking (Street Sense). It was Hong Kong-based agent Dennis Loh who signed the ticket. Loh has been doing business in Argentina for two years, and he said the plan for the filly is to start her in Argentina with hopes of exporting her to Asia later.
John Fulton was born in Florida but is now a permanent fixture in Argentina, and he was active early on in the session when the joint offerings were going through the ring his selections including lot 5, an Orpen filly who is a full-sister to two Group 1 winners, for ASD4-million (£74,286/€85,714) and lot 24, another Equal Stripes filly, for ASD3.8-million (£70,571/€81,427). Fulton was taking positives away from the inaugural Gran Venta Selecta.
“I think it was a pretty strong sale,” he said. “They sent nice animals to be sold and the response was there. Down here, it’s tough to get your hands on these pedigrees that are being offered by these two farms and people had to step up.”
At Haras Abolengo’s farm show on Wednesday, owner Julio Menditeguy had described lot 36, a daughter of Asiatic Boy (Arg), as being “from the strongest branch of the strongest family on the farm.” Indeed, her 10-year-old unraced dam-who has produced the multiple stakes-placed Estereotipo (Arg) (Lizard Island {Arg})–is a half-sister to Equal Stripes as well as group winners in Uruguay and South Africa, and among the six Group 1 winners on the page under the third dam are multiple South African champion Empress Club (SAf) and champion stayer and successful sire in that country Elusive Fort (Saf). Emmanuel de Seroux signed the ticket on behalf of his wife, retired Grade I-winning trainer Laura de Seroux, and Dolores Zavaleta, sister-in-law of Haras Vacacion owner Pablo Zavaleta, at ASD3.4-million (£63,142/€72,856).
“She could be a foundation mare for us,” said Laura de Seroux. “It’s a beautiful pedigree. She’s a magnificent individual and I think it’s a very shrewd purchase, to get that kind of a value for money. We couldn’t fault her.”
“It’s the kind of pedigree you’d pay a lot of money at Keeneland for,” Emmanuel added. “She’s already a half-sister to a good horse and the second dam is the dam of a top stallion.”
A short time later, the de Serouxs added lot 58, a daughter of Hurricane Cat (Storm Cat), for ASD1.2-million (£22,285/€25,714).
“We owned Hurricane Cat in France and sold him to Argentina, and this is the nicest looking filly I’ve seen by Hurricane Cat, even though we bred so many in France,” de Seroux said. “It shows the quality of the Argentinean-bred.”
Lot 15, a colt from Vacacion, boasts a similar pedigree to the sale topper, being by Equal Stripes out of a sister to Schoolmistress, the winning South Sea (Arg) (Grand Slam), and he was scooped up by South African agent Justin Vermaak for ASD2-million (£37,141/€42,857). This particular colt is on his way to South Africa to race for a partnership, and Vermaak said he has been buying from Argentina for three years for his home country as well as clients in Singapore. He said the export protocol to both countries is relatively straightforward.
“The well-bred fillies we tend to take to South Africa to breed with, and middle-market sprinting type colts we tend to send to Singapore-there’s pretty good prizemoney out there,” he explained. “It’s much more straightforward than [exporting from] South Africa, which is why I come. It’s about 21 days quarantine here and then 21 days in South Africa, so pretty quick, and then about the same protocol for Singapore. As young horses that’s not much of a problem; they’re not in training so you don’t have to worry about anything like that.”
Breaking Down Borders
For Julio Menditeguy and Pablo Zavaleta, supporting an international sale isn’t just good business; it’s personal.
Each of their families have been committed to the Thoroughbred industry for upwards of 50 years, and they say that–with some more recent economic upheaval in the country following many more years of geopolitical complications–it is essential to the well-being of the Argentine industry to get it into the international spotlight.
Argentina is in the midst of an economic recession, and through the first nine months of 2018 alone the value of the peso dropped from ARS20 against the dollar to ARS40. Last year, the Buenos Aires provincial government made a move to revoke racing’s cut of the province’s slots revenue-which fuels up to 75% of purses at some tracks-but, thankfully for racing, it ultimately did not. However, the country’s Thoroughbred industry is clearly in a position where it needs to both prove its worth to the government and take preemptive action.
Argentina’s status as a truly international breeding and racing nation has been further hindered by travel complications to some other Southern Hemisphere countries-the lack of an import/export protocol with Australia means Argentine horses would have to fly to the Northern Hemisphere to quarantine for 20 days before heading back south in a costly endeavour.
Zavaleta said one motivation behind the inaugural Gran Venta Selecta was alerting the government to the fact that the Thoroughbred industry deserves attention.
“The government and economy has had so many problems, so we’re very [low in priority],” he said. “We’re trying to help them understand that the Thoroughbred industry is very good for the country. It provides a lot of jobs-we have about 150,000 families who work directly in the industry, which is more or less 500,000 people.”
Menditeguy added, “We’re doing this together in order to start with a personal commitment to tackle these problems that have never been attacked politically. It’s personal for the two farms. If this comes to be a success, maybe some other good breeders-there are plenty of them-will come on board.
“But the industry is under pressure and last year, two of the most successful operations over the last 30 years shut down. People are getting tired, this is getting very expensive. [Growth] won’t happen if we’re only thinking about the domestic market.”
Another factor that has made it difficult for the Argentine yearling sector to gain international recognition is the fact that rather than holding a small number of major sales each year, each farm-or sometimes small groups-will hire a local sale company to conduct their own farm sale. A sale will generally consist of 40-odd horses and during the selling season, multiple sales could be held every week. Menditeguy explained that Abolengo would traditionally hold three sales a year beginning in April, and that the best yearlings would be spread throughout the sales to maintain interest. This year, he said, all of Abolengo’s and Vacacion’s best were committed to Gran Venta Selecta.
Zavaleta said they entered into talks with Arqana about two years ago after being introduced to Eric Hoyeau and Freddy Powell by Zavaleta’s brother Diego, who had formerly been a longtime assistant to Andre Fabre. The sale was conducted by local company Arg Sales, with Arqana providing a brand name and expertise in horse selection and marketing.
“We had had a very difficult 15 years or so with the government where they had kept us closed to an international market because there was a lot of problems with currency, exports and things like that,” Zavaleta said. “We decided we needed a serious auctioneer to come here to give some confidence to the people from abroad to come back to Argentina.”
The general consensus among Abolengo and Vacacion-and others in the industry-is that they weren’t necessarily expecting the inaugural sale to come in like a lion, but rather to build and gain traction over the coming years.
“It’s a very difficult time not only for our industry but for the whole economy,” Menditeguy said. “It’s not that we’re hoping to celebrate with an international venture or that we’re doing it for fun or to show off; we’re doing it because we need this for the Argentine economy.”
Zavaleta added, “I don’t think we’re expecting a big reaction from the first sale, but I do believe we’ve done a good job because we’ve started receiving visitors from everywhere. Todd Pletcher came down about a month ago to see the yearlings, and Eric [Hoyeau] was saying to me that John Gosden was curious about Argentina, so I think that we’re back on the map.”
And, indeed, all across the map Argentine-breds have been making an impact. The Abolengo-bred Candy Ride (Arg) is a leading sire in the U.S., while last year Vale Dori (Arg) won the GI Santa Margarita S. and GI Zenyatta S. The Japanese have been buying up Argentine mares at a rapid rate due to the success of Group 1 winners like Danon Fantasy (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) and Satono Diamond (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}), who are both out of Argentine Group 1 winners. Argentine-breds have also had success at Group 1 level in South Africa. Argentina has a proven ability to produce a top-class animal, but because the yearling market has to date been largely contained within South America, yearling prices have hit a ceiling.
“We’ve been completely separate from the rest of the world, but you can see the quality of the Argentine horse, so I think it’s a big opportunity for Asian countries like Hong Kong. They’re buying nice horses in Australia, but they’re expensive. You’re buying very good quality horses here, cheap.”
Menditeguy added, “We’re far off the top prices of the best horses from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, but we think that our horses are just as good as those countries. We already have agents from Malaysia, South Africa, France, and America here, and I hope we’ve fulfilled their expectations.”

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