Bloodstock Agents 101
When I was in high school, some of my fellow classmates were avid readers of sports or fashion magazines, but I eagerly looked forward to the arrival of The Blood Horse, Hoof Beats and the Draft Horse Journal in my mailbox. I absorbed the content of the articles, studied the photographs of great horses, memorized pedigrees and spoke of trainers, jockeys, drivers, breeders and owners with such familiarity that my family probably thought I was teetering on the edge of insanity. I did not excel in English class, which is interesting since I have been published in academic publications alongside tenured professors, but at that time I was simply not a good student. When I transferred from a traditional English class to Applied Communications, I fared much better.
My teacher, Mrs. Mary Barnwell, a sweet but no-nonsense lady whose legs required braces due to her having polio as a child, gave us students an assignment one day. We were instructed to write about the career we wished to pursue and give an oral presentation. Some of my classmates were determined to become professional athletes. Some wanted to be teachers. Some planned to become attorneys or doctors. I decided to do some research and write about becoming a bloodstock agent. Bloodstock agents can offer a variety of services in the equine industry, including assistance with sales, purchases, appraisal and insurance, with some serving as a full-service provider and others specializing in one or two areas.
I knew a great deal about bloodstock agents, but my classmates and I were tasked with contacting individuals within the field we wished to pursue and having materials in-hand, proving that we had put forth the effort to learn all that we could. I wrote to several agents from Kentucky to California, who specialized in the Thoroughbred industry, and I opted to contact Jerry Snyder of Lexington's Holly Lane Farm for his input on being a bloodstock agent in the Standardbred business. No bloodstock agents in the Thoroughbred industry gave me the time of day, except Don and Jean Engel of Thoroughbred Information Agency in Petaluma, California. Their response included their company brochure detailing their services and photo copies of several informative articles. Jerry Snyder took the time to type up a three-page, in-depth letter, which included an invitation to call him at home with any further questions. Armed with the knowledge I had already attained along with the information from the Engels and Mr. Snyder, I began preparing my presentation.
Mrs. Barnwell had instructed us to prepare handouts, featuring bullet points about our career choice. She further stressed that we should speak clearly without interjecting a bunch of "uhs" and "ums" between statements. Her last warning was to avoid saying "Well, that's it!" at the end. Instead, she advised that we say "This concludes my presentation…." or "I hope you have a better understanding of what a ____________ does. Thank you for your attention." Nervous and painfully shy and insecure at the time, I actually talked about bloodstock agents with confidence, passed out the handout sheets and even managed to make a joke or two to keep everyone's attention. When I reached the end, without thinking, I said, "Well, that's all, y'all!" Mrs. Barnwell showed me where she had given me a 100 well before the end of my presentation, but marked through it, taking off five points because I did not heed her warning about the concluding remarks.
I have often reflected on that presentation. After all, I regularly teach a Sunday School class, and I address various groups every year. The public speaking lessons learned from that day when I discussed bloodstock agents in high school have not been forgotten. That said, I occasionally think back to that day and wonder how my life might be different, had I actually become a bloodstock agent. Would I be assisting investors in their auction selections? Might I be making sire recommendations for broodmare owners? Could I have wound up overseeing the syndication of important stallions? Of course, those hypothetical questions have no concrete answers, but I would like to think that I could have done well, if given the chance.
Who knows? Perhaps all these years later, I might be in the position on occasion to advise someone just entering the horse business or needing some assistance with a transaction. After all, bloodstock agents are sought after by the well-funded investor and the seasoned horseman, as well as the newcomer, and my ever-increasing network could present opportunities to be of service. Still, I know my limits, and I would probably feel more comfortable working in draft horses, opting to refer potential clients in Thoroughbreds or Standardbreds to better suited representatives for certain tasks. At any rate, a potential client must ask "Why seek out an agent in the first place?" and "What qualifies someone to be an agent?" The answers might surprise you. Why hire an agent?
In the twenty-first century, when there is information overload, thanks in large part to the internet, one could argue that buying, breeding and selling horses, even expensive ones such as Thoroughbred or Standardbred racehorses, presents an easily overcome learning curve for the novice DIY horseman. However, success is not simply dependent on one's head knowledge of pedigrees, statistics and other relevant information that can be accessed with a few strokes on a computer keyboard.
One has to be around other horse people to network and cultivate relationships, which often lead to great buying or selling opportunities. One has to learn to recognize the difference between a legitimate sales pitch and slick talking from unscrupulous salesmen. And one has to physically be near horses, to examine them, to recognize unsoundness, to know conformation faults, to visualize how one stallion might better complement a mare based on conformation strengths. A capable bloodstock agent is armed with more than knowledge. Bloodstock agents are hands-on and pay attention to the details, making them useful where horse people and large sums of money are concerned. The best agents have spent years building a network of industry professionals, which includes breeders, owners, trainers, veterinarians and even other bloodstock agents.
Well-qualified bloodstock agents can assist with purchases and sales, which, like a real estate agent, they typically conduct on a commission basis. Some agents specialize in auction sales only, playing a mostly behind-the-scenes role in drumming up interest in everything from an exciting yearling to a recently retired filly ready to embark on a broodmare career. Other agents facilitate private transactions, aiding in the sale or purchase of broodmares, horses of racing age and even stallion syndicate shares. Agents are called upon for appraisals for everything from insurance valuation to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) queries. Buyer (and Seller) Beware!
When the Engels and Mr. Snyder responded to my queries in the 1990s, there were no regulatory authorities overseeing bloodstock agents. To my knowledge, there are none today. In fact, great agents rely on word-of-mouth communication to bolster their reputations, and word gets around if an agent has engaged in questionable practices. There are no special certifications or licensing requirements, and pretty much anyone can declare themselves a bloodstock agent. One who is contemplating engaging an agent must be immersed in the horse business enough to know which agents are worth consulting and which ones are best avoided. Even in my short story, "A Broken Glass, A Broken Promise," the fictional Alec Sloan is portrayed as a less-than-reliable bloodstock agent, and Martin Goodall informs his son, Nigel, that Apollo di Napoli's "interests would be better served by meeting some of the old-timers around Newmarket."
As Mr. Snyder wrote me in October 1990, "People who enjoy the most success in this field have usually acquired a vast amount of experience through employment in the horse industry." However, the success of an agent-client relationship is a two-way street, and those who seek to retain an agent must maintain good communication, clearly spelling out their wishes and intentions. One bloodstock agent stated, "Once you have selected an agent, make sure you have a clear understanding with each other about what services will be provided or not provided, and about costs. For example, sending a limousine to pick you up at the airport when you arrive for an auction doesn't entitle the agent to a five percent commission on what you eventually purchase unless you have specifically agreed that the agent is to represent you as purchasing agent" (Canouse, 30-31). Don Engel, writing for the Daily Racing Form, once cautioned, "But whatever you do, remember sales agents are not identical. Some are good, some are bad - and you will be well-rewarded if you take the time and trouble to find out which are which" (1983). Whether one is starting out in the horse industry with her first purchase or another is investing in his twentieth racehorse acquisition, there is an established agent who is poised to make your transaction experience a pleasant one. Should you desire to work with an agent, ask questions, check references and state your objectives. A compatible agent could prove invaluable and profitable.
Author: Greg Freeman: Published September 25, 2021.
Canouse, Claudia Atwell. "What Bloodstock Agents Do…and Should Not Do," Minnesota Thoroughbred, April
Engel, Don. "Sales Agent Expected to Be Problem Solver," Daily Racing Form, 7 December 1983.
Snyder, Jerry. Personal correspondence. 24 October 1990.