Sunday, January 29, 2012

Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy...At the Sales

Spy versus...
Spy versus...
Spy versus...
Spy versus...
What horse?
CIA Has Nothin' Over These Spies

Thoroughbred sales are probably one of the most fascinating venues ever created for the sole purpose of selling an agricultural commodity.  Yeah, I'm afraid that $100,000 yearling you just bought is technically: livestock.  Sorry, but the USDA and The Jockey Club haven't quite settled on a nomenclature that fits every body's needs perfectly.  Especially when the wife asks, "Honey, do we own any cows?  The accountant called about it."

Given how really special Thoroughbreds are, and perhaps more importantly, how tricky the end-result of a purchase might be, the industry decided to nurture the development of so-called agents -- bloodstock agents to be completely correct.  This was both incredible foresight on the part of Thoroughbred sellers and of absolute necessity to insure any form of repeat business.  Yes, agents are a little like heat-shields on a space capsule.  They are designed to deflect a certain version of a rare, but sweet-scented wrath that shows up every year about tax time.  See, when $100,000 and "out run a Yugo" end up in the same sentence -- well, everybody should have a fall-guy.

Agents know this.  That's why every couple of years they change names, addresses, phone numbers, shaving habits, countries, wives, favorite restaurants -- DNA if they could figure out how.  But unhappy, financially destitute in-laws are only half the problem.  The real competition isn't over clients.  They recycle pretty fast.  The end-game -- the adrenaline-chili-powder-ragged-edge-tight-cheek-ultimate high:  out-flanking another agent.  And to be clear, it is not always about buying the better horse.

"Buyers engage in a form of subterfuge of their own and for a very good reason, or quite frankly, a whole collection of personality disorders.  Some trainers, owners or agents have a reputation for picking out winners on a somewhat regular basis.  Regular is a subjective term.  Irregular is an industry standard.  Either way, the divine chosen are subject to counter-intelligence operations of epic proportions.  People peek at them from under the shed-row, behind bushes, near Sani-Kans, or try to get them drunk at cheap bars and swipe their catalog  The object of all these mental manipulations is two-fold:  the first is to find out if one's own judgement is hopelessly corrupt, or at the least, shared by one other human on the planet.  The second depends on the first, because two people can't possibly own the same secret.  Then, the strategy is to either undermine the other potential buyer's confidence in a particular horse or undermine your own.  The latter is complicated.  It is like buying a used car from yourself.  You know the damn thing has a hopeless stain in the backseat and the engine knocks, but the price is...well, you get it.  If another guy actually wants to buy it, why are you selling it?"

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