Vendors on the corner of York and Timonium roads will be hustling their wares this weekend.
But it isn't a crafts or an RV show.
About 170 buyers, mostly from the East Coast, are expected to show up and shell out nearly $2 million for about 325 thoroughbred yearlings.
It's a high-stakes poker game that takes place locally every fall at the horse sales arena at the Timonium fairgrounds.
Despite the current recession affecting nearly all aspects of racing, Mason Grasty, executive vice president of Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Inc., which conducts the auction in two sessions tomorrow and Monday, is optimistic that prices will match its 20-percent increase last year.
The average price for a yearling last year was $6,810, far below the national average of $26,233.
Even though there is a good supply of millionaires buying at Timonium, their pockets don't reach as deep as those of the Arab sheiks and international jet-setters who show up at the pricier venues in Kentucky.
"This is a workingman's sale, and the horses being sold are the ones you see running at the track every day," said Rick Abbott, a 44-year-old bloodstock agent from Cochranville, Pa., who is selling 39 yearlings for about a dozen different clients.
"I don't anticipate a downturn," Grasty said. "Last year, there was electricity in the air and it showed there is still a demand for horses. I think people sense there is a diminishing supply of horseflesh, but there are still opportunities to make money in racing if you can come up with a good horse."
He acknowledges that new owners might be in short supply. "But the ones that have stayed in the game will be here looking for replacements for their stables," he said.
Grasty notes that at the recently completed Keeneland (Ky.) Fall sales "there was tremendous depth in the market. I was there when the last three yearlings out of about 3,400 horses were sold. The last three animals brought $12,000, $12,500 and $7,500, and there were still plenty of people that hadn't filled their orders."
He thinks that demand will spill over to Fasig-Tipton's Timonium auction that principally attracts sellers from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The sale is the largest one held locally during the year that is devoted exclusively to yearlings. At this age, the horses have done nothing more than romp in their paddocks and haven't even had a saddle on their backs.
Buyers select their choices on pedigree and conformation "although I'm not always sure that the most beautiful horse in the sale is going to turn out to be the fastest," Abbott said.
In 1991, 432 yearlings were sold at seven different Timonium auctions, bringing an average price of $3,370, compared with 461 yearlings that sold for an average of $4,026 in 1990.
This year, there should be a similar decrease in the number of yearlings being offered. The Equivest Breeders' Sales Co, Fasig-Tipton's competitor in recent years, has gone out of business after filing for bankruptcy protection nearly a year ago. Fasig-Tipton is picking up horses normally sold by Equivest, "but there is no great increase [in our numbers]," Grasty said.
When the average price of a yearling is $3,370, less than it costs to care for the horse for a year, why do people still breed and sell them?
"People that have stayed in the business are in it now because they like it," Abbott said. "They like the lifestyle and have to get some kind of psychic enjoyment from their horses. People that look at breeding horses strictly as an investment don't last in the game."
Abbott said that his clients have "realistic expectations" about what their horses will bring. He expects to gross between $300,000 and $350,000 for his 39 yearlings.
"Clients have to realize that the cost of producing the horse has no relation to what it's worth," he said. "They have had a hard dose of reality in the last couple of years [when prices generally declined]."
Even though they will probably lose money, breeders still sell their yearlings, he said, "because they are not prepared to race them. Some need to create income [for tax reasons], to generate cash flow, or some simply just need the money," he said. "Sometimes they make a hit [by selling a high-priced horse]."
What sells well, Abbott added, is a big, muscular colt, with an early foaling date that is sired by a popular stallion. "Fillies sell for about 40 percent less than colts," he said. Buyers want horses that will race as 2-year-olds to get a quicker return on their investment.
Abbott and Donald Litz, from Butler in Baltimore County, are the two principal bloodstock agents selling at Timonium who have managed to stay in business through the boom and bust years.
Observers attribute their success to honesty, good horsemanship and keeping their costs under control.
Abbott said he has never strayed far from his basic credo. "It's pretty simple," he said. "If you breed nice horses, raise them right, then show them at the sale to their best advantage, then people will buy them."
NOTES: Kent Desormeaux ended his abbreviated stay at Pimlico yesterday without riding a winner. Desormeaux will compete at Belmont Park today, riding local filly Sentimental Tango in the Personal Ensign Stakes. He then rides in his native state of Louisiana tomorrow in the Louisiana Downs Breeders' Cup. . . . Maryland bettors will still be able to bet the National Pic-6 today at Pimlico and Laurel, even though none of the six stakes in the series is being simulcast individually at the local tracks. The hourlong Pic-6 television show will be telecast over track monitors. . . . Awad, who lost a maiden race last weekend in the Maryland Million, rebounded yesterday and won the $100,000 Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park.