Silky Green. South Pacific Bloodstock. Clover Club Co Ltd. The Japan Stallion Company.
For the past few weeks, the talk of the American bloodstock industry has been the large infusion of cash-- about $21 million -- that has been spent at the Florida and California 2-year-old auctions by Japanese buyers who sign the sales tabs with these exotic-sounding names and send the horses back to race in their native country.
"A tidal wave of Japanese interest and money," is how Terence Collier, director of marketing for the Fasig-Tipton sales company describes the unprecedented demand that the Far Eastern horsemen have recently shown for American thoroughbreds.
"It reminds me of the crazy days of the 1980s, when there was no ceiling at the top of the market," Collier said. "But instead of the Arabs [who were the big spenders in the '80s], this time it's the Japanese."
Of course, the purchasing power of the Japanese has been helped by the rise of the yen and the deflated value of the dollar in the international money markets.
When Masaichiro Abe, a prominent Japanese racehorse owner, signed the tab for four thoroughbreds Wednesday at the Barretts Select Sale in Pomona, Calif., his American representative, Claudia Atwell Canouse, said that it took 88 yen to buy one dollar.
"When I first started buying horses for my Japanese clients seven years ago, the exchange rate was 200 yen to the dollar. Now that dollars are so cheap, my customers' purchasing power in the States has more than doubled."
And it has shown in the sales results. Collier said that at the Feb. 27-28 Fasig-Tipton sale in Miami, there were 70 individual Japanese horsemen at the auction representing 12 buying groups. They spent about $7 million, or 41 percent of the gross sales receipts, and purchased 45 horses, including nine of the top 10 2-year-olds.
The Japanese presence at the Barretts sale last week was even more evident, said sales company president, Gerald McMahon. Japanese buyers spent $14 million, or about two-thirds of the gross sales receipts, for 65 horses, including eight of the 10 top-priced animals.
He estimated that there were 150 Japanese horsemen at the auction.
Profiting most have been the pinhookers, middlemen who purchased yearlings last fall, broke them and re-sold them six to seven months later.
The most stunning recent example involves southern Pennsylvania horseman Marshall Jenney. When he sold a son of Unbridled at the Saratoga, N.Y., yearling sale last summer for $200,000, Jenney was pleased with the price. But at Barretts sale last week, that horse just seven months later brought $1.4 million and was sold to a Japanese buyer.
McMahon said there are three major reasons for the Japanese emergence at the sales.
"First, the Japanese Racing Association has been easing restrictions that have allowed more imported horses to run in their races," he said. "That has expanded opportunities for American-bred horses. Secondly, there is a tremendous purse structure in that country. And thirdly, there is the strong yen. Quality American thoroughbreds are one of the few U.S. products that the Japanese need, and they are willing to pay for them."
Collier added that the recent successes of American-bred thoroughbreds in Japanese racing, horses such as Eishin Berlin and Go Go Nakayama, which have won graded stakes and earned several times their purchase prices, have also encouraged the Japanese horsemen's aggressive shopping habits.
"There is also a different kind of Japanese owner emerging," Collier said. "They are not so hidebound as the older owners. It used to be the owners bought their horses as foals from the northern breeders, and the breeders raised the horses for them until they went to the track. Now, a whole new group of owners has seen the physical superiority of the American 2-year-olds and begun vigorously buying them. They get better value for their money in the States."
Collier added that even Maryland breeders could see a "trickle-down" effect at local yearling auctions this year as the pinhookers scour all available markets for horses.
"Of course, people need to be aware of the vagaries of this market," he said. "To a large degree it's dependent on what happens to a group of people that is located quite a distance away. There are a lot of factors that can change and that no one can control."
A Japanese runner in the Preakness?
At the same time that the Japanese are buying more and more American horses, the presence of their flourishing racing industry will soon be felt at American tracks, perhaps even Baltimore's dowdy old Pimlico.
On Saturday, the world's richest female thoroughbred, Hishi Amazon, invades Santa Anita Park from Japan for a start in the $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on the turf.
In Japanese, the word "hishi" means diamond, said Canouse, who has overseen many of the U.S. arrangements for the Abe-owned filly.