Bloodstock business on(the)line

Bloodstock business on-the-line - Andrew Seabrook 5aIn life, sport and in business, rich rewards are born of risk. So, rather than play it safe and sticking with ‘sure things’, New Zealand Bloodstock (NZB) has put its money on the line, betting that a new way of horse trading will hit the nail on the head with its clients and prove a winning formula in the high stakes game of horse trading.

Just as the internet changed the way we bet on horses, it’s now set to change the way we buy. Andrew Seabrook (NZB’s managing director and director of Auckland Racing Club) asserts that Gavelhouse.com is on course to change the way the bloodstock industry operates here and abroad through its fortnightly online bloodstock auctions.

“We’ve sold horses valued at up to $138,000, quite a few for over $100,000, and in our first seven sales we turned over about $1.5 million. Our clearance rates are improving too, so we’re bloody pleased with how it’s going,” he says.

‘Real world’ sales continue, as evidenced by the recent National Yearling Sales (Jan 30 – Feb 5) at NZB’s Karaka Sales Centre in southern Auckland, which again saw big money buyers whipping out their chequebooks. However, Andrew believes Gavelhouse.com offers a more cost effective option to buyers and sellers of lower priced bloodstock, such as untried horses, foals, brood mares, weanlings, or even stallion shares and services.

“It’s expensive for us to run a sale, and it’s expensive (when you consider such factors as transport costs, travel and accommodation for staff) for many to come up from the South Island, or elsewhere in the world, to buy or sell. This way, they don’t have to.

“At the top end, where horses are averaging $180,000 each, it makes sense to put on these big events, but it’s prohibitive when selling a horse which is only going to make $5000 or so. That’s where gavelhouse.com comes in.”

Purchases through the site don’t need to be made ‘sight unseen’. Andrew confirms that photos, videos, vet reports and other information can be provided and buyers can still arrange viewings without horses needing to leave their home paddocks.

“Buyers can arrange to see the horses beforehand and I’d be surprised if, for the higher value ones, they don’t. When you’re buying bloodstock, you can do your due diligence, do your homework, do your study to mitigate the risk, but it’s still always a risk.”

Despite Gavelhouse.com focusing on the middle to lower end of the market, Andrew concedes that it could well take food from NZB’s trough, in a manner of speaking.

“It’ll affect some of our sales by as much as 20% in terms of numbers, but our traditional sales certainly aren’t going to fall over. During our Yearling Sales we sell more than $100 million in bloodstock. It’s a brilliant event when people from all over the world converge on Karaka to buy some of the best horses money can buy and that’s not going to change.”

Andrew is betting that an overall increase in the number of lots should more than offset any reduction in business NZB could experience with its traditional sales. In addition to attracting more buyers and sellers – those who wouldn’t usually travel to Karaka – the Kiwi company expects to net business across the ditch as Gavelhouse.com undertakes a homecoming of sorts.

“Gavelhouse.com was actually Australian owned to begin with but it just operated as a listing-based website through which people would advertise their horses. It would be up to the buyer and seller to negotiate between themselves,” Andrew explains.

“We initially kept it as a listing site but it didn’t really work. So, a little over a year and a half ago we moved forward developing it into a fully-fledged auction site.”

In November, Gavelhouse.com returned to the Australian market to challenge two long-established auction houses (Magic Millions and Inglis) which run monthly, traditional sales. However, as in New Zealand it will target the mid-lower end of the market.

“We’ve never earned a dollar over there, but now we can really start earning some money. As people cotton on that Gavelhouse.com is backed by NZB, we’re expecting it to take off. We have a good reputation in Australia. It’s a challenge, but we’re confident that it will do very well over there.”

Should the company stake its claim successfully in Australia, further markets could soon beckon, says Andrew.

“The beauty of Gavelhouse.com is that we can take it anywhere in the world. We don’t want to run before we can walk but, once we’re happy with how things are going in Australia, we will look closely at other markets. The next one would possibly be South Africa; we think it could work well there.

“Beyond that, we could look at England, Ireland and even the USA. There are some big players there but not so much in terms of online auction sites.”

Rough Habits die hard

All too often in sport, it’s the flash Harrys who are best remembered. And yet, while he credits legendary thoroughbreds such as Phar Lap, Bonecrusher and even Seabiscuit, a dark horse shines above all others for New Zealand Bloodstock director (NZB), Andrew Seabrook.

“My favourite race horse was Rough Habit,” he says. “He was a bit of an ugly duckling, an averagely-bred horse from the Hawkes Bay, but he went on to win 29 races, 11 Group Ones, on both sides of the Tasman and in Japan. Hard track, soft track, heavy tracks, any distance, Rough Habit had a great heart; that’s a most important quality for a champion.”

Born into a horse racing family in Karapiro (near Cambridge), Andrew has a life-long association with horses, although, he could be considered somewhat of a dark horse himself. Surprisingly, he doesn’t ride and initially pursued accountancy as his chosen field.

“I rode a little bit when I was younger and I had a pony but I wasn’t really into it. I was really more interested in ball sports, particularly tennis. However, I definitely enjoyed a flutter on the horses, much to my parents’ distress!

“My father [Richard] – who’s recently retired from the industry, from the JCA (Judicial Control Authority) – used to take me to the races every Saturday. Kids weren’t allowed in the grandstands in those days, so mostly I’d just sit on the bank at Te Rapa. I loved it!”

Despite studying accounting and finance at the University of Waikato, it was front line horse sense, rather than playing by the numbers, that Andrew’s first (and only) employer required.

“I was going to be an accountant but I was saved!” he laughs. “I started with NZB straight out of university in ’92, when it was known as Wrightson Bloodstock. I began in the pedigree department, researching and helping compile sales catalogues – none of my accounting skills were involved with the job at all. I then went out on the road as an agent for about four years, looking at the horses and dealing with clients one on one, face to face.”

Today, this former Karapiro kid may hold the reins as NZB’s managing director, but as he is also a director of the Auckland Racing Club, Andrew is often found back at the track.

“I attend just about every meeting at Ellerslie and my job involves a lot of travel to races around the world. It’s just a fantastic sport and wonderful to be a part of – I just love it!”

By Jon Rawlinson

3 Comments

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