There are a several different sale types where you will have the opportunity to purchase a horse.
These can be categorised into:
Weanling or Foal Sales
Two Year Old Ready to Race Sales
Horses In-Training Sales
Generally public auction is the best mode of purchase as it gives you the true value of the horse on the open market. Private sales are generally how horses in training are purchased, such as for Hong Kong, or purchasing broodmares or broodmare prospects later in the year when there are no suitable auctions available. When purchasing a horse out of Europe, a lot of the sales are performed privately as purchases need to be made in a quick and decisive manor.
The earliest point in a horse's life when they can be offered at public auction is at a foal or weanling sale, where horses aged 6-10 months old would be offered for sale. Often these foals are purchased with the idea of reselling them as yearlings, hoping that they continue to develop physically and that their pedigree can be provided with a significant update. Foal sales offer a great opportunity for those looking to take a chance on 'buying low and selling high'.
The next point at which horses are offered at public auction is the yearling sales where colts and fillies that are just over a year old are presented for sale. These horses are much more physically developed than weanlings and give potential buyers a clearer picture as to what they will turn into by the time they hit the race track. Yearling sales are the predominant market to purchase the best horses in Australia, America and Europe and are the most competitive market place where the highest prices are achieved for young horses.
Two year old sales are a format of sales that are incredibly popular in America through the likes of the OBS and Fasig Tipton Sales and are gaining more traction down under through the likes of the NZB Ready to Run, Magic Millions Two Year Old Sale, and the Inglis Ready to Race Sale. These horses as the title suggests are for just two year olds and are often prepared by 'pin hookers'. These horses have been broken-in and gallop over either 200m (1/8) or 400m (1/2) under saddle. These gallops are timed, and video recorded and potential buyers can watch and analyse whether they think their performance in the gallop will correlate to success on the race track.
Horse’s In-Training Sales are very popular in Europe and to a lesser extent in America and Australia. Horses can range between two and seven years of age and have raced before. These types of sales give buyers a very clear picture of what they are buying as they can watch how the horse competes under race conditions. Buyers are generally trying to find horses that may improve in a different country or jurisdiction where different training methods and conditions are applied.
Broodmare Sales are generally conducted around 3-4 months out from the breeding season. These sales offer female horses that are either in-foal or ones that suitable for mating. Buyers will evaluate the broodmares on their race record, pedigree and produce record, if they have one.