03/03/2010 1:00AM

Fasig-Tipton sale offers clues market is improving


Fasig-Tipton's Calder select 2-year-old sale ended Tuesday with a $2.3 million sale-topper and sizeable gains in average and median. Those results have increased sale executives' and sellers' optimism that the Thoroughbred market is turning a corner.

The one-day auction at Calder Race Course in Miami Gardens, Fla., sold 91 horses for $23,430,000, as compared with 111 juveniles for $26,151,000 last year, a decline of 10 percent. But its average price rose 9 percent, from $235,595 to $257,473. And median performed much better, soaring 33 percent over last year's figure of $150,000 to reach $200,000.

"From a statistical perspective, it was encouraging," Fasig-Tipton CEO Boyd Browning said. "Also encouraging was the amount of activity on the sale grounds. There were a lot of people looking, and there was truly demand for horses at this sale."

Despite the good news, there were still some worrying signs. The market still had a highly selective, "all or nothing" quality that has become a hallmark of many select juvenile sales. Consignors scratched 88 horses, and the buyback rate for those that did reach the ring climbed slightly, from 35 percent in 2009 to 37 percent.

The sale-topper was a $2.3 million Distorted Humor-Tomisue's Delight colt, a half-brother to Grade 1 winner Mr. Sidney. Bought by Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables, the colt easily outdid last year's highest-priced juvenile for the entire year, the $1.9 million Keeneland April sale graduate Take Control.

Take Control's buyer then, Kaleem Shah, also was reported among the bidders for Calder's $2.3 million Distorted Humor colt. The aggressive bidding by multiple parties for the chestnut colt suggests that a number of upper-market buyers have remained relatively unscathed by the recession. And consignors pointed to a varied list of buyers at $500,000 and above to strengthen that claim. High-end bidders who walked away from Calder with purchases in that price range Tuesday night included Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley Stud, Betty Moran's Brushwood Stable, Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm, and John Magnier's Coolmore Stud.

"It's encouraging that people are still there spending money if you have the right horse," said Steve Venosa, whose SGV Thoroughbreds agency sold a $750,000 Medaglia d'Oro-Let's Toast colt to Darley. That colt, too was a profit-turner: Herring Farms paid $300,000 for him last year.

"Often, you'll go to a sale and feel like the horses are there but there just aren't people there to buy the horses," Venosa said. "I think we're not going to see ridiculous spending like we saw in years past, but people are still willing to pay for a nice horse. I think people are getting extremely selective about the horses they'll purchase, and they're getting realistic about what they're willing to spend on a horse. We all have to adjust."

The sale-topper was the day's most notable home run. New consignors Stacy Yagoda and Jill Julian, selling under the name Two Beaches, made their Calder debut after years behind the scenes at other consignments. Yagoda previously operated a sales agency with her former husband, Ricky Leppala, and Julian was a longtime partner with another prominent pinhooker, Carl Bowling. The two women joined forces last year, and they came to Calder with a single horse.

Yagoda and Julian paid $200,000 for the Distorted Humor colt at the 2009 Keeneland September sale, using the buying name On the Sly. For the price they got a world of pedigree. He is by a hot young sire and his dam, Tomisue's Delight, is a multiple Grade 1-winning A. P. Indy mare and a full sister to 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft.

Fasig-Tipton's Calder sale was the second boutique juvenile auction this season, following the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's February select sale. The next major select juvenile sale is the OBS March select sale in Ocala, Fla., on March 16-17.