08/11/2012 9:59PM

Fasig-Tipton Saratoga New York-bred yearling sale gains tempered by high buyback rate

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Despite robust gains in gross, median, and average, sellers of New York-bred yearlings appeared to have seriously misjudged the enthusiasm of buyers for many of their horses during the first session of the Fasig-Tipton New York-bred yearling sale on Saturday night in Saratoga Springs.

Though average jumped 10 percent and median shot up 52 percent, 48 horses did not meet the reserves set by their sellers, for a buyback rate of 42.8 percent, a significant increase over the already high buyback rate of 32 percent at the two-day sale last year. The highest-priced horse not to meet its reserve last year at the first session brought a final bid of $68,000. At this year’s Saturday night session, six horses with final bids in excess of $70,000 did not meet their reserves, including two horses whose final bids were $130,000 and $120,000.

“Consignors were probably a little too aggressive” in setting their reserves, said Boyd Browning, the president of Fasig-Tipton, after the session concluded.

Browning said he believed consignors would adjust their expectations for the Sunday night session. “Tomorrow night we’ll have a better buyback rate,” he said.

Despite the startling buyback rate, average for the 64 horses that sold on Saturday night was $57,141, up 10 percent over the $51,992 average for the first session last year. Median shot up 52 percent from $33,000 to $50,000, an indication that the middle of the market was strong, at least for those horses that exceeded the reserves set by their sellers. Gross increased 19 percent, from $3,067,500 last year for 59 horses sold to $3,657,000 for 64 horses this year.

Sellers may have set their expectations too high because of a rapid run-up in prices for New York-bred yearlings at last year’s sale, the first to be held after work had begun on a casino at Aqueduct in downstate New York. Because a portion of the revenues for the casino were set by law to be directed to purses at the New York tracks, including to restricted races for New York-breds, sales figures at last year’s auction soared, with gross increasing 83 percent and average increasing 39 percent, despite a larger catalog than the previous year.

Since the casino opened in late October, purses at the three tracks operated by the New York Racing Association have been bumped up nearly 40 percent. But despite those increases, optimism about the New York racing industry has been tempered by uncertainty over whether the state’s politicians will seek to claw back a significant share of the revenue that racetracks and breeding programs receive from the casino.

That uncertainty was on display when James J.J. Crupi, who bought three horses for his own Newcastle Farm on Saturday night, said after signing the ticket for a $170,000 First Samurai colt that the market seemed to be more competitive this year than in years past. But he cautioned that he had concerns about the long-term future of the casino supplements at NYRA tracks.

The casino subsidies “are why they seem to be selling so good,” Crupi said. “Now we just have to hope that they don’t take the money away.” 

The session topper was a $220,000 colt by Majestic Warrior out of the Sea of Secrets mare Road to Mandalay, a minor stakes winner. Nick de Meric signed the ticket for the colt, who is a late April foal and by a stallion whose first foals are 2-year-olds of 2012.

“For us, he was the complete package,” de Meric said. “Majestic Warrior, we think he’s destined for great things, but mostly, we just loved the physical specimen.”

The second-highest-priced yearling to sell was a $200,000 Tale of the Cat colt with a relatively deep pedigree bought by Dave Scanlon, agent, for the pinhooking operation called Gotham Boys. The colt is the first foal out of Grace’s Valentine, a daughter of the Grade 1 stakes winner Plenty of Grace. One of Plenty of Grace’s daughters, Bonnie Byerly, produced the multiple graded stakes winner Diabolical, a son of Artax, and the colt’s third dam, the stakes winner Wings of Grace, produced the champion filly Soaring Softly.

“We really liked his family,” Scanlon said. “He was a really racy looking colt, and we had marked him as one of the best individuals in the sale.”

In addition to the Majestic Warrior colt and the Tale of the Cat colt, four other horses sold for $100,000 or more during the session. That compared with 11 yearlings that sold for $100,000 or more during the first session last year. Another 10 horses sold for $100,000 or more during the Sunday night session last year, putting this year’s sale well behind the 8-ball in making up that ground.

Browning said that horses in the Sunday night session would likely bring higher prices than the horses offered on Saturday.

“Every buyer I talked to had more horses on their short list for Sunday night,” Browning said. “We’re going to see some fireworks here tomorrow.”