08/08/2012 2:37PM

Fasig-Tipton: Saratoga select sale has solid second night, cutting losses

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga select yearling sale was a late closer this year. Twenty-four hours after its Monday opener saw average price sink 21 percent and median plummet 30 percent, the auction rebounded with gains at its Tuesday night session. But they were not enough to erase all the earlier losses, and the sale results – notable for diverse domestic spending as Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum dialed his bidding back – still landed in negative territory overall.

The two-night auction’s highest price came early in the final session when Todd Pletcher, working for an unidentified client, bid $1,575,000 for the Three Chimneys consignment’s Medaglia d’Oro filly out of 2006 champion Wait a While.

Despite the price, breeder Alan Cohen found it difficult to watch his prized roan filly – currently named Wait No More – go under the hammer. Wait a While was Cohen’s first racehorse, and she earned an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly for Cohen and his wife, Karen, who race and breed in the name of Arindel Farm. Arindel kept Wait a While’s first foal, an unraced 2-year-old Distorted Humor colt named Zaikov.

“People told us for a long time that this filly was really special, but it was hard to let her go,” said Cohen, who spends much of the year at his Florida farm and was present at Wait No More’s birth. “I love watching the horses born and being raised, and we’re out there all the time with them. That’s why it’s hard to sell them, especially this one.”

Pletcher, on the opposite end of the transaction, found her hard to buy. “We were stretching to our limit,” said Pletcher, who trained Wait a While. “But obviously we know the mare really well, and she’s one of the best we ever had. This is a beautiful filly who reminded us a lot of Wait a While, and we’re really happy to get her.”

Wait a While’s daughter was the auction’s third million-dollar yearling, but after selling 107 yearlings the sale still ended with across-the-board declines. Gross dipped 2.7 percent from last year’s total for 103 horses, and average and median took harder hits. The $299,065 average was down 6.3 percent while median fell 10 percent to $225,000. Buybacks also remained high at 33.9 percent, up from 21.9 percent a year ago.

After Monday’s bruising losses, sellers and auction executives predicted Tuesday’s horses would sell better, and they did. The last session’s 55 horses averaged $334,727 with a $250,000 median price, 7.9 percent and 11.1 percent higher than last year. And they did it with little pushing from Maktoum, whose agent John Ferguson bought just three horses Tuesday: a $250,000 Bernardini-Taletobetold filly, a $400,000 Street Cry-Blushing Ogygian colt, and a $300,000 Kitten’s Joy-Dynamia colt.

Over the two nights, Maktoum bought eight yearlings for just over $3.3 million, including a $1.2 million Street Cry-Serenading colt that topped Monday’s session (Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton bought Monday’s other millionaire, a $1.1 million Empire Maker colt who is a full brother to Grade 1 winner and former Saratoga sale-topper Mushka). But it was a long way from the $8.5 million he spent for 13 horses last year, and it opened the way to a diverse group of mostly domestic buyers.

Other high-priced horses Tuesday included a $900,000 Dynaformer-Super Freaky filly that Paul Fudge’s Waratah Thoroughbreds bought from the Paramount agency; a $725,000 Medaglia d’Oro-West Coast Swing filly that Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation bought from Denali Stud’s consignment; and a $700,000 Bernardini-Dawn Chorus colt that Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm bought from Four Star Sales, agent.

But even in his absence, Maktoum remained a major topic of conversation.

Sellers said Maktoum’s decision not to vet yearlings before the auction this year had proved confusing; traditionally, consignors use examinations like X-rays and endoscopic exams as a gauge of bidders’ interest. Without that compass, some said, they kept high reserves on yearlings that Maktoum had looked at – especially if they were by Maktoum-owned sires – only to find him uninterested at sale time.

Consignors like Mark Taylor of the Taylor Made agency exhorted their clients selling horses to proceed cautiously, with or without Maktoum interest, in Saratoga’s highly selective market.

“You can’t set your reserve based on the number of scopes,” Taylor said he told his sellers. “You have to really see who the scopes were for, see who’s on your horse, and know what their typical buying patterns are. Then set your reserve conservatively, in the lower range of that buying pattern.”

On Tuesday night, the area behind the Humphrey S. Finney Sale Pavilion, Maktoum’s customary bidding location, was empty and strangely forlorn. Maktoum was nowhere to be seen, and the spectators who usually throng to watch him stood back, leaving the space open as if waiting for his return. But unlike those casual auction-goers, Maktoum’s rival bidders abhor a vacuum, at least in the market for select Thoroughbred yearlings.

“There were stronger horses going through tonight, and I think maybe some of the other buyers were sitting around watching Sheikh Mohammed Monday night wondering, ‘Is he on the horse I’m interested in? Is he going to buy it?’ ” Taylor said. “I think they might have been more caught up in that rather than just going in and bidding, and if they get the horse they get it, if they don’t, they don’t. Tonight, in his absence, the other buyers seemed more aggressive. Maybe the horses were better, maybe it’s a psychological thing, I don’t know, but it’s been a better sale.”

Even so, buyers and sellers didn’t always see eye-to-eye on yearlings’ values, and Tuesday’s buyback rate remained high at 34.5 percent, compared with 19.4 percent a year ago. But that was offset by a vigorous private aftermarket for horses who had failed to reach their reserves.

“We’re getting deals done, and I’ve talked to two or three consignors that also were successful in getting horses sold after the ring,” said Richard Kent of Kaizen Sales, adding that in some cases he received multiple private offers after a horse left the ring unsold. “I’ve never had so many people come back to the barn inquiring after a sale, legitimate people that were making offers even above what the yearling’s price was in the ring.”

A case in point: Kaizen’s Hip No. 61, a Distorted Humor-Quite a Ruckus filly. She was not purchased Monday night but ended up selling privately above her $95,000 reserve after the auction.

“The top of the market – the very top – is an elusive place to get to,” concluded consignor Mark Taylor. “But they still exist, the seven-figure horses. I think people come up here looking for the really perfect horse. And if it’s not perfect, they’ll probably just wait for September.”