08/03/2012 1:28PM

Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale looks to build on momentum


Select yearling buyers and sellers turn their attention to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., this week, where Fasig-Tipton auction executives hope their Monday and Tuesday sale will continue the positive trends started last month in Kentucky.

The company’s Kentucky July select yearling sale led off the 2012 auction season with strong gains of 15 percent and 16 percent in gross and average, respectively, and the important median figure held level with last year at $60,000. The one-day auction sold 189 yearlings, just two fewer than in 2011, for $15,364,000, resulting in an $81,291 average price. The July sale’s top price also went up, from $310,000 last year to $375,000, which Magic City Thoroughbred Partners paid for CandyLand Farm’s Malibu Moon-Uncontrollable colt.

“I think the message out of the July sale is one of encouragement,” Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning said. “There was competitive bidding, and there was demand for quality horses, and we think we’ve got a very good group of horses at Saratoga.”

Like the July sale, Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga select auction has a larger catalog this year, despite the dramatic tightening of foal crop size since the 2008 financial meltdown. Between 2008 and 2011, when these yearlings were born, the foal crop has fallen by about 23  percent. But the Saratoga select yearling catalog swelled by 18 percent this year, growing from 160 horses last year to 189 this season.

Browning said last year’s positive Saratoga sale results, including a 16 percent rise in average price and a 4 percent gain in median, contributed to the increase. The larger inventory raises the prospect that the July sale’s only obvious shadow – a larger buyback rate – will appear again at Saratoga. But Browning sees that as a relatively minor market threat.

“You’re still dealing with a fairly small population of horses, and one thing we saw evidence of in July was the brisk post-sale activity for horses, both on the day of the sale and the week after the sale,” Browning said, referring to the “after-market,” post-auction private sales for horses who failed to reach their reserves in the auction ring. “There was plenty of activity and certainly legitimacy in the marketplace, and I think it will carry forward to Saratoga.”

Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales, which has 27 yearlings in Saratoga’s catalog, agrees that the larger catalog should have only a minimal effect on buybacks and said: “All year long, I’ve thought that the deeper we get into the sale season, the more the sense of urgency is going to be with buyers, because of the reduced size of the foal crop. I thought you’d see that less in July because it’s the first sale of the year. I think you’ll start to see people begin to ratchet it up in Saratoga, and I think you’ll see it even more in September” at Keeneland’s September yearling sale.

Within Saratoga’s relatively small catalog, there’s still a decent supply of horses by some stallions. Sires owned by Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum (traditionally a major high-end buyer at this auction and a close associate of Fasig-Tipton’s Dubai-based ownership) are well stocked here, including 13 by Bernardini, 11 from Medaglia d’Oro, nine by Street Sense, eight for Street Cry, and five for Elusive Quality. Gainesway’s Tapit has 10, Ken Ramsey’s Kitten’s Joy and Taylor Made’s Unbridled’s Song each have six, while Coolmore’s Giant’s Causeway and WinStar’s Distorted Humor each have five.

There are some sparkling pedigrees among these more numerous offerings, too. Street Cry, sire of 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta, has a half-brother to 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor (Hip No. 58); there is a colt out of Del Mar Debutante winner Set Play (81); a full brother to Grade 1 winner Street Boss (146); and the first foal, a colt, out of Canadian champion Serenading (80), among several other Grade  1-connected offspring.

Medaglia d’Oro has a bevy of well-bred daughters, out of champion 3-year-old filly Wait a While (117), multiple Grade 1 winner Society Selection (93), $870,612-earner Bending Strings (143), and Grade 1-placed Bsharpsonata (149). Street Sense’s yearlings include a half-brother to the Grade 1 winner Irish Smoke (125) and the first foal, a colt, out of $826,433-earner Smart and Fancy (92). Another Maktoum-owned stallion, Elusive Quality, fields a son of Grade 1-placed Grace Anatomy (187), the mare’s first foal.

Giant’s Causeway, owned by Maktoum’s rivals at Coolmore, has a colt out of the great runner Spain (96).

And there are more. Tapit’s group includes a half-brother to champion sprinter Kodiak Kowboy (13). Unbridled’s Song has a three-quarter-sister to Canadian Horse of the Year Fatal Bullet (74), and Distorted Humor has a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Vacare (134). Empire Maker now stands in Japan, but among his six yearlings here are a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Excellent Meeting (178) and a full brother to Spinster winner Mushka (91). Lane’s End sire Curlin, a two-time Horse of the Year, has a colt out of two-time Grade 1 runner-up A to the Croft (136).

But some stallions with far smaller yearling counts also have some potential headline-grabbers in their yearling consignments. Coolmore sire Galileo, whose son Frankel is dominating racing these days, has fillies out of Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Adoration (126) and out of Rock of Gibraltar’s full sister Nell Gwyn (41). Hill ‘n’ Dale’s first-crop sire Zensational has one lot, a half-sister to Grade 1-placed Indian Winter (138). Claiborne stallion Pulpit also has just a single yearling here, a half-brother to millionaire Smooth Air (128). Also with just one: Adena Springs’s Macho Uno, with a full brother to Grade 1-placed Harlem Rocker (180).

Consignors and sale officials have always contended that the Spa’s heady atmosphere – with top racing taking place just a block away from Fasig-Tipton’s auction ring – contributes to good sales. This year, the setting carries extra weight, thanks to the Empire State’s gaming-supplemented purses.

“Purses like they are in New York have to help stimulate people who were on the fence,” Browning said. “It has to make you want to jump in, so I think we’ll see some fresh faces in New York.”

Taylor Made’s Taylor concurred.

“With $85,000 maiden races right across the street at Saratoga, if that doesn’t breathe life into an owner, I don’t know what will,” he said. “All of a sudden, it’s not a crazy business proposition. The yearling you buy doesn’t have to be a classic winner to get your money back, if you’re racing in that circuit.”

Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga select sale will take place Aug. 6-7 at the company’s Humphrey S. Finney Sale Pavilion in Saratoga. Sessions start at 7 p.m. each night and will stream live at drf.com and fasigtipton.com.