07/08/2010 11:00PM

Fingers crossed at Fasig-Tipton


LEXINGTON, Ky. - At last year's Fasig-Tipton July yearling sale, Dapple Stud's Mike Akers summed up the market best: "You've just got to suffer through the resetting of the market."

Consignors at the 2010 edition on Monday and Tuesday in Lexington hope the market has reset and will now either hold steady or rise.

"I hope to see a reasonable RNA [reserve not attained] rate, getting a majority of the horses sold, and you always hope for increases in your average price and in your median price," said Fasig-Tipton chief executive Boyd Browning. "But statistics are just one measurement. It's also that intangible thing, the feel of the sale, the level of activity of the sales grounds, the looks and attitudes of people buying and selling horses at the end of the day."

There was some suffering in 2009 as Fasig-Tipton's yearling prices fell to align with earlier, sometimes more severe, drops in other market segments. The company's 2009 July select sale, the first major yearling auction of the season, endured declines of 26 percent in gross, 15 percent in average, and 27 percent in median, but buybacks actually fell two points to 37 percent as sellers conceded they had expected losses.

Both demand and yearling population have fallen sharply since 2008. Last year, North American yearling auctions sold 27 percent fewer horses than in the previous season, and gross sales fell 36 percent. Fasig-Tipton has cut its July catalog by 18 percent this year, offering 407 yearlings versus 494 in 2009.

There's at least one positive indicator that the market for racing prospects overall might be turning the corner: the 2010 juvenile sales' performance. Five of the year's seven most important juvenile sales rang up increases in median, and yearling-to-juvenile resellers' profits were up somewhat at most of the season's five boutique, up-market sales.

"Hopefully, they had a little better 2010 sale season than in 2009," Browning said. "But I'm concerned. There's certainly been less capital available for 2-year-old pinhookers than in the past, and I don't see any great expansion of that capital in 2010."

Fasig-Tipton has taken some action in hopes of spicing up existing buyers' interest and perhaps attracting new owners. It has added representatives in Europe and Australasia and customized e-mail solicitations that consignors can use for marketing to buyer lists. The company also hosted ontrack hospitality areas at Belmont, Hollywood, Churchill, and Monmouth over the July 4 weekend. Shrinking purse levels provide some headwind to those efforts, but Browning has a response to potential buyers put off by a weakened Thoroughbred business climate.

"There are some potential opportunities if there is some market weakness for owners to expand their level of activity," he said. "This is a great, great sport, and it's a great thrill to win a big race. People can't completely lose sight of the financial ramifications. It's a high-risk, high-reward game. But the people that have maintained a relationship with this business do it because they love horses and the competitive aspect of it. We can't sell dollars and cents; we've got to sell the thrill of winning an important race on Saturday afternoon."

Fasig-Tipton has continued renovations and customer-service improvements it started last year. Its new office in front of the pavilion is complete, and the pavilion now features a new business center.

Fasig-Tipton also has tweaked the July sale's format by limiting its opening-session "new sire showcase" to horses with their first yearlings, rather than to first- and second-year sires. Some of the most anticipated debuting sires are 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor; champions Steviewonderboy, Lawyer Ron, and English Channel; Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense; and such Grade 1 winners as Any Given Saturday, Hard Spun, Latent Heat, Political Force, and Scat Daddy. Some of those freshmen have yearlings with graded-stakes-winning connections.

Discreet Cat has a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Johnny Eves (Hip No. 14). Spellbinder has a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Take the Points (43). English Channel's Hip No. 56 is out of major earner Humoristic, while a son of Twigazuri (135) is a half to Futural. The Corinthian filly cataloged as Hip No. 71 is a half-sister to High Limit. Stevie Wonderboy's group includes a half-sister to millionaire Park Avenue Ball (104).

Darley's freshman trio of Street Sense, Any Given Saturday, Hard Spun have some impressive connections, too. Any Given Saturday's son of Go for It Lady (45) is a half to Grade 1-placed Spring Meadow. Street Sense has a colt out of Grade 1-placed Good Student (47). Hard Spun's 12 yearlings include a half-sister to Too Much Bling (106).

Proven sires' yearlings also appear with some familiar black type. Leading sire Giant's Causeway has half-brothers to millionaire Grade 1 winner Star Parade (179) and Grade 1 winner Colonial Colony (255). Top third-crop sire Medaglia d'Oro has a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Divine Park (245). Successful broodmare sire Rahy, now pensioned, has only one filly in the sale, a daughter of major earner Nicole's Dream (313).

Other yearlings with notable siblings include Hip No. 223, a Strategic Mission half-sister to Tapitsfly; Hip No. 225, an Elusive Quality half-sister to Gaviola; Hip No. 254, a half-brother to Stonehouse; Hip No. 279, a With Distinction half-sister to Hooh Why; Hip No. 289, a Proud Citizen half-brother to Showing Up; Hip No. 341, an Exchange Rate half-brother to Twisted Wit; and Hip No. 367, a Tapit half-sister Musique Toujours.

Both sessions start at 11 a.m. Eastern.