04/24/2015 2:52PM

Kentucky Derby: Sales graduates prominent among hopefuls

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Keeneland/Coady Photography
Multiple Grade 1 winner Carpe Diem sold for $1.6 million as a juvenile and is the most expensive of this year's Derby hopefuls sold at public auction.

When an outstanding specimen brings a high bid at auction, it normally comes with expectations of success on the racetrack.

History has shown repeatedly, though, that a seven-figure price tag does not guarantee a spot in the Kentucky Derby, much less a trip to the winner’s circle. In fact, recent results have proven the opposite to be true.

Over the past 25 editions of the Kentucky Derby, 13 winners were sold at auction prior to their racing careers for an average price of $372,962. Removing outlier Fusaichi Pegasus, who brought $4 million at the 1998 Keeneland July yearling sale before winning the 2000 Derby, the average price is just $70,708.

This year’s top 25 Derby contenders as of April 21 include 20 horses that changed hands at auction at least once. Because American Pharoah races for breeder Zayat Stables despite selling to Ingordo Bloodstock as a yearling for $300,000, the colt was considered a homebred for the purposes of this article.

The average sale price among this year’s sale graduates still under Derby contention was $277,663, firmly in the middle market of most major auctions.

Carpe Diem, winner of the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes and Breeders’ Futurity, is the most expensive horse of the group, going to Stonestreet Stables for $1.6 million at last year’s Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. March selected 2-year-olds in training sale. When he enters the gate, Carpe Diem will be the first seven-figure auction horse to compete in the Derby since Cowtown Cat ($1.5 million) and Any Given Saturday ($1.1 million) in 2007.

The son of Giant’s Causeway finished the year tied as the most expensive juvenile to sell at auction in North America, and he is the lone seven-figure sales graduate of the prospective Derby field.

“Two-year-old sales have a history of a lot of horses bringing seven figures that don’t have much pedigree,” said Stone-street bloodstock adviser John Moynihan. “This horse had an amazing pedigree, by Giant’s Causeway, who’s one of the best stallions. He’s a beautiful physical horse, so all the stars aligned where if you wanted to own him, you were going to have to give a lot of money for him. We thought the horse would bring something in the $1 million to $1.5 million range, but [with] horses that are that good, you just have to make the decision to buy them at a level you’re comfortable with or let them go. Luckily for us, he was still in our comfort range at $1.6 million.”

Stonestreet has made a habit of finding high-profile partners when pursuing expensive horses and it quickly struck up a deal with WinStar Farm at the OBS March sale.

“I’m hard to miss looking at the horses, so John [Moynihan] saw my big 6-foot-4 frame looking at [Carpe Diem] and surmised that we were interested,” said WinStar CEO Elliott Walden. “He came to us and said, ‘Hey, do you like that colt?’ and I said I loved him. He proposed the idea of a partnership. I knew he was going to be expensive, so it made a lot of sense to partner up on a horse that was going to cost that much.”

On the other end of the spectrum, the Southwest Stakes winner Far Right enters the race as the least-expensive auction horse of the field, having sold to Kentucky-based equine dentist Jon Jazdzewski for $2,500 as a newly turned yearling at the 2013 Keeneland January horses of all ages sale.

If Far Right were successful in his Derby bid, the Notional ridgling would be the lowest-priced winner to sell at auction over the past quarter-century, surpassing Mine That Bird, who brought $9,500 at the 2007 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall yearling sale.

“He was an extremely balanced colt,” Jazdzewski said. “He had a lot of definition. He didn’t look like a baby at all. We don’t spend a whole lot of money [at auction], so we always have to forgive in some fashion, either it’s conformation or vetting issues, or in this case it was his sire … That’s what allowed us to get him for that price.”

Because of Far Right’s non-commercial pedigree, Jazdzewski elected to forgo the 2-year-old auction route and attempted to sell the horse privately once he proved himself on the racetrack. Far Right was purchased last fall after his second start by current co-owner Harry Rosenblum, later joined by Robert LaPenta, but not before the timing was right for both sides.

“[Far Right] bullet worked from the gate, and I thought everybody would be calling, but nobody called,” Jazdzewski said. “He ran second at Keeneland, and Harry Rosenblum sent somebody over, but he never followed through. He had to run at Churchill to get anybody to even think about him. This is the first horse where we turned down pretty good money twice. When we went to Churchill, they were offering a pretty good chunk, and then again after he ran. He had a shin after he ran, so that kind of slowed everybody down until the two horses that beat him ended up being Conquest Tsunami and Cinco Charlie, then all of a sudden, it just went crazy.”