08/09/2011 3:49PM

Maktoum's six purchases lift results at Day 1 of Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga select yearling sale


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – It was a poignant moment for Bill Casner. On Monday night, he stood just outside the bright lights that glistened off a bay colt named Superfection. Casner remembered the colt as a foal, indeed as a mating plan, and Superfection’s pedigree inspired fond Kentucky Derby memories.

Superfection, labeled as Hip No. 56 for his approaching turn in the auction ring at Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga select yearling sale, is a Medaglia d’Oro colt. He also is a half-brother to 2010 Derby winner Super Saver, whom Casner and former partner Ken Troutt campaigned to their first Derby win as owners before going their separate ways five months later.

Superfection’s mating was planned when the pair jointly owned Kentucky’s WinStar Farm, but on Monday night, the colt, now a yearling, belonged to Troutt alone. Casner sold his WinStar interests to Troutt in October 2010 but remains a farm client, and he still regarded the colt with evident pride and affection.

“Super Saver gave us one of the greatest days in our horse racing lives,” Casner said. “To sell a half-sibling, it’s always what you’d call mixed emotions.

“It’s very exciting,” he added. “He’s an outstanding individual, and I really feel like he’s gonna sell big.”

That he did. Minutes later, Super Saver’s young half-brother stepped out of the auction ring as the Monday session’s only seven-figure horse after Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum – bidding through his agent John Ferguson – put up $1.2 million for him.

Driven strongly by Maktoum purchases totaling at least $4.1 million, the select sale’s opening session ended late Monday night with buoyant numbers that defied the stock market’s 635-point plunge earlier in the day, that market’s worst hit since the global economic crisis in 2008 and the second 500-plus-point drop in a week.

The session sold just 49 yearlings from one of the Saratoga sale’s smallest-ever catalogs (160 horses for two days) but grossed $16,155,000, a 10 percent gain over last year’s total for 58 horses. Average price soared upward by 30 percent to $329,694, and median, regarded as the most reliable indicator because unlike average it isn’t swayed by a single outsized price, shot up 25 percent to $285,000.

Fifteen horses scratched from the session, and, for those that went through the ring, the buyback rate improved this year, falling from 28 percent in 2010 to 25 percent.

After Superfection’s sale-topping performance, a beaming Troutt sent reporters to WinStar chief executive Elliott Walden, who explained that the colt had been sold because, after all, WinStar Farm is a business, not a hobby, for its owner.

“We were happy with the price. I think it was a very fair price, and I feel like they got a fair price as well for the top of the market,” Walden said of Maktoum’s Darley organization. “Any time you get over a million dollars for a yearling, you need to be absolutely pleased, and we are.

“I think the sale’s really healthy. The horses I looked at have brought good prices. We felt a little more confident actually through the course of the sale than we did before the sale.”

That relief was widespread. Yearling consignors had come to the sale rattled that Wall Street’s bad news would shut down luxury spending. But the lure of elite racehorse prospects (and in some cases the coming reality of higher, slots-enriched purses in New York) was enough to overcome some buyers’ concerns about their non-equine portfolios.

“We do have great tax legislation in place, where you get 100 percent bonus depreciation on horses you put into service this year, you’ve got New York that’s going to be running $80,000 maiden races,” said consignor Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales, Superfection’s sales agent. “So you’ve got pockets of strength and good news. I think horses that are elite athletes and are superior physicals, those horses are going to carry their own. Because even though the stock market and the economy are doing bad, there are certain people who are making a lot of money. Those guys tend to gravitate toward wanting to run horses. Those are the guys that are going to be in there butting heads, trying to get horses to win Triple Crowns and Breeders’ Cups and make stallions and foundation mares. This game, there’s something about it that’s like a drug. When people realize how fun it is, they can’t get enough.”

Maktoum’s particular jones is for the Kentucky Derby. He’s made eight fruitless attempts to win it and came closest when China Visit finished sixth in 2000. In Superfection, he’s bought an animal whose pedigree carries a heavy scent of classic roses. Maktoum also bought five other yearlings. They were a $750,000 Bernardini colt out of stakes winner Mountain Mambo and a $600,000 Bernardini filly that is a three-quarter-sister to Grade 1 winner A. P. Adventure, both from the Dromoland agency; a $550,000 Street Cry half-brother to Grade 2 winner Golden Spikes, consigned by Taylor Made; a $525,000 Medaglia d’Oro filly from the family of Icon Project, sold by Woodford Thoroughbreds; and Gallagher’s Stud’s $500,000 New York-bred Medaglia d’Oro colt from the family of champion juvenile Stevie Wonderboy, consigned by the Denali agency. Maktoum’s global Darley Stud operation stands those sires.

Together, Maktoum’s six purchases totaled more than 25 percent of Monday’s gross sales, and some suspected he’d also bought several more yearlings anonymously for himself or his associates, using various other bloodstock agents and trainers in his entourage. Several buyers and a few consignors wondered quietly – and off the record – whether the select yearling market might be too dependent on Maktoum alone.

Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning insisted Monday’s session was not a one-man show, and other prominent buyers did land some significant punches at $400,000 or more.

“I’m not letting the stock market affect my buying habits this year,” Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farm said, about an hour before he bought an Unbridled’s Song filly out of dual Grade 1 winner Stop Traffic for $500,000 from the Taylor Made agency. Porter estimates he spends about $3 million annually for 15 to 16 yearlings.

“I went a little overbudget last year,” he said. “A lot depends on whether [agent] Tom McGreevy likes them. If I fall in love with them and like their pedigree, it’s hard to stay in budget. I’m better than the federal government, but it’s hard to stick to a budget when Tom puts a lot of nice yearlings in front of you.”

Those are comforting words for sales executives and consignors, but one buyer cautioned against high expectations based on a single 49-horse session at a Tiffany’s-style yearling auction. Agent John MacCormack bid on behalf of an anonymous client for a $950,000 Bernardini filly, the first foal out of Grade 1 winner Sugar Shake consigned by Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales; she was the sale’s most expensive filly. It’s been a tumultuous year in the global political and economic world, MacCormack pointed out, and it’s bound to take time for those tides to toss the market back on terra firma.

“Things will settle down, and everyone will find new feet again,” he said. “I think that in 2013, really, with the readjusting of numbers of mares covered, that’s when there will start to be green shoots of recovery again. I think 2013 will be the kickoff, where you can see the bottom and make an accurate guesstimate of where we’re going. But it’s going to settle down. Everything does.”

The second and final session of Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga select yearling sale was to take place Tuesday night.