05/02/2016 12:16PM

Sales horses have edge over homebreds in Derby

Keeneland Photo
Mohaymen sells for $2.2 million at the 2014 Keeneland September Sale.

Of all the roads that lead a horse and his connections to the Kentucky Derby, the most conventional path to this year’s edition went through the auction ring.

From the top 25 active Derby contenders by points as of Sunday, 15 were sold at least once at public auction, with an average hammer price of $330,632. Seven horses compete as homebreds, while two were acquired through private purchase and one was claimed.

Since 1990, auction graduates hold a 14-11 advantage over homebreds among Derby winners, with one additional horse obtained solely through private purchase. However, the last three winners – American Pharoah, California Chrome, and Orb – were campaigned by their breeders.

The most prominent member of this year’s class of auction graduates is four-time Grade 2 winner Mohaymen, who tied for the highest price of the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale, going to Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Shadwell Farm for $2.2 million.

If he wins Saturday, the son of Tapit would be the most expensive auction graduate to wear the roses since 2000 winner Fusaichi Pegasus, who was a $4 million yearling.

“He’s one of those horses that had everything,” Rick Nichols, vice president and general manager of Shadwell Farm, said about Mohaymen as a yearling. “He had the pedigree, and conformation-wise, he was as good as you could get, but it was just the way he moved. Such an easy, nice move to him.

“Sheikh Hamdan couldn’t come to the sale that year, and I talked to him that morning, and he said, ‘Go see what you like, send me a list, and we’ll talk about them.’ ” Nichols added. “As soon as I saw him, I called him up and said, ‘This is the one we want.’ ”

In setting a price ceiling for Mohaymen, Nichols said the colt’s potential value at stud was just as much a factor as his racing viability. If successful on the racetrack, the half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner New Year’s Day would become a cornerstone of Shadwell’s plan to stand more stallions with prominent commercial North American bloodlines and race records at its Lexington, Ky., base.

“That was my last bid,” Nichols said. “Originally, when I talked to Sheikh Hamdan, I said, ‘I think I’ll need to have a million and a half in my pocket to get him.’ As it got closer to the sale and you could hear about certain people on him, I said, ‘I think we’d better have $2 million.’ He said, ‘You’ve got $2 million plus a bit.’ ”

The least expensive auction graduate among this year’s Kentucky Derby contenders is Southwest Stakes winner Suddenbreakingnews, who sold to owner Samuel Henderson for $72,000 at the 2014 Keeneland September sale.

Three horses sold at least twice at auction, and the champion Nyquist sold three times, bringing $180,000 as a weanling, $230,000 as a yearling, and $400,000 as a 2-year-old.

Niall Brennan was part of the partnership that purchased the Uncle Mo colt at the 2014 Keeneland September sale and pinhooked him at the following year’s Fasig-Tipton Florida sale of select 2-year-olds in training.

“As much as any horse, you look at the yearling sales, and you’re following the criteria of what you like,” Brennan said. “At that stage, I was really liking the Uncle Mos as a group. There were several of them that I liked, and I loved the consistency as a sire. They were all the same color, same kind of shape, and had a really nice presence about them.

“I saw what happened to be Nyquist, and I thought, ‘Damn, this is the best one yet,’ ” he added. “I wanted to buy an Uncle Mo, and this was the best one I’d seen by the sire at the time.”

Nyquist sold to Dennis O’Neill, as agent for Reddam Racing, at the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale. Brennan said he felt confident about the colt’s prospects heading into the sale but was underwhelmed by the hammer price after his momentum slowed with buyers on at the sale.

“I think they were knocking things on him that were absolutely ridiculous for a racehorse, but that is the reality,” Brennan said. “Now, history shows that Dennis made a tremendous buy, but we expected him to bring a little bit more than that in the market, seeing what other horses are bringing. The horse sold for that, but ultimately, it was a really good buy.”

The sale proved even more fortuitous for Nyquist’s connections after the colt earned a $1 million bonus put up by Fasig-Tipton for any Florida sale graduate who won the following year’s Florida Derby.

The $1,598,000 Nyquist earned between the Florida Derby purse and the Fasig-Tipton bonus is more than the $1,240,000 winner’s share of the Kentucky Derby purse.

The seven homebreds among this year’s contenders are Cherry Wine, Danzing Candy, Lani, My Man Sam, Outwork, Shagaf, and Trojan Nation. Gun Runner and Whitmore were acquired privately by their owners.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey picked up Spiral Stakes winner Oscar Nominated out of an Oct. 16 maiden-claiming race at Belmont for $75,000. The son of Kitten’s Joy previously raced as a homebred for Amerman Racing and trainer Bill Mott.

“I wanted the horse because I liked the breeding on him,” said Ken Ramsey, who owns Kitten’s Joy and stands him at stud. “I claimed him from a real good outfit that’s kind of hard to improve on. I put up $75,000 for him, and he fits our program well. When I see one out there that I think can be improved on a little bit, if he’s trending upward, I always try to get him for the stallion.”

Oscar Nominated will be the first Derby starter to have previously been claimed since General Quarters in 2009, who was claimed off the Ramseys in his debut start as a 2-year-old for $20,000. The Ramseys also lost Fear the Kitten, an also-eligible in 2013, at the claim box in his debut for $40,000.