08/05/2011 11:25AM

Smaller catalog could boost Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga select yearling sale

Barbara D. Livingston
Hip No. 68 is a colt by Distorted Humor that is the first foal out of champion Wait a While.

A smaller catalog and optimism over Aqueduct’s long-awaited gaming machines could help Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga select yearling sale edge upward this year. But the Aug. 8-9 auction probably will continue two familiar trends: highly selective buyers and conservative spending at the top of the market. And stock market jitters over a possible double-dip recession and European debt problems might put some buyers in a bearish mood.

The Saratoga select auction does have the potential of bucking trends. In 2009, as the rest of the yearling market foundered in the global economic meltdown’s undertow, Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga select numbers rose by double digits during two glittering nights put on by the firm’s new owner, a Dubai company with close ties to major buyer Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum. Maktoum and his associates spent more than $13.1 million at that auction, and Maktoum – in his first personal appearance at the sale in at least 20 years – bought six of the auction’s eight most expensive horses.

But even Maktoum has shown a new conservatism since then. At the 2010 sale, he still spent heavily, relieving his bank account of $6.4 million for 14 yearlings, but that was down significantly from the $10.5 million he spent for 11 the year before. The 2010 Saratoga sale’s figures also softened, producing a $275,551 average, down 16 percent from a near-record $328,434. The median of $240,000 was down a relatively shallow 4 percent, signaling that the high-end yearling market might be stabilizing. But the ceiling was noticeably lower: only one 2010 yearling brought seven figures as compared to five the year before, and the sale-topping price dropped from $2.8 million in 2009 to $1.2 million in 2010.

There’s little data available so far this year. The season’s first boutique yearling sale provided some evidence that the turbulence is easing. But the figures at Fasig-Tipton’s July select auction still were mixed: the 191 yearlings sold averaged $69,890, down 8 percent, but the $60,000 median was up 20 percent.

More recently, concerns that the global economy is weakening and stock-market losses could affect wealthy bidders’ spending on luxury items like yearlings. Still, Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning said he is optimistic.

“I think we saw at the first yearling sale of 2011 that there is interest in quality horses,” Browning said. “People are interested in racing at the highest levels, and we’ve got some horses that are going to work at the high levels.”

More stability in the state’s racing – and especially the prospect that Aqueduct’s new casino will add big money to Thoroughbred purses – has put some buzz back in New York, Browning added.

“The general mood on the backside in Saratoga is better in 2011 than it was in 2010,” he said. “It can almost be attributed exclusively to the purse increases, the resolutions of situations in New York racing. New York racing is healthier, and it’s probably the bellwether for the rest of the United States.

“We’re seeing some indications of some new people being interested. And I think there’s some renewed enthusiasm from people who have either been participants with fewer horses or who have been inactive recently. This has kind of picked their heads up as well.”

Enthusiastic top-level owners and trainers eager to buy yearlings will have a very small group of horses to choose from this year. Foal crops have fallen, and this year Fasig-Tipton has cataloged just 160 horses to the Saratoga select auction, down from 202 in the 2010 edition. If demand stays steady or rises, the smaller supply could boost figures, at least in theory.

So could what’s in the catalog, which features some mouth-watering pedigrees.

Bernardini, the hot young sire at Maktoum’s Darley Stud, has the catalog’s largest group of yearlings with 15. Some of their pages almost drip with that all-important black type. A few examples: a half-brother to Havre de Grace (Hip No. 114), a three-quarter-brother to Street Boss (Hip No. 130), a three-quarter-sister to A. P. Adventure (Hip No. 10); a half-sister to Vacare (Hip No. 75); and the first foal, a filly, out of Sugar Shake (Hip No. 53).

Proven sires are all the rage lately, and Saratoga has some of the most fashionable, including a nine-strong draft by Medaglia d’Oro. One of the catchiest pedigrees belongs to his son of Supercharger, a half-brother to 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver. Also by Medaglia d’Oro is a half-brother to Honor in War (Hip No. 93).

One of Medgalia d’Oro’s nicest fillies, 2011 Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty, also has a half-sister in the sale. By Dixie Union, she sells as Hip No. 157.

Indian Charlie fields several from blue-blooded families. His get include a three-quarter-sister to champion Indian Blessing (Hip No. 147) and half-brothers to Divine Park (Hip No. 132) and Kodiak Kowboy (Hip No. 146).

Other established horses with Grade 1 connections in the catalog include Tapit, who has a full sister to Careless Jewel (Hip No. 57); Tiznow, whose horses include a half-brother to Seventh Street (Hip No. 134); Unbridled’s Song, with a Majestic Warrior (Hip No. 111); Touch Gold, represented by a full brother to Composure (Hip No. 14); Lemon Drop Kid, with a half-sister to Unrivaled Belle (Hip No. 24); Macho Uno, represented by a full sister to Harlem Rocker (Hip No. 122); Sky Mesa, whose Hip No. 123 is a half-sister to Funny Moon; and Speightstown, with a half-brother to English Group 1-placed Montgomery’s Arch (Hip No. 138). Recently retired A.P. Indy has two at the sale: a colt out of a half-sister to Afleet Alex (Hip No. 80) and a daughter of Grade 3-placed stakes winner Tempus Fugit (Hip No. 61). And Candy Ride’s group includes a three-quarter-brother to Santa Anita Derby runner-up Chocolate Candy (Hip No. 124).

Importantly, the catalog also features a single lot by the highly successful international stallion Galileo. That is Hip No. 115, a colt out of the unraced Storm Cat mare Egyptian Queen. He’s from the family of A. P. Warrior.

Whatever the economy, the Saratoga sale is a good place to spot yearlings by much-anticipated first-crop sires, too. The catalog’s cadre of new sires is dotted with names like Curlin, Big Brown, Midnight Lute, Raven’s Pass, Street Boss, and Tiz Wonderful. Two-time Horse of the Year Curlin has two of the standout pedigrees with a half-brother to Secret Status (Hip No. 22) and a half-sister to Old Fashioned (Hip No. 98).

There are quite a few notable mares among the “firsters” this year, too. Among the well-known mares with their first foals at Saratoga is champion Wait a While, who has a Distorted Humor colt (Hip No. 68). Other new broodmares include graded winners or major earners Storm Mesa, with an Unbridled’s Song filly (Hip No. 49); Masseuse, with a Bernardini filly (Hip No. 1); Ice Cool Kitty, who has an Elusive Quality colt (Hip No. 125); and Hostess, with an Awesome Again colt (Hip No. 136).

The Saratoga select sale takes place Aug. 8-9, with sessions beginning each night at 7 p.m. in the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion.