08/06/2009 11:00PM

Strong pedigrees provide optimism

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The select yearling auction season moves to Saratoga this week, where Fasig-Tipton hopes its renovated sale pavilion will provide the setting for a revitalization of the Thoroughbred market.

In the days before the Saratoga select sale on Monday and Tuesday, there were in fact some glimmers that the U.S. economic recession might be easing. But the market reality for sellers is still far from cheerful: yearlings selling this season were bred on stud fees that were 30 percent to 40 percent higher than they are now, and in the two years since these yearlings were conceived, yearling auction prices have dropped drastically.

Understandably, breeders and consignors approached the 2009 auction season expecting the market to be about 25 percent to 30 percent lower than last year. The first major select sale of the season, Fasig-Tipton's July auction in Kentucky, ended its two-day run in just that territory. The auction sold 268 yearlings for $20,828,000, a decline of 26 percent, while the average price ($77,716) and median ($55,000) were down 15 percent and 27 percent, respectively, and buybacks actually improved, from 39 percent last year to 37 percent.

The question now is whether Saratoga, with its stronger pedigrees, will have an even better performance. Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning claimed not to be overly concerned about year-on-year financial comparisons but expressed optimism that the Saratoga select auction would hold up well, given the overall "correction" in the Thoroughbred marketplace.

"Clearly, we saw an economic downturn that occurred in the fall of 2008 and winter of 2009," Browning said. "It looks like we bottomed out in late February or early March, and we've seen stabilization in the marketplace. I think as important as the actual level of the market is the psychology of the market, and I think people have begun to sense that there's a stabilization, there's hope that recovery is taking place. The elimination of the fear factor and the re-establishment of confidence to me is more important than the statistical evaluation of where the Dow was on Aug. 5, 2008, compared to Aug. 5, 2009."

Last year's Saratoga select sale survived the incipient downturn well. It lost 12 percent in gross, selling 122 horses as compared to 142 the year before. Its average price of $295,738 was down just 2 percent, and its median stayed the same from 2007 to 2008 at $227,500. This year, held a week later than usual and with a 21 percent larger catalog than last year, the auction has one thing in particular on its side: a deep book of pedigrees.

"I think it's stronger than it's been in recent years, absolutely, in terms of pedigree," Browning said.

The 235-horse catalog this year is thick with siblings and half-siblings to Grade 1 performers and fashionable sires like A.P. Indy, Distorted Humor, Smart Strike, and even a lone entry by hot Australian sire Encosta de Lago.

Yearlings from prominent sire families are a striking element this season. The mare Silvery Swan's colt (Hip No. 22) is a Bernardini half-brother to Roman Ruler and El Corredor (as well as to Grade 1-placed Maimonides). A daughter of Silvery Swan, Silver Tornado also has a Mr. Greeley colt selling as Hip No. 21. Hip No. 44 is a three-quarter-brother to Elusive Quality, while Hip. No 173 is an A.P. Indy colt out of a daughter of Cara Rafaela, whose most famous A.P. Indy son is champion and sire Bernardini.

Speaking of Bernardini, his daughter selling as Hip No. 39 is out of the Storm Cat mare Teeming, herself a daughter of the great broodmare Better Than Honour.

The catalog also includes seven Storm Cats, from the great sire's penultimate crop, and they provide some of the flashy pedigrees. Two are their dams' first foals, a colt out of multiple Grade 1 winner Hollywood Story (Hip No. 148) and a filly out of Grade 1 winner Sharp Lisa (Hip No. 16). Hip No. 50 is a three-quarter-brother to Group 1 winner Maids Causeway. Hip No. 130 is a half-brother to Grade 1 performers Daydreaming and Accelerator and to the dam of Bluegrass Cat. Hip No. 204 is a three-quarter brother to Aragorn. Rounding out the group are Hip No. 144, a half-sister to High Cotton, and Hip No. 213, a daughter of Platinum Tiara.

Invasor, the 2006 Horse of the Year, has a Distorted Humor half-brother selling as Hip No. 224. Others closely related to champions include Bernardini's son Hip No. 79, out of champion 3-year-old filly Bird Town, and daughter Hip No. 146, a three-quarter-sister to Stevie Wonderboy; Hip No. 87, a full brother to Canadian champion Catch the Thrill; Hip No. 98, a half-sister to Lost in the Fog; and Hip No. 198, a half-sister to Stardom Bound.

In addition to Hollywood Story and Sharp Lisa, other Grade 1-winning mares with first foals include Spendid Blended, whose A.P. Indy colt is Hip No. 28; and Acey Deucey, whose Pulpit colt is Hip No. 64.

Also on offer are full or half-siblings to Grade 1 winners Visionaire (Hip No. 9), Sugar Shake (Hip No. 24), Sky Diva (Hip No. 36), Vacare (Hip No. 68), Octave (Hip No. 74), Tout Charmant (Hip No. 95), Honey Ryder (Hip No. 108), Spain (Hip No. 117), My Trusty Cat (Hip No. 119), In Summation (Hip No. 125), Tough Tiz's Sis (Hip No. 168), I'm the Tiger (Hip No. 174), I Want Revenge (Hip No. 181), and Divine Proportions and Whipper (Hip No. 197).

Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga select sale will take place at the Humphrey S. Finney pavilion. Sessions begin at 6 p.m. nightly.