Updated on 09/18/2011 12:45AM

Yearling sales becoming passe


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The week just ending at Saratoga used to be known almost officially as Sales Week, a time when talk of bloodstock and pedigrees almost overwhelmed the racing here and hundreds of yearlings sold for fabulous sums over several nights at the Fasig-Tipton pavilion. The world's best yearlings sold either at Keeneland in July or Saratoga in August, and part of the charm was that you would see the best of them a year later as the winners of Saratoga's 2-year-old maiden races.

These days, though, the size and scope of the select yearling sales have diminished. The July sale at Keeneland is gone, and this year's sales here involved just 180 horses over only two nights. The change that people in the breeding business have been commenting on for a couple of years, but is really just now beginning to affect the general racing and horseplaying population, is the increasing emphasis on sales of 2-year-olds in training rather than yearlings.

Horseplayers who used to rank 2-year-old first-time starters by their sire fees and pedigrees are learning that that most important digit within the breeding information may be whether a 2-year-old making his debut this summer was sold in "05" or "06." The horses sold as yearlings are still crapshoots who may or may not have panned out as racehorses over the last 12 months. The ones sold just three or four months ago, especially at big prices relative to their pedigrees, are far more reliably likely to be ready to run and win first time out.

Consider the three maiden races run here Thursday, the day after the sales. In the first, there were fashionable yearling purchases and homebreds by stallions with fees of $50,000 to $300,000, but also a daughter of the obscure Broad Brush stallion Include. She sold for $275,000 in April, more than 20 times her sire's fee, and clearly was a remarkable athlete and physical specimen to have fetched that price and attracted the attention of trainer Todd Pletcher. The filly, named Panty Raid, won by nearly eight lengths at 4-1 with the 6-5 Touch Gold yearling and the 8-5 A. P. Indy homebred up the track.

Two races later, a New York-bred by $15,000 sire Royal Academy who sold for $250,000 in April circled the field from last to win his debut as the only 2-year-old sales graduate in the field. Two races after that, a Five Star Day filly who sold for $250,000 in February as a 2-year-old in training, and an Indian Charlie filly who sold for $1 million at a March 2-year-old sale ran one-two as the favorites in an open juvenile filly dash.

The 2-year-old sales may be making life easier for handicappers playing baby races, and for buyers wanting more of a known quantity for their juvenile purchasing gambles, but one of the questions floating through the sales grounds was whether these auctions will ultimately be good for the game and the breed. The practice of working these horses through blistering one-furlong drills in advance of the sales is a controversial one. How can it possibly be good for a 2-year-old's mental or physical development to run an eighth of a mile in 10 seconds and change early in his 2-year-old year - faster than he will ever be asked to run?

The other disconcerting thing about the phenomenon is whether it will continue the trend of shorter racing careers and a virtual disconnect between 2-year-old racing and the balance of a horse's career. Will these fast-working 2-year-olds in training develop into durable classic horses or just win early and precociously?

The most famous 2-year-old sales graduate, of course, is The Green Monkey, the record $16 million purchase whose announced Saratoga debut has been put on hold due to a pulled muscle. His price tag attracted so much attention that Sports Illustrated dispatched a reporter to follow him and a local newspaper instituted a Green Monkey Diary, all for an animal who has yet to outwork, much less outrace, a goat.

Skeptics are already anticipating the sad news conference where it will be announced that The Green Monkey is being retired to stud, where his pedigree, his one-furlong workout, and his extraordinary potential would no doubt make him a highly desired sire at the 2010 sales of 2-year-olds in training.