Buyers have flocked to Calder Race Course for Tuesday's Fasig-Tipton Florida select sale of 2-year-olds in training. Sheikh Mohammed's bloodstock manager John Ferguson is here, and so is Coolmore Stud's Demi O'Byrne. Padua Stables' Satish Sanan, England-based trainer Brian Meehan, New Jersey bloodstock agent Buzz Chace, and Japanese trainer Hideyuki Mori all have been shopping hard, and they've been joined by a major player who is new to the auction, Saleh Al Homeizi of Kuwait.
"If you go by the activity in the barns, it should be the best sale ever," said consignor Don Graham. "There's enough money here to buy Miami-Dade County. I had four veterinarians here at one time wanting to scope one of my horses."
Other sellers, including David Scanlon, Tony Bowling, and Dean De Renzo also reported heavy traffic in their barns.
"We've never been busier," De Renzo declared.
And that's good news for the Fasig-Tipton auction, which needs plenty of well-heeled shoppers because it is the fanciest of all the juvenile auctions, attracting horses with the best pedigrees and generating the highest prices.
Two years ago at Calder, Fasig-Tipton sold The Green Monkey, who established an auction record for a Thoroughbred with his jaw-dropping $16-million price. But in 2007, the most expensive horse brought only $2.5 million, and the sale suffered declines in gross revenue and average price, which fell short of the previous year's all-time juvenile auction highs. There were no bidding wars between Ferguson and O'Byrne, who had battled so furiously for The Green Monkey.
"After the extraordinary high of $16 million, every single one of us knew last year that the sale was going to be down statistically," said Boyd Browning, Fasig-Tipton's chief operating officer and executive vice president. "But I'm optimistic this year. We had a very, very good breeze show in terms of the quality of horses that worked. And we had a very good breeze show in terms of the buyers who were present. There is a good group of horses here on the sale grounds, and people are here to buy them."
Even though the American economy is struggling, Browning didn't expect it to have a significant effect on sale results.
"A lot of our buyers are insulated from temporary economic conditions," Browning said. "The ones who are strong millionaires, but not billionaires, might say, 'Heck, let's just go spend a little bit on horses right now because we’re not comfortable with the stock market, and we’re not going to put our money in a money market account or bonds and get a minimal return.' "
Fasig-Tipton president Walt Robertson predicted that any drop in domestic spending would be offset by the enthusiasm of foreign shoppers.
"We've got a lot of people from all over the world and some that we haven't seen in the 2-year-old market yet this year, so that should make things interesting," he said. "We've got Japanese groups here and several European groups. And with the weakness of our dollar right now, I would think that would bode well."
The select juvenile selling season got off to a solid start at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. February auction, which set sale records with its average and median prices while enjoying a 9.3% upswing in gross revenue.
"I wasn't in Ocala, but from what I read, it was good," said Fasig-Tipton consignor Maurice Miller. "My friends who did sell there seemed generally happy, so I don't see why it wouldn't carry over to here."
The Fasig-Tipton auction starts at 11 a.m. (EST) Tuesday. There are 270 horses in the catalog, but as of Friday's under tack show, more than 60 already had been scratched.
Following are what some other people had to say about the upcoming sale:
Mike Mulligan, Leprechaun Racing: "The buyers are shopping hard. It seems like there's a good feeling in the air. I think the horses that worked well and jumped through all the usual hoops will be rewarded. Certainly the very top horses will do well, and the upper end horses will do very well."
Ricky Leppala, consignor: "If it's anything like the last sale, it's going to be good. Buyers are looking at all the horses. People still want an athlete, but I think pedigree is starting to be more important."
Ciaran Dunne, Wavertree Stables: "The Japanese are here in force. Then there's the English and the Californians. Terence Collier (Fasig-Tipton's director of marketing) has done really job getting everybody here. All of the old faces are here, and there are some new ones."
Carl Bowling, Straightaway Farm: "I think the sale is going to be big. Like I saw in the one up north (in Ocala), I've never seen as many people looking early. People have been here ahead of time (before the under tack show) doing their homework and watching these horse train. We've never showed this much this early, and the right people are here."
Dr. Steve Carr, Centennial Farms: "I think the sale will be fairly strong because there are a lot of people here who want to race and want to buy horses. In my opinion, so far, the strength of the buyers is stronger than the horses that are here and particularly, when you bear in mind, that there have been a lot of scratches and there aren't that many horses."
Nick de Meric, consignor: "The sale is well-attended, and I think it will be strong at the top. It may be a little polarized, but we’re kind of used to that. The pieces are in place for an excellent sale. What I hope is that the top isn't so strong that the buyers forget about the middle and bottom horses. These select quality horses are in shorter supply this year. All the select sales are down in numbers, so you've got to think that's going to tighten up the difference between supply and demand."