There has been much hand-wringing and questioning over the circumstances surrounding the sale of multiple grade I-winning filly Octave to agent John Ferguson for $4 million at the Nov. 4 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky mixed sale.
Specifically, the questions are: How could a bid spotter not be aware that the powerful Coolmore group was not among the bidders when the price reached $4 million? When it became apparent that more than one buyer thought they had the top bid, why wasn’t bidding reopened? If bidding on the mare had continued above the $4 million mark, what is the likely final purchase price for Octave, considering that Round Pond, a filly with similar racing credentials, had already been sold to Ferguson for $5.75 million?
A daughter of Unbridled's Song who raced for the Starlight Stables of Jack and Laurie Wolf and for Donnie and Barbara Lucarelli, Octave won two grade I races this year and most recently finished third in the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) before entering the sales ring with $1.66 million in earnings. Round Pond, a daughter of Awesome Again raced by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms, earned $1,998,700 while winning seven of 13 career starts, with two grade I victories.
Both were consigned to Fasig-Tipton by Taylor Made Sales Agency.
Bidding on Octave rose quickly, stopping at the $4 million mark. The auctioneer took his time trying to cajole another bid from the crowd of buyers; the amount of time that lapsed caused some to speculate that maybe the reserve had not been reached.
Once the auctioneer’s gavel slammed the podium to indicate “sold,” an FTK staffer took the sales receipt to Ferguson, standing near the bid-spotters’ stand in the rear walking ring. While Ferguson was signing the ticket, a commotion erupted nearby as Demi O’Byrne, representing Coolmore, began protesting the sale, claiming his group was also live at $4 million.
Ferguson, meanwhile, left the sale pavilion, leaving the other interested parties to sort out the dispute. FTK chief operating officer Boyd Browning quickly took charge of the situation and met separately with the interested parties: the Coolmore group and Octave’s owners.
Citing the Conditions of Sale, FTK officials said they considered the filly as being sold to Ferguson, although they regrettably wished that the Coolmore bid had been acknowledged.
The Conditions of Sale state: “The person making the highest bid recognized by the auctioneer shall be the buyer.”
It further states: “Should any dispute arise between or among two or more bidders, auctioneer shall forthwith adjudicate the dispute, and auctioneer’s decision shall be absolute and binding on all parties.”
Any equine sale veteran knows that from time to time, a dispute arises over who is the winning bidder, especially when bids for the same price have been acknowledged by different bid spotters. In such cases, the bidding continues until there is one clear winning bidder.
This case is different because the bid spotter did not see or accept the Coolmore bid. At least one other sale participant, veteran horseman Russell Jones, immediately told the Coolmore group and FTK personnel that he saw Coolmore bidding at the $4 million level; but he could not affirm seeing the bid spotter accept the bid.
Now the question is what the final price would have been for Octave, had Coolmore become involved in a protracted bidding war with Ferguson, who represents Sheikh Mohammed. In recent years, the rivalry between the two parties has resulted in auction prices escalating to stratospheric heights in some cases. The rivalry makes the FTK embroglio all the more interesting.
Taylor Made Sales Agency’s Mark Taylor said the final purchase price for Octave was well above her reserve price. However, the filly’s owners would have a reasonable expectation that the price would have gone above $4 million had a Ferguson-Coolmore duel ensued.
And the questions remain: How could a bid spotter not know that Coolmore was bidding at $4 million? When the bidding stalled, should someone from Coolmore have gotten some affirmation from the bid-spotter that in fact it was their bid? Will Starlight Stables and the Lucarellis seek an additional sum from FTK that would be the difference between what Octave sold for and an amount up to what Round Pond brought?