Will the top of the yearling market rebound from last year's major adjustment downward or will it suffer more setbacks? We'll start getting some answers Tuesday when the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale opens its three-night run in New York. Because of the cancellation of Keeneland July select auction, Saratoga will provide the industry's first look at the demand for young horses with the very best conformation and pedigrees.
"The truth of the matter is that none of us know where the top of the yearling market is going to be this year," said Boyd Browning, Fasig-Tipton's executive vice president and chief operating officer. "But hopefully, we've got more product that will be desirable to the top end purchasers. We think our group of horses is a little stronger than it was last year."
At Saratoga's 2002 edition, the gross revenue plummeted 43.5% from the previous year and the average plunged by 34.7%. The number of horses bring seven-figure prices dropped from an all-time high of nine in 2001 to two. Similar trends were also seen at Keeneland in July and the select sessions of Keeneland's September sale.
To many horsemen, the big slump was surprise because the top had been the yearling market's strongest segment for many years. They tried to pinpoint a reason for the reversal, but finally concluded that it was caused several factors. Mentioned most often were the death of major yearling buyer Ahmed Salman, the struggling economy, a loss of American sire power with the deaths of prominent stallions like Mr. Prospector and Nureyev, and a perception among buyers that the yearling crop was not a strong one physically. Some major buyers said the growth of their homebred breeding operations caused them to cut back on their number of purchases.
Even though mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS) reduced this year's pool of prospective sale yearlings and took away some of the best candidates, Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales is upbeat.
"I'm optimistic; I think the sale is going to be good," Taylor said. "Last year, I think there was a feeling that the horses weren't quite as good as they had been the previous year. I know we really didn't have the top stock. This year, we definitely have a lot of good horses with live pedigrees.
"It's been almost a year since buyers have had an opportunity to buy yearlings in the high six-figure and seven-figure ranges. They've been waiting a long time to get their hands on a top horses, so I'm hoping that they're itching to get back in the game and blow off a little steam."
Said Tom VanMeter of Eaton sales: "Out consignment is loaded. We've have a great group of horses, and I'm excited. The stock market has been showing some life over the last couple of months, so I think it's going to be a pretty hot auction. I think the average price will be up."
This year's Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July select yearling sale suffered losses that range from low to moderate. But most of the horses offered were in the middle market range. Buyers like Padua Stable's Satish Sanan and John Moynihan said they were waiting for Saratoga's better pedigrees to make a big move. John Ferguson, Sheikh Mohammed's bloodstock manager, looked but not did not buy.
"Based on what we've heard from some folks," Browning said, "there is an increasing emphasis in the upper echelon of buyers on trying to buy fewer horses but more quality. I think there will be a few more players concentrated at the top end at Saratoga than we had in Kentucky in July."
Each night's session at Saratoga begins at 7:30 p.m. (EDT). There are 212 horses catalogued compared to 229 in 2002. Sires with offspring in the auction include Storm Cat, A.P. Indy, Seattle Slew, Fusaichi Pegasus, Unbridled, Kingmambo, Giant's Causeway, and Danzig.