Battle of the Sexes in Saratoga Springs
by Ron Mitchell
Date Posted: 8/2/2007 6:21:44 PM
Last Updated: 8/2/2007 9:04:02 PM

Fusaichi Pegasus
Photo: Courtesy of Ashford Stud

A top-priced yearling. Victory in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Record syndicate price to stand at stud. It doesn’t get much better.

Fusaichi Pegasus   is a hard act to follow. The impeccably bred son of Mr. Prospector out of Angel Fever won the Derby and earned a career $1.9 million before being retired to Ashford Stud for a reported record syndication price of between $60 million and $70 million.

Ever hopeful, owners, trainers, and agents in search of a horse who can emulate his greatness are amassing in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for the select yearling sale, which begins Aug. 6. 

Fusaichi Pegasus sold for $4 million--the highest price paid in 1998 for a yearling--at the former Keeneland July select sale. With that sale discontinued, the upcoming auction in upstate New York has become an annual pilgrimage for those who hope to find the next Fusaichi Pegasus or a colt like him.

Colt seems to be the operative word. While there is always demand for well-conformed fillies with solid pedigrees because of their breeding value if they perform well on the track, the lure for most owners is still a good colt who may excel in the classics and command a top fee when retired to stud.

“That’s what dreams are made of–buying a colt, winning the Derby, and having a stallion that appeals to the major farms,” said Fasig-Tipton executive vice president and CEO Boyd Browning Jr.

There is greater cachet in buying a colt at Saratoga, said Tom VanMeter, a partner in Saratoga consignor Eaton Sales. He considers Saratoga “a big colt kind of sale,” but concedes that a good horse will sell, regardless of gender.

That was borne out at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga auction, at which the  sale-topper was an Empire Maker filly sold for $1.6 million, followed by a Mineshaft filly at $1.45 million, the second-highest price of the sale.

Still, "It is a pretty safe generality that most of the time colts will out-average fillies," Browning said.  The numbers appear to bear that out.  Statistics compiled for BHNow indicate that no fillies are among the top 25 all-time highest prices paid for yearlings at public auction.

Whether there is a bias toward colts in this year’s marketplace, the real concern at Saratoga is the eternal bottom-line: money.

Bill Graves, yearling sales director for the auction company, noted that more colts with solid pedigrees are consigned at Saratoga this year than last, buoying hopes of higher sales figures.   

In 2006, 130 yearlings sold, averaging $322,731 (from gross receipts of $42,085,000). The $245,000 median price exceeded the $225,000 of 2005, when 103 yearlings sold for a total $33,415,000 at an average $324,417.

With this year’s catalog increase to 214 horses from 180, economic logic dictates the gross will rise and the average price will likely drop. Because of the "boutique" nature of the auction, however, Browning cautioned that any such changes should not be seen as a trend or a barometer of the industry’s health. 

"You're dealing with a very limited catalog size, so it is not a huge deal to have a little bit of fluctuation," he said.

In addition, this year’s sale has four yearlings by Storm Cat, whose $500,000 stud fee is the industry’s highest. Last year’s catalog included only two Storm Cats.

VanMeter, whose agency has three of the four Storm Cat yearlings in the Saratoga auction, said it is too early to tell if the overall quality of this year’s offerings exceeds those of 2006.

“When you get them all up there and the team goes through them and you see them along with everybody else’s horses, then you know,” VanMeter said. “But sometimes you get surprised when the buyers come around.”

After the hammer drops on the first yearling through the Saratoga ring the evening of Aug. 6, VanMeter and other consignors will have a hint about  prices and whether colts will rule this year’s marketplace.

"We have some nice fillies, but there is no question that we have some colts that will attract a lot of attention from the major buyers," Browning said. 

 



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