The Thoroughbred marketplace has been losing momentum this year, so the mixed results for the first night of the Saratoga select yearling sale in upstate New York didn't shock Fasig-Tipton officials.
The number of horses sold and the gross revenue rose 26.7% and 5.7%, respectively, from 2006's comparable session. But the average and median prices dropped 16.5% and 18.6%, respectively. Meanwhile, the buyback rate declined from 25% last year to 21.6% this year.
"Basically, we want to be up every year, yes, but I thought it was a pretty solid horse sale straight across the board and a high percentage of (the yearlings) found new homes," said Fasig-Tipton president Walt Robertson. "From the 2-year-old sales through today, I can't say that tonight's a surprise."
The 76 horses sold grossed $19,867,000 and averaged $261,408. The median was $207,500. Last year, the 60 horses sold grossed $18,790,000and averaged $313,167. The median was $255,000.
John Ferguson, Sheikh Mohammed's bloodstock manager, was the biggest spender, paying $3,675,000 for five yearlings. They included the session topper, a $1,050,000 son of Unbridled's Song. A strapping chestnut with four white feet, the colt is the third live foal out of Eclipse Award winner and Brazilian group I winner Riboletta, a 12-year-old daughter of Roi Normand.
"He's a horse by a talented proven sire out of a champion," said Ferguson of the colt. "One has to accept the fact that the South American mares' pedigrees have really stepped up in the last few years and have given some real stamina to the breed.
"He made a good price, but he deserves making it. He's not too heavy, and he has a good way about him. He's balanced, with a good head, and just generally the package was good."
When asked whether the colt would remain in this country, Ferguson replied, "I would say so. Being by Unbridled's Song, obviously (the stallion) has got more of a record on the main track than he would have on the grass. But then, being out of that mare, you could go anywhere with him, couldn't you?"
Taylor Made Sales Agency consigned the colt for his breeders, Oregon lumber man Aaron U. Jones and his wife, Marie, who raced Riboletta in this country.
"What can you say? He was awesome," said Taylor Made's Mark Taylor of the session topper. "We talked about him before the sale, we were handicapping what we thought of the horse, and he's like the best Unbridled's Song can produce. He's got the leg of Unbridled's Song, he's got balance, and he's very correct and athletic. From the day he was born, he's been in the top two or three foals on our farm, and that is a very sizable group with deep pedigrees."
According to Taylor, "Fasig-Tipton basically crawled on their hands and knees about 20 times to Mr. Jones begging (him to) please, please bring him to Saratoga. (The Joneses) finally decided to give it a shot, and I think he sold really well. John Ferguson got a great horse. Have horses of his quality broken loose and brought more? Yes, but I thought he was fairly sold and it was right around my expectations. Coming up here, our appraisals ranged from $750,000, I think, to $2 million, and that was between my brothers (Duncan, Frank, Ben) and I."
Even though Taylor Made had the session topper, Taylor had mixed emotions about the Saratoga auction's opening night.
"It's been kind of like a tale of two sales," he said. "Our big-ticket items both sold really, really well, but there have been some horses that I thought would possibly break out and bring closer to $500,000 and they brought more around the $250,000 range. We put conservative reserves on them and they got sold, but it just wasn't like there was a ton of action that really got you the breakaway."
Ferguson also purchased colts by Distorted Humor and Vindication for $800,000 each.
The Distorted Humor colt, a strong-looking chestnut, is out of the 10-year-old unraced Storm Bird mare Just a Bird, who is a half-sister to grade III winner Recording and to another added-money winner, Smart Growth. Derry Meeting Farm consigned the colt for his breeder, George Strawbridge.
"He's obviously a real quality horse, and we're delighted to have him," Ferguson said. "I think, at this stage, he's a horse that could go either way (remain in this country or go to Europe). My bet is when Sheikh Mohammed sees him in September, he'll want him to go to Europe; he (the colt) has just got a lovely action. But having said that, it's (Sheikh Mohammed's) decision, as you all know."
The other $800,000 colt is a member of Vindication's second crop. The yearling is out of the 7-year-old unraced Gone West mare Life's a Dance, who is from the family of North American champion Canadian Horse of the Year, and Canadian Triple Crown winner Dance Smartly and grade I winner and successful sire Smart Strike , whose son Curlin captured this year's Preakness Stakes. Taylor Made consigned the $800,000 colt, which was bred by Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt's WinStar Farm near Versailles, Ky.
The Darley team often visits farms to keep track of how top-quality yearlings aimed for public auction develop, and the colt "is a horse that consistently, through the year, looked like a serious contender," Ferguson said. "Vindication, it's obviously early days yet, but you have to be hopeful. We'll just see how this one goes. He's a nice colt. He's a good, straight, strong-bodied horse. I would think (where the colt races) would be more likely to be here."
A Distorted Humor -- Queen of Money colt was the second-highest-priced yearling sold Monday, bringing $875,000 from B. Wayne Hughes. Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services consigned the colt as agent for Mueller Farms.
The Saratoga sale's second and final session starts Aug. 7 at 7 p.m. (EDT).