A Mr. Greeley colt generated some spectacular financial fireworks Aug. 7 when he sold for the sale-topping price of $2.2 million during the second and final session of the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling auction in upstate New York. But the seven-figure burst wasn't enough to keep the sale from falling behind last year's pace in gross revenue, average price, and median price. The declines were 2.4% for gross, 10.6% for average, and 7.1% for median.
"All in all, we're not surprised," said Fasig-Tipton president Walt Robertson, repeating his observation from the opening session. The setbacks, he said, mirrored downward trends at juvenile auctions earlier this year and at Fasig-Tipton's Kentucky select yearling sale in July.
"I thought it was a pretty good horse sale -- no, a real good horse sale -- right through," Robertson said. "We didn't have as many million-dollar horses this year (two compared to five in 2006), and it was a tougher game at the top."
Many consignors and buyers at the auction described the Saratoga market as "okay" or "fair."
This year's final figures showed 142 horses sold, a gross of $41,082,000, an average of $289,310, and a median of $227,500. Last year, the 130 yearlings sold grossed $42,085,000 and averaged $323,731. The median reached a sale-record high of $245,000. The buy-back rate rose from 18.8% in 2006 to 24.7% this year.
Barry Irwin of Team Valor International beat back a spirited challenge from New Jersey bloodstock agent Buzz Chace, who was sitting beside Terry Finley of West Point Thoroughbreds in Fasig-Tipton's Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion, to secure the sale-topping Mr. Greeley colt. A handsome chestnut, the yearling is the first foal out of the 6-year-old King of Kings mare Win My Heart, who failed to finish first in five career races. She is a half-sister to grade III winner Secret Liaison (by Housebuster). Other relatives include champion Sacahuista, grade I winners Raging Fever and Geri, and group I winner Ekraar.
Stepping outside the pavilion after signing the sale ticket for the $2.2-million colt, Irwin took a deep breath, exhaled with a sigh, breathed in again, and said: "I expected to go to $2.3 million. That was my last bid, right there; you saw it. He's an incredible-looking horse.
"I come here with no preconceived notions. I don't look at the catalog. I just look at all the horses, and this horse just stuck out. He's an incredible physical specimen. He's got everything you look for. He has an incredible shoulder and great balance. You don't (usually) see a horse that big that has that kind of balance. He's got what I call 'the look,' for lack of a better expression."
The colt's genetic potential to compete on a variety of surfaces also attracted Irwin's interest. In addition to grade I winners on dirt, Mr. Greely sired European champion Finsceal Beo.
"One of the reasons I bought this horse is because I think he'll be able to run on anything. He should be able to run on dirt, Polytrack, turf, whatever," Irwin said. "There is going to be Polytrack everywhere, and I've tried to shy away from certain bloodlines that just don't have an affinity for it."
Irwin said the colt would probably be parsed into a 50-share, 2%-per-share "breeding syndicate" and likely would start his racing career in California.
Rob Whiteley's Liberation Farm and Oratis Thoroughbreds bred the colt in Kentucky and sold him privately earlier this yea. to Graham Beck and family's Gainesway Farm near Lexington. Gainesway, agent, consigned him to the Saratoga auction on behalf of a farm partnership.
Neil Howard, general manager of Gainesway Farm, said Gainesway bought the colt because it was seeking young horses to fill out the nursery's yearling sale consignments.
"Antony Beck (Gainesway's president) is a wonderful person to work for and very generous, and he allowed a number of us (at Gainesway) to get involved (by investing in the colt)," Howard said. "I only have a very small piece of (the colt), but still, it's special. There are probably about 10 (people in the partnership), mostly in (Gainesway) management."
Howard declined to reveal the purchase price of the colt, but said: "We made a significant profit."
Howard said he and Brian Graves, who oversees Gainesway's auction yearlings, felt the colt was a good horse when he was purchased privately, but the yearling soon started to blossom and developed into a standout.
"I was excited and nervous all at the same time," said Howard, who shared a high-five with his son, Andy, to celebrate the colt's big price.
Hall-of-Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas purchased what turned out to be the Saratoga auction's most expensive filly, spending $875,000 for the Storm Cat -- Blissful offspring. Eaton Sales, agent, consigned the yearling. Lukas indicated he would structure a partnership to race the filly.
The 66 horses sold Aug. 7 grossed $21,215,000 and averaged $321,439. The median was $235,000. Last year during the second session, 70 horses sold for a gross of $23,295,000 and an average of $332,786. The median was $225,000. The buy-back rate advanced from 12.5% last year to 24.5% this year.