Boosted by the Sheikh Mohammed stimulus package, the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale got off to a sizzling start Aug. 10 in New York at a time when the struggling economy is causing prices to fall at other Thoroughbred auctions. The gross revenue for the 76 horses that sold was $25,470,000, which was a whopping 40.3% increase from the opening session a year ago. The average price grew 10.7% to $335,132, and the median price increased 6.4% to $250,000.
Sheikh Mohammed, who rules Dubai, “has kind of a rock star status, and when he shows up, it gets everybody’s adrenaline pumping,” said Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales Agency.
And the bids start soaring.
By the end of the night, Sheikh Mohammed, who mingled with the crowd outside the sale pavilion, had spent $5.5 million through his bloodstock manager, John Ferguson, for six horses, including three of the four yearlings that sold for seven-figure prices. They were the session’s most expensive horse, a $1.5-million Medaglia d'Oro – Cat Dancer filly, a $1.3-million Bernardini – Bird Town colt, and a $1.2-million Bernardini -- Storm Beauty colt. A number of associates of Sheik Mohammed and Ferguson, including Richard O’Gorman and trainer John Gosden, also were active, and another member of Dubai’s ruling family, Sheikh Hamden, purchased horses in the name of Shadwell, but did not attend the Saratoga auction.
“I think Fasig-Tipton has done a very good job, and the standard for the sale has improved dramatically,” Ferguson said. “The consignors should be congratulated; they brought lovely horses here.”
Last year, Synergy Investments, which is headed by one of Sheikh Mohammed’s associates, Abdulla Al Habbai, purchased Fasig-Tipton. Not long afterward, Fasig-Tipton officials announced their intention to turn the Saratoga auction into the world’s premier yearling sale, and a big step forward in that process was Sheikh Mohammed’s first appearance at the auction in many years. He briefly greeted a couple of reporters and shook their hands, but made it clear he wanted Ferguson to speak on his behalf concerning sale matters.
Ferguson called the session-topping Medaglia d’Oro yearling "a beautiful filly.” The leggy lass is the second foal out of a 7-year-old winning Storm Cat mare that is a full sister to 2002 Monmouth Breeders’ Cup Oaks (gr. II) winner Magic Storm. Earlier this year, Sheikh Mohammed purchased a controlling interest in Medaglia d’Oro, and Ferguson spent $1.6 million for a Medaglia d’Oro colt that was the most expensive horse sold at the Fasig-Tipton Florida select juvenile auction. Named Al Zir, the colt made his career debut in England Aug. 7, breaking his maiden by four lengths in a seven-furlong race.
“He’s exciting,” Ferguson said, “and when you have one of those in your stable, when you have the stallion, and when you see a filly like this, you stretch. And at $1.5 million, we were stretched; that’s a lot of money.”
The dark bay or brown filly had a solid pedigree, but her family wasn’t the strongest in the sale’s catalog.
“You’re going to have to accept that (some mares lacking in black type) with Medaglia in this crop of yearlings,” Ferguson said. “But he did it (sired successful horses) in his first crop, so I’m not concerned. He seems to be a sire that can do it. He seems to be a sire that’s dominant.”
Richard and Audrey Haisfield bred the $1.5-million filly in Kentucky in the name of Stonewall Farm Stallions, and they consigned her to the Saratoga auction through Taylor Made. The Haisfields stood Medaglia d’Oro, who is the sire of the classic-winning filly Rachel Alexandra, at Stonewall near Versailles, Ky., before the deal with Sheikh Mohammed was struck.
“In the spring, I thought she was going to be a nice, solid Saratoga horse,” said Mark Taylor of the session topper, “but I didn’t realize she was going to be a seven-figure yearling. But once I got up here, that became readily apparent. She literally just handled the pressure of the sale environment so well. Some horses go down in the sale environment, and she just went up. She would stand there and just basically capture people’s imagination. They would look at her and it would be like they were thinking, ‘That could be another Rachel Alexandra.’ ”
Medaglia d’Oro will stand in 2010 at Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley operation near Lexington. Four of the five other horses purchased by Ferguson were by Darley stallions Street Cry and Bernardini, both bred and raced by Sheikh Mohammed. Street Cry was a grade I winner and a Horse of the Year in the United Arab Emirates while Bernardini was a champion and is being represented in the yearling sales this year by his first crop of foals.
The only other buyer to acquire a seven-figure yearling during the Saratoga sale’s opening session was trainer Kenny McPeek, who paid $1 million for a Bernardini – Crystal Music filly.
But while Sheikh Mohammed was a formidable buying force and Fasig-Tipton officials were grateful for his presence, the company’s president, Boyd Browning, didn’t believe the Dubai ruler’s enthusiasm for the auction’s stock was the only reason why business boomed.
“We didn’t sell all the horses to one man or one family or one entity,” Browning said. “There was a broad cross section of buyers here. The people who have come to Saratoga saw good horses on the sale grounds; they had a great experience at our Festival of Racing; and they loved the new (or renovated) facilities. It wasn’t like the experience was unique to only Sheikh Mohammed and his associates. The reviews and the feedback that we’ve gotten from our buying population as a whole for the four or five days they’ve spent at Saratoga thus far have been over-the-top positive.”
The buy-back rate for the evening was 28.3%, down slightly from last year when 29.4% of the yearlings offered failed to find new homes.
The second and final session of the auction is scheduled for Aug. 11 and will begin at 6 p.m. (EDT).