Top of the Game
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Ray Paulick
Editor-in-Chief
A recent caller suggested The Blood-Horse follow up on some of the horses that make headlines at North America's annual yearling sales--principally those selling for $1 million or more. The inference was made that a sale topper like the $4-million Fusaichi Pegasus, who went on to win the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and be retired to stud with a value of more than $60 million, inspires subsequent buyers to put too much emphasis on the select few horses that have the potential to bring seven-figure prices at sales.

The caller feared that some people would be led to believe it's an easy game if they just concentrate on the very top of the market.

The yearlings that sold in 2000, the year of Fusaichi Pegasus' Derby win, are 2-year-olds now, so it's too early to assess their racing performance. But there were 45 yearlings sold in North America for $1 million or more in 1999, and those horses are now nearing the end of their 3-year-old seasons. It seems fair to measure how those high-end yearlings have done as racehorses.

The results can be spun in a positive or negative direction. On the plus side, 10 of the 45 yearlings (29 colts, 16 fillies) are stakes winners, a 22% strike rate. Six have won graded stakes (13%); two a grade I race (4%). Those numbers are well above the breed norm, but expectations should run high at this level of investment, shouldn't they?

There is a down side to these numbers. To date, 11, or 24%, have not raced. Six have raced but have yet to win, and 10 have only won a maiden race. In other words, 16 of 45 (36%) horses that cost $1 million or more at 1999 yearling sales are non-winners, and 27 (60%) have either not won or have only won a maiden race.

The combined hammer prices of the 45 yearlings were $69,350,000, an average price of $1,541,111, and to date they have earned just $3,988,275, an average of $88,628 per yearling. The leader of the pack is Millennium Wind, purchased for $1.2 million by David and Jill Heerensperger from Parrish Hill Farm. The son of Cryptoclearance has earned $769,920, most of that coming in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) earlier this year. The other grade/group I winner among these 45 yearlings sold is Minardi, a Boundary colt purchased for $1,650,000 by Demi O'Byrne from the consignment of Indian Creek. Minardi won the Middle Park Stakes (Eng-I) in 2000 but is winless in five starts this year.

O'Byrne was the leading buyer of millionaire yearlings in 1999, with eight purchased on behalf of Coolmore partners. Four of the eight have yet to win a race, which shows just how difficult the yearling selection process is, considering the great success O'Byrne and the savvy Coolmore team have enjoyed buying horses at the top level.

Just behind O'Byrne was John Ferguson Bloodstock, with seven purchases, all colts, for Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin racing. Three of those have not won, but one of the winners is E Dubai, a Mr. Prospector colt who won this year's Dwyer Stakes (gr. II). He was purchased for $1,350,000 from Stone Farm, agent.

Among consignors, Eaton Sales sold nine of the 45 seven-figure yearlings, more than anyone else, and 20% of the total. The best runner to date is Irish group III winner Ishiguru, a Danzig colt purchased by O'Byrne for $1,150,000.

Storm Cat sired nine of the 45 millionaire yearlings, the most accomplished of which is grade II winner Cat Chat, purchased by Reynolds Bell on behalf of Jayeff B Stable for $1.3 million. Gone West and Mr. Prospector each had seven sell for $1 million or more.

Buyers of million-dollar-plus yearlings understand this is a high-risk venture, and the numbers shown here bear that theory out. Those buyers who don't engage themselves in this part of the market can see from this brief overview that it's really not that easy of a game.

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