D. Wayne Lukas, wearing a bright scarlet blazer and his trademark smile, was delighted—and possibly a little relieved—to make the sale-topping bid of $1.25 million for a War Front filly out of the Seeking the Gold winner Charming, herself a daughter of 2014 Broodmare of the Year Take Charge Lady.
Lukas had been in the early running for the May 14 filly but then held his fire, as he said, "to kind of let it cool down a little." He almost let it cool too much. Almost as the hammer was dropping, Lukas slipped in a new bid, the final one, just in the nick of time.
"We could have gotten shut out, the hammer was on the way down," he said after signing the ticket on behalf of Willis Horton. It's no surprise Horton wanted the filly. In partnership with Three Chimneys, he campaigned champion 3-year-old colt Will Take Charge , a half brother to Charming. And Horton also has the sale-topping filly's half sister, Take Charge Brandi, in training with Lukas. She won her debut at Churchill Downs in June and already is graded-placed after finishing second in the Schuylerville Stakes (gr. III) at Saratoga Race Course.
"That family has been so good to the Horton family," Lukas said. "You take Will Take Charge, and now this filly Take Charge Brandi is pretty special, I think a lot more than people know.
"So I don't think she'll ever be any cheaper than she was tonight," Lukas said of the sale-topper, a member of the Eaton Sales consignment.
Lukas said he thinks Take Charge Brandi is "grade-I quality" that will boost her younger sibling's pedigree even more, perhaps starting as soon as Aug. 10 when Take Charge Brandi is expected to start in Saratoga's grade II Adirondack Stakes.
"So we can help our cause a little more than maybe somebody else," Lukas said. "We're in the driver's seat to help our own cause."
Asked what he thought of the price he'd gone to for this latest acquisition, he said: "I was surprised at Willis. We kind of said, 'She's going pretty high,' and then I said, 'Well, I don't think she'll ever be cheaper in her life,' and he said, 'Aw, let's take a run at her and hit her. He's game, and he's wonderful for the game.' "
War Front has become a popular stallion, but, given his personal experience training Will Take Charge and Take Charge Brandi, Lukas said he gave more weight to the dam's side of the pedigree.
"I'm not real familiar with the War Fronts," he said. "This'll be my first one. I'm gonna count on the mother doing the job. I think War Front is certainly an asset, but we're really trying to preserve a very special family of horses right now, and I think we can make it work. We're gonna have to make it work."
Buying at Saratoga is About 'Picking Your Spots'
Despite Lukas's dramatic swoop for the sale-topper, which gave the auction its third seven-figure horse (one more than last year), Tuesday's session had a slightly more muted feel after the sharp selling that gave the Aug. 4 opening night an eye-poppingly low 9.9% buyback rate.
"Everybody was talking today about Monday: 'The buyback rate was so low, what does that mean'," Taylor Made's Mark Taylor said Aug. 5, the second night of the sale. "But, first of all, there weren't that many horses. Second of all, it means people are putting realistic reserves, and, lastly, it means there were pretty nice horses here that were selling last night. Just in our own consignment, we had 16 Monday and nine tonight. I knew that we had a few more tonight that maybe, in retrospect, we should have taken to (Keeneland) September. Not bad horses, but maybe this wasn't the right environment for them, so I expected it to soften up a little bit tonight.
"But I think it's still a great sale," Taylor added. "The ones that jump through all the hoops are bringing really good money. We had two fillies tonight that brought $600,000 apiece, and coming up here, we knew they were extremely nice, but we thought $350,000 or $400,000 would have been great."
The Saratoga select sale usually has been a tough slog for pinhookers seeking yearlings for resale at the spring 2-year-old sales, and 2014's market had many keeping their powder dry for Fasig-Tipton's New York-bred sale, a larger auction that follows the select edition. But not all the pinhookers went home empty-handed.
Bobby Dodd, bidding behind the pavilion with Grand Oaks Farm owner Brad Grady, snapped up a $130,000 colt by Midshipman , whose first runners are 2 this year. The Select Sales agency consigned the colt, who is out of the Limehouse mare Casa Lima. At the Aug. 4 session, Grand Oaks paid $200,000 for an Unbridled's Song filly out of Miss Abita, from the family of Eight Belles; Grousemont Farm (Eaton Sales, agent) was the seller.
"I think he's a nice little horse, and he'll do fine," Dodd said. Of the market, he added: "The prices are way above the quality. You've got pick your spots and get a little lucky. It's been hard for us. We've probably bid on six or eight horses last night and tonight, and we've bought two. The market's strong, and I think it's going to stay strong."
Not all of the pinhookers on the grounds, of course, were yearling-to-juvenile resellers. Among the 10 yearling pinhooks offered at the second session, three were buybacks for their sellers, but the remainder generally fared well, continuing a trend seen on opening night.
The 10 pinhooked yearlings at the Saratoga select sale's final session had an average previous purchase price of $131,400; the seven sold Tuesday night averaged $260,714.
There were some notable successes. Glencrest Farm (Four Star Sales, agent) sold a Trappe Shot —Broad Sound colt to Alex and Jo Lieblong for $300,000 after paying just $75,000 for him at Fasig-Tipton's February sale this year. Gainesway's agency sold a $550,000 Street Sense —Useewhatimsaying colt to Robert Baker and William Mack off an initial weanling purchase price of $240,000. And the Hill 'n' Dale agency got $450,000 for an Uncle Mo —Erica's Melody filly that Bare Stables acquired last year for $190,000.
Continuously Raising the Profile of New York-Breds
Yes, New York is breeding select-quality yearlings, says Sequel Stallions New York owner Becky Thomas, and she was determined to prove it with her consignment at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select auction.
Sequel sold two yearlings at the 2014 auction, grossing $315,000 with its second group of Saratoga select horses. Veterinarian Dr. Stephen Carr paid $175,000 for a Quality Road filly out of the Storm Cat mare Genisa, a daughter of Tiznow full sister Tizdubai. And Justin Casse picked up the consignment's Lemon Drop Kid colt out of the grade I-placed stakes-winner Unspoken Word, by Catienus.
Eight other New York-breds sold through out-of-state consignments and grossed $2,125,000. They included an Awesome Again colt, a three-quarters brother to multiple stakes winner Law Enforcement, that the Bluewater Sales agency sold for $700,000 to Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton.
The Hudson, N.Y.-based Sequel Stallions made its first foray into the Saratoga select sale a year ago with a one-horse consignment. That colt, now named Malaf, was an Elusive Quality half brother to graded winner Wishful Tomcat and brought $300,000 from Shadwell Estate Co.
"Having a New York farm, we feel very, very strongly that we want to have stallion representation that is not just denoted as 'regional'," Thomas said. "We want to be a nationally respected farm that happens to be located in New York."
Sequel Stallions stands six stallions, including Empire State stalwart Freud , a full brother to Giant's Causeway , and such newcomers as Twin Creeks Racing's Mission Impazible and Darley Stables runner Emcee .
Emcee entered stud this year under a continuing relationship with Darley that started when Sheikh Mohammed retired Girolamo to Sequel in 2011. Girolamo stood his first two seasons at Sequel before relocating this year to Darley's Jonabell Farm in Kentucky.
Horses like those have helped Sequel hit the ground running since reopening the New York farm in 2011 after a two-year hiatus. Wally Burleson, who worked for 17 years at Taylor Made in Kentucky, manages Sequel.
"The program that we have with Darley, where stallions have gone to us and then gone back to Darley, the stallion support we've had from Twin Creeks Racing with Mission Impazible and those kinds of horses, this is helping us do what we wanted when we reopened the farm: take the asterisk away from New York," Thomas explained. "We want our breeders to know that we're not shoe-pegged into a regional market. And go look at the restricted New York-bred races and see what their times are. It's very competitive, and we want to be competitive within a commercial marketplace."
New York's booming purses and a growing population of high-quality ancillary service providers, like farriers and veterinarians, are aiding the state-breds' improvements, Thomas said. But as an experienced breeder, buyer, and seller, she said, she's being highly selective about what she takes to the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga marketplace, where buyers are famously discriminating.
"We were very careful to have the right horse last year, and we were very careful to have the right horses this year," Thomas added. "Saratoga deserves the respect of having quality. That doesn't mean there aren't horses here that won't get sold or get sold for less money. Vet and other issues sometimes happen. But both Wally and I have longtime sales experience and understand what the markets needs and what will be rewarded."