Heerman Shaped Today's Thoroughbred Sales

Victor Heerman Jr. died July 2 at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.

Victor Heerman Jr., who as a bloodstock agent in the 1980s sold a world-record yearling and added flair to Central Kentucky sales, died July 2 at his Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. home. He was 89.

Current Fasig-Tipton account executive Dennis Lynch worked in the mid-1970s for Heerman at Buck Pond Farm in Versailles, Ky. He said Heerman, along with Lee Eaton, brought a new approach to selling yearlings in Central Kentucky.

"Those were the guys who said here's how you sell yearlings: You have to get fancy show people, you have to pull their manes at a certain time, you have to paint their feet 90 days before the sale, you have to do all of this stuff," Lynch said. "Before (the established Kentucky farms) were just kind of bringing them out from the field and offering them for sale. 

"Vic really was in the forefront, there were five or six of them and Lee Eaton is probably the number one guy, but they said, 'We're going to sell all of our yearlings in a uniform, highly professional manner.'"

Heerman, as agent, in 1980 sold what was then the world-record, highest-priced yearling when BBA (England) went to $1.7 million for owner Stavros Niarchos to land a Lyphard colt out of the stakes-winning Bagdad mare Stylish Genie. The record-breaking colt, who would be named Lichine and win a stakes race in France, was bred by Morton Fink and Roy Gottlieb's Carelaine Farm, Jacqueline Getty, and her son Michael Riordan Jr.

Catherine Parke, owner of Valkyre Stud in Georgetown, Ky., worked for both Eaton and Heerman when they were consignors. She said the two took different approaches, with Eaton relying on numbers and research and Heerman banking on artistic flair, but both were successful.

"Victor presented horses as pieces of art," Parke said. "That's how he presented each horse. He would have a certain place picked out for each one. He'd consider how the sun would hit them. He'd tell you to put this colt over there or this filly here with the sun as a backdrop."

By the time Heerman was selling horses in the 1980s, he'd already built a wealth of experience in Thoroughbred breeding and sales. A son of a Hollywood screenwriter, during college Heerman worked summers at Calumet Farm, and in his youth worked at other top Kentucky farms. He eventually returned to California to establish a small farm there.

In 1960, he launched the Caldwell-Heerman sales company in partnership with auctioneer Tom Caldwell. Caldwell, who died in 2001, was named Keeneland's director of auctions in 1975. Caldwell-Heerman, a precursor to Barretts, did well.

"They made it a very profitable company," Lynch said. "There was a need out there in California and they furnished it."

But Heerman eventually returned his focus to Kentucky and in 1973 with partner Susan Proskauer purchased Buck Pond Farm in Versailles, Ky. Spectacular Bid , dual classic winner in 1979 and Horse of the Year in 1980, was born at Buck Pond in 1979. Heerman acted as agent when Spectacular Bid sold as a yearling.

The farm helped establish Heerman in Kentucky and he continued to make his biggest impact at the sales. In 1984, Heerman acted as agent for George Bolas when Lady Graustark topped the Keeneland January horses of all ages sale at $1 million.

"Vic, who was reportedly deaf but I can guarantee you that he heard exactly what he wanted to hear, was a true innovator in that he brought that California panache to Central Kentucky," Lynch said.

Heerman arrived in Kentucky at a time when sales would skyrocket. One year after Lichine set a record at $1.7 million, the sale-topper at Keeneland July more than doubled in price. In 1985, Seattle Dancer sold at that sale for $13.1 million.

"He saw that wave coming and that wave was huge," Lynch said. "It did change the way horses were offered. It changed the atmosphere of these sales and everything. He saw that and was at the forefront."

Heerman's daughter Leslie Heerman said her father was a perfectionist when it came to working with horses, whether it be offering them at sale, giving advice on a mating, or raising youngsters.

"His success in the horse business, producing good race horses and doing well at the sales, gave him the greatest satisfaction in his life," Leslie Heerman said. "He found great pleasure in literature and fine sporting art, good wine, antiques, splendid cars, and well-bred dogs; but his first love was the horse."

Heerman said her father enjoyed working with industry leaders like George F. Getty II, Paul Hexter, W.T. Young, Patsy Pope, Paul Little, Mervyn LeRoy, Anne Jackson, Connie Ring, and many others.

Heerman's wife of 59 years, Lexington native Lucille Mills Heerman, died in September. He is survived by Leslie Heerman and two granddaughters.