"There are a number of hurdles to jump through at the upper end of the 2-year-old sale market. When you tick all the boxes you get rewarded. When you miss a box they go on to the next horse. It continues to be difficult to get all the requirements met, but when you do meet all the requirements you get rewarded."
It's not often that the connections of a one-horse consignment lead over a sale topper at public auction, but that's exactly what happened to Hoby and Layna Kight at Fasig-Tipton's Florida sale of selected 2-year-olds in training March 24 at Adena Springs South near Williston, Fla.
Veteran pinhookers, the Kights brought a single horse to the Florida sale and were rewarded handsomely when their Malibu Moon colt fetched $1.2 million from Coolmore with Demi O'Byrne, in attendance with Michael Tabor, signing the ticket.
Sold as Hip No. 126, the colt, a half brother to 3-year-old Please Explain, winner of the Suncoast Stakes in February at Tampa Bay Downs and most recently third in the Honeybee Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park, glided over the track at the March 21 under-tack preview where he breezed an eighth of a mile in :10.
"He's a lovely horse," said O'Byrne. "He breezed very well."
Acquired by the Kights for $200,000 at last year's Keeneland September sale, the Kentucky-bred colt is out of the unraced Pine Bluff mare Lizzy's Bluff and is from the family of two-time grade I winner Borrego. He was sold as a yearling by Brookdale Sales, agent for the colt's breeders, Donald H. Niall and Michael L. Niall.
"I love the horse," said Hoby, standing outside of his single stall in barn two after the sale. "When I bought him at Keeneland I was shaking when I signed the ticket I was so excited. I never dreamed I could get him. All winter I said, 'If you don't like him, you just don't love horses.'
"I believe he's as good as any horse I've ever had," Hoby added. "He has the constitution to be a great horse. I believe in my heart that he's going to win something big. He'll get a chance."
Hal Hatch of Halcyon Hammock breaks and trains horses for the Kights and he started the colt.
"Hal did a great job with him and loved him from the start," Hoby said. "This horse has done everything right."
Hip No. 83, a Distorted Humor colt and half brother to multiple champion Royal Delta, attracted plenty of pre-sale attention and was the second-highest priced horse of the day, selling to Sheikh Joann bin Hamad Al Thani's Al Shaqab Racing for $1 million.
The flashy colt, bred in Kentucky by Frank Stronach's Adena Springs, also came out of barn two from the Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds consignment. He sped a co-bullet eighth of a mile in :09 4/5 at the preview.
"He is a good colt, obviously a special horse," said Bradley Weisbord, racing adviser for Al Shaqab Racing's United States racing operations. "He was one of the superstars. He breezed fast, galloped out well in :22 and change and came out of it well. For me, the racetrack was hard on some horses, and this horse took it all in stride."
Produced from the multiple graded stakes-winning mare Delta Princess, by A.P. Indy, the colt was purchased by Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbred for $350,000 at last year's Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale.
"We're excited to add him to the stable," Weisbord added. "The pedigree speaks for itself. Royal Delta was as good as we've seen. Not only that, the dam was a runner herself and has produced two other really nice horses."
In between inspections at the barn the day before the sale, Dean De Renzo noted, "This is a high-risk, high-reward business but it was pretty low risk with a colt like him."
Alex Solis II of Solis Bloodstock and Jason Litt went to $750,000 to secure the bid for an undisclosed client on Hip No. 130, a colt from the first crop of 2010 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands winner Super Saver .
Consigned by Niall Brennan Stables, agent, the colt is out of the stakes-placed Cape Town mare Magdalena's Chase and was bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm. He breezed an eighth in :10 at the under tack preview.
"He was a perfect colt," said Litt. "Niall loved that he never turned a hair."
Solis added, "He looks like a racehorse."
Solis and Litt also signed for a $400,000 Super Saver filly, Hip No. 107, out of the Eddie Woods consignment. She is out of grade III-placed stakes winner Gins Majesty, by Go for Gin.
The top-priced filly of the sale at $700,000 was Hip No.75, a daughter of Smart Strike—Clay's Rocket, by American Chance, consigned by Wavertree Stables (Ciaran Dunne), agent. Purchased by JSM Equine in partnership with John Greathouse, the filly worked a co-bullet eighth of a mile in :09 4/5 at the preview.
While demand for the top tier horses that jumped through the proverbial hoops proved solid, buyers were selective.
Unable to replicate the success of the first two select sales of the season at Barretts and Ocala Breeders' Sales Co., both of which showed sharp across-the-board increases, the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale experienced declines in gross, average and median price.
All told, 47 horses sold for $13,370,000, down 24.6% from last year's total sales of $17,725,000 on 46 horses sold. Average price dropped 26.2% to $284,468 from the 2013 average of $385,326. The median price was $180,000, marking a 40% decline from $300,000 a year ago.
"The select sales market has been very selective," said Boyd Browning, president of Fasig-Tipton. "It rewards horses perceived to be the best in a sale and often times leaves the other ones. That trend continued today.
"You're always a little disappointed when you have a step back statistically," Browning added, "and we had a step back this year. We'll grin and bear it and look forward to our next 2-year-old sale at Timonium in May."
Thirty-eight horses were reported as not sold, representing a 44.7% buy-back rate on 85 juveniles offered, compared with 32 juveniles who failed to meet their reserves last year.
"Buy-backs were higher than we would have liked," Browning said.
The sale, held in recent years at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, was relocated to Adena Springs due to a lack of stall space in South Florida with Calder Casino and Race Course and Gulfstream Park running simultaneously.
When asked if he thought the change in location attributed to the sale's decline in figures, Browning said, "I thought overall traffic was good. When we announced this decision last fall there were no stalls available in South Florida. Due to the current logistics with the racing dates and competing tracks there was no room at the inn. We made what we thought was the best decision possible. This is a first-class facility. We made the best of the situation. Did it make a difference? I don't know.
"I think that there is still a great need for select sales," Browning added. "In the 2-year-old arena there is so much information that is put out there for buyers, and it's good for the ones who jump through all the hoops. They get rewarded significantly. You have breeze times, they all get gallop out times, there's video scrutiny and veterinary scrutiny.