John Stuart has been a consignor at Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga sale since 1982, and got his start at the upstate New York auction even earlier when he began showing yearlings in 1965. This season, Stuart's Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services has five colts and six fillies—headed by a half sister to multiple graded stakes winner Optimizer—for the Aug. 5-6 event.
Runners purchased from Stuart at the Saratoga sale have gone on to great success over the years, including 2009 graduate Blue Bunting, a $200,000 purchase who won the QIPCO One Thousand Guineas (Eng-I), Darley Irish Oaks (Ire-I), and the Darley Yorkshire Oaks (Eng-I) in 2011.
"I'm a Virginian and it used to be this sale had a lot of horses from the East Coast in it," Stuart said. "I started out showing here back in '65 and I just love Saratoga. I want to see this sale survive and I actually brought a few more this year, I think we're the second-largest group in the sale. They need it, and if a horse is early and well-bred, then I'm perfectly comfortable bringing them here. I know less buyers are going to see them than they would at the September sale, but there are also less horses here to compete with."
Stuart said the half to Optimizer, a Dynaformer filly who will go as hip no. 69, is the standout of this year's bunch. A March 10 foal bred in Kentucky by Brad Kelley's Bluegrass Hall out of the A.P. Indy mare Indy Pick, she was graded a "7" on the Fasig-Tipton scale.
"A perfect horse is a 7; a 6+, you've usually got one or two of those in a sale; if they're a 6 they make it to Saratoga; a 5+ is a select yearling with maybe a few minor issues, and a 5 is just a horse," the consignor explained. "I've been doing this since 1982, and this is the first 7 I ever had. So physically, she's pretty special."
This filly comes from the family of the old Phipps mare Blitey, whose offspring include three grade I winners—Dancing Spree, Fantastic Find, and Furlough—along with grade II winner Dancing All Night.
Although Indy Pick herself did not achieve graded status, the daughter of Fantastic Find did produce Optimizer, by English Channel, her fourth and most successful foal. The hearty D. Wayne Lukas trainee has run up earnings of $915,037 and survived the rigors of the Triple Crown trail before switching to his preferred surface of the turf, where he has achieved multiple grade III wins and grade I-placings behind Horse of the Year Wise Dan and multiple grade I winner Point of Entry.
"She is a beautifully bred filly," Stuart said. "If you can afford it and you want to try to gather up the best-bred, best-looking yearling fillies you can get your hands on, this is one of the few that will be offered this year."
Stuart also pointed out hip no. 111, a Tiznow colt out of the Cherokee Run mare Running Clan, as a "very nice" individual. His dam is a half sister to grade I-winning millionaire Pure Clan.
"What I like about him is, he looks like a Tiznow," Stuart said of the March 27 foal, bred in Kentucky by Lakland Farm. "He's big, strong, and flashy. I think he's pretty special."
Last year at Saratoga select, Stuart sold five yearlings topped by a $300,000 Tiznow—Myrtle Beach colt.
"It all just depends on the horses from year-to-year," Stuart said when asked how he views the complexion of this year's sale. "The market is in good shape; they need to buy horses and they're buying horses. I fully expect every one of these yearlings I've brought are going to be good profits for whoever bred them, because they're really nice horses. Whether the sale numbers go up or not, I don't know, it all depends on what they've got in there, and you've got to get out and see them.