Skip Dickstein

Outlook Uncertain for Saratoga Select Sale

There are reasons to be encouraged and reasons to be concerned.

Predicting how the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale will perform isn’t an easy task. There are reasons to be encouraged and there are reasons to be concerned heading into the boutique auction, which is scheduled for Aug. 8 and 9 in upstate New York.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Mark Reid of Walnut Green as shoppers inspected the young horses in his consignment Aug. 6. “I’m cautious because I see how badly the economy outside the horse industry is going. But we’re getting more slot-fueled purses in racing and we’re up in the number of lookers today at the sale compared to last year, so I’m also optimistic.”

Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed was busy looking at yearlings two days before the sale’s start and so were Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and his big-spending client Kaleem Shah, former Mattel executive John Amerman, and Everett Dobson, co-owner of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

“So far, the people we’ve seen here look like the ones that you need to have for the sale to be a success,” said Gainesway manager Neil Howard.

But a tidal wave of bad financial news recently has some auction participants worried about whether the Saratoga auction will be able to rebound from 2010’s downturns. The gross revenue plunged 38.1% from the previous year to $32,515,000 while the average price dropped 16.1% to $275,551. The median price, meanwhile, declined 4% to $240,000.

The huge one-day stock market plunge Aug. 4, the unprecedented downgrade in the U.S. government’s creditworthiness Aug. 5, and growing debt default tensions in Europe are not the kind of developments that inspire confidence. Fears of a new American recession are growing.

“It’s kind of an unhappy time economically and I don’t think anybody is going to make any big moves,” said Dogwood Stable president Cot Campbell, who puts together racing partnerships. “I think everybody is going to sit tight for a little while, so I wouldn’t expect a lot of fireworks.”

Even so, Fasig-Tipton Boyd Browning expressed confidence, insisting that the positives outweighed the negatives as the Saratoga auction approached.

“We came up here with what we thought was a tremendous group of horses overall from our consignors,” he said. “We’re very, very optimistic that buyers are going to be very pleased with the quality of our yearlings and that their short lists are going to be long. We don’t think the stock market setback will have a significant impact on the valuation of these horses or on the buying habits of the people who purchase yearlings in this price range.”

In addition, Browning said, there is a high level of excitement among many buyers who race in New York about the long-awaited opening of the video lottery terminal casino at Aqueduct, which is slated for later this year. Purses at New York Racing Association tracks are expected to decrease dramatically as a result.

According to Reiley McDonald of Eaton Sales, this year’s smaller catalog will be an advantage for the Saratoga auction. With fewer horses available, he reasoned, the competition among buyers should increase. There are 160 horses in the book compared to 202 in 2010. Fifteen of this year’s yearlings had been scratched as of Aug. 6, based on information posted on Fasig-Tipton’s website.

“Saratoga can be a supply and demand game and the horse business in general is a supply and demand game,” McDonald said. “In a small sale like this, to be down by more than 60 horses makes a big difference and it should help prop up the bottom end of the market a bit. Anybody who has a horse that has a clean veterinary exam and is physically good will find that Saratoga is a great place to sell a horse just like it always is.”

Each session of the auction will begin at 7 p.m. (EDT) at the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion.