Skip Dickstein

Saratoga Sale Has Momentum Going for It

Fasig-Tipton officials are hoping to sustain last year's success.

The Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale is riding a wave of forward momentum as it heads toward its latest renewal, which is scheduled for Aug. 2 and 3 in upstate New York (Watch Preview Video). Boosted by big spender Sheikh Mohammed, the auction turned in a strong performance last year, when prices at many other Thoroughbred sales were plunging, and Fasig-Tipton officials, who have vowed to make Saratoga the world’s premier yearling auction, have upgraded the sales grounds’ facilities, aggressively recruited horses and buyers, and put together a series of special events on the racetrack and elsewhere to promote their boutique marketplace.

This year, buyers and consignors will enjoy a newly renovated sale pavilion and shoppers will have a chance to purchase one of the three yearlings in the last crop of the great stallion Storm Cat along with a slew of other well-bred prospects.

“We were very busy Friday (July 30) and Saturday (July 31), and the feedback we’ve been getting on our horses is very positive from the people who are looking,” said Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning Aug. 1. “We’ve had Chamber of Commerce weather (warm in the daytime and cool at night, with low humidity); it’s absolutely spectacular, and the racing is great. Things are going very well, so we’re optimistic. But we realize that we’re living in a little bit different economic world in 2010 than we were in 2006 and 2007. We’ve just had to adjust our expectations a little bit.”

Well-known buyers such as Coolmore Stud team member Demi O’Byrne, Spendthrift Farm’s B. Wayne Hughes, England-based bloodstock agent Tom Goff, and West Point Thoroughbreds’ Terry Finley have been strolling through the barns and inspecting yearlings. Sheikh Mohammed showed up on the sale grounds Aug. 1.

“I guess it’s indicative of both the economy and the (Thoroughbred) business right now,” Browning said, “but I’m not aware of a significant new participant at the upper end of the marketplace although I could be surprised in the next 72 hours and it would be a very pleasant surprise. With a sigh of relief, we see the regular buyers and tick them off our list, but as an industry, we can’t be satisfied with seeing the faces who have always participated. We’ve got to see some things happening (to improve the racing) and see some new faces.”

Wayne Sweezey is offering his first Saratoga consignment under his relatively new Sweezey and Partners operation, but he is a veteran of the auction in other roles. Going into the sale, he said commercial breeders and consignors are beginning to come to terms with the recession-battered auction business and are encouraged by signs of stability.

“The Fasig-Tipton (Kentucky) July select yearling sale told a lot of the story about where we are in the market,” Sweezey said. “I think we’ve bottomed out on this thing and we’re going to stay right where we are for a while. As the economy starts to improve, I think we’ll see the Thoroughbred business start to improve, but that’s going to be several years. If you’re a seller, you can better judge what your horse is worth in the marketplace. But we’re still dealing with high stud fees, and I’ll be very glad when that is behind us so we can go in there and sell horses and the clients aren’t going to be screaming because they’re just trying to break even.”

Each of the Saratoga sale’s two evening sessions will begin at 7:00 (EDT). As of Aug. 1, nearly 30 horses had been scratched of the 202 cataloged, but offspring by such powerhouse sires as A.P. Indy, Giant’s Causeway, and Medaglia d'Oro  still remained in the auction.

“I hope we’ll be able to sustain last year’s increases,” Browning said. “It begins and ends with the quality of horses that you’ve got available and we feel really good about the ones we’ve got on the grounds.”