Fasig-Tipton officials worked hard, and Sheikh Mohammed shopped hard. The end result was a soaring Saratoga select yearling sale that provided its participants with a brief, two-evening respite from all the bad news generated by a struggling Thoroughbred industry that is reeling from a global financial crisis and its own internal problems. In a performance most unusual in these difficult economic times, the auction enjoyed upswings from 2008 of 45.6% in gross revenue, 11.1% in average price, and 9.9% in median price.
“It’s been a wonderful two nights,” said Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning following the sale's final session Aug. 11 in New York. “All in all, we are absolutely thrilled with the results.”
The 160 horses that sold grossed $52,549,500 and averaged $328,434. The median price was $250,000. The gross and average both reached their second-highest levels in the sale's history, exceeded only by the respective figures of $62,412,000 and $385,259 posted in 2001. The median established a sale record, surpassing the previous mark of $245,000, which had been set in 2006. Meanwhile, the buy-back rate fell from 25.6% last year to 22%.
During the post-sale news conference, Browning and Fasig-Tipton chairman Walt Robertson both discussed the efforts made by the company in its drive to make the Saratoga auction the premier yearling sale in the world. They included upgrades to facilities on the sale grounds, more aggressive recruiting of European shoppers and higher quality horses, and the creation of special events to entertain sale participants while they were in Saratoga.
Since last year, Fasig-Tipton has been owned by Synergy Investments, a company headed by an associate of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed, and that change set the stage for the world’s biggest spender at Thoroughbred auctions to attend the Saratoga sale for the first time in many years. Through his bloodstock manager John Ferguson, Sheikh Mohammed purchased 12 yearlings for $11,850,000, which accounted for 22.6% of the auction’s gross. A number of buyers with close ties to Sheikh Mohammed, including Rabbah Bloodstock and trainer John Gosden, also were active, and another member of Dubai’s ruling family, Sheikh Hamdan, purchased horses in the name of his Shadwell Estate Co. even though he did not attend the sale.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” said Sheikh Mohammed, who left after Ferguson signed the sale ticket for a $500,000 Street Cry – Randaroo filly near the end of the auction.
The Sheikh Mohammed/Ferguson purchases included four of the sale’s five horses that brought seven-figure prices. Their most expensive acquisition was the $2.8-million sale-topping Storm Catcolt named On A Storm, who went through the sale ring during the auction’s final session. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who was sitting with Westrock Stables’ Joe Ford was the immediate underbidder on the handsome dark bay or brown yearling.
While Ferguson was countering Lukas’ offers from behind the sale pavilion, near where horses enter the auction ring, a relaxed-looking Sheikh Mohammed chatted and laughed with members of his entourage
“To me it was a stretch,” Ferguson said, “but Sheikh Mohammed wasn’t giving me any specific instructions and he seemed very comfortable. He (On A Storm) was just a very, very well-conformed colt with a great presence and great balance. It’s hard to jump through every hoop, and he jumped through every hoop.”
Produced from the 15-year-old Mr. Prospector mare Onaga, who finished second twice and third twice in eight career races, On A Storm is a half-brother to Aragorn(by Giant's Causeway ), who captured the Eddie Read Handicap (gr. IT) and the Shoemaker Breeders’ Cup Mile Stakes (gr. IT) in 2006 and three other graded events.
Will Farish’s Lane’s End consigned On A Storm to the Saratoga sale for his breeder, Summer Wind Farm. The nursery, located near Georgetown, Ky., is owned by Frank Lyon Jr. and his wife, Jane.
“We did feel that this was very possibly the best colt that we had put up for sale to date from our farm,” said Jane Lyon after thanking Sheikh Mohammed. “We knew that he was special, and we’re just so pleased that other people thought he was special, too. He is a very forwardly developed, large, solid colt, and we were very, very anxious to come here to Saratoga with him. We are very fond of the Fasig-Tipton group. They have always treated us extremely well, and we’re just happy to be here. This is just an exceptional evening for us.”
The Sheikh Mohammed/Ferguson purchases during the final session also included a Distorted Humor – Quendom colt that is a half-brother to Invasor, who raced for Sheikh Hamdan. Invasor was a Horse of the Year in North American and in Uruguay.
The results for the Saratoga sale’s last session included a gross of $25,760,000 for the 75 horses that sold. The average was $343,467, and the median was $260,000. The buy-back rate was 24.2%.