Anne M. Eberhardt

Mood at Saratoga Positive for Yearling Sale

Buyers and consignors praise Fasig-Tipton's efforts.

Buyers and consignors were upbeat as they prepared for the Aug. 10 start of the two-night Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale in New York. Even though they continued to worry about the struggling economy and its effects on the Thoroughbred marketplace, they praised the quality of the auction’s catalog, the new walking ring and other improvements to the sale grounds, and the effort by Fasig-Tipton officials to attract more European shoppers by offering to help with their expenses.

“I think these guys have done everything they could do,” said Craig Bandoroff of Denali Stud. “They’ve turned this facility into a new place, providing the amenities that people buying a luxury product should have, and they’ve encouraged buyers to come. Whatever happens, they’ve thrown everything at this sale, and you’ve got to take your hat off to them.”

Jack Wolf of Starlight Racing also was enthusiastic about everything he had seen.

“The physical plant is impressive, and the catalog looks great,” he said while eating breakfast at the new snack bar. “Maybe I’m a moron, but I think this sale is going to be up. They’ve got all the right buyers here, and the catalog is much stronger than it has been in the past. Frankie Brothers looks at horses for us, and his short list is longer than it needs to be, so apparently there is some good-looking stock around.”

After Fasig-Tipton was sold last year to Synergy Investments, which is headed by an associate of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, the company’s management team announced that one of its goals would be to make the Saratoga sale the world’s premier yearling auction. In an effort to turn the sale into a major event socially, as well as financially, the auction firm teamed with the New York Racing Association to offer the inaugural Fasig-Tipton Festival of Racing the weekend before the sale, co-sponsored a seminar on the horse business, and held a fancy party with a “Roaring Twenties” theme. Fasig-Tipton also added a new bar to the back of the sale pavilion. Known as the “buyers’ balcony,” it will be open to anyone who purchases a horse, allowing them to celebrate with free champagne and other drinks.

“We focused completely on what we could control, and that was our facility upgrades, our hospitality, and our Festival of Racing with NYRA, which went extremely well,” said Dan Pride, Fasig-Tipton’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “As far as what any individual horse will sell for and who will buy it, I’ve got no idea, but we’re confident that we have the right mix of horses.”

According to Bill Graves, a Fasig-Tipton account executive who is a key member of the yearling selection team, this year’s catalog for the Saratoga auction “is the best we’ve put together in my 17 years with the company.”

Even though the sky was cloudy and there was an occasional light rain, prospective buyers filled the Saratoga barn area Aug. 9, making it difficult for consignors to keep track of who wanted to look at which horse. Veteran Saratoga shoppers such as New Jersey bloodstock agent Buzz Chace, Kentucky bloodstock agents John Moynihan and Mike Ryan, Florida pinhooker Eddie Woods, and Coolmore Stud’s Demi O’Byrne turned out, and there also were a number of newcomers or horsemen who hadn’t attended the auction in a long time. They included Europeans Michael Goodbody, Ed Dunlop, and Michael Bell.

“I have a big client, Mr. Thomas Barr, and I’ve bought horses in England for him, so if we see something nice, we might buy it here,” Goodbody said. “It’s been maybe 15 years since I’ve been here, but they (Fasig-Tipton officials) asked us over, and I thought I would come. I’ve always enjoyed Saratoga.”

John Ferguson and representatives of Sheikh Mohammed also were on the sale grounds, and there was a lot of talk that Dubai’s ruler would attend the auction, but Fasig-Tipton officials wouldn’t or couldn’t confirm or deny the rumors.

“I don’t know whether Sheikh Mohammed is attending this sale or not,” said Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning. “We sure hope he comes; anybody who conducts a sale hopes that Sheikh Mohammed will attend. But the success or failure of this sale is not going to be dependent upon whether Sheikh Mohammed comes to it. The success or failure of this sale is going to depend on the overall buying group that we’ve got. I’ve seen two world records since I’ve been at Fasig-Tipton, and Sheikh Mohamed was not at either one of those sales. Whether he’s here or not, his team has been working hard, and I would hope, based on the quality of yearlings that we’ve got on the grounds, that they would find a number of horses they like.”

There are 235 yearlings cataloged for the Saratoga auction, which will offer offspring by such successful sires as A.P. Indy, Distorted Humor , Medaglia d'Oro , Mr. Greeley, Storm Cat, Unbridled's Song. The sale will begin each evening at 6 p.m. (EDT).