Anne M. Eberhardt

Saratoga Surge? Sale Could Be Solid

Fasig-Tipton select yearling auction is scheduled for Aug. 10-11 in New York.

The unemployment rate is down; more homes are being sold; the stock market is on the upswing; and some companies that were hit hard by a plunging economy are starting to make money again. With the recession showing signs of easing, is a rebound in the Thoroughbred marketplace on the horizon?

The next big test of the health of the Thoroughbred auction business will be the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale, which is scheduled for Aug. 10-11 in upstate New York. The auction might very well perform better than the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July select yearling auction did, improving on the setbacks of 26% in gross revenue, 15.8% in average price, and 26.7% in median price.

But if that happens, it probably will have more to do with the type of sale that Saratoga is than an American economy that is becoming more stable.

The Saratoga auction is a boutique sale with a relatively small number of horses cataloged, 235, so the supply probably will not exceed demand, and the offerings traditionally are high in quality. Last year, when the nation’s financial situation already was deteriorating, the Saratoga sale posted numbers that were more solid than those of many other major yearling auctions. The gross dropped 12.2%, but the average increased 2.2% and the median remained the same as the previous year.

If Fasig-Tipton officials have made good choices based on conformation — and they usually do the Saratoga sale has a very good shot at once again being one of the yearling selling season’s best based on statistical trends.

The Blood-Horse evaluated the 2009 Saratoga catalog using the average stud fee paid to breed the yearlings in the auction, the Average-Earnings Index (AEI) for stallions with offspring cataloged, and the Comparable Index (CI) for mares whose progeny are in the sale. The average stud fee of $78,509 is up 28.5% from a year ago, and the AEI of 2.07 and CI of 2.36 both exceed 2008’s figures.

There also are more yearlings in the auction sired by top veterans such as Storm Cat, Distorted Humor , and Unbridled's Song than there were last year.

Fasig-Tipton is teaming with the New York Racing Association to conduct the inaugural Fasig-Tipton Festival of Racing the weekend before the Saratoga sale, and there are a number of other special events planned. Fasig-Tipton also has made improvements to the Saratoga sale grounds, and the upgrades include a new walking ring, new fencing, and a new patio area for the restaurant, which has been renamed to honor the great Man o' War, who was sold as a yearling at Saratoga in 1918 and whose photograph appears on the front cover of the 2009 auction’s catalog.

Even if the market’s slide continues, Fasig-Tipton officials seemed to be determined that the Saratoga sale’s participants are going to have fun. On the back cover of the auction’s catalog, the Saratoga sale and racing experience is described as “A great party. With a lot of horsing around on the side …” Another phrase describes Saratoga Springs, N.Y., as the site of “The No. 1 meet. The No. 1 party. The No. 1 sale."