Saratoga Sale Analysis: Weakness at the Top? Or Too Early to Tell?

Before this year's Fasig-Tipton Saratoga selected yearling sale, there was general consensus that this year's offerings were better overall than last year, particularly for upper-end colts.

Before this year’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale, there was general consensus that this year’s offerings were better overall than last year’s, particularly for upper-end colts. For some observers, that assessment held after the Aug. 6 opening session.

But questions remain. Were there were enough buyers for the top horses sent through the ring? More importantly, will there be sufficient strength in the Aug. 7 final session to bring the average and median prices back up after double-digit declines in both figures the previous day?

With the $261,408 average and $207,500 median reflecting decreases of 16.5% and 18.6%, respectively, the sale company reported a 5.7% increase in gross ($19,867,000). That was expected, given there were 21.3% more yearlings through the ring and 26.7% sold during this year’s first session.

A breakdown of sales by price category shows a major increase in the number of horses sold at the bottom range (up to $99,999) on opening day. In 2006, only two horses sold at that level, compared with 11 this year. Twenty yearlings sold between $100,000 and $199,999, compared with 13 on day one in 2006.

The numbers stayed the same for horses sold between $200,000 and $299,999 (18 each year) and were nearly equal at the $300,000-$399,000 level, with 14 this year and 15 in 2006.

The $400,000-$499,999 range showed a solid gain, with seven horses sold (three more than last year).  However, no yearlings sold in the ranges of $500,000-$599,999 or $600,000-$699,999; last year, three and two yearlings were sold, respectively, at those levels.

Boyd Browning, Fasig-Tipton executive vice president and COO, cautioned against drawing conclusions about the state of the market until the sale has been completed. After all, horses are cataloged in alphabetical order, based on the dam’s name, so the quality of horses through the ring on any day of a sale can vary widely from one year to the next.

“I think you have to wait until the overall conclusion to evaluate the sale,” Browning said. “In each year, it can be skewed. There is no stacking, to try to make one night better than the other.”

Browning cautioned against reading too much into the conspicuous lack of participation on the first day from the Coolmore Stud group, which usually battles first-session leading buyer John Ferguson for the top colts. “Let’s wait and see what they do tonight,” he said.

Agent Demi O’Byrne, who represents Coolmore, made a single acquisition for $330,000 the first day. Ferguson, acting on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed, bought five yearlings for a session-leading $3,657,000. Last year, Ferguson bought five during the entire sale, totaling $3,275,000, followed by O’Byrne, with five for $3,100,000.

Some felt the pre-sale assessment of better overall quality proved true the first day, but that may have been due to a lack of competition for the horses. It’s a matter of debate whether the second session will be stronger.

“Nice horses sold (the first night) for not an extremely whole lot of money,” said agent Buzz Chace, a buyer and seller at Saratoga. “Ferguson is pretty tough to beat, and he bought some really nice horses at some reasonable prices. I think the market is in real good shape, and you have to wait until (the sale ends) to draw any conclusions.”

Another buyer/seller at the auction, Doug Cauthen, president of WinStar Farm, remarked, “I think there were a lot of nice horses up here, and it looks like a lot of them are getting (sold),” he said. “I thought there were plenty of big colts last night. I don’t think there is any reason to believe there are (going to be) more good ones today. But I usually guess wrong on these things.”—Ron Mitchell