Will Saratoga Sale Offer Clues on the Yearling Market?

At the conclusion of last month's Fasig-Tipton Kentucky yearling sale, there was a consensus that the 11.2% decline in average price did not provide an accurate picture of where the market is in 2007.

At the conclusion of last month’s Fasig-Tipton Kentucky yearling sale, there was a consensus that the 11.2% decline in average price did not provide an accurate picture of where the market is in 2007.

After all, FTK management was quick to point out, about 5% of that average decline was due to the drawing power of the 2006 sales toppers – a $1.2 million Forestry colt and a Pulpit colt that brought $760,000. Also, the inordinate number of horses this year sired by first-crop sires that traditionally command as much money as offspring of established stallions further added to the belief that it was not a true reflection of the market.

On the eve of the two-day Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale – with 7 p.m. sessions Aug. 6-7, there remained a question of whether this sale will provide a barometer of the yearling auction market.

“I think for anybody who was paying attention, that (July) sale was solid, especially when you consider that we did not have two horses like the Forestry and Pulpit from 2006,” said FT president Walt Robertson.

Certainly, the Saratoga sale is much more selective catalog size and type of horses offered when compared with the Kentucky sale. Last year, the Saratoga average price was $323,731 for the 130 sold, compared with this year’s Kentucky average $102,941 for 354 reported sold. This year, the Saratoga sale has grown, with 214 yearlings cataloged. In 2006, there were 160 total through the ring.

“It is really hard to tell what the market is trying to do this year,” said Reiley McDonald, a partner in consignor Eaton Sales. “The Kentucky sale was an aberration. I don’t know what to expect (at Saratoga).”

With the inspection action in full swing over the weekend preceding the sale, buyers’ and sellers’ hopes were buoyed by what is generally considered a better group of yearlings than were offered last year.

“We have seen a lot of really nice horses,” said Lance Robinson, who with Gulf Coast Racing partner Jerry Bailey had seen almost all the horses in the sale. (Robinson and Bailey also have three consigned to the sale.)

“I think this is the best group we have ever had (at Saratoga),” McDonald said.

Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales Agency said their consignment was also one of the strongest in recent history. “There are always good-looking horses here, but overall there is a consensus that this is the best group of physicals (look of horses) that we have ever brought up here.”

One-horse consignor Ron Blake cited several reasons why there should be strong demand for the Saratoga yearlings. He noted that slot-infused purses are increasing at many locales across the country where owners previously had difficulty making money on horses, especially at the low- to mid-levels of racing.

“It makes a little bit of sense to race now because there are more opportunities,” Blake said. “I think it is a great time to race horses.”

Roberston concurred. “There is no reason demand for yearlings will not be strong.”

Despite the optimism for this sale’s prospects, there is also the reality that not all  the Saratoga yearlings will be in demand by top-end buyers who drive the economic engine.

“The top 50% sell very well and bottom 50% don’t,” said McDonald. “This is always a very select sale. Saratoga is a place that if you get it right, it pays dividends.”

“You can’t make them all land on every list,” said FT executive vice president and COO Boyd Browning. “You just hope there aren’t too many that don’t.”

If questions about the state of the yearling market remain after Saratoga, the answer most likely will come at the Keeneland September yearling sale, with 5,553 horses cataloged.