Fasig-Tipton yearling sales at Saratoga.

Fasig-Tipton yearling sales at Saratoga.

Barbara D. Livingston

Saratoga Sale Preview: Sire Power

Is history destined to repeat itself at this year's Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale when it comes to first-crop sire power?

Is history destined to repeat itself at this year’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale when it comes to first-crop sire power?

Specifically, will offspring of stallions whose first yearlings enter the sales ring this year command top prices during the Aug 6-7 sale in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., or will leadership fall back to the ranks of proven sires?

Last year, three of the five yearlings that sold for more than seven figures were sired by stallions whose first foals were yearlings – Empire Maker , Mineshaft , and Sky Mesa .  All three were fillies. The two other yearlings selling for more than $1 million were colts sired by the more experienced Unbridled's Song and Distorted Humor .

Based on their racetrack accomplishments, weanling prices paid in 2006, and the results of Fasig-Tipton’s Kentucky July sale, this year’s group will also generate strong demand.

Stallions with their first yearlings selling at auction include Lion Heart, Strong Hope, Medaglia d'Oro ,  Smarty Jones , and Speightstown .

At FTK, six of the 10 yearlings offered from the first crop by three-time grade I winner Medaglia d’Oro sold for an average $150,833, a healthy return on his $35,000 fee. His foals were well-received as weanlings, with 21 selling for an average $187,476.

Lion Heart, who has 10 cataloged at Saratoga, was represented by 15 yearlings (of 18 offered) that averaged $148,667 in Kentucky. Retired with two grade I wins to his credit, Lion Heart’s fee was $30,000 in 2005 and his 20 weanlings sold last year averaged $103,350. Smarty Jones, the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner whose first crop are yearlings this year, had only one offered at FTK, with the filly selling for $150,000. Of the first crop sires cataloged at Saratoga, Smarty Jones had the highest stud fee of $100,000 in 2005 and his 2006 weanling average was also tops at $307,279 for the nine sold. Another champion represented in the Saratoga catalog, Speightstown (2005 fee of $40,000), had 12 sell as weanlings for an average of $217,917.

Despite these positives, however, it is unlikely this group will have as much influence at the top of the Saratoga market as did the first-crop sires in 2006. After all, the strength of the first-crop sires is relative to the quality of other stallions represented in the sale.

“I don’t anticipate we will have as many sale-topping yearlings by (first-crop) sires as we had last year,” said consultant Ric Waldman. “With last year’s first-crop sires that included Mineshaft, Empire Maker, and Mineshaft, you had an unusually strong group. Comparable to that, this year you have Smarty Jones, who should have a good following, as well as Medaglia d’Oro, Speightstown, and Lion Heart. But I think the competition for the sales-topping yearling is a little stiffer than it might have been this year. Among yearlings by other top sires, you have four sired by Storm Cat, six Smart Strikes, and 11 by Unbridled’s Song.”

Although he does not like to compare horses offered at different sales, Bill Graves, Fasig-Tipton’s director of yearling sales, agreed this year’s topper will not likely come from a first-crop sire.

“There are some first-crop sires that will be competitive at the top end of the market, but I am not sure they will top the sale,” Graves said. “The first-year sires were great racehorses and well-received when retired to stud, so they belong. But we are also excited about the yearlings from some of high profile made stallions.”

Several factors push up prices for yearlings by first-crop sires.  A first crop is always under the microscope to see how well the sire imparted his traits and how his offspring are received within the marketplace.

“There seems to always be an eagerness for buyers to see the kind of yearlings first-crop sires can produce,” Waldman said. “So you start with the premise that regardless of how high their stud, if the first crop sire has pizzazz relative to his stud fee level, they will be hotly sought after.”

There is also a natural tendency among owners, agents, and trainers to be among the first to spot the “next big thing.”  That, said Waldman, "is human nature.  “There is a great deal of satisfaction one derives from guessing correctly.  It is no different from picking a stock that takes off right after you buy it.”

But trying to capitalize on first-crop sires by buying their yearlings that appear undervalued can have the reverse effect:  Buyers end up paying a premium.

“It feeds on itself,” Waldman said. “I have a tough time quantifying that some of these prices by these first-crop sires are comparable to what they will bring once (the sires) have arrived.”