First night topped by $1.1-million Storm Cat filly.

First night topped by $1.1-million Storm Cat filly.

Barbara D. Livingston

Market Strong In Saratoga Sale's Opening Session; Storm Cat Filly Sells for $1.1 Million

It was a rainy night in upstate New York, but the mood was far from gloomy during the opening session of the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale Tuesday. The first major test of the yearling market's top end got off to a very strong start, posting increases of 48.9% in gross revenue, 26.9% in average price, and 28.2% in median price. The buy-back rate plunged from 32.4% last year to 16.9% this year.

"It was a heck of a horse sale from almost any perspective," said Fasig-Tipton chairman D.G. Van Clief Jr. "I think it was a great example of putting a terrific group of individuals in front of a group of discerning buyers. The feedback from around the grounds for the last several days from the buyers has been extremely positive--perhaps as good a group of physical horses as the company has had on these grounds ... perhaps ever."

Fasig-Tipton reported that 54 horses were sold for a gross of $16,547,000, an average of $306,426, and a median of $250,000. Last year during the opening session, 46 horses grossed $11,112,000 and averaged $241,565. The median was $195,000.

"We had good horses, we expected a good sale, and thank goodness the buyers agreed with us," said Fasig-Tipton president Walt Robertson. "It was a solid horse sale with solid horses."

A muscular chestnut filly by Storm Cat out of champion Jewel Princess (by Key to the Mint) topped the opening session, selling for $1.1 million to pharmaceutical executive Eugene Melnyk, whose Strong Hope upset Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Empire Maker in Sunday's Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga. Strong Hope is $1.7-million graduate of the 2001 Saratoga sale.

Representing Melnyk was veterinarian Robert McMartin, who made just one bid while standing under an umbrella behind the sale pavilion. The immediate underbidder was trainer D.Wayne Lukas.

"She is just a very athletic-looking filly," McMartin said. "Our farm manager loved her, and Eugene liked the breeding. Actually, I thought she would bring a little more."

Said Todd Pletcher, who trains Strong Hope: "She's a beautiful filly, and her pedigree is impeccable. To me, she was the best filly in the sale. She's very correct for a Storm Cat."

Consigned by William S. Farish's Lane's End, agent, the session topper was bred by a Coolmore Stud entity known as Pacelco S.A. John Magnier of Coolmore purchased Jewel Princess (in foal to Storm Cat) for $4.9 million at the 2000 Keeneland November breeding stock sale.

Another big spender during the first session was Kentucky-based trainer Elliott Walden, who was representing a partnership known as B.T.A. Stable. B.T.A., whose members include Kenny Troutt of WinStar Farm, purchased a handsome chestnut Unbridled's Song colt out of the grade I winner La Gueriere (by Lord At War) for $750,000 from Dromoland/Hartwell, agent. Walden said the partnership would be buying eight to 10 yearling colts this year. Gerry Dilger of Dromoland and Robbie Lyons of Hartwell bought the Unbridled's Song colt for $380,000 as a weanling at the 2002 Keeneland November sale. He was owned by a pinhooking partnership headed by Dilger, Lyons, and Lexington bloodstock agent Mike Ryan.

"He's as good-looking a colt as you'll find, and he's a tremendous walker," Walden said. "He's also by a very hot sire."

The trainer described the quality of the Fasig-Tipton catalogue as "real deep."

Satish and Anne Sanan's Padua Stables bought a bay Fusaichi Pegasus filly named Lila's Pegasus for $700,000. Her dam is the stakes-winning Baldski mare Our Dear Ruth. Taylor Made Sales Agency consigned the filly as agent for ClassicStar, the breeding and racing venture headed by David Plummer.

Another notable purchase was made by trainer Bob Baffert, who bought a $575,000 Touch Gold -- Miss Insync filly for David Shimmon. When California high-tech executive entered the racing game, he was associated with trainer Bob Hess Jr.

The sale runs through Thursday, with sessions beginning at 7:30 (EDT) each evening.