In Search of Classic Winners: Sales Are a Prime Source

Published in March 17 issue of The Blood-Horse
How do you get a classic winner? Do you build up a broodmare band, then nurture the resulting offspring and race them as homebreds? Or do you leave all the work associated with foal production to someone else and go shopping at one of the many sales that offer young horses?

Some might argue that breeding your own stock is the best and most rewarding option. For many Thoroughbred owners, watching a gangly foal mature into a champion-caliber runner is a thrill like no other.

But what if you're not the patient sort? What if you don't want the expense of a farm? Don't worry. Combing the sales for classic prospects is a viable option. In fact, during the past 15 years, most winners of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Preakness (gr. I), and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) were offered at public auction prior to their classic triumphs.

From 1986 through 2000, 36 different horses won Triple Crown races. Twenty-three, or 63.9%, passed through a sale ring before achieving racetrack glory, and 22 in the group sold at least once. For all the transactions combined, the average price was $444,135.

Fusaichi Pegasus, the 2000 Derby winner, and A.P. Indy, the 1992 Belmont winner, fetched the highest amounts. The former brought $4 million at the 1998 Keeneland July yearling sale, and the latter brought $2.9 million during the 1990 edition of the same auction.

If you're not a multi-millionaire, classic dreams might seem out of your price range. But if you remove Fusaichi Pegasus and A.P. Indy from the mix, the average sale price for classic winners drops to $193,646.

(The figures above were calculated using all transactions in which the horses were reported as sold by the auction companies involved. In several instances, the consignors later said that the "reported" sales were actually buy-backs.)

Still not low enough? Don't despair. Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and Victory Gallop are just a few of the top 3-year-olds who sold for amounts that were much more reasonable.

Winner of the 1997 Derby and Preakness, Silver Charm was sold by Janie Roper, agent, for only $16,500 at the 1995 Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's August yearling auction. He was purchased by pinhookers Randy Hartley and Dean De Renzo, who later sold him privately to Canadian horseman C.J. Gray for $30,000. After buying back Silver Charm for $100,000 at the 1996 OBS April sale of 2-year-olds in training, Gray sold the colt privately for $85,000 to trainer Bob Baffert, who represented Bob and Beverly Lewis. Florida horsemen J.B. and Kevin McKathan recommended Silver Charm to Baffert.

Real Quiet, winner of the 1998 Derby and Preakness, was sold by Denali Stud, agent, to Mike Pegram for $17,000 at the 1996 Keeneland September yearling sale. Pegram's advisers in the transaction were Baffert and the McKathans. Following Real Quiet's victory in the Derby, much was written about the colt's physical appearance as a youngster. His body was so narrow that he was nicknamed "The Fish." He also had crooked legs, which were straightened by a surgical procedure.

Victory Gallop, who foiled Real Quiet's 1998 Triple Crown bid by winning the Belmont, was sold by Eaton Sales, as agent for Tall Oaks Farm, for $25,000 at the 1996 Keeneland September yearling sale. The buyers were Dr. E.C. (Pug) Hart and his wife, Susan.

A late May foal, Victory Gallop was light and narrow, but correct, Pug Hart told The Blood-Horse after the 1998 Belmont. The colt did not mature in time to resell in a juvenile auction, so the Harts decided to race him. After winning a couple of minor stakes, he was sold privately to the Prestonwood Farm of Art, Jack, and J.R. Preston.

Other classic runners from the past 15 years who were auction bargains include:

  • 1995 Derby and Belmont winner Thunder Gulch, who sold for $40,000 at the 1993 Keeneland July yearling sale.
  • 1992 Derby winner Lil E. Tee, who sold for $25,000 at the 1991 OBS April sale of 2-year-olds in training.
  • 1987 Belmont winner Bet Twice, who sold for $50,000 at the 1985 Keeneland September yearling sale.

Sunday Silence, who captured the 1989 Derby and Preakness, was a $17,000 buy-back at the 1987 Keeneland July yearling sale, and he was bought back again for $32,000 at the 1988 California Thoroughbred Sales March auction of 2-year-olds in training.

If you decide to shop for a potential classic winner, where should you look? Twelve of the classic winners from 1986 through 2000 were offered as yearlings at Keeneland in July; six were offered as yearlings at Keeneland in September; and two apiece were offered at the Saratoga yearling sale and the OBS April juvenile auction.

It is also interesting to note that in 14 of the past 15 years, at least one classic winner was a public auction graduate. The exception was in 1986, when Ferdinand captured the Derby, Snow Chief won the Preakness, and Danzig Connection scored in the Belmont.