This feature originally appeared in the July 16, 2016 issue of Blood-Horse.
Yearling sales have long been integral elements of the Thoroughbred industry, and over its 100 years of relating the business and pleasure of racing and breeding, The Blood-Horse’s coverage of these sales grew exponentially as the times changed.
Three separate issues during The Blood-Horse’s first year as a weekly magazine in 1929 had cover images of yearlings bound for the important August Saratoga sale. Remember, Man o’ War sold there in 1918, and one of his yearling colts made the Aug. 17, 1929, cover.
The first full decade of issues, the 1930s, devoted summertime covers to yearling prospects, all bound for the Spa.
World War II changed the venues of yearling sales as travel restrictions curtailed shipping yearlings to New York.
However, the war did give rise to the Keeneland yearling sales, and between 1943 and 2002, Keeneland July became the most prestigious yearling sale in the world. The Aug. 21, 1943, cover of The Blood-Horse was the first for a Keeneland July sale-topper: a Blenheim II—Risk colt that cost William Helis $66,000. Named Pericles, he became yet another yearling that did not live up to his high-dollar expectations.
Not until the 1960s did the high-priced Keeneland July yearlings start making regular sale-ring appearances on The Blood-Horse covers.
While a high percentage of big-bucks babies throughout Keeneland July’s nearly 60-year run followed the path of Pericles, some made The Blood-Horse’s front page for more than just their yearling sale photo.
The first of these appeared in 1967, when a handsome, muscular chestnut son of Raise a Native—Gay Hostess created quite a buzz in the Keene-land ring, prompting the underbidder, Mrs. Bert Martin, to exclaim, “I’d love to have it, but there’s a limit.” Her limit was $240,000, so Majestic Prince went to Canadian oilman Frank McMahon for $250,000, at the time the highest price ever paid for a yearling at auction.
Two years later Majestic Prince’s victory in the San Vicente Stakes, which made him four-for-four, was the cover story, followed by his Kentucky Derby win and Preakness victory, all with perfect record intact. Arts and Letters upset the Triple Crown cart in the Big Apple’s Belmont Stakes, Majestic Prince’s only loss and his final start. He retired to stud at Spendthrift with a $414,200 bankroll.
The 1970s continued with higher and higher prices: Majestic Prince’s full brothers set sale records at $510,000 and $715,000. The decade ended with a $1.6 million Hoist the Flag—Royal Dowry colt selling to Japanese interests. The third-highest-priced cover boy for the 1970s was the $1.3 million Northern Dancer—Special colt bought in 1978 by Joss Collins of BBA London on behalf of Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos.
“He was a colt that we particularly liked,” said Collins. “Whether the price was too high is a difficult question. Maybe I’ll be able to tell you in two years’ time.”
It took more than two years, but the wait and the price were well worth it if more than purse earnings ($42,522) are your criteria. Nureyev officially won only a French group III and listed race but was still named champion miler in France. Although he crossed the finish line first in the English Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I), he was disqualified.
Retired to stud in Kentucky, he made amends with a long, successful career: 136 stakes winners (nine champions) and progeny earnings of nearly $80 million. Also, well-documented in an Oct. 10, 1987, cover story was his fight for life after fracturing a hock.
The 1980s were the halcyon days of Northern Dancer and sons at Keeneland July, with eight seven-figure yearlings and two eight-figure ones—a $10.2 million Northern Dancer colt was topped by a $13.1 million Nijinsky II colt, still the world record for highest-priced yearling.
Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Fusaichi Pegasus might have brought the highest price of the 1990s ($4 million), but a “beautifully balanced” $2.9 million Seattle Slew—Weekend Surprise colt named A.P. Indy became the decade’s golden boy.
Not only did he grace the cover as the 1990 top-priced yearling but again when he won the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) on his way to becoming Horse of the Year in 2002. He again graced the cover when he was leading sire in 2003 and 2006. A source of class and stamina, the pensioned A.P. Indy, who earned $2,979,815, has sired 164 stakes winners, including eight from his 18th and last crop.