As a prelude to this week’s Saratoga selected yearling sale, the Fasig-Tipton sales company rolled out the red carpet over the weekend, sponsoring the two-day Festival of Racing at Saratoga Race Course and a Saturday-night cocktail party.
It’s all part of a desire by the sales company, working in conjunction with the New York Racing Association, to enhance the experience of buyers and sellers in town for the Aug. 8-9 sale.
The effort comes at a time when the equine marketplace is going through a transition period, in which there is greater polarization between the top of the market, for which there is tremendous competition, and the lower-price levels. At this year’s first yearling sale, conducted in Lexington by Fasig-Tipton, there were across-the-board declines in key statistics and the buyback rate soared.
“We have worked closely with NYRA to try to make this a special weekend for them, for us, and for the industry,” said Fasig-Tipton president and chief executive officer Boyd Browning Jr. “It is important for participants in our industry to make buying and selling horses as pleasant as possible. People do have choices with what they do with their discretionary income. We’re going try to do everything we can to make sure, when they come to our sales, we treat them the best we can, and keep them inspired and motivated in this industry.
“The sales and racing are linked together—the healthier the racing, the healthier the sales business is going to be. Enhancing the racing experience long-term enhances the racing experience.”
This year’s auction is coming off a spectacular 2015 sale, which was highlighted by a Tapit colt who was sold for $2 million. Last year, 145 youngsters grossed $46,755,000, up 0.5% over the 2014 total for 114 individuals. The 2015 average price of $322,448 represented a 10.4% increase from 2014 and the median price rose 5.3% to $250,000.
As buyers inspected horses the morning of Aug. 7, there was a feel-good mood in the Fasig-Tipton barn area, with pleasant temperatures and buzz from the exciting race card at Saratoga the previous day, highlighted by Frosted’s Whitney (gr. I) victory.
"There has been plenty of activity over the last couple of days," Browning said. "We feel confident about the group of horses on the grounds and the group of buyers who have been looking."
Browning said the expanded catalog this year is not the result of marginal horses being added by consignors wanting to ride the coattails of the Saratoga sale’s success but rather is due to the F-T selection team being able to consider and select more quality lots that in the past.
“We have a dynamite book of horses both in terms of pedigree and conformation that will be offered this year,” Browning said. “As a result of the success of the graduates and results of the sale in recent years, we had the opportunity throughout the selection process this year to inspect more horses that were Saratoga candidates.
“The growth was not accomplished by lowering the standards under any circumstances. Our goal was to get a really outstanding group of horses on offer and I’m confident that it the case with the additional horses.”
Despite the positive vibe on the sales grounds and Fasig-Tipton’s efforts to attract more buyers, Browning and others say it’s unlikely to reverse the trend in which there are a dearth of buyers at the lower and middle levels of the industry.
“There is no question it is a trend we have seen in every horse sale in the last three years and there is no reason that trend will not continue,” Browning said.
Mill Ridge Sales’ Headley Bell agreed that buyers will remain selective and was supportive of the sales company’s marketing efforts.
“It is going to continue to be like it has been—very selective,” Bell said. “This is a true experience and that is what the whole business should be about—that authentic experience. As an industry we’re doing much better with that across the board.
“Fasig-Tipton does a great job of selecting the right horses and giving everybody the opportunity to buy what they can. It is very encouraging the number people here. This is a unique setting conducive to that select market.”
Consignor Alfred H. Nuckols Jr. of Hurstland Farm said he believes the market will be stable at the top, with continued weakness below.
“At the top end, I don’t think there will be a fallback, but it will be stable,” Nuckols said. “But if you get below that level, it seems like there is a dearth of buyers. People just don’t want to carry the expenses of waiting two or three years to get their money back.”
The sale in the Humphrey S. Finney sales pavilion begins at 6:30 p.m. daily.