They nearly blew the roof off Humphrey S. Finney sales pavilion Aug. 8, as prices soared during the second and final session of the Fasig-Tipton selected yearling sale in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. and pushed the overall sale to levels not seen in years.
Topped by an outstanding son of Orb sold for $1 million, the session sent the overall gross and average prices to the second-highest in the history of the sale. The $300,000 median was a sale record.
For the two days, Fasig-Tipton reported 156 horses sold for $52,995,000, up 16.3% over the $45,570,000 gross for 156 head a year ago. The average price also rose 16.3%, from $292,115 to $339,712. The 38 horses not sold represented a 19.6% buy-back rate, compared with 47 horses not sold last year for a 23.15% RNA rate.
The gross was the highest since the sale reached $62,412,000 in 2001, and the average was also the best since 2001, when 201 head averaged $385,259.
During the Tuesday second session, 81 horses grossed $28,570,000, up 17.3% over the $24,355,000 paid for 83 on Day 2 a year ago. This year's second session average of $352,716 represented a 20.2% gain over $293,434 in 2016, and the session median was $300,000, compared with $235,000 last year.
"Obviously we had a tremendously successful 2017 select sale in Saratoga," said Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning. "We had high expectations coming into the sale and we exceeded those expectations."
Browning said a key statistic illustrating the sale's success was the close correlation between average and median prices.
"I've been doing this a long time and I honestly can't recall ever seeing as close a relationship in an upper-end horse sale in the average and median that we've seen over the last two nights," the executive said. "(There was) remarkable, remarkable depth in the buying pool between $250,000 and $750,000. Just enormous competition. Horses were exceeding reserves by two, three, four times in many instances, and you would see it happening consecutively.
"I think it illustrates a really healthy marketplace and I think it demonstrates the consignors are very realistic in setting their reserves, and the buyers are willing to be competitive and have a real appetite for quality horses."
Although the action was vibrant throughout the night, it wasn't until late in the four-hour session before the elusive seven-figure mark was reached when agent Kerri Radcliffe went to $1 million to acquire the Orb colt consigned by Gainesway as Hip 186.
Radcliffe, who is Phoenix Thoroughbreds' racing manager, has emerged as a major player in auctions worldwide as a buyer for Phoenix and certainly made the best of her first foray to the Saratoga sale.
"This was my favorite colt in the sale; I'm really delighted to get him," she said. "This is my first time in Saratoga. I love it! I think I'll come back."
The Orb colt is the first foal out of the graded stakes-winning Flashy Bull mare Flashy American, and was bred in Kentucky by Gainesway Thoroughbreds, Gainesway's director of public sales Brian Graves, Kidder-Cole, and Betz Thoroughbreds. He was purchased by Davant Latham, agent, for $310,000 as a weanling at last year's Fasig-Tipton November breeding stock sale.
The price paid for the Orb colt matched the figure fetched by a Curlin colt during Monday's opening session and exceeded expectations of Gainesway.
"We thought he would bring $500,000, $600,000, or maybe $700,000, but everything lined up," said Gainesway's Graves, who was somewhat overwhelmed by the colt's final price and the sale overall. "Wow. What can I say? It's an awesome night."
Graves said the sale was "an indication that the highest-perceived quality is in very high demand."
The large crowd assembled in the pavilion and its dining areas at the rear of the pavilion applauded the sale of the $1 million yearling after earlier responding with whoops and applause when a War Front half sister to group 1 winners Peeping Fawn and Thewayyouare was hammered down to that figure, but failed to meet her reserve.
Consigned as Hip 226 by Gainesway, the colt out of the winning Woodman mare Lerici was bred in Kentucky by Tado Nobutaka.
A boutique sale in which some of the best-conformed and -bred foals of 2016 are on offer, the Saratoga auction is somewhat an anomaly within the overall North American industry. It takes place in historic Saratoga Springs, N.Y. at the same time the race meet is underway at Saratoga Race Course, and many prominent American owners, trainers, and agents are either present or have representatives at the sale.
Despite the small group on offer, the sale can serve as a barometer of the marketplace going into the fall auction season, according to consignor Stuart Morris.
"The fact it is so robust this year and so strong it indicates a very healthy market," Morris said. "Traditionally when this sale is like it is and there are a lot of buyers in all price ranges, it's an indication of a healthy market.
"When you have horses being sold for $100,000 and for $1 million the same night, it's a good horse sale. It looks like both the sellers and buyers have been realistic and a lot of horses are getting sold."
Radcliffe was the sale's leading buyer, with six purchased for $3,950,000, while Gainesway paced all consignors, selling 16 of the 17 offered for total receipts of $6,810,000.
The Fasig-Tipton action in Saratoga continues Aug. 12-13 with a sale of New York-bred yearlings.
Teresa Genaro contributed to this report.