As with any new venture, there is an air of uncertainty surrounding Fasig-Tipton's inaugural Turf Showcase Sept. 10.
If the action on the sale grounds over the weekend is any indication, the sale targeting yearlings with turf breeding or conformational attributes is poised for takeoff.
With 171 hips selected for inclusion in the catalog, the sale begins at 4 p.m. ET.
"There are some new faces here because we have been very active in recruiting some buyers who wouldn't be traditional buyers at our Fasig-Tipton sales, because the catalog hadn't been a sweet spot for us in the past," said Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning of those searching the barns in pursuit of future equine athletes. "We spent a lot of time recruiting in Europe and recruiting pinhookers there."
Scheduling a new sale that takes place a day prior to the marathon Keeneland September yearling sale, Fasig-Tipton targeted a niche portion of the market. The sales company felt the recent success of American-bred horses abroad, especially at the prestigious Royal Ascot meeting in Great Britain—as well as the prevalence of grass racing opportunities in the U.S.—provided sufficient support for establishing the Turf Showcase.
This year 188 graded races have been carded in the U.S. on grass surfaces, which represents 41% of all graded stakes. Also, there has been an influx of racehorses that excelled on grass added to the stallion ranks in Kentucky in recent years.
"I couldn't be any more pleased going into a sale than I am right now," Browning said, adding there is a comfort level with the number and quality of horses the sale attracted. "We had to get a critical mass of both quantity and quality, so the catalog met our expectations in that regard. It had to be a representative sale so you could tell potential buyers you had enough horses of sufficient quality."
It remains to be seen if the concept will take hold.
"I have no pre-determined numbers in mind," Browning said. "We will be able to tell if it is a success by getting feedback from buyers and sellers after the sale. If the vast majority of both buyers and sellers say they are looking forward to it next year, then it was a success.
"My hope and goal is that most will say it was a good start and something to build on for the future, not only for us but for the industry. I think we are going to see some people buying horses who traditionally would not be buying in this marketplace. We will dissect it after the sale to see what we did right and what areas are needed for improvement."
Kentucky-based trainer Ian Wilkes was among those shopping the sale this weekend.
"I have a client who likes turf horses," Wilkes said, adding he would not be at Fasig-Tipton were it not for his client's preferences. "Hopefully we find something for him in a (price) range he is comfortable with."
Among the consignors hopeful that the grass sale resonates with buyers is Jim FitzGerald, who has one yearling cataloged in the auction under the name of his Chilly Bleak Farm.
Virginia-based FitzGerald believes the Turf Showcase has the potential not only to change the equine marketplace, but also could impact decisions by horsemen like himself.
"If you are breeding to different stallions or when you are buying horses to pinhook, you will certainly keep this sale in mind," he said. "Before, I wouldn't breed to some stallions that are turf sires, or when pinhooking I would be looking for horses with American speed on dirt pedigrees. Now it's a totally different dimension for me with a sale like this. I think it's good for the business."
Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales Agency said adding the Turf Showcase to the fall mix of auctions presented challenges for consignors.
"This sale was the most difficult of the year as far as sales placement because it was completely new," Taylor said. "We're not 100% sure it's going to work because we've never done it before. It's going to be interesting."
Although the selection process for horses being offered Sunday emphasized grass breeding both on the sire side of the mating and within the dams' pedigrees, Browning said he believes the sale graduates will find success on both surfaces.
"I have every expectation there will be a graded stakes winner on dirt out of this sale," he said. "Because they are selling in a turf sale doesn't necessarily mean they are going to run only on turf. It just means they have turf characteristics."
With a catalog cover tagline of "North America's 1st yearling sale for horses with turf appeal," the Turf Showcase has resonated with some top U.S. and Canadian racetracks.
Fasig-Tipton sponsored a stakes race at Kentucky Downs, which has a boutique meet where all races are contested over a European-style racecourse, and Canada's Woodbine racetrack signed on as presenting sponsor of the auction. The New York Racing Association has also supported the new sale.
"As we were looking at and evaluating the sale, the trend we saw was the increased popularity of turf racing," Browning said. "That hypothesis was immediately vindicated by the reaction of racetracks. They said, 'We're trying to expand in that area, too.'"