A day after saddling Justify for his record-tying seventh victory in the Preakness Stakes (G1), trainer Bob Baffert had some unfinished business to tend to before he could leave Maryland.
In mid-afternoon May 20, Baffert was trolling the barn area at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in search of future racing prospects that will be offered at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training. The auction near Timonium, Md., begins at 2 p.m. daily May 21-22.
From 600 head cataloged, 118 had been withdrawn as of noon Sunday.
Topped by a Curlin colt sold for $1.5 million, last year's auction saw 330 horses gross more than $25.2 million, with the average price rising 11.4% to $76,476 and a median price of $35,000 that represented a gain of 9.4%.
Baffert, accompanied by agent Donato Lanni, was among the trainers who took advantage of the sale's proximity to the second leg of the Triple Crown to shop for next year's potential classic winners. Lanni had performed the initial inspections on behalf of the white-haired Hall of Famer.
"I'm still working. We don't stop," Baffert said, adding that grade 1 winners Bayern and Dortmund were among the top horses purchased at the Midlantic sale on behalf of his clients. "It's a great sale. When I have a horse in the Preakness, I come here before I leave. If I don't come to the Preakness, Donato handles it for me."
Baffert said one reason for his success with Midlantic sale graduates is that because workouts are conducted over a dirt track, he is able to get a better read on the juveniles' potential for dirt racing.
"What I like about this sale is that they work on dirt," Baffert said. "If they work fast and are sound when they come out of it, they tend to stay sound the rest of their career."
In addition to Baffert's top-tier winners produced from the sale, the Midlantic auction has been represented by such grade 1 winners as Army Mule, Lady Ivanka, and Bowies Hero, the trio that grace the cover of this year's catalog.
"Graduates of this sale have done very well in recent years," said Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning Jr., noting that racetrack success emboldens both buyers and sellers to be active in the sale, pushing the sale's numbers upward. "It has grown in recent years as consignors have brought better horses here and buyers have bought better horses."
Browning said the sale gets a boost by its strategic calendar placement.
"There is a lot of enthusiasm right now as we go into the Belmont (Stakes, G1) with a Triple Crown on the line," he said in reference to undefeated Justify's victories in the Preakness and Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). "The sales are psychological and not always a rational market like a financial market. So there is a bounce in people's steps right now as a result of the state of racing now."
Browning agreed with Baffert that the opportunity for owners, trainers, and agents to see how the 2-year-olds perform on dirt adds to the sale's lure.
"Obviously, we are strong advocates of a dirt-track (location) for our sales," said Browning of Fasig-Tipton, which also conducts a select 2-year-old sale at Gulfstream Park. "(Maryland Fairgrounds) has always been a good, safe track, and it gives buyers a real opportunity to evaluate their horses and what their racing future is going to be."
Consignor Dean DeRenzo said he and Randy Hartley have made an effort in recent years to purchase yearlings with sire power and proven female families for more money than in the past for the explicit purpose of selling at Midlantic under the Hartley/DeRenzo banner.
"We have brought our best horses here," DeRenzo said. "Our largest consignments are at sales where they work on dirt. We sell at some other sales because we have so many horses, we can't take them all to one place.
"We pick the yearlings we buy that are suited to dirt based on pedigree," he continued.
Florida horseman Justin Casse, who has four entered in the Midlantic sale through other agents, agreed the timing of the Fasig-Tipton sale is ideal.
"I think it's a great sale," said Casse, who is attending an auction in Australia during the Midlantic sale. "It's the Monday and Tuesday following the Preakness, and people have the bug from the races. If it wasn't the Monday and Tuesday after Preakness, it wouldn't do as well. Anybody associated with the Preakness or went to the Preakness from out of town sticks around. Anything with sire power and pedigree sells well there."
With only the Ocala Breeders' Sales June sale remaining on the 2018 juvenile auction calendar, Midlantic provides one of the last opportunities to buy juveniles, Casse said.
"There is hunger there for a good horse with pedigree that might have had early issues or needed more time," the agent said.