They saved the best for last at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale.
The sale-topping Medaglia d'Oro colt was bought by agent Dennis O'Neill for $1.2 million during the waning hours of the May 22 final session of the two-day auction, which ended on nearly even terms with the record 2017 sale.
Consignors Randy Hartley and Dean DeRenzo purchased the colt, who breezed an eighth-mile in :10 1/5, co-second-fastest at the distance during the under tack show, for $475,000 from the Four Star Sales consignment at last year's Keeneland September yearling sale.
"We loved the breeze obviously; he really galloped amazing and then to see him at the end of the shank, we were hooked," said O'Neill, adding he bought the colt on behalf of a new Middle Eastern client who does not want to be identified. "He just said he wanted the best horse in the sale. From the time we laid eyes on him, we fell in love with him.
"We were hoping not to go that high, but we did. We're really, really excited. We were looking for a (Kentucky) Derby horse and hope this is the one."
Agent Donato Lanni was the underbidder during the protracted war for the sale-topper, consigned as Hip 565.
O'Neill said the colt will be trained in Southern California by his brother, Doug O'Neill.
Hartley was thrilled with the outcome, noting that he and DeRenzo had been nervous waiting out the rest of the sale until their prized colt entered the ring.
"There is nothing like stress," Hartley said. "It was just exciting. (Buyers) wait for those kind. It's just exciting to be able to come here and sell these horses. For us to have a place to come this late in the year and give these horses time to develop, makes a big difference."
The Medaglia d'Oro colt and a More Than Ready colt—sold during Monday's session for $750,000 that was acquired as a yearling for $500,000—reflected the decision by Hartley and DeRenzo to step up the price they paid for pinhook prospects.
"It's a lot of risk to spend that much on a yearling," Hartley said. "You worry about them from the time you get them home until the time you get them here. Everything has to go right and they have to perform."
Bred in Kentucky by Three Chimneys Farm and Besilu Stables, the colt is out of the grade 3-winning Tapit mare Tapicat and is from the female family of multiple grade 1 winner and sire Cat Thief and multiple grade 3 winner Train Robbery.
From 600 cataloged, Fasig-Tipton reported 333 horses sold for gross receipts of $24,868,500, a slight decline from the $25,237,000 total paid for 330 head a year ago. The average of $74,680 was down 2.3% from the $76,476 figure in 2017 and the median price improved 8.6% to $38,000 from $35,000 last year. The 97 horses bought back represented 22.5% through the ring, compared with an RNA rate of 19.9% when 82 horses went unsold last year.
"I thought it was a good sale from start to finish," Midlantic sale director Paget Bennett said. "We got people here I hadn't seen here before, so it's always good to have new faces here. I think they went home with purchases that will get them on the (future catalog) covers or that will get them into a winner's circle quickly."
Bennett said the sale topper and other big purchases were indicative of an increase in quality of horses offered at the sale.
"The consignors have just gotten so confident in bringing those type of horses to this mareketplace," she said. "They love the racetrack, they love the area, the timing all works. They have been rewarded in the past and confident enough to do it year after year."
The buying bench consisted mainly of domestic buyers boosted by a few international attendees, with an especially strong presence from Korean representatives.
Buying under the KOID and SROA (KOID) names, Koreans accounted for 24 horses bought for a total $1,218,000, the highest price being $110,000 for a Flashback colt (Hip 573).
Prominent Mid-Atlantic owner Chuck Zacney, accompanied by trainer John Servis, said he found it to be mostly a buyers' market.
"I'm not sure what we were expecting coming in," he said. "We were looking more for quality than quantity. I think we got some really good stock at reasonable prices. It's been a real solid market."
"There are a lot of trainers here looking for good, sound horses," said Jimbo Gladwell of Top Line Sales. "The (workout) time is not playing as much of a factor. It's kind of a breath of fresh air to see these trainers come in and watch just how they move and how they show—just good, usable horses."
Gladwell said Top Line had a high clearance rate as a result of setting practical reserve prices.
"If you've put reasonable reserves on them we've got them moved," he said.
Consignor Cary Frommer said the second day's activity was more vibrant than the Monday opener.
"The market today was better than yesterday," the South Carolinian said. "I've sold two—for $300,000 and $340,000—so I'm finding today's market good, but it was very tough yesterday, I thought. It's like that every year.
"(On) the first day people are waiting. They don't want to spend all their money on the first day and not have anything left for the second day, and unless you have a really standout horse on the first day, you might get missed. So as the day went on and people weren't buying horses, they came back to the barn to see my RNA's and I ended up getting them all sold. But that's not the way I like to do it."
Additional reporting by Meredith Daugherty