Uncertainty tinged with optimism permeated the Fasig-Tipton sale pavilion when the company's Kentucky select yearling sale began July 18.Going into the sale, yearling consignors and sale company executives had plenty to worry about with a volatile stock market and slowing economy. By the start of the sale, however, the outlook had brightened considerably. The pavilion was abuzz and the walking ring jammed with people, including many high-end buyers never seen before here in July. Contributing to the buzz was cross-town rival Keeneland celebrating a record average price of $710,247 from its select yearling sale held the previous two days. The average price roared past last year's record by 14.4%, and hopes were high the momentum would carry over to Fasig-Tipton's Newtown Paddocks. It didn't take long for uncertainty to creep back. Buyers began cautiously. During the first hour, a couple horses fetched six-figure prices but about half were bought back at bids averaging around $41,000. Two more hours of spotty selling passed before the sale's momentum shifted noticeably. A bay colt by Wild Rush out of the Woodman mare Mary Sloan was the catalyst for the change. When the hammer fell, an unassuming Irish bloodstock agent named Paul Collins had bought the colt for $500,000--$25,000 shy of last year's top price--with a day and a half of good horses still waiting to sell. It was two o'clock in the afternoon and the Wild Rush colt was the 13th horse to sell for more than $100,000. By the end of selling opening day, a total of 40 reached this plateau. The momentum carried through the second (and final) day, and by the end Fasig-Tipton was celebrating its own successes. The sale's average price was $97,671, a 26% increase from last year's average of $77,817 and the highest average price since 1984. "Our team put strapping, good-looking horses in the sale, and the crowd stayed to the end," said Walt Robertson, Fasig-Tipton's president. Robertson is not guilty of hyperbole. Top buyers, such as John Ferguson, who buys for Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's Godolphin Stable, and The Thoroughbred Corp.'s Prince Ahmed bin Salman, stayed and shopped until the last of 237 horses was sold. They stayed because Fasig-Tipton succeeded in its mission of offering fewer horses than last year but increasing the overall quality, according to buyers and consignors. "I thought it was great sale," said Meg Levy, co-owner of Bluewater Sales with Kitty Roden. Bluewater was the fifth-leading consignor with gross sales of $1.41 million. "For the average to rise that much with 100 fewer horses was phenomenal." Compared with last year, 29.5% fewer horses sold but gross receipts declined only 11.5%, to $23,148,000. "By this time last year, our team decided the strategy would be to increase the sales average," said Fasig-Tipton chairman D.G. Van Clief. "We understood that meant a decrease in the gross this year, but we wanted to establish our niche in the market." If this sale is indicative of the future, then Fasig-Tipton can consider itself well established as the source for yearlings whose conformation and athleticism make up for any shortcomings in pedigree. "It was the best group of horses that I have seen at this Fasig-Tipton sale in the past five years," said Mike Mulligan, a pinhooker and owner of Leprechaun Farm near Ocala, Fla. "Our short list might have had 80 horses on it." Here are some other statistics illustrating how much the sale had improved:
- The median price increased 27% to $70,000, up from $55,000 last year. The median did not change between 1999 and 2000.
- Buyers paid $200,000 or more for 28 horses compared to 23 a year ago. Eighty-five horses sold for $100,000 or more compared to 82 last year.
- In 2000, only two colts sold for more than $400,000--the sale-topping colt that sold for $525,000 and the second-highest-priced colt that sold for $475,000. This year, six colts sold for $400,000 or more. The sale topper brought $625,000, which was the most paid for a colt since 1982, when Rainbow Quest brought $950,000.
- The highest price for a filly slipped to $325,000 compared with last year, when two fillies sold for $400,000. The number of fillies selling for $200,000 or more, however, increased to 11 compared to eight last year.