Fasig-Tipton President Boyd Browning Jr. finds it superstitious to check the sales results in real time during the course of a session. He’s been around long enough to know that things can change quickly and long enough to get a general sense of how the session is faring as horses come and go in the sales ring.
Browning knew what many predicted during Tuesday night’s second session of the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings – that spirited competition from a deep buyer base was driving prices and pushing toward record returns for the auction company’s premier market.
“As you can tell by the gray hairs and lack of hair I’ve been doing this a long time,” Browning told the assembled press after the sale concluded Tuesday night in the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion. “I honestly can’t recall ever seeing as close a relationship at an upper level horse sale between the average and median that we’ve seen over the last two nights.”
The median, which came in at a record $300,000 for the two days of selling, indeed came close to following the $339,712 average price for the sale. That average was second best in the 97-year history of the Saratoga sale, trailing only the $385,259 mark set in 2001. Fasig-Tipton reported sales on 156 of the 194 yearlings offered for $52,995,000, the second best receipt total ever, and an increase of 16.3 percent from last year. The record for total sales also came in 2001, when five yearlings brought $2 million or more to push the mark to $62,412,000.
The 2017 sale only saw two seven-figure yearlings – one Monday and another Tuesday, Hip 186, a colt by Kentucky Derby winner Orb – to go with 30 yearlings who sold for $500,000 or more. Sixteen of those sold Tuesday night.
“We had remarkable depth in the buying pool between $200,000 and $750,000,” Browning said. “Just enormous competition. Horses were exceeding reserves by two, three four times in many, many instances and you’d see in consecutively, consecutively and consecutively. That demonstrates a really healthy marketplace. It also demonstrates the consignors generally speaking are very realistic in setting their reserves and the buyers are competitive and have a real appetite for quality horses.”
Kerri Radcliffe definitely came with an agenda to land some of the sale’s most coveted yearlings. Buying on behalf of the newly formed Phoenix Thoroughbreds, which is based in Luxembourg and claims to be the first regulated Thoroughbred investment fund in the world, Radcliffe bought Tuesday’s session topper and overall co-highest priced horse and six yearlings in all for $3.95 million.
Radcliffe, bidding from inside the sales pavilion sitting next to her husband and European trainer Jeremy Noseda, outlasted representatives from China Horse Club to buy the Orb colt out of the Grade 3 Flashy Bull mare Flashy American.
“This was my favorite colt in the sale,” said Radcliffe, bloodstock and racing advisor for Phoenix Thoroughbreds. “I’m really delighted to have him. The stallion has already come out and again, he’s from a great farm in Gainesway.”
A $310,000 weanling buy at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November selected mixed sale, the colt was consigned by Gainesway. The co-sale topper is the first foal out of Flashy American and from the second crop of Orb, winner of the 2013 Derby and off to a quick start with his first foals racing this year.
“We didn’t expect to get a million for him,” Gainesway’s Brian Graves said. “We were thinking he might bring 5, 6, maybe even $700,000. But everything lined up. And wow, what can I say?”
Gainesway wound up selling three of the four most expensive yearlings in the sale, with the Orb colt and Hip 226, a colt by War Front purchased by Godolphin for $995,000.
As the second session wound down, the buyers and sellers finished for the night joined with tourists and locals at the outside bar and indoor VIP area. A small group that included Anthony Stroud and trainer David Loder, representing Godolphin, lingered in the partial darkness near the back walking ring.
The last yearlings walked around the ring as the occasional shriek let out from the bar area. After greeting Michael Wallace and Mick Flanagan from the China Horse Club, making their way toward the pavilion, Stroud and Loder made their way, too. A spirited bidding duel ensued after Hip 226 made his way to the ring.
Consigned by Gainesway and bred by Tada Nobutaka, the half-brother to Saratoga graduate and Grade 1 winner Avenge was easily one of the most talked about yearlings on the grounds during presale inspections. Bidding escalated quickly on the colt, reaching $500,000 in a flash and crept up steadily toward $950,000 after $50,000 increments from inside and behind the sales pavilion. Stroud went to $975,000 and the call came asking for $1 million inside the pavilion. A bid eventually came, but not the seven-figure variety. After a $985,000 came from inside, Stroud mulled it over, walked five paces toward the bid spotter, paused, raised his finger and landed the winning $995,000 bid.
“It was only fair wasn’t it?” Loder said of the entertaining bidding. “It was only fair, and it caused a little amusement for everyone. Hopefully he’ll be lucky.”
Loder said the colt would head to Europe to join Godolphin.
“He’s a beautiful moving horse and we’ve had a bit of luck with War Front,” he said. “We think he’s a good sire, he was just a very nice horse and Sheikh Mohammed was very keen to have him. We thought he might got a little higher than that even. I’m sure Sheikh Mohammed will be happy to have him at 995.”
For full results, see Fasig-Tipton website.