Brian Graves met the press a few minutes after selling a seven-figure yearling early in the opening session of the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale and dug into his suit jacket pocket when asked to explain his latest pinhooking success. 

 “It’s my dad’s lucky handkerchief,” he said with a wry smile straight from the mold of his late father Bill Graves, the Fasig-Tipton executive whose presence seemed everywhere as the boutique sale went down on a steamy night in Saratoga Springs.

The session-topper, a filly from the first crop of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah selling as Hip 26, sold for $1.2 million early in the session before darkness fell and the sales grounds were packed with curious tourists and locals mixing with sellers, owners, agents, trainers and other sales professionals from around the world. 

Larry Best, buying in the name of his OXO Equine, signed the ticket for the filly out of multiple Grade 1-winning Malibu Moon mare Life At Ten. Maintaining his style of waving off the press – he frequently says he’d prefer to talk about his purchases after they’ve won a race of consequence – Best dashed off with his small entourage not long after the hammer fell for the Ontario-bred filly. 

Bred by Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs, the filly walked into the ring as one of the talking horses of the opening session. Consigned by Gainesway, agent, she sold for the partnership of Gainesway’s Graves and fellow Kentucky horsemen Jamie Hill and Mike McMahon. 

The partners bought the filly as a weanling for $500,000 at the 2017 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, making her the second most expensive pinhook at the Saratoga sale. She also earned the stamp of approval from Graves’ late father, who came to Fasig-Tipton in the 1990s and played a key role in bringing the sales company back to its position as an industry leader. 

“I showed this filly to my dad at the weanling sale last year, he gave me the thumbs up, he liked her and I liked her a lot as well,” Brian Graves said. “We talked about a much lower number to buy her but I went ahead with my partners Jamie Hill and Mike McMahon and Maine Chance Farm, we formed a partnership and we pushed a little bit to get her.”

The session-topper, one of two American Pharoah yearlings that brought seven figures, highlighted a night that belonged to the fillies.

Seven of the nine top prices were fillies, priced from $1.2 million to $750,000. OXO Equine bought two of the top three priced horses on the night, adding Hip 82, a filly by Into Mischief out of the Warrior’s Reward mare Reve d’Amour, for $950,000. 

The strength at the top paved the way to strong returns overall. Fasig-Tipton reported sales on 83 of the 107 yearlings offered Monday night for a total of $28,965,000, up 18.6 percent from last year’s total of $24,425,000 for 75 sold at the same session. The session’s average jumped 7.2 percent, from $325,667 to $348,976 this year, while the $300,000 median held firm at the record level set a year ago.

“Very good start,” Fasig-Tipton President Boyd Browning Jr. said. “We thought we had good horses and I think the buyers responded very favorably across the board. It’s what we’ve seen in recent years – very, very intense competition, lots of activity on most of the horses but buyers do have limits.

“The sales topper tonight was $1.2 million (and) another horse brought $1 million, which is essentially in line with sale-topper levels of recent years. I don’t think it’s any surprise to any of us that there was great activity between $250,000 and $750,000. So a very, very good start.”

To read the rest of the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale recap from Monday night, download Tuesday’s digital edition of The Saratoga Special presented by EasyFix Stable Solutions.