Everyone combing the grounds at the corner of Nelson and Madison Avenues the last few days is looking for the same thing in a somewhat roundabout way.
Sure, they'll readily say they're looking for racing prospects or hoping to sell graded stakes winners when plenty of candidates go through the ring tonight and Tuesday during the 97th edition of the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings.
Mainly they're looking for answers.
Answers to the question of whether all their homework, research, experience, business sense, intuition or horsemanship was right and they made a successful purchase. It's a question that's been asked for nearly a century on the storied sales grounds and will continue as long as there's racing like what transpired in Saturday's Whitney or last weekend's Haskell.
Representatives of Darley and Coolmore, the games biggest spenders and two of the most powerful, and leading trainers such as Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert want the answers. Even a legend like Gai Waterhouse, a Hall of Famer in Australia who checked out some yearlings Sunday afternoon, wants the answers.
Ahmed Zayat was looking for answers two years ago when he decided to send a colt he bred by Pioneerof The Nile through the sales process. Zayat got an answer when the market wasn't all that receptive and he bought the colt back through an agent for a hammer price of $300,000. That colt turned out to be American Pharoah, the first winner of the Triple Crown since 1978 and just the second sold at public auction in history.
Boyd Browning Jr., the president and chief executive officer of Fasig-Tipton and set for his 27th Saratoga sale, summed it up while sitting on a bench on the edge of the sales grounds. The question from a soon-to-be first-time attendee centered on what makes the whole event special.
"What makes this the greatest game in the world is you can look on this catalog cover and (American Pharoah); he was essentially not sold for $300,000," said Fasig-Tipton President Boyd Browning Jr., before flipping his catalog over and pointing to pictures of other top graduates. "He brought 400, he brought 385, she brought 40. 140. 350. 250, and was an RNA. No matter how much evaluation we all go through, no matter how much evaluation the consignors go through and the buyers go through, nobody really knows until they open those gates on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
"Everybody tries to improve their chances but one thing nobody can measure is the desire of that horse to get to the finish line first. That's what makes the sales process the greatest thing in the world. You'll be surrounded by a lot of people who think they're experts and you'll think, 'Oh my God I'm never going to figure this out.' Well the good news for all of us is no one has ever figured it out. I mean that in all sincerity. If somebody figured it out the richest man or the richest woman would have all the good ones. And it would destroy the whole fabric of the racing game if someone had all the good ones."
Sorting through the 182 yearlings set to sell over the two sessions - 209 were originally cataloged but there were 27 scratches by Sunday night - and picking the good ones is the job of the buyers.
They were out in force over the weekend and traffic around the barns was extremely busy. All the major players were on hand, the ones mentioned above and plenty more.
Expectations from consignors were typically optimistic, thanks to a continually improving overall economy and five consecutive years of relatively unchanged results at the Saratoga sale. Total sales reached $33,284,000 and average price was $291,965 last year, just about the same as 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010.
"The market is going to be good," said Reiley McDonald of Eaton Sales. "It will be like every Saratoga sale. The top 40 percent will sell through the roof, for more than they'd bring anywhere else, and the bottom 60 percent won't sell well or fall through the cracks. That's pretty much how it is here every year."
One factor that could change the results is more yearlings being offered.
Fasig-Tipton bulked up the catalog to 209 this year, compared to 164 last year and 152 in 2013. Browning said the added yearlings were a result of an increased number of quality nominations from sellers.
Alfred Nuckols Jr. is one consignor who decided to bring more yearlings to Saratoga this year after a successful sale in 2014. Nuckols' Hurstland Farm sold both its yearlings that went through the ring last year, for $300,000 and $200,000, and is back with five yearlings in 2015.
The group includes a full-sister to Grade 1 winner Rosalind (Hip 59) and some other prospects Nuckols said were well received over the weekend.
"We had 81 cards yesterday," Nuckols said before lunchtime Sunday, referring to the number of shows by his team. "And we're getting a lot of second and third looks today and already starting to get scopes. I've got two that could sell really well, the full-sister to Rosalind and the Bernardini colt (Hip 158). Those should be my two top ones."
A short distance away, the Select Sales consignment was busy with activity as morning approached afternoon. The Select group includes Hip 10, a colt from the last crop of Unbridled's Song and Hip 122, a colt from the last crop of Harlan's Holiday.
"We've got some last crops and some first crops, a good mix of proven and young," said Andrew Cary, Select Sales' general manager and partner. "Traffic has been good around here. The buzz is good and everyone is optimistic. My expectations are reasonable, not outlandish. We like to sell them. It's no fun to bring them home."
The foot traffic stayed steady all afternoon Sunday, in slight contrast to Saturday when things lightened up by mid-afternoon as the stakes-laden Whitney card got rolling a few hundred yards down East Avenue.
A little after 4 p.m., with no fanfare, a green sign identifying a top sales graduate was hung above Stall 29 in Barn 7, smack in the middle of the Taylor Made Sales Agency consignment. American Pharoah's name was on it.
By 4:15 there were still as many as seven yearlings out of their stalls in the grass waiting or on the stone dust walkways being shown.
Waterhouse stopped by a little bit later, with fellow Australian and American-based pedigree consultant and bloodstock agent Byron Rogers. Waterhouse, who won the 2013 Melbourne Cup with Fiorente, looked at four colts and two fillies and greeted well-wishers and new friends in between.
"That was pretty cool," said Taylor Made's Mark Taylor. "She's such a pioneer."
And she's in Saratoga for the sale.