Next week's Fasig-Tipton Florida sale gets the 2016 2-year-olds in training sales season started and considering last year's rousing success it seems a fitting place to begin.
Boyd Browning Jr., Fasig-Tipton's president and chief executive officer, is obviously optimistic about this year's Florida sale that will again be held at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach. Gulfstream hosted last year's Florida sale for the first time and among the 89 horses that sold for more than $20 million and an average of more than $225,000 were champion Nyquist and a bunch of other Triple Crown contenders.
This Is Horse Racing's Tom Law caught Browning early Thursday evening while he waited to catch a direct flight from Lexington's Bluegrass Airport to South Florida to talk about the sale, lasting and faded memories of other Florida auctions and the chances of the Kentucky Wildcats in this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament.
This Is Horse Racing: Even though we're still a few days away from the breeze show and almost a week before the sale, what are your thoughts about how things will go down in Florida?
Boyd Browning: There's a high level of interest and optimism for this year's sale. The inaugural sale last year was considered a smashing success by all accounts after the sale. The results over the last 12 months by the sales graduates have been absolutely fantastic. Nyquist, Mor Spirit, Flexibility and two starters in the Fountain of Youth in Zulu and Awesome Speed, it's been better than we could ever hope for in terms of sales graduates last year. It's supposed to be a beautiful weekend of racing at Gulfstream hopefully followed by a great breeze show on Monday followed by terrific sale on Wednesday. There's a lot of interest and enthusiasm heading into the weekend.
TIHR: Nyquist winning the Juvenile and being last year's champion made it pretty easy to pick who goes on the cover, but you guys certainly had plenty of other great choices.
BB: We really did. Fantastic.
TIHR: What about this year's group?
BB: Based on what we saw at the farms in November and December and reports that we've gotten, you don't ever know since they've got to prove it after they go through the sales ring and to the racetrack, but we think we've got a really deep and talented group of horses that we're going to be offering for sale next week so it's pretty exciting."
TIHR: You mentioned Gulfstream and everything I read and heard seemed like it was a great venue. All positives?
BB: 110 percent positive. It's the Saratoga of the south for us with regards to wintertime. We're very fortunate to have the sale in August during one of the great race meets in the United States right there across the street and this is arguable the best weekend of racing in the wintertime in North America followed by the sale literally right there on the grounds. Another positive is it gives buyers a great opportunity to evaluate horses breezing in an under-tack show Monday on a dirt racetrack, a major racing surface. They race there. All the East Coast trainers race there so they know how to evaluate horses that race on that racetrack or train on that racetrack. They can watch them breeze. That's a huge benefit for buyers.
TIHR: So it's fair to say a desirable destination is a plus.
BB: It's mutually beneficial. The sale will certainly help Gulfstream have a tremendous weekend, lots of entertainment and excitement around there for the next five days and certainly we're going to draw a lot of our customers from folks that are based at Gulfstream and Florida. The great thing about both Gulfstream and Saratoga is they are fun for people to go to. Yes it's a business but on the other hand, 95 percent of the buyers of horses at the upper level have a choice what they're going to do with their expendable income. I think, almost to a person, you can say they enjoy spending time at Saratoga in August and almost to a person they're going to enjoy spending time at Gulfstream Park this weekend and early next week.
TIHR: Nothing beats getting down to South Florida in late February and early March. Have you checked the latest long-term weather forecast?
BB: Absolutely, 72 and sunny. Of course. We had a monsoon last year on the Saturday before, for the racing, but we should have a pretty good day this year.
TIHR: Do you remember your first trip down to South Florida for a 2-year-olds in training sale?
BB: Probably, well, no. I know it was 1989 at Calder racetrack. I could lie to you and come up with some great story but I don't specifically remember it.
TIHR: Speaking of Calder, you've gone from there to Palm Meadows to Ocala to Gulfstream, right?
BB: A bulk of that time was at Calder. Palm Meadows for three years, Adena Springs South for one year. I just think we all feel we've got a long-term home at Gulfstream Park. Both parties were thrilled last year with the sale, the results, the energy, the events, it was just good for everybody. We hope to build on that success from last year and 20 years from now whoever you're talking to is going to say, 'this is our 20th year we've have the premier 2-year-old sale at Gulfstream Park.'
TIHR: So I won't be talking to you in 20 years?
BB: You might be. There's a decent chance.
TIHR: When you think about the Florida sale what's one of the most memorable moments?
BB: The first one would have to be the sale of The Green Monkey. World record, $16 million, in 2006.
TIHR: How about something a little more bizarre or less known?
BB: Another thing I recall fondly was back in the days at Calder, Roger King was engaged in a bidding war with another buyer, literally bid and bid and bid, shook off the auctioneer, kindly made his last bid and the winning bidder countered. Roger literally took the hat he was wearing off, threw it into the ring, basically saying, 'my hat's in, I'm all in, that's everything I've got.' Imagine a $900,000 horse and Roger King literally throwing his hat in the ring at the horse. Unfortunately characters like Roger are no longer with us but they added a little flavor to the sales at times.
TIHR: Roger King certainly was a character.
BB: You could always count on Roger for the unexpected. At Saratoga four or five years later in the midst of bidding stopped the bidding, said, 'hang on a second I've got to go take a drag off this cigarette,' got up, walked out of the pavilion, lit up a cigarette, then came back in and bid about $300,000 or $400,000 more.
TIHR: Where are characters like that these days? We need to bring some back.
BB: Ha. They were few and far between, guys like Roger King. You never know where the next one is going to emerge. He or she might be laying in the weeds and might surface on Wednesday.
TIHR: Back to the graduates, I know it won't directly affect the sale but how big is it to have two horses that came directly from the sale running in the Fountain of Youth a few days before this year's sale?
BB: It's big. Owners like Tabor and Magnier and Stonestreet, who own Zulu and Richard Santulli, who owns Awesome Speed, and Todd Pletcher and Alan Goldberg who train them, those are the people you want to have confidence in a sale. They're traditionally pretty active bidders and it's got to give them confidence going to a sale and have a horse running in a big race Saturday.
TIHR: Do you have a favorite place to eat when you're down there in South Florida?
BB: It's changed a little bit over the years. The best place these days is the Adena Grill right there at Gulfstream Park. It's a fabulous restaurant that features Mr. Stronach's cattle. It's as good a beef as you're going to find anywhere in the world and it's literally adjacent to the racetrack, a great atmosphere and a great place to go.
TIHR: Living in Lexington you're a Kentucky fan, right?
BB: Of course.
TIHR: Got any Final Four predictions?
BB: I would think anybody that makes Final Four predictions this year would say it's one of the most wide-open tournaments. Anything can happen.
TIHR: Maybe even UK back to the Final Four.
BB: They've got a shot. They've been playing well lately so we'll see.