Shopping Spree in Saratoga

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There’s buzz in the air and the buyers are out. 

It’s 8:30 Sunday morning and the foot traffic around Fasig-Tipton’s Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion is starting to pick up. 

Paul Shanahan and Justin Casse chat at a high-top table near the snack bar. 

Others that will remain nameless are in line looking for a cure to the repercussions of a big night of celebration following the five-stakes card of Whitney Day. 

Barry Berkelhammer, Cary Frommer and Terri Pompay sit at a low round table, enjoying their morning coffee before the serious work begins. 

All is calm, but by mid-morning the grounds are buzzing, horses are being shuffled back and forth, in and out of their stalls, for show after show after show. 

All the agents are in town. Representatives of the powerhouses Coolmore and Darley, along with John Moynihan, Tom McGreevy, Pete Bradley, Donato Lanni, Steve Young, Frankie Brothers, Michael Wallace, Mick Flanagan and John McCormack. 

The trainers are out, too, most making the short commute across East Avenue or up Nelson Avenue. Mark Casse, Christophe Clement, Dallas Stewart, Wayne Lukas, Nick Zito, Linda Rice and many more of their colleagues hit the barns after training hours. 

A crescendo builds as all the players move across the sales grounds like fingers on a keyboard, purposefully and dexterously with an exacting precision designed to find a yearling that produces a sound similar to a Songbird. If one is found that looks like it can run like her, surely he or she will do.

With the sun shining and the temperature somewhere between not too hot and not too cool with a light breeze, Fasig-Tipton President and Chief Executive Officer Boyd Browning Jr. leans against the rail of the outdoor walking ring and sets the scene for the two-day Saratoga sale of selected yearlings that opens at 6:30 p.m. today.

“It’s a really good group of horses on the grounds; the activity has been really solid,” Browning says. “The right people are here in town, the right horses are here in town and the success that our sales graduates have had in recent years has been phenomenal so I hope we have the right combination and it feels good. I’m optimistic.” 

Fasig-Tipton catalogued 252 yearlings this year, up from 209 last year and staking a claim that there is a demand for curated quality horseflesh. 

“The buying population here is looking for quality horses and hopefully the vast majority of the horses that we have for sale are going to be the types that the marketplace is really desirous of right now,” Browning said. “Hopefully this might be a little different than your average sale … in that we have a high quality lot from Hip 1 to Hip 252.

“(The growth of the catalog is) a reflection of more opportunities. The consignors have gotten more and more confidence in the strength of the Saratoga sale on the basis of their results. Buyers have gotten more and more confident on the results of the horses that have graduated here. Four Eclipse champions give the consignors real encouragement that the buyers are going to be there.” 

The champions Browning references are last year’s Horse of the Year and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, champion turf female Tepin, champion 3-year-old filly Stellar Wind and champion 2-year-old filly Songbird. They’re all on the cover of this year’s catalog and Browning hopes there’s more like them to follow.

“We’re trying to make this the best yearling sale in the world for buyers and sellers,” he says. “So if you want to sell the best yearlings you better come to Saratoga and if you want to buy the best yearlings you better come to Saratoga.”

Consignors are largely in step with Browning’s assessment and not surprisingly positive regarding the feel of the grounds. 

“Traffic has been great, it’s been pretty brisk, it trails off a tad bit when people go to the races but that’s normal for here,” said consignor Marshall Silverman. “We’ve been showing yesterday (Saturday) and today (Sunday) and we have had well over a dozen second lookers and I’ve heard that from everybody. 

“It feels much better than July to me. People are pretty serious looking at horses up here and of course this is more of a boutique sale. At the end of the day everybody is looking for a good horse, a Saturday-afternoon horse.” 

Silverman hopes he’s got one in Hip 118, a daughter of Curlin out of a half-sister to Grade 2 winner Songster.

“Nice, nice filly got a huge step on her,” he said. “She’s all horse, all filly, she’s got the right attitude and she’s a Curlin.”

On the other side of the sales complex in Barn 7 across Madison Avenue with 24 horses in the consignment, the team at Taylor Made Sales Agency is catching its breath after showing yearlings non-stop in the morning and into early afternoon. 

“We didn’t start showing until yesterday and we just got slammed all day yesterday and today has been flat out until probably an hour and half ago” Mark Taylor says at about 3:30 Sunday afternoon. “It seems like there are a lot of people at the sale this year. I’m not sure if that is going to translate into more money or even new people, but there are a lot of people looking at horses who I need to go try and find out who they are.”

For Headley Bell of Mill Ridge Sales, the annual trip to Saratoga to present his prospects to the buying bench represents an opportunity. 

“Saratoga is a unique market in that there’s tremendous energy with the racing and the whole atmosphere,” he said. “People come here enthusiastic. Specific buyers come here to this sale that don’t really go anywhere else it seems, so it’s a broad base of buyers. It’s a wonderful market, we brought two nice horses up here, two Candy Rides (Hip 166 and Hip 237) and they are two nice athletic horses, so we are excited about it and look forward to it and embrace it.”  

Denali Stud’s Craig Bandoroff is a veteran of the Saratoga sale and knows what it takes to succeed in upstate New York. 

“I like a horse here that fits the American market because it’s mostly a domestic sale,” Bandoroff said. “I like a horse that has some eastern appeal to it, either the female family, something ran in New York or something New York people can say ‘yeah I remember that horse when he won the Vanderbilt or she won the Coaching Club American Oaks.’

“We like coming here, we like the ambiance of the place and you have to bring good horses, this isn’t the second string. We have a really good Medaglia d’Oro filly, Hip 191, she fits that category. If you don’t like her, you don’t like horses, so we’re excited about her. Overall I am pretty happy with what we brought.”

With all the ingredients in place for a duet of evenings to remember, the crowd of buyers, sellers and industry participants gathering on the sales grounds over the next two nights will be rapt with attention as these hand-selected yearlings go under the hammer.