Book Report: 50-year-old sales catalogue a key to racing’s past

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The book is 50 years old. The front cover shows a healthy-looking yearling standing by a white fence on a dimly lit evening, waiting its turn. The back cover pays tribute to 100 years of racing at Saratoga Race Course with a familiar-looking oval logo.

There are no markings, but a few pages are dog-eared. Heavier, sturdier, more aromatic than today’s paper, they’ve been turned. The book is spiral-bound, long before Kinko’s made that easy. I like to think about who held this little book, who used it, what they thought, where they turned, who advised them.

The real magic is inside. Two-hundred-seventy yearlings made the Fasig-Tipton sales catalogue in 1963. The sales ran five nights starting at 8:30. Laddie Dance and Ralph Retler were the auctioneers, John Finney the announcer.

Hip 1 was a filly by Dark Star consigned by Melville Church II, a Virginian who entered six in the sale. Opposite her page was a warning of sorts, over an old painting of a man in wide-brimmed hat examining a horse’s teeth: “Please examine horses prior to purchase and Read the Conditions of Sale, particularly  Condition “Ninth”.  The ninth condition, of course, informs buyers that “there is no guarantee of any kind…”

A pedigree expert could probably pull out 10 stars who went through the ring that week. I’m not so adept, not that far back anyway, but the names read like roll call at a racing legends reunion. Especially on the last night.

The Sword Dancer filly out of Dark Sleeper started things for Pine Brook Farm. The Virginia-bred wound up a stakes winner named Musical Night. Hip 220 was a  Native Dancer colt out of Demoiselle Stakes winner Ghost Run. Bertram Linder sold him. Another Native Dancer colt, this one out of Hill Rose, was slightly ahead of his time as four years later his dam produced $300,000 earner True North.  Someone named Hip 232, a bay filly by One Count out of Linger, Dwelt.

Hip 252, consigned by Hall of Fame horseman Rigan McKinney, surely drew looks. The gray colt was by Native Dancer out of $100,000 earner and multiple stakes winner Say Blue. She was by Blue Larkspur and had already produced four winners. Durability ran in the family, which include 31-race winner Boast and 20-race winner Aegean. The gray colt became George Raft, who won five times according to Equibase.

A night earlier, an Intent filly out of Ellerslie became a multiple stakes winner named Short Fall.

Consigned by Rockburn Stud (Hubert Phipps), Hip 166 became a star after selling for $20,500. The catalogue page – Native Dancer on top of the Heliopolis mare Greek Blond – surely drew looks. The gray colt’s dam finished second in the Schuylerville and produced five previous winners. Named Native Charger, the gray colt raced at Saratoga the next summer for trainer Ray Metcalf and owner Albert Warner – finishing second in the Hopeful. At 3, he won the Flamingo and Florida Derby and was one of the major players in the Kentucky Derby. Native Charger finished fourth behind Lucky Debonair and was also fourth (to Tom Rolfe) in the Preakness. At stud, Native Charger sired champion Forward Gal, 1970 Belmont Stakes winner High Echelon and top filly Summer Guest.

A Morven Stud entry, Hip 173, was already named Royal Gunner and turned out OK too. The chestnut colt by Royal Charger earned more than $330,000 with a win in the Cornhusker at Aksarben and two seconds in the Woodward. Royal Gunner’s female family was one of racing royalty as his dam produced Shuvee among others.

Hip 207, sold by Keswick Stable, was a half-brother to Kentucky Derby winner Tomy Lee. Of course, the bay colt named Finest Kind started just twice and never won. Argentine mare Miss Grillo produced Hip 116, a filly by Jet Pilot. Miss Grillo won six times in her home country and added 10 more victories in the United States including the Diana (twice), the Pimlico Cup (twice) and the San Juan Capistrano. There’s a stakes for 2-year-old fillies named after her at Belmont. Her yearling in the Saratoga sale was named Morristown and never won a race.

If you think history doesn’t repeat, Hip 50 will make you wonder. The chestnut colt by Bolero out of Graciously was a full-brother to Eblouissante (same spelling, different horse). His sister was a stakes winner. Named Tango, according to one source, he never amounted to much.

I could go on, and I’m sure I’ve missed a star or two. Beyond individual horses, the numbers and the names made me think.

First, the numbers. The index of consignors took up four pages, and it’s just a list. The 1963 sale featured progeny of 115 stallions. Even with far more yearlings in the sale, that’s variety. Sword Dancer led the way with nine yearlings. Clem, Parthia, Palestine, Tom Fool, To Market, Imbros and plenty of others had one each.

Second, 1963 wasn’t that long ago but the links to true heroes appear close in the pedigrees. War Admiral shows up as the broodmare sire of several. Flares, featured in C.W. Anderson’s great books, is there too. Tim Tam, Citation, Ribot, Gallant Man, Round Table, Princequillo, Ribot, Bold Ruler, Swoon’s Son, Hill Gail, Double Jay and so on are sires of sales yearlings – not misty stories from long ago.