By Chris McGrath
Yes, the ‘Pharoahs’ played their part as expected. But what really drove a record-breaking market at Saratoga this week was the yearning for an equine Cleopatra.
Of 18 yearlings sold for $750,000 or more at Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga Selected Yearling Sale, no fewer than 13 were fillies. Possibly that merely reflects an entirely random congregation of some particularly attractive young ladies. On the other hand, it certainly appears that some of the biggest spenders in the marketplace are looking to play a long game. They weren’t just rolling the dice to find a stallion, but seeking the physiques and genes to build a family.
And while there were plenty of familiar signatures on the top dockets, the most expensive filly of the sale-a $1.3 million daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, its premier sire–was acquired by a very recent arrival on the scene: Phoenix Thoroughbreds, whose unabashed statements of intent have lately included the assembly of a world-class broodmare band. Quite apart from those occasions when newer rivals of this kind won out, moreover, they will also have forced more established operators higher for other animals.
What cannot be doubted is that the filly market, at the top level, was exceptional. The overall number of $750,000-plus transactions, of course, has grown considerably at Saratoga: this week’s tally of 18 was up from ten last year, and seven in each of the two previous years. But of those 24 across 2015-17, just nine were fillies.
If you take a more even reading, equally, and review the top dozen at each of the past four sales, then the 2018 ratio of eight fillies and four colts compares with an aggregate of 11 fillies and 25 colts across the previous three years.
A growing appetite for prospects eligible for both racing and breeding would be perfectly consistent with a new phase–of consolidation–in a bloodstock boom sustained by a decade of quantitative easing. Quite what happens should the wider economy fall sick again, having been kept on medication so far beyond its recuperation, remains to be seen. But it would certainly make sense for all this the free spending to become a little more focused on stabilizing investment in the medium term.
Breeding your own stock, after all, offers a rather less fanciful commercial release than hoping to hit upon a successful stallion. Possibly this will also be reflected in the breeding stock sales this November, but a boutique yearling sale like this gives you the best of both worlds.
One way or another, the indices this week all marched relentlessly forward. As noted before the start of business, Saratoga has not matched some of the giddy gains made by other elite sales in recent years, but has instead succeeded in achieving a more balanced growth. That was reflected, last year, in a record median; and while averages were also strong, they had been advancing at a relatively temperate rate.
The recent elevation in average turnover–from $32,385,000, between 2012 and 2014, to $48,440,000 between 2015 and 2017–had matched catalogue inflation, in the corresponding periods, from an average 110 sold to an average 152. So averages had advanced only from $295,301 (across 2012-14) to $317,989 (2015-17).
This time, however, while another catalogue boost saw as many as 170 hips sold at a record gross of $62,794,000, the average climbed to $369,376–surpassed only by a wild sale here in 2001. And the median of $300,000 maintained the record set last year.
If many of the tallest flames were fanned by the usual suspects, American Pharoah (Pioneerof The Nile) continued his heavyweight market debut by submitting two of the top five yearlings of the sale. But we’ll come to the rookies in a moment, after giving due honour to the sire who accounted for the other three.
If Medaglia d’Oro is at the other end of his career, there can’t have been too many stallions who have hoisted their fees quite so steeply at the age of 19. Raised from $150,000 to $250,000 after siring seven individual Grade I winners last year, the Jonabell sire has always been a bombshell physically and Violence is doing no harm to his credentials as a sire of sires.
In the bigger picture, it is worth reiterating a heresy to Europe: that Medaglia d’Oro is contributing massively to the claims of his sire El Prado as a greater influence, among sons of Sadler’s Wells, even than Galileo himself when measured in terms of geographical reach; and the versatility, whether in discipline or surface, of his sons and grandsons. Apart from anything else, then, let nobody doubt the commercial value of the ability to get elite performers on both dirt and turf. Just ask good old reliable War Front (Danzig), who shifted his pair at Saratoga (both fillies, incidentally) for $825,000 and $750,000.
The owners of the 235 mares who made Into Mischief (Harlan’s Holiday) the busiest sire in the land, meanwhile, will be gratified to see the Spendthrift sire’s continued ascent marked by his richest yearling to date–a $950,000 filly, who checked in as the top hip outside the Medaglia d’Oro and American Pharoah duopoly.
B. Wayne Hughes and his Spendthrift team, incidentally, backed their main man with a $750,000 colt. Overall Into Mischief moved on all 13 hips at an average $423,462, the kind of hitting you want to see when you have just broken into a six-figure fee.
The rise of Into Mischief is a salutary reminder that the racetrack, not the sales ring, is where a young sire should really go out and make his name.
This sale, moreover, should probably be considered far too narrow–and far too early in the cycle–to judge even the commercial reception of a rookie aspiring to be the next Into Mischief. As such, really rookies should be credited with kudos simply for getting into the catalogue.
For simply being allotted a market stall by the guys at F-T should count for plenty. Last year, for instance, they only admitted five new sires–compared with 11 both in 2016 and this week. The market backed their judgement and, though just 13 of their 316 collective yearling sales were made here, the same five stallions duly ended 2017 in the top five positions in the national crop averages.
True, it wouldn’t have been terribly hard to pick out those five based on fees and weanling averages. But the very fact that Fasig were prepared to present 58 hips by 11 rookies this week–exactly double the number offered between the same number of freshmen in 2016–surely augurs well for the strength in depth behind American Pharoah.
The first Triple Crown winner to stud since the 1970s is, of course, a case apart. He arrived with a weanling average of $467,307 and the Keeneland November pinhookers who laid out a little more than that–$500,000–on his daughter out of Grade I winner Life At Ten (Malibu Moon) duly more than doubled their money at $1.2 million. Showcasing the rewards potentially available when such a big farm is putting its shoulder to the wheel of such a big horse is the case of the $1 million American Pharoah colt Monday night purchased by M.V. Magnier. American Pharoah ended up finding new homes for 10 of a dozen hips at an average $554,500. Even his unsold pair stalled at $800,000 and $495,000 respectively.
Of the rest, Honor Code (A.P. Indy) also did what was required of him, as number two by both fee and weanling average, selling seven of nine at $387,143. Likewise his Lane’s End buddy Liam’s Map (Unbridled’s Song), who processed seven of ten at $222,857; and Winstar’s Carpe Diem (Giant’s Causeway), who moved on six of seven at $278,333. That represents 11 times their conception fee, and does little to discourage the notion that Carpe Diem has the potential to prove one of the more eligible heirs to his lamented sire.
Others granted a multiple foothold were solid enough but sometimes you’re better off, as a wiseguy pick, with just one or two in the limelight at a sale like this. All those who prised open the door to the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion with a lesser fee amply vindicated their selection–most conspicuously Bayern (Offlee Wild), who sold a $600,000 filly off a $15,000 cover. But we’ll obviously learn a lot more about all these at Keeneland.
Cleopatra marvelled at the destiny of any horse charged with the weight of Antony. To those changing hands for the kind of money required at Saratoga this week, however, the burden must seem greater yet. As they are sent away to be broken, then, their new owners might join the Egyptian queen’s heartfelt plea: “Do bravely, horse!”