Bill Oppenheim: First Yearlings

One week from tomorrow Fasig-Tipton kicks off the 2015 North American yearling market with the Kentucky July yearling sale, in which 40 years ago this year, Seattle Slew sold as a yearling for $17,500 to Karen and Mickey Taylor, and it’s been producing good horses ever since. This year 332 yearlings are catalogued–a 25% increase on last year’s 265–to be followed by around 100 horses of racing age, minus withdrawals, plus ‘wild cards’.

Fasig catalogued 258 yearlings in 2013, significantly down from the 338 catalogued in 2012. That year 189 yearlings sold, which was 56% of the catalogue. When they dropped the numbers down in 2013-14 the clearance rate from the catalogue improved to 71% and 69%, respectively, so an obvious question at this year’s renewal is, will 186 yearlings sell (56% of those catalogued), or 232–which would be 70% of those catalogued and a very big win–or somewhere in between? I know, you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people in the universe who would even think of that question, but what can I say, this is the sort of thing I think about: how many between 186 and 232 will sell, and what does that tell us about the market? We also need to bear in mind that the clearance rates were pretty low both at the mammoth OBS June 2-Year-Old Sale, and at the much smaller Goffs London Sale in the last couple of weeks.

Fasig’s Saratoga catalogue is also out, and a similar pattern has followed there: 209 catalogued this year, a 27% increase from last year’s 165, which were preceded by 152 in 2013 and 189 in 2012; the last time over 200 were catalogued was 2010 (202). Again, a similar pattern emerged from the clearance rates: 56% in 2012, but 66% and 64% in 2013-14. So will 117 (56%) sell at Saratoga, or 136 (65%), or somewhere in between?

The total is 541 catalogued between the two sales this year, compared to 430 in 2014, then 410 in 2013 but 527 in 2012. On Aug. 12, after the Saratoga (main) sale finishes, the question will be: did 303 yearlings (56%) sell between the two sales, or 351 (65%), or somewhere in between? I’ll try and remind you of these important ‘metrics’ as we go along.
It wouldn’t be the Fasig July Yearling Sale without significant representation by sires whose first crop are yearlings this year. A total of 95 yearlings (29%, almost exactly two out of seven) by first-crop yearling sires are selling at Fasig July, while 38, or 18% (two out of every nine), are catalogued at Saratoga. Combined, 133 of the 541 yearlings (25%) catalogued between the two sales are by a total of 22 F2014 sires–one of every four, that’s what we should expect to see.
Fifteen of the 22 sires are represented by four or more yearlings each, of which five sires have 10 or more catalogued between the two sales. We’ll first look at these five, then there is a brief alphabetical list with comments on the 10 sires with four to nine catalogued.

WinStar’s Bodemeister (Empire Maker), with 14 catalogued between the two sales (five at Fasig July and nine at Saratoga) and Lane’s End’s Union Rags (Dixie Union), who has 13 catalogued (five and eight) were the two sires from this crop that averaged six figures at the 2014-15 weanling/short yearling sales (click here), and they are two of the three with the highest representation at the two sales (Darby Dan’s Shackleford also has 13). Both had very good percentages of number sold of those sent through the ring as weanlings/short yearlings: Union Rags 19/23 (82%), for an average of $134,316; Bodemeister 28/32 (87.5%), for a $109,714 average.

Both Bodemeister (trained by Bob Baffert) and Union Rags (trained by Michael Matz) were members of the 3-year-old class of 2012, which revolved around the Paul Reddam-owned, Doug O’Neill-trained GI Kentucky Derby and GI Preakness winner I’ll Have Another (Flower Alley), who has his first yearlings in Japan this year. Bodemeister dropped a 3/4-length decision to Creative Cause (we’ll come back to him) in the GII San Felipe S., then shipped to Arkansas where he aired in the GI Arkansas Derby by 9 1/2 lengths (Beyer 108), which earned him tepid 4-1 favoritism in the Derby. Bodemeister went the first half in the Derby in :45:1 and broke 1:10 for the first three-quarters, the mile in 1:35 flat. He led to the sixteenth pole, when I’ll Have Another ran him down. He set a slower pace in the Preakness and went down by just a neck (Beyer 109). It’s no wonder he was so sought after and has been so popular at stud, with that kind of speed in top-class company. And he’s by Empire Maker–sire of Pioneerof the Nile, no less–out of a Storm Cat mare.

Union Rags won his first three starts as a 2-year-old, including the GII Saratoga Special at 6 1/2 furlongs and the GI Champagne S.–by five–at a mile, then was beaten a head by Hansen (Tapit; five yearlings from only American crop [sired at Ashford] at Fasig, two at Saratoga) in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Union Rags won the GII Fountain of Youth first-up at three, then was third in the GI Florida Derby and seventh to I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister in Kentucky. He skipped the Preakness and–with Bodemiester sidelined and I’ll Have Another sensationally retired through injury the day before the race–the Baffert-trained Paynter (Awesome Again) tried to go wire-to-wire, but Union Rags ran him down to win the GI Belmont S. So, in eight career starts, Union Rags won the GII Saratoga Special and GI Champagne at two, the GII Fountain of Youth and the GI Belmont at three, and was beaten a head in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile for the 2-year-old championship. It’s a pretty good scorecard.

Darby Dan’s Shackleford (Forestry) has nine catalogued at Fasig July and four at Saratoga for a total of 13 between the two sales. This was a really tough, high-quality racehorse. He started 19 times over three seasons, and the last 16 were all in Grade I or Grade II races. He won three of those, including the GI Preakness over Animal Kingdom as a 3-year-old and the GI Met Mile (Beyer 115) at four, and was second in five others. Trained by Dale Romans, he never ducked a fight and proved over and over again he was a top-level racehorse.

Lane’s End’s The Factor was from the first crop by War Front, and was one of the horses who first put him on the map. Trained by Baffert, he won two seven-furlong Grade I’s at three, the Pat O’Brien at Del Mar and the Malibu at Santa Anita, having previously won the GII San Vicente S. at seven furlongs and the GII Rebel, at 8 1/2 furlongs, before failing to stay in the GI Arkansas Derby, after which Baffert sent him back sprinting. The Factor eight times ran Beyers of 100-108, that latter of which he ran when breaking his maiden in his second start while running six furlongs in 1:06:4/5! He has five yearlings at Fasig, six at Saratoga, for 11 total between the two sales. His first weanlings/short yearlings sold well, with 26 averaging $92,538, ranking him third by average behind Union Rags and Bodemeister.

With 10 total between the two sales is another WinStar stallion, Gemologist (Tiznow), unbeaten in three starts at two, including the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S., and his first two at three, including the GI Wood Memorial. Another good-looking Tiznow, but with arguably the best pedigree of any of his sire sons, Gemologist is represented by eight yearlings at Fasig and two at Saratoga. He’ll have a following, as his 37 weanlings/short yearlings sold was the most of any of these 22 stallions.

Among those with four or more yearlings catalogued between the two sales are Taylor Made’s Astrology (A.P. Indy; 8 Fasig, 1 Saratoga), winner of the GIII Iroquois at two and third to Shackleford and Animal Kingdom in the GI Preakness at three; and Three Chimneys’s Caleb’s Posse (Posse; 4 at Fasig), winner of the GI King’s Bishop and GI Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (Beyer 111) at three, and runner-up in the GII Tom Fool (Beyer 110), GI Carter (Beyer 109), and GI Met Mile (Beyer 115, by a nose, to Shackleford) at four before injury forced his retirement.

Airdrie’s Creative Cause (Giant’s Causeway; 8 at Fasig) is another Classic-winning or -placed 2012 3-year-old standing in Kentucky with a serious shot to make a sire, yet none of the three–Union Rags; who won the Belmont; Bodemeister, who ran second in both the Derby and the Preakness; and Creative Cause, who ran third in the Preakness–ever ran after their Triple Crown campaigns. But the form they showed as Classic 3-year-olds is persuasive. In the case of Creative Cause, he too was a very good 2-year-old: trained by Mike Harrington in California, he broke his maiden running five furlongs in :56:4/5 at Hollywood Park (Beyer 98, synthetic, in July), then defeated I’ll Have Another in the GII Best Pal at Del Mar. After a blip when finishing third (promoted to second) in the GI Del Mar Futurity, he easily won the GI Norfolk before finishing third, beaten a length, by Hansen and Union Rags, in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. After a first-up third in the GII San Vicente at seven furlongs at three, he beat Bodemeister by 3/4 of a length in the GII San Felipe (8 1/2f), then dropped a nose decision to I’ll Have Another in the GI Santa Anita Derby. He finished up with a three-length fifth to I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister in Kentucky, and a distant third to the same two horses in the Preakness. But his last two races, the Derby and the Preakness, probably weren’t his best; he’d been racing for almost a year without much of a break. Throw in that Airdrie has bred some of their best mares to him and that he’s a big, scopey gray horse with a lot of Caro (his damsire line) about him, and you can see why it’s a pretty safe prediction that he’s going to be a big noise at the yearling sales this year.

As well as Shackleford, Darby Dan debuts 2011 GI Florida Derby winner Dialed In (Mineshaft; 6 at Fasig), and Jersey Town (Speightstown; 2 at Fasig, 2 at Saratoga). Dialed In defeated Shackleford and To Honor And Serve in the Florida Derby and is ‘quietly fancied,’ as they say, by some shrewd judges. Jersey Town won the GI Cigar Mile (Beyer 111) at four and the GII Kelso H. (Beyer 110) at five. Hill ‘n’ Dale’s Maclean’s Music (5 at Fasig), by Distorted Humor out of the very fast Unbridled’s Song mare Forest Music (her current 3-year-old, Kentuckian, by Tiznow, won the G3 Laz Barrera S. at Santa Anita last month), ran the fastest Beyer figure ever recorded by a first-time starter (114). He never ran again, but that one race earned him a place at stud.

Ashford’s Stay Thirsty (7 Fasig, 1 Saratoga) and Gainesway’s To Honor And Serve (2 Fasig, 2 Saratoga) were both from Bernardini’s first crop. Stay Thirsty ran second in the GI Hopeful at two and the GI Belmont at three, then won the GII Jim Dandy and GI Travers, and ran second in the GI Jockey Club Gold Cup (Beyer 109) to Flat Out, with Fort Larned third, as a 4-year-old. To Honor And Serve won the GII Nashua and GII Remsen at two, the GI Cigar Mile at three, and the GI Woodward at four; he ran Beyers between 102-109 seven times. Also at Gainesway is Tapizar (Tapit; 7 Fasig, 1 Saratoga), all three of whose graded race wins came at Santa Anita: the GIII Sham S. at three, and the GII San Fernando and GI Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at four. His first weanlings/short yearlings sold really well: 20 sold of 24 offered for an average of $74,650, almost five times his entering stud fee.

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