By Jessica Martini
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – The Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Selected Yearlings Sale, swept away by the pandemic last summer, marks its 100th anniversary when bidding on the two-day boutique auction starts Monday evening at 6:30 p.m. in the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion.
“We are thrilled to be back,” Fasig-Tipton President Boyd Browning said while overseeing action at the sales barns on a brilliantly sunny Sunday morning in upstate New York. “It's wonderful to be here and to feel the excitement and the energy on the sales grounds. And there is that same energy and excitement on the racetrack and on the backside and when you walk around town. People feel so upbeat and positive. There is a bounce in their steps. I think the year's absence has made us all appreciate Saratoga even more.”
While uncertainty kept much of the market in check in 2020, Browning said he is expecting plenty of competition this week in Saratoga.
“There are a lot of positive things happening in our business right now,” he said. “People feel good about the economy and the racing industry and there is vibrancy which I think is pervasive now.
He continued, “I think there was certainly some scale back at the top of the market last year–I think there was less competition for the really expensive horses overall. Lack of certainty in any aspect of life is tough and I think last year people didn't know how long the pandemic was going to go on and what was going to be the outcome. I think that psychologically changed some buying habits or limits. I think the top end was compressed last year and I would expect it to be more vibrant this year. To me, the top end is $500,000 and up. I don't think we are going to see the return of crazy, expensive yearlings, but I think there will be increased competition at the upper level of the market this year.”
Consignors were kept busy at the sales barns Sunday, with a strong contingent of pinhookers making the rounds alongside trainers and end-users.
“I think everybody is delighted to be back,” said Hunter Valley Farm's Adrian Regan. “There is a great buzz around the place. The action at the barn has been good. It was steady yesterday and very busy today. As usual, Fasig has done a great job creating the atmosphere and attracting the people. So we are very hopeful of a good sale.”
The Saratoga sale comes on the heels of an exciting weekend of racing at the track across the street and the energy permeates throughout the town.
“I think there are a lot of people around town and I think everybody is happy to be back here,” said Paramount Sales' Gabriel Duignan. “The racing is very good at the moment. The town seems to be hopping and it's been very busy here at the sales grounds. I am optimistic it will be a good sale–everything is pretty healthy in our business at the moment. The 2-year-old game was good, the racing is good. So I am optimistic.”
With travel between countries still difficult because of the ongoing pandemic, foreign participation will likely be lighter than in recent years, according to Browning.
“There is a reasonable representation of foreign buyers here,” Browning said. “There are still some restrictions, both getting into the United States and returning to some countries. The Japanese have a really hard time going back to Japan. And certainly there are some initial barriers for folks coming from Europe. We've been able to work with various representatives to accommodate some travel requests. But I would expect less international participation than we have had in recent years–obviously not 2020–but the North American buyer bench will be very, very strong and very enthusiastic.”
Fasig-Tipton will again be offering internet bidding for buyers unable to make it to the auction and, already positioning itself for the next 100 years, is unveiling an option to buy horses with cryptocurrency.
“It will be interesting to see what happens,” Browning said of the company's first foray into cryptocurrency. “I don't think it will dramatically change the impact of this sale or the immediate future. But we are always open to new ideas. We should be forward looking. I think if a lot of people before us hadn't been innovative and creative, this company wouldn't be here for 100 years. I think we have a responsibility to position the company moving forward to be successful. Not everything you try is going to be successful, but you certainly have to be looking for new ideas and new ways to attract new people to the business. And we think this is a possibility, so we are going to see where it goes. We are not going to measure success based solely on the activity of this one sale. That's certainly not our intent.”
Of overseeing the Saratoga sale's centenary celebration, Browning said, “It feels like an awesome responsibility. There is a lot of pride. I am proud of the way we do business. And I think we continue, as the organization has done for a long time, to provide a high level of customer service. We are going to strive to do that and do an even better job of it when possible. It's an honor, but it's also a responsibility to make sure you position the company, not only for the company's success, but there is a responsibility to the industry as well.
“I have believed for years that there is no better place in the world to introduce people to Thoroughbred racing and Thoroughbred sales than Saratoga,” Browning said. “If somebody is interested in the business and they can't come here and enjoy the experience and get an adrenaline rush, whether it be at the racetrack or the sales grounds, then this game is probably not for them. So we have a responsibility to the industry to continue to make this place–and this place is Saratoga in its totality, with the racetrack and with us and with the local community–to take this opportunity to let people see the passion and the enthusiasm that we have for what we do in our sport. And we take that seriously because we love it.”
At the 2019 sale, four horses sold for seven figures, with a pair of colts by Curlin sharing top price of $1.5 million A total of 135 yearlings sold in 2019 for $55,547,000. The average was $411,459 and the median was $350,000.
A total of 210 yearlings have been catalogued for this year's Saratoga sale, which will be held Monday and Tuesday evenings with bidding beginning each day at 6:30 p.m.