On Monday evening, after an eventful and star-studded weekend of racing in Saratoga, the city hosted perhaps its most significant event—the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale. For those not familiar with the horse racing industry, the sale of carefully bred yearlings is a costly annual rite of passage that sees the biggest names in the industry come out to find the next great superhorse. The most appropriate comparison to the major American sports is the National Football League draft where billion-dollar franchises make multi-million-dollar investments in 20-year-old kids based on what they project to become rather than who they are now. That is a risky business and teams often miscalculate. In the case of the Fasig-Tipton sale, yearlings can range from costing $100,000 to well over $1 million, and for every Justified, American Pharoah, or Essential Quality, there are countless horses whose careers amount to little more than a footnote in a ledger.
Nevertheless, just as the NFL Draft is a big business, so too is the coverage of the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale as Twitter was abuzz with hip numbers (how they identify the yearlings), bloodlines, pedigrees, gaits, and frames. Monday, which was the first of two nights worth of sales, saw some eye-popping numbers and intriguing trends emerge to keep in mind for both handicapping and future pedigree purposes. Below are my five takeaways from night one of the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale.
- Uncle Mo is bringing in the big bucks. Of the 14 yearlings that fetched over $500,000 at auction, four (29%) were connected with Uncle Mo, the 2010 Eclipse Award winner as the American Champion Two-Year-Old Colt. Three of the four were his progeny while the other was a yearling that came out of a dam he had sired. While Uncle Mo’s racing career was derailed due to medical issues, his second career as a sire has been incredibly profitable as he has already produced eight Grade I-winning progenies. On Monday, seven of Uncle Mo’s yearlings were auctioned for an average price of $562,000 with the headliner being Hip #73 that went for a whopping $1.6 million. Time will tell as to whether this product of Uncle Mo and Dame Dorothy will be worth the investment, but what is obvious is that Uncle Mo’s progeny continue to be the most sought-after commodity at the sale.
- Gun Runner’s big weekend continued. While not yet as prolific as Uncle Mo, Gun Runner’s first crop has proved to be quite impressive, and this past weekend provided even more proof as his two-year-old progenies won a pair of graded stakes races on both coasts. On Saturday, Pappacap won the Grade II Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar and the next day Wicked Halo won the Grade II Adirondack Stakes at Saratoga. Gun Runner’s hot streak continued Monday as his two colts were auctioned off for $850,000 and $550,000 in what might be perceived as “getting in at the ground floor” of a potentially legendary stallion. We will see if the investment was a wise one, but the early returns are so impressive that people are will to forego a limited track record and dole out high six-figure payment for his yearlings.
- Paying for the fillies. While the $1.6 million price tag for Uncle Mo’s yearling colt will capture headlines, this was also a strong night for the ladies. The second-highest priced horse was Hip #61, a filly who is the product of Tapit and Checkupfromzneckup, who went for an impressive $990,000. Right behind her was Hip #71, sired by Into Mischief and out of Curlina, who went for $940,000. While it’s not surprising to see fillies catch such a high price, it is worth considering that most of that investment must be recouped on the track since even if a filly becomes a successful broodmare, she will only have so many opportunities to give birth after her racing career is concluded. Perhaps not surprisingly, the five highest priced fillies were sired by Tapit, Into Mischief, Uncle Mo, American Pharoah, and Justify. Not a bad quintet of dads.
- My Racehorse makes a splash. If you somehow weren’t already aware, owning a thoroughbred racehorse is an incredibly expensive proposition and oftentimes is not particularly profitable. But what if you want to own a piece of the action? Well, My Racehorse is a company that makes that possible by selling micro-shares in thoroughbreds to people like you and me for a few hundred dollars. On Monday night, My Racehorse made a big splash by purchasing not one, not two, but three yearlings (Hip #58, 69, and 90). That means that next year, you’ll have three new horses of which you can become a VERY minority owner. In all seriousness, My Racehorse is doing their part to bring the sport of elites to the masses and that’s a good thing. The money being thrown around Monday night can only be afforded by the 1% of the 1%, but the idea of becoming a 0.001% owner in a horse for a couple hundred bucks is a way you can grow the sport and get more people involved, so seeing My Racehorse aggressively purchases horses at the sale was something I viewed as a net positive for the sport.
- Not all sales are final. For first-time viewers, the process of the auction is a little disorienting since you watch an auctioneer bang a gavel and see a horse sold for several hundred thousand dollars, but then a few minutes later you can check the Fasig-Tipton website and you’ll see there was no sale. This is commonly referred to as an RNA or Reserve Not Attained. The basic gist is that the corporation selling the yearling has a minimum price they’d like to receive and if the winning bid is short of that ideal price, then they can cancel or withdraw the sale. In all, nearly 30% of the bids made of the horses auctioned on Monday night were RNAs, which is a bit demoralizing. Most of the rejected bids ranged between $100,000-300,000, but there were a couple of horses (Hip #108 and 15) that were close to a half million dollars. The RNA phenomenon just goes to show that even if you have a few hundred thousand dollars, it still may not be enough to buy your way into the Sport of Kings.
In all, it was a successful first night and the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale will conclude Tuesday, August 10. I’ll will have final thoughts from the sale posted the following day and you can follow along Tuesday night while I live tweet during the event at the Twitter handle @failedtomenace.