Ryan Mahan is the MC Hammer of the North American Thoroughbred marketplace. He heads the auction crews for Keeneland, Barretts, the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co., the Ontario division of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society, and the New York Breeders' Sales Co. Here's what he had to say during a short visit with "Hammer Time:"
How do people bid?
"Obviously, a million different ways. Some people like to be recognized, and they're easily detected. Some are just the opposite. Bob Lewis loved to put his catalog up in the air, and it was part of the chase with Bob. John Moynihan, you won't know when he bids.
"Other buyers might put their foot in the aisle. They might tell a bid spotter before a horse walks in the ring, ‘Watch me,' and it will just barely be a nod.
"When the big guys bid, they don't hide it. You know when Mr. (John) Magnier is bidding, and you know when Sheik Mohammed's bidding."
What is the strangest way people bid?
"It used to be - I haven't head it for a while - if my glasses are on, keep me in or if my pen is in my pocket, keep me in. Well, the problem with that is when buyers get excited, you tend to see them do this - they (the glasses) are off and then they're on; it (the pen) is in and then it's out. You go, ‘ ‘Uh oh, what are we going to do?' And it just drives me crazy. Finally I say, ‘You know what, let's just bid. You're going to get in trouble.' I've seen too many guys get in trouble.
"I had a guy one time who said, ‘If my pen's in my (shirt) pocket, keep me in.' Okay, this was a high profile guy, and a kid comes up for an autograph. He signs the autograph. We're at $1.8 million at the time. Then he takes the pen, while he's talking to the kid, and puts it in his pants pocket. Now, did the rules change? He's 40 feet from me. He signed the ticket at $2.1 million. I hope he liked the horse."
What is the strangest thing that has ever happened while you were in the auction stand?
"The strangest thing was probably the time at OBS (Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.) with the George Bush thing. It was a yearling of Harry Mangurian's, and Mr. Mangurian asked that I sell all of his horses. His yearlings were always at the end of the regular session. It was a long day for old Ryan. It was one of his (Mangurian's) best horses, and for some reason the bidding didn't seem right to me. I just had a sixth sense. I sold the horse and then I walked back to the bid spotter (behind the auction stand in the sale pavilion's back), and I said, ‘Who bought that last horse.' He said, ‘That guy right there.' Well the guy had on a bid red handkerchief , and he was sitting on the wall. I said to him, ‘Hey, congratulations, what's your name?' He said, ‘George Bush.' I said, ‘George, where do you live?' He said, ‘D.C.' I said, ‘Exactly where do you live in D.C.?' He said, ‘1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.' That was kind of funny." (Note: The man eventually was escorted off the sale grounds, and the horse was sold to someone else.)
What was your most exciting experience as an auctioneer?
"Probably the most exciting thing was selling Ashado. I knew her as a yearling, and I loved her as a yearling. I followed her career. She walked back into the sale ring, and it was kind of like a bit of a homecoming because I just really liked her. Todd Pletcher is a friend of mine. It was just good to have her back in there. When she brought the $9 million, that was just exciting, and it was kind of a personal excitement."
What is the best way to catch your attention in the auction ring?
"I think, and I'm sure a guy like Walt Robertson (the president of Fasig-Tipton) would agree with this: If you were a buyer and if you just walked in the pavilion and looked at me, I would kind of have a sense that you were interested. If you make eye contact with me, I have a sense for it."