Yearling auctions in upstate New York in early August produced impressive results. Both Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga select sale and New York-bred preferred sale enjoyed gains in their key business figures of gross, average price, and median price.
The Saratoga select auction's median of $250,000 equaled the sale record and the New York preferred auction's gross soared 83% while the average climbed 38.7%.
Both auctions told us that the soon-to-opened video-lottery-terminal casino at Aqueduct is the best news for racing in a long time. The prospect of huge purse increases in the state was enticing to both people purchasing the type of elite horses that compete in the top racing events in New York and those who want to race New York-breds.
The Saratoga select sale reminded us that Sheikh Mohammed is a very wealthy man with a great deal of enthusiasm for the Thoroughbred business. His purchases through his bloodstock manager, John Ferguson, accounted for a quarter of the auction's gross and a significant additional percentage (the amount of which nobody will know for sure until the yearlings sold race) came from the Dubai ruler's agents, family, friends, and associates.
In addition, the Saratoga select sale showed us that there are a number of domestic buyers with enough wealth and passion for racing to support a boutique auction with a limited number of elite horses even in the midst of economic turmoil. In addition to spending six-figure prices for yearlings, those domestic shoppers also were aggressive underbidders to Sheikh Mohammed on some of the auction's most expensive horses
But it's not clear how much the two New York sales told us about the health of the overall yearling market. There are thousands more young horses still to be sold in 2011. Many of them will be in the middle and lower levels of the market and from states (particularly Kentucky) where there are no slots or VLTs and no hopes for significant purse growth in the near future. Many of their buyers will be people who are more vulnerable to financial crises than captains of industry, world leaders, and heiresses.
Rather than dream of increases like the ones they saw at August's sales in New Yorks, consignors to upcoming auctions probably are just hoping that they will continue to see the signs of market stabilization that started to emerge in 2010.