Sales Sold - by Dan Liebman

Few have the resources to do anything they want in the Thoroughbred industry. Sheikh Mohammed would be one of the exceptions.

The news of the last few weeks only further validates how much the ruler of Dubai not only loves the Thoroughbred industry, but desires to be its most dominant global player.

On March 24, news arrived that Sheikh Mohammed had closed a blockbuster deal in Australia, purchasing the Ingham brothers’ entire Woodlands Stud operation for approximately $425 million. The deal includes stud farms, training centers, stallions, and more than 500 horses of various ages.

Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley already owned farms and stood stallions in Australia, and Bob Ingham, head of his family’s Thoroughbred interests, said they were not looking to sell. “Once approached by Darley, I decided it was an opportunity I should accept,” Ingham said.

The Hettinger family, majority shareholders in Fasig-Tipton Co., were not actively looking to sell, either. But sell they did when a company controlled by “an associate” of Sheikh Mohammed came calling with an offer to buy the oldest Thoroughbred sale company in the United States.

The April 10 announcement said Synergy Investments, headed by Sheikh Mohammed’s friend Abdulla al Habbai, will purchase the assets in Fasig-Tipton, which conducts auctions in Kentucky, New York, Maryland, Florida, and Texas.

Last year, Sheikh Mohammed made headlines when he purchased Street Sense, Hard Spun, and Any Given Saturday to join the stallion ranks at his Darley near Lexington. Already this year, a deal was announced on Pyro, who will run in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) despite a disappointing run in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). He will become the farm’s 16th stallion. 

When the breeding season begins in Australia this summer, Darley will control more than 30 stallions. Considering there are roughly 21,000 mares in Australia, it is conceivable Darley stallions could cover more than 20% of the mare population.

There are those who feel Sheikh Mohammed’s new determination to stand stallions is part of a rivalry with John Magnier and partners’ Coolmore Stud. And there are those who feel they are wasting their time, and stretching their frustration level, when bidding on a stallion Darley is interested in.

They may be right on both accounts. But this is a game where big deals are made all the time, and Sheikh Mohammed has the funds to make more of them than anyone else.

More interesting than spending freely on stallion prospects, however, is the move by Sheikh Mohammed’s associate to purchase Fasig-Tipton.

Fasig-Tipton grosses more annually than any sale company in the U.S. except for Keeneland, the same Keene­land where Sheikh Mohammed has spent hundreds of millions over the years in pursuit of top racehorses.

There is no reason to think Sheikh Mohammed will stop shopping at Keeneland, or any other sale company for that matter, but the landscape could certainly be different in the future. Coolmore avoiding Fasig-Tipton sales or a price war on commissions would be unsettling.

The announcement of the pending sale of Fasig-Tipton stated that the management team will be kept intact, which is good news. Anyone who has dealt with Boyd Browning, Walt Robertson, Bill Graves, Terence Collier, and the rest of the staff is aware this is a team that not only knows how to put on auctions, but is good to deal with on a personal level.

Also, competition is healthy. Keeneland pushes Fasig-­Tipton, which pushes the Ocala Breeders’ Sale Co., which pushes Barretts, etc.

An infusion of new capital into Fasig-Tipton is good for the entire industry: breeders, owners, consignors, and buyers.

And if, as the release stated, the goal of recruiting new buyers is accomplished, the whole industry will benefit.

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