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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Golden Gate


I have nothing against the Sheik or his friend myself but I don't like the idea of an American owned company being bought out by foreign interests. It would have been great if another American company had had a chance to buy Fasig-Tipton.

I know Dubai is not a religious fanatic stronghold and the wealthy in that country are more motivated by what they can buy than by who they can that is one only consolation. Still when domestic companies of long standing are sold to fereign interests I believe that is a concern.

15 Apr 2008 2:53 PM
Mike Relva

Everytime I read about some deal Sheikl Mohammed is involved in disgust comes to mind. First,with his huge resources no one is playing on a level playing field. Second,I own 2 racehorses,but if I owned a "super horse" no way I would race in Dubai no matter what the money is!

15 Apr 2008 3:24 PM
Debbie in Texas

What is happening to the horse industry?  What happened to those they are "honored" to have a Kentucky Derby horse and race him for the sport.  The Sheik's are buying up all the horses as soon as they can and we never get to see them run again.  I am glad there are people like Roy and Gretchen Jackson - no amount of money could have bought Barbaro (had he not been hurt)he was "their horse" "he was family" -he was loved, he was NOT FOR SALE.

15 Apr 2008 5:10 PM

It makes me sick, but I'll try to say something positive.

A comment I made on the "Morning Line Goes To Dubai" blog.

Thank you Mr. Jackson for giving Curlin and the Team the opportunity to make history.

To the fans of Thoroughbred Racing this is PRICELESS !!!

15 Apr 2008 7:18 PM

Money talks! I hope Jess Jackson doesn't sell Curlin! We need Curlin in the states to keep new horse fans interest and a horse we look forward to see run.

16 Apr 2008 10:18 AM

It's too bad that he wont spend some of that money establishing a retirement foundation for the unfortunate TB's that he doesnt want to buy up and stand at stud.  

16 Apr 2008 10:59 AM
What we need.....

What we need is more people regardless of whether they are Americans, Europeans, Middle-Easerners, etc., who live the horse and horse racing as much as Sheikh Mohammed does. There are plenty of millionaires that could be spending money in the industry but they lack the love of the sport that Sheikh Mo clearly possesses. I say that it doesn't matter to me which go-zillionaire owns the auction house as long as it continues to better the sport.

16 Apr 2008 11:00 AM

If the Thoroughbred industry was regulated we'd be talking about MONOPOLY and ANTI-TRUST issues.  Is nobody seeing the alarming affects of Sheikh Mohammeds desire to truly dominate every aspect of the racing industry?  In a few years, if every every owner of a top stallion prospect succumbs to his incredible monetary offers, there will be no other option but to breed your mare(s) to a Darley stallion.  Sure the rivalry between Coolmore & Darley was somewhat fun, but now its reaching a state with terrible implications... THINK ABOUT IT!!!!

16 Apr 2008 11:15 AM
Bryce Be Quick

Let Darley & Company spend their money as they will-- at least they are "horse people", and this isn't some faceless corporate conglomerate at work. Speaking of superlatives in this regards, Debbie in Texas should take some measure of comfort, as do I, that the Jacksons did not take the route followed recently by others in their neighborhood, as Showing Up not simply sold off to the highest bidding breeding shed, the Jacksons instead electing to retain a share. So, I can continue to wear my "Lael Blue" Showing Up hat with pride, and hopefully, have an opportunity to visit him at stud in the future. I guess Kip Deville and his connections breathing easier, safe in the knowledge there will be no more stretch duels with Showing Up :-)

16 Apr 2008 11:41 AM

you know, I will admit that I have decent respect at one point for the sheiks - when it comes to the breeding of their stallions, they have no fear of controlling the number of mares their stallions are bred to.  I like to hear that since most stud farms (and feel free to prove me if I am totally off base here) to simply book mares and you see the number of mares being bred to a single stallion rising into the triple digits. Not healthy to the breed itself.

But that is where my respect stops. Period. I am a huge fan of watching a talented horse, such as Curlin, race well past the highly coveted "3 year old season".  These horse were bred to run and to race and the good ones should be allowed to prove themselves, not rushed off to the breeding shed to see how many mares they will attract.  It made me sick to see a horse like Bernardini, who only needed to really grow into himself, retired promptly after the Breeder's Cup.  And by who? the Sheiks, no less.

The other reason that disgusts me about the Sheiks is that when they retire a horse, they retire them with an initial stud fee that doesn't allow just anyone to breed to that stallion.  Example: Bernardini's initial stud fee of $100,000 per mare.  I understand having faith in a horse that he will do well as a stud, but he hadn't even bred a mare and he was commanding in the same price range as Storm Cat and A P Indy, stallions that have proven their worth and more.

The Sheiks are not in the sport for their love of the game - they are in it to prove to everyone that they have the money to do what they want, how the want and aren't afraid to spend the money to get there.  If they cared for the Thoroughbred horse, they would look at the impact they are having and try to help fix it.

16 Apr 2008 1:25 PM
needler in Virginia

Why is it I am NOT unsettled when reading that Coolmore has bought ________ (you fill in the blank) and will shuttle him to the Southern Hemisphere? Why, then, am I VERY unsettled when I read that the sheikhs have bought yet another stallion, stakes winner, brood mare, Eclipse winner, auction company, stallion station, broodmare nursery or a simple old horse farm? Don't really know, but my tummy tells me something is wrong here.

I think I'm most bothered that the sheikhs are trying to BUY the Triple Crown, as well as the BC championships......not earn them.  Unlimited gazillions of dollars? SURE, without a doubt. Able to take what they want because the offers are so insane NO ONE could turn them down? CERTAINLY. But at the bottom of it all, I still wonder "is this the RIGHT thing to do to our industry?" And worse, "is everything for sale, and at what price?"

I'm gonna have to process this some more, but I'm STILL unsettled, and more than just a bit disturbed that all the work done by the old time breeders, as well as that of the new ones, is being flushed away and our blood lines are flying to Dubai in first class comfort, never to be seen again.

Sad days, indeed.........

16 Apr 2008 2:23 PM
What we need....

I don't want to be a Sheikh apologist but Shadwell farm, which is owned by Sheikh Hamdan, starts their stallions off at very modest prices and raises them accordingly. (Invasor at $35,000 is a bargain.) I think that it is off base to say "The Sheiks" and group them all together.

I would love to see the "great" horses race longer too but let's not kid ourselves, if it wasn't Sheikh Mohammed buying the stallions after their 3-yr. old season someone else would be. The thing that will slow down this trend will be when breeders stop breeding to horses that are "one year wonders" and start breeding to horses that have proven themselves into at least their 4 year old season (Curlin for instance, Invasor for instance, and there are many others). I am not going to hold my breathe that this is going to happen any time soon as the power of $$$ is too strong. Start writing about how much money Magniers and "The Sheiks" horses are making on the track and start a rivalry there and maybe they will leave them out longer as neither one clearly needs the money.

16 Apr 2008 4:12 PM
Sebastian Hutch

Just in reply to what 'Realthoroughbredfan' says as regards the fees of Darley stallions. I am of the opposite opinion. If anything, their stallions are retired at unrealistically low fees! One must bear in mind, say in the case of Bernadini, that were another stud farm to attempt to stand such a stallion, they not only have the purchasing cost of the horse to factor in, but also other significant costs such as insurance etc. Bearing the likely extortionate cost of purchasing a horse like Bernandini in mind, it is highly unlikely that any other stud operation in the world could consider it fiscally viable to stand the horse at such a reasonable fee. It therefore makes it hugely difficult in recent years for stud farms to secure successful stock off the track, when in most cases the main competitor is not governed by the same financial restrictions/practicalities.

16 Apr 2008 4:56 PM
needler in Virginia

To "what we need": my apologies for any offense you might have taken over my using the inclusive term "sheikhs". Actually, I was trying NOT to pick out any specific man to pillory, and don't want to pillory anyone ANYWAY. I was trying to be generic by using that term. How about my saying "these men"? Is that any better? Because I don't know any of these men, I can't say things about them I don't know to be true. What I DO know is that these men have bottomless bank accounts, can buy anything at any time and for any price, and HAVE DONE PRECISELY THAT. And, no, I am not naive enough to think that racing is an altruistic hobby. I KNOW it's a business, with buying, selling, leasing, partnerships, management groups and all the rest.

I do think "these men" are trying to buy the Triple Crown and BC championships along with anything else that comes on their radar, and I have to wonder if absolutely everything is for sale; if so, then I'm sorry for all of us and what we are losing.

SO my apologies again for the term I used; since two sheikhs had already been mentioned, by name, by others, I didn't feel required to name them again.

17 Apr 2008 3:29 AM
frank mook

Good for them,i say do it,at least they put the money where there mouths are. Nobody else is putting this kind of money in the sport,don't be jealous.

17 Apr 2008 3:34 AM

This is not about the "sheikhs".  This is about one particular person...Sheikh Mohammed.  Shadwell's Sheikh Hamden is far more reserved in racing/breeding endeavors.  He puts his horses above his ego.  I do have a great deal of admiration for Sheikh Mohmmeds passion for this industry.  I just wish it could be tempered with some humility.

17 Apr 2008 10:22 AM
Steve W in Lexington

The disturbing thing about the "Sheikhs" and any of their spending is that they are rulers of a country that they own. Dictators, play by their own rules and they are entitled to diplomatic immunnity in our country.  Is there any real transparency here???  The Racing Industry was built by the race goes and placing $2.00 bets.  I would be a lot more comfortable knowing that Jess Jackson or any of the American Fortune 400 Billionaires were "investing" then Dictators that don't respect human rights!

17 Apr 2008 10:52 AM
Ms. Ruffian

It is quite obvious that the leader of Dubai, being motivated by ego, as most are in horse racing, is trying to corner the market, because he has the means to do so. But Dubai's oil supplies WILL run out, and what you will see will make Calumet's fall look like child's play.

(Edited by Blood-Horse Staff)

17 Apr 2008 11:25 AM
C, Newmarket, England

I'm disturbed by a lot of the comments on here.  Do people not realise that if it wasn't for the Sheikh's investment at the sales and numerous stud farms, racing would be in a sorry state.  In Newmarket alone Sheikh Mo employs hundreds of people at both Darley and Godolphin.  

If he and his brothers were to leave the industry it would leave many people in dire straits.

Don't just single out the Sheikh's - the Japanese buy an awful lot of stallion prospects from the USA, and no one seems to complain.  Is it just because the Sheikh is of Middle-Eastern origin?  Or is that a controversial comment?!

17 Apr 2008 11:38 AM
DS in PA

Interesting point regarding the unhappiness many people have in regards to Sheikh Mohammed purchasing so much as opposed to the Japanese purchasing.  That's all I will say on that subject.  When it all comes down to it.. when someone is offered so much money for something it is hard to say no sometimes.  You think about how the money could possibly expand/improve your operation, allow you to do do other things within the industry.  I cannot dislike the man because he has the financial ability to buy something he wants. I wish I could do that. It is hard watching so many of our horses get purchased by him, but that is how it goes. I don't think he will be leaving the industry for a long long time. As for him doing this all with an ego. How many people saying this actually know him to even say that? I just can't berate him.

17 Apr 2008 12:41 PM
DS in PA

I do have one more thing to add to the comment of "But Dubai's oil supplies WILL run out, and what you will see will make Calumet's fall look like child's play.".  How can you possibly compare Sheikh Mohammed to J.T. Lundy??? Sheikh Mohammed runs a country. He is educated and obviously very serious about the horse industry and knows how to run a business. The man has other investments than just oil.  

17 Apr 2008 2:35 PM

Who is putting a gun to anyone's head and forcing them to sell to him?

Face it...he is doing nothing more than capitalizing on people's greed.

Why did Fasig Tipton sell?  $$$

Why did the Australians sell?  $$$

Why did Street Sense, Hard Spun and Any Given Saturday's connections make deals with Darley? $$$

17 Apr 2008 5:10 PM

I agree that is the "big shots" of racing where willing to spend there money on dreams the thoroughrbed industry would be in a bad case noone else pays attention to the rest of the horse industry, NOWHERE else do you have YEARLINGS sell for millions of dollars...keep in mind these horses have not done a single thing up to that point...and in the current state of the horse industry, with the slaughter houses closed, fears of recession, etc. there are registered proven show horses of other breeds only bringing a couple hundred dollars...If the sheiks, Coolmore, the Japanese, etc want to spend their money here...I say more power to to the ego...what big time race horse owner or trainer doesn't have a bit of an ego? Sort goes with the territory.

17 Apr 2008 7:50 PM

Long Live The King...the man loves Horse takes DUCKIES!!!

17 Apr 2008 11:43 PM
G in KY

First of all, the marvelous thing about the American system in general and racing in particular is that the best horse wins the Derby, not the wealthiest owner. All is a fairly level playing field when those gates open. SHeik Mohammed has been trying to win the Ky. Derby for years now, and he will eventually, but I do not believe that he wants to do it using just money. Witness his runners (or lack thereof) that have trained in Dubai for the race with no success. He has enough money this year to buy Pyro, Big Brown, Tale of Ekati, Colonel John, all the favorites together, but guess what...he doesn't have a Derby horse again this year. It is still possible for the $50,000 yearling purchase to be the big one (witness Curlin) and if the Sheikh wants to buy them for stud I welcome him. Do I wish that Street Sense and Hard Spun were in training this year? Sure. But the fact is we race these three year olds very hard and ask them to do it over and over, so that maybe they won't carry their form into their four or five year old year and stay sound. The Triple Crown/Breeders' Cup road is the toughest competition that racing offers.

As to his oil money "running out" that has already happened. Most of the oil reserves have dwindled for Dubai, and Sheikh Mohammed foresaw that years ago. Dubai is the most progressive and economically flourishing country in the world right now because of diversification. It is the Hong Kong of the middle east, the communications and economic center of the middle East. There is no oil reliance, oil is just another part of their economy.

As to stud fees, I have this to say: they have very nice stallions, they limit the books, and they treat Americans fairly. I had a mare booked to Songster and when they pulled him off of stud they were very upfront and fair. No shenanigans about "keeping it hush hush" like so many farms. Yes, Bernardini is probably a little overpriced but he will no doubt be a commercial success for a lot of American breeders. Better than other foreign entities who would breed over 200 mares here and another 200 Southern Hemisphere so that your market value is so diluted that you must be in the top 10% physically to make money. And talk about diluting the gene pool!

18 Apr 2008 9:46 AM

Horse racing is all about money.  They are willing to put money into horse racing to win.  What is wrong with that?

19 Apr 2008 12:48 AM
Karin Chevalier

Some interesting comments here.  At various times, under various circumstances, there have been people decried for their apparent attempts to dominate the sport.  The connections of early champion and dominant sire Sir Archie were slammed for having a virtual lock on ownership of his offspring;  the fact that Sir Archie's owners weren't "Gentlemen," i.e., members of the wealthy "in" crowd made it worse.  Sam Riddle was pilloried for keeping Man O' War as virtually a private stallion.  Before the shift from racing homebreds to an auction market as major source of racing stocks, the "old money" families of The Jockey Club were considered by many to operate racing as virtually a private sport.

What the Maktoums and their friends are doing doesn't worry me in the least.  Good, even great, horses can be bought by anyone or bred by anyone.  That gives us all hope, no matter how much money someone pours into trying to dominate the sport.  

I think it's even possible that if the Maktoums become overwhelmingly dominant in the industry, it might be a better thing for the sport than its current state of fragmentation and divisiveness.  For starters, consider this:  the Maktoums could, if they are in a position to do so, immediately remedy some of the auction ethics issues that the industry has tap-danced around.  How could that be a bad thing?

The Maktoums have been great sportsmen who have done much that's good for the sport.  If they are in a position to be a unifying force in a sport where it's more typically each man for himself and to hell with what's best for the sport as a whole, then their apparent moves to dominate the sport might be what saves it.  I'm fervently in favor.

20 Apr 2008 12:00 AM

Some of the comments on here are absurd. At least, Synergy Corp. is letting Fasig conduct business as usual and not trying to interfere. The only thing that will change is Fasig having more resources and being able to be more competitive when trying to recruit sellers and buyers. And more buyers is one thing this industry needs, or else it will vanish.

21 Apr 2008 8:13 PM

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