Everybody's Talking - By Evan Hammonds

While folks were hanging out at Fasig-Tipton or at Keeneland over the last week, it was the first thing they wanted to talk about…but not on the record. It’s not exactly a new story, but with this year’s rising market for Thoroughbreds, it is one everyone has an opinion on. We’re talking about the “rivalry” between a certain pair of sale companies, both of which happen to be based in Lexington.

While a few figures might be tossed about—gross, average, and median—and a few that might be pointed to as to which one might have a certain “edge,” the facts are that perception can be disguised as reality, and it really doesn’t matter that much as both companies have their spots in the marketplace.

The two largest players in the Thoroughbred sale arena certainly have their areas of expertise. While Fasig-Tipton has its smaller, specialty markets selling yearlings in Kentucky in July and October, Saratoga in August, and at its Midlantic sale in October, Keeneland holds the “world’s largest yearling sale” in September where more than 10% of the North American foal crop goes through the auction ring.

In the breeding stock arena Fasig-Tipton Kentucky’s November sale is traditionally a night of star racemares coming off the track along with high-end weanlings. Keeneland’s market is equal parts high-end product and 12-day cross-section of the industry.
Both sale companies are advertisers in this publication—in print, online, and in our daily product, so we are not ones to judge. There is no favoritism, and we don’t have to apologize for that; we’re merely the messenger.

This year’s Fasig-Tipton sale was pumped up by some special point-of-purchase advertising and target pieces aimed at select buyers, which helped draw attention.

As we witnessed, the Nov. 6 sale was off the charts. In a pavilion packed with horsemen on the north side of Lexington, Fasig-Tipton offered Songbird, who nearly went for eight figures, followed by Tepin, who brought a final bid of $8 million. Those two lots—$17.5 million—alone moved the needle dramatically.

Big night; big show.

On the other side of town, Keeneland’s Book 1 had the quality one would expect but lost its plum horse—through no fault of its own—when Lady Eli was scratched from the sale due to her legs getting cut up during the running of the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1T).

With a sale-topper at $6 million, it just so happened that Keeneland’s key figures were down slightly from a year ago during Book 1.

Tongues wagged regardless that almost $84 million changed hands during Keeneland’s first two days and both Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland sold 17 individual broodmares/broodmare prospects for $1 million or more.

Big days; big show…albeit a little less glitter. However, one horse—or two—does not a sale make.

The fortunes of sale companies rise and fall with the marketplace, their positions on the calendar, staff, and marketing. The momentum can quickly shift—a head bob at most—and it often has.

Another subject no one will go on the record about is commission, but we hear the whispers that each sale company has its own level, of, how should we say, “creativity.” Not that there’s anything wrong with it—it is their business.

We have to remember that the main purpose of a sale company is to bring buyer and seller together to transact commerce—it is the grease that keeps this crazy business humming. For the buyer it’s about finding that one mare that will move your broodmare band up a notch, or as a seller, generating some cash to make it through the next cycle.

Which sale company has the momentum might be fun to talk about, but it’s really immaterial. The important thing is to find the right venue where you can (hopefully) maximize the value of your commodity.

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