Seasoned horse trainers gathered in a serious manner Tuesday night for the final evening of the 2013 Saratoga Selected Yearling Sale hosted by Fasig-Tipton.
The two-day sale show a slight dip in total sales from last year, with $31.87 million in sales compared to $32 million in 2012.
Expensive suits and cultured pearls signed away hundreds of thousands of dollars for fillies and colts with historically successful bloodlines. But even a horse’s family ties can’t promise a future win.
“It’s like walking into a kindergarten class and picking out who’s going to be in the Olympics. You look for long legs or a pretty face and hope for the best,” said Pete Tsikos, a New York City resident who has been making a yearly trip to Saratoga for 25 years.
Tsikos has been working with horses for decades, volunteering at Belmont Park as a way to work with the animals he loves. He and his wife, Lorraine, come to Saratoga during racing season and said the annual sale is just another part of the excitement.
“The sale is great for the industry. It’s amazing how many horses are sold when they’re having such a hard time filling the starting gates,” he said.
The unpredictability of a horse’s success makes the sale more attractive to some than the racing itself. Hundreds of factors go into what makes a horse successful, and even more into what makes it an attractive bid.
But the event, which has been held annually for nearly 100 years, is as much a season for the risk-taking wealthy as it is the casual horse fan. Hundreds of spectators from all walks of life and interest levels flock to the paddocks at the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion for the public auction.
First-time salegoers, Colman Schliff, 15, and his 14-year-old brother, Conor, of Glens Falls, said their family’s interest in horse racing, which brings them to the track throughout the summer, also brought them to the sale.
The brothers said they are avid horse fans and came to see the action and the big buyers. The novice fans said they also know a thing or two about picking a good horse.
Their style of walking and their pedigree is important, but just seeing the horses in the ring was fun.
Bill and Irene O’Connor joked they came from Ballston Spa to watch people spend incredible amounts of money.
“We really come to see the horses, they’re like Olympic athletes with four legs,” Bill O’Connor said.
Tuesday was the couple’s third time attending the auction, and Bill O’Connor said they always seem to miss the million-dollar sale, this year included. They didn’t attend Monday, when two horses sold for seven-figure sums.
Monday’s session-topper, a filly by Dynaformer out of Indy Pick, sold for $1,225,000. The second-highest went for $1 million, a filly by Distorted Humor out of the family of Better Than Honour.
Tuesday’s sale was less exciting, with the topper going for $750,000. Most spectators cleared out around 9:30 p.m., when bidding seemed to slow but continued on after 10 p.m.
Boyd Browning Jr., president of Fasig-Tipton, said he was extremely happy with the outcome of this year’s auction.
“Overall, there was a terrific group of horses on the sales ground and terrific interest in those horses, so we’re very pleased,” he said. “It gives us a strong foundation to build on for 2014 in Saratoga and bodes very well for the New York-bred sale, which commences in four days.”
Boyd also noted a change in the way horses are bid on: with reserve and rationality.
“Bidders don’t decide they’re going to bid a horse and buy it for whatever it costs. There was a period of time where if two people wanted a horse, they might just bid for what seemed like forever. They no longer bid forever, but they’re certainly going to bid and go for what they believe are rational limits,” he said.
“There’s discipline, but there’s interest. We went through a period of time where there was much less interest… but that’s probably a sign of a healthy marketplace.”
The New York-Bred Preferred Yearlings Sale will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion.