Millions Spent On Derby Dreams At Saratoga Yearling Sale

Aug 10, 2016

Credit Lucas Willard / WAMC

The backyard of the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion on Tuesday evening was jammed with racing fans. On a dark-day at Saratoga Race Course across the street, the show of opulence was here, with expensive cars being valet parked and a well-dressed crowd out back sipping drinks.

It was the second night of the Selected Yearling sale, where some of the finest 1-year-old thoroughbreds are auctioned off.

Before the action starts, Dan Shaughnessy and friend Ken Tavernia, both of nearby Wilton, have already secured their spots to watch the horses enter the auction house.

They’re just here for the fun.

“No buying!” laughs Shaughnessy. “Believe me, they get treated better than you or me!”

They’ve attended this event before. With a Monday sales total of $21 million, Tavernia says it’s rare to see a horse pass the million-dollar mark.

“They may have broken a million once or twice, that’s very rare.”

Most, he estimates tonight, will sell for around $400,000 — which is still a major gamble for owners and trainers. Some of these yearlings will never even race.  

Among trainers and owners chatting in the backyard before the auction was Justin Zayat of Zayat Stables, the company that owns Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

“This is where Pharoah came from, you know? Gotta look for the next one. Maybe he’ll bring us good luck,” said Zayat.

Pharoah, who captured the horse racing world by storm in 2015, was bred by Zayat Stables and was auctioned in Saratoga three years ago.

Zayat said he’ll also be attending the sale for New York-breds this weekend.

“You can find a lot of good value in that sale. For us at Zayat Stables, we go to every single sale. We believe good horses come from every single sales, so we’ll be there shopping and looking,” said Zayat.

Before the sale begins, a video is played featuring the familiar voice of legendary Saratoga race caller Tom Durkin.

“This is the sale. This is the moment. This is Saratoga,” plays the video.

Inside the round auction pavilion, paintings of horses, also for sale, line the walls of the two-story structure. The colts and fillies are led one-at-a-time to the auctioneer’s stand from a sliding door. After the first few auctions, it’s not long before announcer Terence Collier and auctioneer Danny Green reach their first million dollar bid.

“All I can say is, if you want to know how much he’s worth, just take a look at him. You know the pedigree, and look at the way he’s handling himself in this ring. Here’s a real horse in the making,” said Collier.

“Million dollars even! Million-one!” shouted Green.

The grey colt was sired by Tapit, a twice leading sire of nine crops. Some recognizable names among his progeny are Creator, winner of this year’s Belmont Stakes, and Frosted, who took this year’s Whitney Handicap. The buyers Tuesday night were willing to pay top dollar.

“Getting expensive!” remarked Collier.

“In the back! A million-two-hundred-fifty-thousand!” called Green.

Hip number 141 was sold to Stonestreet Stables of Lexington, Kentucky and Coolmore Stud of Ireland.

But the high bidding doesn’t stop there. Fifty horses down the line, Hip number 191 fetched $1.45 million. The horse, sold to owner Mandy Pope, was sired by Medaglia d'Oro, another sire ofchampions and the winner of the Travers and Whitney at Saratoga.