Craig Bandoroff of Denali Stud knew he brought a special consignment to this year's Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Selected Yearlings Sale, but he also knew he'd need a little help from above to stand out in the auction's incredibly deep catalog.
Bandoroff and his son Conrad came to the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. on Tuesday sporting their “Bill Graves” ties, a yellow and gray garment sold at last year's Saratoga sale to memorialize the auction company's late senior vice president.
Whether your belief system lies in the spiritual or the spirit of the marketplace, the end result was the same: Denali Stud sold a pair of seven-figure sons of Curlin, including the $1.5-million co-topper, to help drive record returns in average and median sale prices.
“All week, people said we had the best consignment on the grounds,” the elder Bandoroff said. “Sometimes you bring horses that you think are very good horses, and the buyers don't agree with you. The vets started showing up yesterday, and we could tell it was going to be really good.
“I wore this tie for a reason,” he continued. “I said to the auctioneer team tonight I'm dedicating this one to Bill Graves. I know Bill is looking down and he's happy for us.”
Tuesday's session of the sale was a certified moment for Hill 'n' Dale Farms sire Curlin, who had three of the auction's four horses to trade for seven figures, and another just miss at $950,000.
Curlin also had both halves of the co-session-toppers, including Hip 153, a colt out of Chilean champion Wapi who sold to the multi-national partnership of Aquis Farm, Let's Go Stable, and Crawford Farm Racing.
Bloodstock agent Demi O'Byrne was on hand to assist the partnership, as was Todd Pletcher, who will train the colt.
“We've had Demi on board for a while, we came up here and looked at 25 colts, and he said this was the one,” said Aquis Farm CEO Shane McGrath. “I came up and looked at him, and I agreed with him. Fortunately, Todd Pletcher had him as well.”
Aquis Farm is a large operation in Australia with racing and breeding interests across the continent, and McGrath said the purchase was part of a plan to further expand the stable onto a global stage. While the colt would start with Pletcher, McGrath said sending the horse to the Southern Hemisphere was absolutely on the table if it felt like the right decision.
“The prize money is so good in Australia now, if he's good, you'd have to consider it,” he said. “We'll give him to Todd, he'll work it out, and if he says he's good enough to come down, maybe he could be an Everest horse. We've got an Everest slot, and if he's good enough to bring him down, I'd love to do it in due course.”
This year's Saratoga sale was McGrath's first time attending the auction, and while he said he enjoyed the experience, inspecting horses from a different locale took some getting used to.
“There are so many nice horses here, and they're so much different to the Australian horses, so it's hard to get your eye in, but at the end of the day, when you see a real one, you see a real one,” he said.
The colt had strong South American ties on the page, but the connections were just as strong with the operations that bred him. Wapi, a daughter of Scat Daddy, was purchased by the partnership of Don Alberto Corp. and Three Chimneys Farm for $1.05 million at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton November sale with the Curlin colt in utero.
“There was certainly an affinity from Don Alberto, for her being Chilean, and her winning the Oaks there,” said Three Chimneys COO Chris Baker. “She was a tremendous racemare there, and it's well known what Scat Daddy is. Scat Daddy brings the speed to the cross with Curlin, so the mating was very attractive, as well, with two South American owners that had appreciation for that Chilean form.”
The mare produced just two foals for the partnership before dying of colic two and a half weeks ago. She had a Gun Runner colt on April 1 to complete her produce record.
“She was on her way to becoming an important broodmare, and maybe through her two offspring, she'll prove to be one,” Baker said.
Large Partnership Bands Together For $1.5-Million Curlin Colt
Arthur B. Hancock III of Stone Farm watched two Curlin colts go through the ring on Tuesday night and bring seven figures while his lone offering of the sale waited in his stall to go through as Hip 174.
Hancock had arguably the most buzzed-about horse on the grounds in the days leading up to the sale, and buyers were clearly responding to sons of Curlin. Still, the veteran horseman kept any excitement he had for the immediate future close to the vest.
“I'm 76 and I've been doing this a long time, but I was nervous as hell, because you just never know,” Hancock said. “You get in there, and some other Curlins bought a lot of money, and I said, 'Oh my gosh, there goes our Curlin money. It's already been spent.' But that's the business. Sometimes it's chicken, and sometimes it's feathers. Tonight, we got a nice, big roasted chicken with potatoes, and carrots, and everything.”
It took a small army to force the hammer onto the gavel at $1.5 million, secured by a partnership that included West Point Thoroughbreds, Woodford Racing, Siena Farm, Valdes Singleton, William Sandbrook, and William T. Freeman.
“Everything just came together, and that's what you have to do with these horses,” said West Point's Terry Finley. “You've got to put everything together, and then two or three minutes before the sale, everything really comes together, and the same thing happened with this colt.
“These are the kind of horses that you've got to stretch for,” he continued. “I've been in the business for 40 years and I've been buying horses for about 29 years. Up until about two years ago, I would stand here and say, 'Damn, I hope I can get to a point someday where I can be in play with these kinds of horses.' I'm very blessed to have the partners that we have. I love the power of the partnership.”
The colt was bred in Kentucky by celebrity chef Bobby Flay, who also bred and raced his dam, the Grade 3-winning A.P. Indy mare America. Described as “courageous” by Hancock, the colt's fourth dam is the blue hen mare Blush With Pride, putting him in the family of Broodmare of the Year Better Than Honour, champion Rags to Riches, Belmont Stakes winner Jazil, and a host of other horses of note.
“He was a good-looking foal, and was like the boss out in his field with all the other foals,” Hancock said. “We raise them in 80-90-acre fields, and somebody said he's a graduate of the Arthur Hancock School of Unarmed Combat. We raise them tough.
“If you have the opportunity to sell one like that, our job is to get him here in one piece and show him as best we can, and he did the rest,” he continued. “Bobby bred a good horse. He breeds horses damn near as good as he cooks.”
LaPenta, Bridlewood Farm Team Up For $1-Million Curlin Colt
It only took a handful of hips after the first Denali-consigned son of Curlin to ring up a seven-figure bid for the next one to drop the hammer, with frequent partners Robert LaPenta and Bridlewood Farm going in on a $1-million colt.
The bay colt, Hip 159, is out of the stakes-placed Yes It's True mare Yes Liz, and he was bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet Farm, the same operation that campaigned Curlin during his on-track career.
“We thought he was the most well-balanced colt in the whole sale,” said bloodstock agent John Panagot. “We were here looking for colts, and we thought he was the best athlete here, from possibly the best dirt stallion in the country…Anytime you get a chance to buy a Stonestreet-raised horse, that's an extra incentive to buy.”
Panagot said a decision would be made later as to who would train the new purchase.
“This horse was our number-one,” he said. “It just happened to be he was in the middle of the second night. Ideally, they go through early and you see where you're at, but we saved some powder, and we're happy we did.”
The Saratoga sale has been good to the Denali Stud team, with one of the most notable recent examples being Tapwrit, who sold for $1.2 million as a yearling in upstate New York en route to winning the Belmont Stakes two years later. The colt was purchased by LaPenta and Bridlewood Farm, in partnership with Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners.
“The stars have to align, and every once in a while, they do,” Craig Bandoroff said. “We're lucky we sell for great people and have a great team. Conrad's doing more all the time and he's going to be the face of the organization. It's been a special night.”
Conrad, a Darley Flying Start graduate who serves as the company's vice president, leaned over from the seat next to his father and chimed in.
“He's still heavily involved,” he said. “Don't let him fool you.”
Fireman Buys $950,000 Curlin Colt
The opening gambit of Tuesday's trade saw its first brush with the seven-figure point when former Reebok CEO Paul Fireman bought a Curlin colt for $950,000.
The chestnut colt, sold as Hip 134, is the first foal out of the Grade 1-winning Flatter mare Taris. The mare sold to the Coolmore partnership for $2.35 million at the 2014 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale shortly after winning the Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland by a widening nine lengths. The mare went on to hang a Grade 1 win on her page before being retired and selling privately to the partnership of Hill 'n' Dale Farms, Glen Hill Farm, and Heider Family Stables.
Trainer Kenny McPeek signed the ticket on behalf of Fireman's Fern Circle Stable.
“This is a fantastic colt,” McPeek said. “They want to race horses at the high end and get stallion prospects, and he's one of them. [Fireman] likes quality over quantity. We don't have that many, but they're good ones.”
Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency consigned the colt, as agent.
The colt was bred in Kentucky by Heider Family Stables, which has had an active Saratoga sale this season. The operation purchased a $950,000 Tapit filly during Monday's session, good for the evening's second-highest price.
Later in the sale, the Coolmore partnership went to $950,000 on Hip 191, an American Pharoah colt out of the Grade 1-placed stakes-winning Malibu Moon mare Bon Jovi Girl. St. George Sales consigned the half-brother to Grade 3 winner You're to Blame, as agent.
Final Returns Show Record Average, Median
As expected, the top of the market propelled stellar final numbers for this year's Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale, but the returns were especially strong this year, finishing with all-time highs in average and median sale price.
Over the two days of trade, a total of 135 yearlings changed hands for revenues of $55,574,000, down 12 percent from last year's sale when 170 horses sold for a record $62,794,000.
The average sale price closed at $411,459, which marked a 11 percent improvement from the 2018 renewal and blew past the previous record of $385,259 set in 2001. The median landed at $350,000, outkicking the record tied last year of $300,000 by 17 percent. The buyback finished at 26 percent, compared with 21 percent last year.
“It's really pretty simple – quality sells,” said Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning. “We had a remarkable group of quality horses on offer tonight, and the buyers responded very favorably. We felt really confident about the catalog coming into this sale. We felt confident this spring when we were seeing the horses that we were going to have a really good group.”
Tuesday's session finished with 74 horses sold for $32,772,000, with an average of $442,865 and a median of $360,000. All three figures were improvements over Monday's opener. The evening's buyback rate finished at 24 percent.
“I would not have dared this morning to say we'd average $442,000, but we felt good last night and knew we had a lot of valuable horses today,” Browning said. “We had a lot of interest and a lot of positive feedback overall.”
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