From Near-Rock Star Fame To Million-Dollar Horses, Terence Collier Has Seen It All

by | 10.18.2018 | 6:27pm
Terrence Collier

Over the course of his 42 years with Fasig-Tipton, Terence Collier has logged more than two and a half million sky miles.

Those miles have bridged the gap between the time of Humphrey and John Finney to the auction company's current administration, and crisscrossed the planet in the interest of getting horses sold.

Fortunately, Collier was already well-attuned to world travel by the time he joined Fasig-Tipton in the winter of 1976, if through a different mode of transportation.

A native of Kent, England, Collier joined the country's Merchant Navy after school, working on shipping lines that took him between his native country, the U.S., and Australia. His goal to steer ships as a deck officer was dashed due to a restriction on corrective eyewear, so he spent his time in the purser's department, handling the administrative end of the ships.

“I usually called bingo numbers and organized ping-pong tournaments,” he said.

Collier's interest in the Thoroughbred industry came from his wife, Elizabeth, who rode horses and was a secretary for trainer Scobie Breasley. Through Elizabeth's connections, he landed summer jobs on stud farms during extended leaves.

“It was the sheer beauty of Thoroughbreds in every aspect,” Collier said. “We all had our own mares and foals to take care of, and I used to have to deal with the teaser. The difference in character between these horses – between this great big stud horse that used to drag me all over the farm getting to the paddocks, and the wonderfully gentle mares and their foals. If I wasn't still fascinated by that aspect of this business, I'd have long since moved into something different.”

Between jobs, Collier was tasked with chauffeuring Fasig-Tipton chairman Humphrey S. Finney through sales and farm visits. The two got along well, and Collier was later introduced to Finney's son John, who had ascended to the company's presidency. Collier's friendship with the Finneys eventually led to a job offer with Fasig-Tipton, and he left England for the auction company's base in New York on a horse flight shortly after Christmas 1976. Today, Collier, 70, is the longest-tenured full-time employee in FasigTipton's history, currently serving as director of marketing and the primary auction announcer. He also handles arbitration disputes, liaises with the company's legal advisors, and stacks up sky miles recruiting and maintaining international buyers. Collier rode out some harrowing times at Fasig-Tipton over the course of 42 years, starting with the end of John Finney's time at the helm of the company in the late 1980s.

“I can remember one night late in the year, when John was still president. He called our senior executives together, there were about eight of us, and he explained our rather dire situation at the time,” Collier said. “He said, 'Here's what I want you to do. I want you to go home and write a list and put on it who you would see as the white knight for Fasig-Tipton.' At the end of it, that white knight was Peter Brant.”

Brant, and a partnership including then-Calumet Farm president J.T. Lundy, bought a majority stake in the auction company in 1987. Things quickly turned sour when unethical bidding practices with Calumet horses dealt a critical blow to Fasig-Tipton's reputation.

“For a period of time, that looked like everything was going in the right direction for Fasig,” Collier said. “Unfortunately, it didn't work out. We got in a similar situation and needed another savior, and lo and behold, here came John Hettinger at Akindale Farm and he became the principal shareholder at FasigTipton.

“There were a couple of wild rides in there, and then we hit this period with John at the helm,” he continued. “It saw the rise of Walt Robertson and [current Fasig-Tipton president] Boyd [Browning] within the management roles here and they did a great job. From that point onwards, I would say John Hettinger's ownership of this company has led to a period of stability and led to the business model that we have today.”

Fasig-Tipton was acquired by a Dubai-based company in 2008, shortly before Hettinger's death.

Collier downplayed his own importance in Fasig-Tipton's history despite being the company's public voice for much of his life. However, he said being the company's elder statesman did not necessarily mean he had an eye toward imminent retirement, though the company would be in good hands whenever he decides to do so.

“I think the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” he said. “The number of people that come up to me and say, 'I hear you're retiring soon.' I don't think you have to make a decision about retirement, I think it comes to you. Whether you're reluctant to hear the sounds or whether you're willing to hear the sounds just depends on the personality of the person that's involved.”

For now, Collier said, he'd like to give Fasig-Tipton all the time he can offer because of his commitment to the clientele that's built up over his decades of service. He also feels good about the company's future.

“I've got a group of younger colleagues here that I feel more comfortable with today than I've ever felt with the junior management with Fasig-Tipton, that I am comfortable will take the company in the direction it deserves to go.”

People who know Terence Collier only for his role as Fasig-Tipton's longtime lead announcer recognize his voice in a familiar confident, authoritative tone honed over decades on the auctioneer stand.

Hearing that same voice hum the opening bars of the 1960s hit song “Hitchin' a Ride” might take some getting used to for that group, but for the middle part of that decade, it was how he was best known.

While attending school in Kent County, England, Collier was the frontman of a band that, after several name and lineup changes, became the rock group Vanity Fare. There is little evidence readily available of Collier's time with the group. He was a member in the band's earliest iteration, and he had long since graduated and left to join the British Merchant Navy by the time it found international success with “Hitchin' a Ride.”

The best-recognized versions of the song were recorded by one of Collier's successors, and he admitted the visual evidence was mostly limited to a handful of wedding photographs with him sporting shoulder-length hair, but he still held much of those roughly three years onstage in his memories.

“It's still a golden oldie, and it gave me a huge thrill,” Collier said. “It got me an opportunity to share a beer bottle with Eric Burdon of The Animals, to play from the same music system that Eric Clapton had used on stage, to play with The Hollies, to be on the same show as The Rolling Stones – never the Beatles, the Beatles were a little before us and much too grand by the time we did it.”

The names and stories sounded glamorous, but Collier was quick to recall that he was part of the group in its formative days – a time of paying dues and playing at the bottom of the bill as a local band in matching uniforms, while the audience waited to see the better-known acts.

“We were the backup group,” he said. “We were never liked for being on there. We were always a total distraction. “I remember going on as the opening group for a group called The Four Pennies who had quite a number of hits,” he continued. “We were in Maidstone in Kent as the opening group, and we're standing there and there were showers of pennies being thrown at us, and pennies in those days were big copper coins. I said to our lead guitarist, 'They really like us,' and he said, 'What are you talking about? They're trying to hurt you. They want you to get off the stage.' Fame is very fleeting, but it was a lot of fun.”

The band's fortunes were on-course to turn around, though, when drummer Dick Allix brought them a new song to record: “Hitchin' a Ride,” written by Peter Cal – lander and Mitch Murray. A demo of the catchy, pop-driven song was recorded by Collier and his bandmates, and it was shopped around to record labels. The B-side of the record was a cover of The Sunrays' “I Live For The Sun,” which Collier recalled less favorably.

“It was a sort of Beach Boys knockoff with a lot of falsetto, and I hated it,” he said. “It was supposed to be the A-side because they thought California was more ready for that at the time, but of course, the Beach Boys had already sold 20 million records when we were ready to release this dumb little song.”

Collier was out of the band and out to sea by 1967, and the best-known version of Vanity Fare hit it big with “Hitchin' a Ride” two years later. Unfortunately, the realities of the music industry kept him out of receiving any long-term profits from the song.

“The group that it morphed into took that recording and went to California, and after a time managed to get somebody to release it,” he said. “In doing so, which was fairly common in those days, you had to give up a lot of the performing rights. The costs of actually recording it, releasing it, and promoting it were such that they demanded a bigger bite of everything that you did.”

Collier said he got a call to re-join the band after the song hit the charts stateside, but he was already firmly committed to the Merchant Navy, and he saw the contractual writing on the wall when it came to making a living on their hit song. Collier still has a guitar at home, and he scratches the itch to perform each summer at Siro's Restaurant while in town for the Fasig-Tipton yearling sales in Saratoga Springs. The trademark of many good frontmen is comfort with a microphone, and Collier said his days in the music industry absolutely translated to his confidence on the auction stand – particularly teaching him to project to the entire room and keep the size of the crowd in perspective.

“Probably one of the biggest gigs that I ever did was in Maidstone with The Animals,” he said. “We opened for them, and there might have been a couple thousand people there. Eric Burdon came out and looked at our equipment and said, 'You're not going to get much beyond the second row with what you've got here. Why don't you guys plug in to our stuff?' When you've got that amount of noise coming out and everybody's having a good time, you learn there aren't that many people listening to you.”

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