Experts estimate, and conservatively at that, that only three out of every five Thoroughbreds born ever get to the starting gate. Only one out of five ever succeeds in winning a race, and one out of 10 may eventually win a stake race. And yet, in the face of these discouraging odds, hundreds of newcomers join the ranks of owners every year. To satisfy them in the furiously competitive game of equine supply and demand, nearly 20% of the 9,000 Thoroughbreds born annually pass through the sales ring in a yearling auction.
Yearling sales have come a long way since the first accurate statistics were compiled over 40 years ago. Back in 1910, for example, in an era when most sales were private, over-the-fence deals, only 550 head passed through a regular auction ring. They averaged a piddling $325 per horse. Last year 1,783 yearlings went through U.S. sales rings, costing their buyers $8,953,550, or an average of $5,021.62.
Beginning next week in Lexington, Ky. the auctioneers expect that 1959 will bring a new record in their total annual sales. And the country's two major auction companies already have reputations tough to beat. Lexington's Breeders' Sales Co., which conducts its 16th annual auctions July 27, 28, 29, still holds the mark: 235 yearlings in the 1957 sales averaged an amazing $11,789 (the 145 colts in that sale averaged an even more amazing $13,667). The Fasig-Tipton Company, whose swankiest sales will be held at Saratoga August 10-14, hopes to surpass last year's average of $8,671 for 240 yearlings, while at Del Mar in California on August 3 and 4 the progressive California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, whose sale is also conducted by Fasig-Tipton, figures to top the 1958 figure of 90 head going for an average of $7,111.
DIAMONDS AND HARD BOOTS
Each of these two major companies is as different from the other as is the diamond-studded lady who attends the one from the hard-boot ex-jockey who is a ringsider at the other. Fasig-Tipton Company, headed up by bespectacled Humphrey Finney, conducts its Saratoga business in an atmosphere which combines Royal Ascot and Deauville with all the potential wealth of the Thoroughbred industry in a gay holiday mood. The Saratoga race meeting is in progress during August. It draws people with money, and Fasig-Tipton graciously relieves them of large bundles of it.
In the enclosed air-conditioned pavilion of the Breeders' Sales Co. in Lexington are to be found horsemen from all over, ranging from the local farm managers through packed rows of bankroll-bulging Texans and bargain-hunting Californians. The majority of eastern owners prefer to send an agent or trainer to Lexington.
These who go to Saratoga's sales go for both the sales and the fun. Those who go to Lexington go strictly on business, for no other U.S. sales have managed to satisfy their customers with so many major winners in so brief a period.
Item: Of the slightly fewer than 900 horses which have earned over $100,000 in the entire history of American racing, no fewer than 86 were bought at public auction at the Breeders' Sales Co. Keeneland ring. Some 29 of these have already won over $200,000 (a figure reached by only 18 horses who changed hands one way or the other through the Fasig-Tipton Co.).
Item: Since 1945 four of the winners of the Kentucky Derby (Hoop Jr., Jet Pilot, Dark Star and Determine) were acquired from the Keeneland ring.
Item: Although no horse has won racing's Triple Crown since Citation did it in 1948, the Breeders' Sales Co. scored a unique "triple crown" victory in 1954 when three of its sales products—with a total purchase value of only $45,300—won racing's three major classics. Determine ($12,000) won the Derby; Hasty Road ($23,100) the Preakness, and High Gun ($10,200) the Belmont and the 3-year-old championship.