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At the age of 72, Eleonora Sears is a lively example of the genus sportswoman. She flew in an airplane as early as 1910, took a fling at ice hockey, baseball and football (fullback on her own team), once averaged a three-mile swim a day at Newport, won numerous national doubles titles in tennis and was three times runner-up for the national singles title. She has walked the 74 miles from Newport to Boston in 16 hours and 50 minutes, wearing out several young male pacemakers in the process and as recently as last year she played in the national squash championships, an event which she first won in 1928. She has also schooled a couple of generations of young Harvards in the art of enjoying a good party in her Boston town house.
But, for all of her athletic loves and talents, Eleo Sears is primarily a horsewoman. She has ridden for years with the Myopia Hunt ( Hamilton, Mass.), owned hunters and steeplechasers which have played important roles in the Madison Square Garden show. Now, as a septuagenarian, she is happily entering a new field with Hip No. 284: flat racing. Of her new baby, she said: "I hope he can run, but I don't know yet."
In her fond hope that her yearling can run, Horse Owner Sears is in the same position as all the other buyers who this year, in two major auctions, have spent a total of $5,576,500 for 616 thoroughbred yearlings?or an average of $9,053 per purchase. At Saratoga, Humphrey Finney's Fasig-Tipton Company disposed of 272 yearlings at an average price of $7,931 and a total outlay of $2,157,200. At the Keeneland ( Lexington, Ky.) sales pavilion in July, the co-operative Breeders' Sales Company sold 344 yearlings for an all-time record of $3,419,300, which averages out to $9,940. The Saratoga average was down slightly from last year ($8,350), but more yearlings were sold, and one conclusion that can be made from the figures comes from the men whose business it is to sell the yearlings and from the men who bring them to the sales ring to be sold.
A BARGAIN?OR REAL CLASS
Said happy Humphrey Finney, after closing up his shop Saturday night: "A most selective market." Wing Commander Timothy A. Vigors of the RAF, a veteran of the Battle of Britain, summed it up in a neat package, "There didn't appear to be any middle market in America this year. Your people want a $500 bargain or they'll shoot for real class at $30,000 or more. If you've got the top article to sell, you'll do all right. Otherwise you won't." Vigors brought over from Ireland one article, which apparently was just such a top number; his son of Royal Charger was knocked down to Harry Guggenheim's Cain Hoy Stable for $35,000?exactly what Vigors predicted he would bring.
The $75,000 paid for Hip No. 284 by Miss Sears equaled a Saratoga record established in 1928, when C.V.B. Cushman, bidding for a syndicate, paid that amount for a colt later named New Broom (which earned only $275 in its racing career). The highest U.S. yearling auction price on record is the $86,000 paid this July by F. J. Adams, Houston oil man, for a colt by Nasrullah out of a stakes-winning daughter of Alibhai named Lurline B. New Owner Adams, like New Owner Sears, was entering flat racing for the first time. There was one difference: Adams said, "I don't know much about horses."
For both Adams and Sears, however, along with the hundreds of other people who attend yearling sales, a knowledge of horses may turn out to be immaterial in the long run. Connoisseurs are a dime a dozen in the horse-trading business, and rarely will two of them agree on any point in the sport's greatest guessing game, namely, predicting from a pedigree chart and personal observation which yearling will eventually run faster than the next. For the odds in picking yearlings are higher than in roulette, and the 1954 wheel will only start spinning when this crop of yearlings go postward as two-year-olds in 1955. Nonetheless, the fascination of thoroughbred racing, long strong in the U.S. and growing stronger every year, brought some 2,000 or more interested parties into Saratoga Springs last week to buy, bid or just to watch with compulsive fascination.
For all of them it was a lively week, for Saratoga is not all business. The auction meeting goes with dinner parties, late dancing at the Saratoga Golf Club, breakfast on the clubhouse terrace to watch early-morning training rides. The pace was dizzy, but there were no complaints, except possibly from a few local inhabitants, who, long accustomed to settling down early in the evenings, were subjected all week to the noise of party-goers stumbling in at 4 a.m. and shouting their good-nights to one another across the elmdotted streets.
The 1954 yearling sales were not dominated by any one group or groups of buyers. The money came rolling in from all points, from rich men and women and from the not-so-rich, who could only afford to shell out a few hundred.
At Keeneland the market was controlled largely by western buyers. One of them, Mrs. John McMahan of Hidden Valley, Calif., paid $60,000 for a brother of Your Host. She too is on her first racing venture. Another Californian, R. D. Coon, president of the Joshua National Bank in Twentynine Palms, Calif., forked over $53,500 for a brother to the top-class English filly Happy Laughter.