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  • Robin K. Cooper

Buyers bet big during first night of Saratoga horse sales

Buyers from China, Ireland and California led the action during the opening round of Fasig-Tipton's yearling sales Monday in Saratoga Springs, New York.

A total of 73 yearlings sold for $21.2 million, nearly matching last year's opener when 70 thoroughbreds sold for $21.7 million.

"We are not seeing any signs of a recession tonight," said Bob Baffert, who became the first trainer in 37 years to capture the Triple Crown with American Pharoah.

"Everybody here is playing at the top," said Baffert, who flew in from California for the auction. "The money is here. Everyone comes in here and cherry picks these well-bred horses. It creates a lot of excitement... You never know when that one horse might come."

Stonestreet Stables' Barbara Banke, chair of Jackson Family Wines, and Coolmore Stud of Ireland teamed up to pay the highest price of the night to purchase a colt from the same bloodline as American Pharoah.

Stonestreet and Coolmore paid $950,000 for a colt sired by Pioneer of the Nile, who also sired American Pharoah.

The China Horse Club, a group of Chinese business executives, financiers, educators and politicians, purchased five yearlings totaling $2.3 million, including one colt that they bought after the horse left auction ring in a private sale for $150,000.

Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning said the result of opening night show that the market for quality yearlings remains steady.

"We saw a similar marketplace to what we've seen," Browning said.

However, buyers are becoming a bit more selective.

"There is restraint at all levels of the marketplace," he said. "People are watching what they spend... And I think that is reflective of the results."

The average sale price for yearlings on opening declined from $310,000 last year to $290,000 this year. The median sale price increased slightly from $225,000 in 2015 to $240,000 for this year's opening round.

"It's no walk in the park for either buyers or sellers. It's a reasonable marketplace," Browning said.

He would have liked to have seen at least one horse sell for more than $1 million. But there is still an opportunity on Tuesday, the second and final night of the auction company's premier yearling sale.

Last year, the auction generated $46.8 million in sales as 145 yearlings were purchased over two days.

The auction attracts wealthy investors from all over the world.

Justin Zayat, racing and stallion manager for Zayat Stables, who owned American Pharoah during his Triple Crown run, came to Saratoga for the Fasig-Tipton sales.

Zayat Stables purchased two yearlings Monday for $725,000.

Robin K. Cooper covers manufacturing and sports business.

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