Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Modern Triple Crown Bargains

Of the sixteen different winners of Triple Crown races in the past five years, eleven have been sold at public auction. Three of those horses were bargains in the sales in which they were sold, becoming adroit purchases for their buyers. But when these horses went through the auction ring, no one could have guessed what their futures would hold.

Whenever an important auction nears, it is discussed which horses will bring the highest prices. Though the horses that sell for the large amount of digits can become very successful horses, a large portion of them never earn their worth or amount to much. It is the purchasers that find the bargains that are luckiest of all.

I’ll Have Another: Sold in the fifth book of six, I’ll Have Another strutted into the auction ring in Lexington, Kentucky for the 2010 Keeneland September Yearling Sale – the most well-known public auction for Thoroughbreds in North America – as hip 3660. Consigned by Brookdale Sales, agent, I’ll Have Another was foaled on Brookdale Farm outside of Versailles, Kentucky and possessed an immature appearance throughout his early days.

When I’ll Have Another was led into the ring on the twelfth day of the fourteen-day Keeneland September Yearling Sale, the colt’s sire, Flower Alley, had just one crop of racing age. The level of success of the winner of the prestigious Travers Stakes (GI) and runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) in the breeding shed was not yet known. I’ll Have Another’s dam, Arch’s Gal Edith, had only produced a two-year-old with little experience. With a rather unremarkable damside and an inconspicuous appearance, the price for which the unnamed colt was sure to be rather inexpensive.

As the yearling colt’s gangly frame walked about the auction ring, potential could be seen in him. He was all leg, but he was a well-balanced individual with a beautifully angled shoulder and strong topline. But bidders were hesitant to offer money for the son of Flower Alley. The bidding began at merely $1,000 and grew by small increments until it reached $11,000. The hammer fell and the yearling colt was officially purchased by Victor Davila of Eisaman Equine – a pinhooker, someone who purchases a horse at auction with the purpose of selling the horse at a later auction to make a profit.

That later auction was the 2011 Ocala Breeders' Sales Company Spring Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training. The son of Flower Alley, still unnamed, breezed an eighth of a mile in 10
2/5 seconds while galloping greenly but efficiently. As hip 494, I’ll Have Another sold for $35,000 to J. Paul Reddam, who would campaign him throughout his racing career.

I’ll Have Another would of course go on to win the Kentucky Derby (GI) and the Preakness Stakes (GI) before being scratched from the Belmont Stakes (GI) and retired due to a tendon issue. I’ll Have Another proved that even the best of the best can be purchased for a low price. After all, most people who purchase a Thoroughbred within five digits don’t expect it to become a winner of two legs of the Triple Crown. But I’ll Have Another did just that.

Mine That Bird: A colt in a plain brown wrapper, Mine That Bird wasn’t much to look at when he entered the Fasig-Tipton auction ring in Lexington, Kentucky for the 2007 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale. Sold as hip 208, the small bay colt did not make much of an impression.

The then unnamed colt, consigned by Highclere Sales, agent IX, did not have a very impressive catalog page, as it had just little black-type on it and he was a member of the first crop of his young sire, 2004 Belmont Stakes conqueror Birdstone. In addition, Mine That Bird, was not much to look at. As a result, the price was quite low; the fall of the hammer came at the small price of $9,500.

Mine That Bird was purchased at that auction by Canadian trainer David Cotey, for whom he put together a juvenile campaign in Canada that earned him the title of 2008 Canadian Champion Two-Year-Old Male. The colt was privately sold to Double Eagle Ranch Inc. and Buena Suerte Equine for a price much higher than the one he was sold for the previous year: $400,000.

The colt went on to win the Kentucky Derby as the second longest price ever, going off at odds of nearly 51-1 and paying $103.20 to win. By the end of his racing career, the small, ordinary-looking $9,500 yearling purchase had acquired $2,228,637 in earnings – much more than any inspector or bidder ever expected him to earn.

Curlin: The Keeneland September Yearling Sale has recurrently proven to be a significant auction that sells a large portion of the greatest horses racing sees each year. In fact, four of the past five Horse of the Year title holders passed through the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. One of those horses is accountable for two of those titles. That horse is Curlin.
Photo by Terri Cage

But Curlin did not garner much attention at the esteemed sale, despite the fact that his sire, Smart Strike, had sired six champions at the time and that his second dam was a multiple graded stakes winner. It was a calcium deposit on the colt’s left front ankle – a minor blemish – that led Curlin to be sold for just $57,000 – nearly half the sale average – to trainer Ken McPeek, who was serving as an agent for Midnight Cry Stable.

Curlin was later sold for a price much higher than the value for which he was purchased as a yearling – $3.5 million. After being owned by several different partners, Curlin finally ended up being owned by Stonestreet Stables, LLC.

All because of a minor veterinary issue, Curlin was sold for a bargain price, but went on to win seven grade ones, including the 2007 Preakness Stakes. Interestingly, he was purchased at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale the same year that Zenyatta sold for just $60,000 at the same sale. Anyone inspecting the horses at the time likely never would have guessed that both horses would go on to become Horse of the Year and among the best horses the nation has seen in the past decade. Curlin, sold for the bargain price of $57,000, would become the richest racehorse of all-time in North America, earning $10,501,800. He certainly earned his worth.

These three horses proved the price doesn’t determine how good of a horse you have; the horse does. Sometimes it’s not the tremendously expensive horses – such as the $16 million flop, The Green Monkey – but the bargains like I’ll Have Another, Mine That Bird, and Curlin that are the horses worth buying.

*Big Brown, winner of the 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, was purchased for the bargain price of $60,000 as a yearling, but was pinhooked and sold for $190,000 as a two-year-old.

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