The select sales of summer yearlings began yesterday in Kentucky, three days earlier than they did until recent years.
For decades, Keeneland offered "the" option in the Bluegrass area, its Lexington sales pavilion attracting horsemen from throughout the world to play that most difficult of all highstakers games, Pony Poker. Keeneland still is doing very nicely, as last summer's $67,000 average for 1-year-old thoroughbreds attests.
There is, however organization doing big business near the more celebrated stand. Fasig-Tipton hopes to move into the $20,000 to $25,000 average bracket today abd, judging by past perfoormances, that objective should not prove too difficult.
The winners of the last six Triple Crown races have been sold at public auction in Kentucky by Fasig-Tipton. Bold Forbes was purchased out of the 1974 summer yearling sale for $15,200. He won the 1976 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. Elocutionist was sold at the same sale as Bold Forbes, for $15,000. He won the 1976 Preakness.
Then, in 1975, the sales company offered a yearling for $17,500 at its two-day summer sale that became the 10th Triple Crown winner.
"I remember inspecting Seattle Slew on Ben Castleman's farm as a young yearling," Fasig-Tipton genaral manager Ted Bates recalls. "He was a strong colt, particularly well developed in the shoulder and forearm. He was deep through the middle. You could see there was plenty of room for the lungs and heart. And he had a good, strong back. He was well-balanced. The only thing against him, if you wanted to be picky, was his right front: he came out a bit from the knee down.
"I went back and looked up his inspection card this spring, once he kept being unbeated and winning all those big stakes." Bates adds. "The early word on him wasn't bad. It described him as likely to be 'quick,' meaning he figured to do well early in his money you paid for him in a hurry."
Mereworth and Windfields farms have been added to the Fasig-Tipton consigners this time around. The catalog is much stronger than before but still represents a bargain basement, compared with Keeneland.
"We don't get the pick of consignments with the high-priced sires like Sir Ivor, Nijinsky or Secretarial," Bates acknowledged. "Most of those go to Kenneland or to our sales in Saratoga. What we seem to get, though, is an excellent selection of yearlings by young sires having their first or second crops.
"Bold Reasoning, Irish Castle and Gallant Romeo were examples of such young sires. They gave us Seattle Slew, Bold Forbes and Elocutionist."
Bates believes this year's auction offers the sons or daughters of more promising young sires than ever before.
"The Angle Lights look good," he says. "And I like Nalee's Man, too. He's by Gallant Man. Then there's Our Native, who's by Exclusive Native out of a Crafty Admiral mare. I'll also throw in a good word for Torsion, Apalanchee, Mississippian, His Majesty and Key To The Mint. They all took like they're off to a good start, along with Prove Out and Raja Baba."
Don't look for Fasig-Tipton to begin challenging Keeneland's record for high-priced yearlings. The $1.5 million paid at Keeneland last summer for a Secretariat colt out of Dahlia's dam will stand as a world mark for at least another year.
Bates will be happy if his "little old warmup sale" beats its own $105,000 high paid last summer for a Vaguely Noble colt.
"We simply believe we have been offering a useful horse for less money . . . and we have been very furtunate," Bates declared. "When we sold Bold Forbes and Elocutionist, our auction was held in a tent on an afternoon when there was plenty of thunder and lightning all around. We didn't get into our permanent locations until 1975."
Which was when lightning struck again, with Seattle Slew.
"That certainly helped," Bates admitted. "We've had a lot of serious horse buyers here all week. We don't pretend to be the biggest outfit in the territory around here, but I have to say the competition and the buyers know we're in town."