When Spectacular Bid was syndicated yesterday for future stud duty, his value was established at more than twice his weight in gold.
The $22 million put up by a 44-person syndicate set a record, but that price -- like the price of gold -- reflected the volatility of the wild commodity market as much as any objective reality.
It was just a few months ago that Kentucky breeder Brownell Combs came to the Belmont Stakes with a check for $10 million in his pocket. That was to be the down payment on $20 million that he would give to Bid's owner, Harry Meyerhoff, after his colt has swept the Triple Crown.
When Spectacular Bid lost the Belmont, the check stayed in Combs' pocket, and the breeder later told Meyerhoff that in those fateful 2 1/2 minutes, the horse's value had dropped to about $12 million. His stock stayed depressed when he lost to Affirmed in their showdown last fall.
This winter, Spectacular Bid went to the West Coast and won four straight races, beating only one other horse of merit -- Flying Paster. He hardly has proved anything that racing fans did not already know about him but suddenly he has become the most expensive horse in history. Why?
In the last few months, the thoroughbred market has been booming wildly, though there is no clear index of its fluctuations (as with the price of gold or stocks). But as wealthy people seek tax shelters and hedges against inflation, they have bid up the prices for thoroughbred blood stock to unprecedented levels.
At the summer yearling sales, buyers were spending more than $1 million for untested 1-year-olds on the remote hope that they would develop into great race horses and stallions.
At the breeding-stock sales this fall, prices continued to skyrocket. An offer of $700,000 was made -- and turned down -- for a share in Affirmed. One share in Seattle Slew sold for $800,000. Breeders have been paying stud fees as high as $200,000 for single services of stallions like Northern Dancer and Hoist The Flag.
In the context of these prices, the $22 million syndicate put together by Seth Hancock of Claiborne Farm is hardly unreasonable. In fact, it seems much less stunning that Hancock's $6 million syndication of Secretariat in 1973.
Members of the syndicate paid $550,000 for each share in Spectacular Bid, which entitles them to breed one mare a year to him throughout his career as a stallion. A hard-nosed commercial breeder might find this an excellent investment.
If the common practice is followed, he could pay for his share in Bid over a five-year period, which would amount to $110,000 per stud fee -- well in line with current market values. If he got three marketable foals in those five years the breeder should be able to sell them for enough money to cover all the costs of his investment. Spectacular Bid's distinguished racing record should insure considerable demand for his foals at yearling sales in the coming years.
After those five years have passed, the breeder would own his share free and clear. If Spectacular Bid proves himself a successful stallion, and lives a long and fruitful life, that $550,000 price for a share of him might one day seem as cheap as gold at $35 an ounce.