Officials of the two auctioneering firms that will sell nearly 400 thoroughbred yearlings in Maryland during the next week hope that the strong market response at the recently concluded nine-day Keeneland, Ky., sale will carry over here.
The Kentucky auction, the strongest fall yearling sale in its DTC 50-year history, grossed more than $87 million for nearly 2,500 horses, a 24 percent increase from a year ago.
"I'm guardedly optimistic," said Mason Grasty, executive vice president of Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Inc., the firm that will sell the bulk of the state's yearling sales crop on Oct. 3 and 4 at the Timonium Fairgrounds.
"We have had far greater response for catalogs this year than we ever have had before and the tentacles reach farther. I got calls yesterday from potential buyers in Kansas City, southwest Louisiana and Oklahoma City, places where we don't normally attract buyers," he said.
Grasty added that because of high prices many Maryland buyers were shut out in Kentucky and will shop for horseflesh at home.
Josh Taylor, vice president and general manager of the newly formed Horsemen's Bloodstock Services, which will sell 48 yearlings at its inaugural sale at the Laurel Race Course Sports Palace on Monday night, voiced similar optimism.
He said the company has sent out nearly 100 videos, which feature all the horses in the sale and which are being used as a new marketing technique by the firm.
The reason for the Kentucky sales boost: Because of shrinking foal crops, there are now fewer horses, and purses, boosted by simulcasting revenues, remain high for quality animals.
"People are still interested in buying a good horse," Grasty said. "But there seems to be a widening gap between the top and bottom horses. There is not much of a market for yearlings on the lower end of the scale."
Despite his optimism, Grasty said he doesn't look for a major jump in the Fasig-Tipton sales average. "Remember, we're not Keeneland. That would be like comparing my racing stable to one owned by the Arab sheiks. We're a regional sale, similar to ones in areas like Ocala, Fla., where the market showed an increase this summer although not as dramatic as the one at Keeneland.
"We're selling more horses in the select portion of our sale this year, so that added number will affect the average price," he said. "But our top horses should bring higher prices. I look for the median price to stay about the same. I'll be satisfied if we stay at our 1992 average of about $12,000 per horse."
Recent stakes wins by 1992 sales graduates Honorable Flight, Frigid Coed and the offering of a half-brother to Futurity Stakes winner Holy Bull have heightened interest in the auction the past few days, Grasty said.
No one knows what to expect at the inaugural HBS auction, which offers far fewer horses that were selected by a team comprised of company president Laddie Dance, adviser John Finney, Taylor and inspector Ann Fenwick.
The horses will be sold in a tent adjacent to the Sports Palace. Buyers can bid on the yearlings at the auction ring itself or seated inside the Sports Palace, where they can follow the action on large video screens.
Metropolitan Mile winner Ibero, New York millionaire Fourstars Allstar and either Lure or Furiously from the Shug McGaughey barn are considered possible starters in the Oct. 23 International Mile at Laurel Race Course.
European stakes winner Bigstone also is considered likely to start. The International, shortened from 10 furlongs to a mile this year, will be used as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Mile.
There are 51 runners still eligible for the race.
Breeders' Cup adds triple
Breeders' Cup officials announced yesterday that a national trifecta wager will be offered this year on the Breeders' Cup Classic as well as the National Pick 7 that was inaugurated on all seven Breeders' Cup races in 1991.
The triple bet will be a common-pool wager and is expected to be available in more than 30 states. The Breeders' Cup is set for Nov. 6 at Santa Anita Park.