The goal for a batter in the leadoff spot is to get on base and set the stage for the more powerful hitters in the lineup.
In its position as the first major yearling auction of the season, Tuesday's Fasig-Tipton July yearling sale got good wood on the ball.
With the 2-year-old sales delivering solid results and a sense that the worst of times have passed, there are expectations that the yearling marketplace will continue the trend of upward swings.
With spirited if still realistic action from buyers, the one-day sale posted double-digit gains in overall gross and average, with the median holding steady.
Even with the global economy still sputtering, there has been a better feeling within the horse industry during the past 12 months as it recovers from nearly four years of downturns.
Polarization in the market is not dead — the 94 horses that failed to meet their reserves showed that. But the fact there is still competitive trade taking place is something buyers and sellers appreciate.
"I know we all talk about how bad the economy is, but it feels a lot looser to me," trainer Dale Romans said after going to $100,000 for a son of Forestry. "People seem more interested in buying right now than they have the last few years. I believe personally that we feel the downturn before everybody else because we deal with discretionary money, but maybe we're also feeling the upturn before everyone else."
One of the many byproducts of the shrinking foal crop is that buyers find themselves all landing on the same top offerings.
Fifteen yearlings each brought $200,000 or more during Tuesday's session, spurring on gross receipts of $15,364,000, a 15.1 percent increase over 2011, from 189 horses sold. The average of $81,291 was a 16.3 percent improvement from last year, with the median coming in even at $60,000.
Having the buyback rate rise from 27 percent in 2011 to 33 percent Tuesday showed that shoppers were still hesitant to go too far out on a limb. That the market continues to contract, however, probably means positive numbers can be expected at the boutique Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select sale in August and at the granddaddy of them all, the Keeneland September yearling sale.
"We're dealing with a smaller supply of horses so, in totality, we may see a marketplace that may not be dramatically different in terms of overall commerce this year," said Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning Jr. "We'll probably end up with some additional sales dollars but ... we're going to sell fewer yearlings throughout the North American marketplace in 2012.
"The most important thing to me is it kicked off the yearling season in a positive direction. I think buyers and sellers both leave here today feeling more confident in the yearling marketplace than they did yesterday."
While the abundance of offspring from first-crop sires in the catalog was generally well received, the sale topper once again came from a proven entity.
A dark bay colt by top Spendthrift Farm sire Malibu Moon brought the day's highest price, selling to trainer Ken McPeek for $375,000.
McPeek, who was bidding on behalf of the Magic City Thoroughbreds partnership headed by Carter Stewart, outlasted fellow trainer Mark Casse to secure the top offering from the CandyLand consignment. McPeek trained the colt's dam, Uncontrollable, a stakes-placed runner who is also the dam of stakes performers Southern Truth and Meistersinger.
"I thought he was a better version of" Uncontrollable, McPeek said. "The mare was very unlucky. She won her first race very impressively and then came back in the Top Flight Stakes at Arlington and came out of the race with a tendon" injury.
The price was higher than expected, McPeek said.
"It's typical," he said. "A good one is hard to buy, and average horses are easy to buy. He really looked the part. All the right parts in all the right places."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.