The numbers aren't in the stratosphere, as they were just a few years ago. But as the million-dollar level was repeatedly passed inside the Fasig-Tipton pavilion Sunday night, it felt a bit like old times in the Thoroughbred marketplace.
With buyer confidence getting a boost from the strength of a resurgent yearling marketplace, top-end money showed up in force to support the first major North American breeding-stock sale of the season.
Thirteen horses cracked the million-dollar mark — four more than in 2010 — as the Fasig-Tipton November sale posted across-the-board gains in all significant categories.
With the Breeders' Cup World Championships wrapping up Saturday night at Churchill Downs, virtually all the major players stuck around to see whether they could snag one commodity that never goes out of fashion in the Thoroughbred industry: pretty young mares.
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Buyers are not bidding at the outlandish levels they did four and five years ago, but horses who have the sought-after combination of looks, pedigree and race record inspired strong competition. That was reflected in the totals: The gross of $32,745,000 from 79 horses sold was up 17 percent, and the average ($414,494) and median ($200,000) increased 31.8 percent and 53.8 percent, respectively.
"It's the same story; there is significant demand for quality offerings," said Boyd Browning, the president of Fasig-Tipton. "I think (confidence) has increased, but you still don't see silly things happening in the auction ring.
"People bid still with some discipline, which is probably healthier long-term. But there is a higher level of confidence today than there was a year ago."
The most desirable of the bunch for the evening was Grade I winner Funny Moon, who prompted a sale-topping bid of $2.3 million from Leonard Riggio's My Meadowview Farm operation. Consigned by Gainesway, the 5-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon was sold in foal to Indian Charlie and was one of several top offerings that proved difficult to buy.
"We only had two or three mares on the list for the sale," said Lincoln Collins, agent for My Meadowview. "She's good-looking, we like Indian Charlie and it's a very solid pedigree.
"I think it's getting harder and harder to buy at the top end," Collins said. "I hope that confidence will gradually seep down through the rest of the market. But it's going to remain for the time being a pretty selective market."
Much to the delight of sellers, the evening's money was spread out among both domestic and international shoppers. Teruya Yoshida's Japanese-based Shadai operation bought the day's second-highest priced horse, Grade I winner Dubawi Heights, for $1.6 million, while Gerard and Alain Wertheimer, owners of European champion Goldikova, went to $1.4 million for Grade I winner Zaftig.
The rate of horses not sold came in at 27.5 percent, an improvement from the 2010 figure of 33.1 percent, although polarization remains an issue for horses with age or other knocks against them.
With the yearling market on the upswing around the globe, however, there is hope that momentum will carry over not just into boutique auctions like Fasig-Tipton but lengthier exercises, including the 11-day Keeneland November breeding stock sale, which begins Monday.
"The (Keeneland) September yearling sale and all the other sales were up, which was fantastic news for the industry," agent Tom Goffs said after purchasing A Z Warrior for $1.25 million for an undisclosed client. "The yearling sales back in Europe were just phenomenal, so I think trade for these good mares and for breeding stock is going to be strong in Europe, and it's picking up here."