On April 10, the thoroughbred auction industry received a major shakeup when it was announced Lexington-based Fasig-Tipton Co., North America's oldest Thoroughbred auction company, had reached an agreement to be acquired by Synergy Investments Ltd., a Dubai-based company headed by Abdulla Al Habbai, a close associate of leading buyer Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.
The deal officially closed on May 30 and on Monday, Fasig will conduct its first sale under the new regime when its two-day Kentucky July Yearling sale kicks off at 10 a.m.
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In an interview, Boyd Browning, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Fasig-Tipton discussed what impact the new ownership group will have on the company and the industry.
Question: This is the first sale under the new ownership. What changes if any will consignors, buyers, patrons notice?
Answer: ”They're going to be amazed at how remarkably similar it is. The reality is we haven't instituted any noticeable changes. ... Our instructions from our new owners was to take an evaluative period of time, think, brainstorm, talk to people in the industry, talk to people outside the industry because we're looking for some new ideas, some new thoughts, new energy and see what we want to accomplish. Not to have any immediate knee-jerk reaction to do something for the sake of doing something, but to really try and sit down and say what's our vision for the next three to five years, not three to five months.
We've concentrated on the short term trying to put together a good catalog, trying to get a good group of buyers here for July into Saratoga and at the same time have a few other balls up in the air, a few new balls in the air that we're juggling. But right now, it's remarkably similar.
Q: What has been the reaction from consignors, buyers, etc.? What have they told you they want to see?
A: The overall reaction has been amazingly positive. I think the single most mentioned issue is the lack of new players in our business and the need to attract new participants to the thoroughbred racing/sales industry.
Q: So how do you go about doing that?
A: I don't know yet. We don't pretend to have all the answers. ... I'm trying to find some bright people, some people who may have a better skill set to address issues like that than we might have internally, not that we don't have some ideas internally ... but I think the combination of some ideas here, some ideas there and you need some overall professional help and some professional expertise to try and pull them all together.
Q: How much contact have you had with the new owners? Have they physically come here yet?
A: No. We've had a modest amount of contact I guess would be the best description.
As they indicated early on, they were buying this company because it was a quote-unquote ”turnkey“ operation; it didn't require a lot of hands on from them, and fortunately or unfortunately, they thought there was a pretty good management team in place.
Q: How ultimately will this new ownership benefit Fasig-Tipton?
A: I think the primary thing is it gives us access to capital we didn't have before. Whether that capital will be spent in terms of marketing or whether it will be spent in new owner development or in terms of facilities or new markets, who knows what the possibilities are.
Q: What impact do you think it might have on the sales landscape with the owners being so closely associated with Sheikh Mohammed, who is the leading buyer?
A: I'm going to answer that in two parts. I think from the immediacy standpoint, the sales landscape will not be changed virtually any. I don't think you'll see a new wave of people come buy horses in July or in Saratoga because of who owns the company and I don't think you'll see any dramatic shifts of people who aren't going to buy horses or sell here because of who owns the company.
I think ultimately the success and failure of this company is going to be based upon the job we do in the marketplace. ... It's going to be based on the performance of the men and women who work at Fasig-Tipton and not who owns the company.
Q: Have there been any talks about adding sales, expansion in any sense?
A: Sure. We've talked about a variety of tasks and a variety of topics. The addition of sales, the expansion of sales, the expansion of locations, they've all been kicked around. But are we beyond the idea stage on anything? No.
Q: How long before some of these things get past the idea stage and get to the point where they might become more concrete?
A: I think by the first of next year. I think we have to come up with some concrete plans, not ideas, by the beginning of 2009.
Q: Anything else you'd like to share?
A: Ultimately, our success and failure is not going to be measured just by the success of how this company does but how we help influence the industry. ...
That's going to be one of the measures, not 12 months from now, but 10 years from now — have we helped the industry and is the industry stronger as a result of this? And we're all going to work hard to make sure that answer is yes.