The snack-bar at the Timonium sales pavilion would make good material for a comedian, or some sort of social experiment. Where else would a guy buy a $10 lunch on a plastic plate minutes after spending $1.5 million on a horse?
Mark Casse had his money out last year before someone from Fasig-Tipton stepped in and picked up the trainer’s tab. The moment was pure Timonium, and made me laugh. For the record, I was standing behind Casse and paid for my own chicken salad sandwich (the crabcake is a little too filling to get much work done afterward) but I walked away wondering about it all.
The 2-year-old sale each May used to be a quaint, little marketplace for regional horses. Raised on area farms, they were shipped to Maryland’s Timonium Fairgrounds and sold. The under-tack show was just that, an under-tack show, where horses galloped sometimes two and three abreast on the tight, bull-ring track.
Back then, breeders had to be talked into giving the concept a try.
First, they probably didn’t want to sell. Second, they probably didn’t know anyone wanted to buy. Third, they probably didn’t think they could get their horses ready.
And now? Everything is different.
Horses ship in from Florida and South Carolina mainly, though there are a few prepped in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. They’re purchased with Timonium in mind, pointed for the sale months in advance. The sale is a key spot on the national schedule for the Kentucky-based Fasig-Tipton Company. Organized by Maryland’s Midlantic office, the sale will include some 600 horses this year. Each will work out on the 5-furlong track with published 1- and 2-furlong times and heavily scrutinized gallop-outs. A fifth of a second one way or the other can mean dozens of showings and hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Buyers sitting in the seats, leaning along the pavilion’s half-wall in the back, hanging out in the back ring, wandering the barn area and racetrack or calling on the phone study every last detail – pedigrees, veterinarian reports, mental profiles, those workouts and oh yes, even the horses themselves.
Those buyers have agents, advisors, veterinarians, researchers, technicians of one form or another. They rely on habits, superstitions, gut feelings and any other variable to make their choices.
Those buyers also form a literal who’s who of racing. Casse bought the sales-topper last year, a few days after Classic Empire finished second in the Preakness Stakes-G1 a few miles down the Jones Falls Expressway at Pimlico. The purchase, a colt named Curlin’s Honor, won two of his first three starts for Casse’s clients John Oxley and Breeze Easy.
In 2016, J.J. Crupi spent $825,000 on a colt by new stallion Friesan Fire and wound up with rising star Army Mule, an undefeated Grade 1 winner, for St. Elias Stable.
Keep pulling dusty catalogs off shelves and you’ll see Afleet Alex, Informed Decision, Fourstar Crook, Dortmund, Bayern, Smoke Glacken, Xtra Heat and others famous and a little less famous.
The best part about Timonium? It’s still Timonium. Somehow, that charm of the 1970s when the sale began remains –
despite the fast workouts, the thick catalog, the high-impact names in attendance, the sheer economics of it all.
In the summer, this place where people spend millions on horses will hold contests to determine the best quilt, crochet project, baked good, dairy goat and Christmas tree in the state as part of the Maryland State Fair. There used to be a real-live side show, complete with world’s largest cow and the headless woman (ask trainer Holly Robinson about it). There are carnival rides, corn dogs, funnel cake, fortune tellers and all the rest. Come back in August. You’ll love it.
And every once in a while, the sale takes on the spirit of the fair with a little magic of its own.
In autumn 2015, sales groom Errol “Fish” Wilson told Dave Scanlon to buy Army Mule as a yearling. Scanlon spent $35,000, in part because Wilson said “Boss, I have a horse for you,” then watched the big bay bring $825,000 six months later. Wilson was there and loved it. He died in December 2016 and never saw Army Mule run. But boy was he right.
Last year, Susan Montanye’s SBM Training and Sales sold a Tiz Wonderful filly for $80,000, about average for the sale but easily the highest in the consignment. Montanye was such a fan that she jumped at the chance to retain a 10-percent interest and wound up in the winner’s circle at Saratoga with co-owner Michael Dubb after Lady Ivanka took the Grade 1 Spinaway last summer. Also last year, Cary Frommer brought a colt to Timonium with the unflattering nickname “Snagglenose” for an unfortunate run-in with the handle of a water bucket. Scars and all, he sold for $110,000 and is a two-time winner named Dig That Mine.
Somewhere in the barn area at Timonium there’s another Army Mule or Lady Ivanka, maybe even another Snagglenose.
Better start looking.
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