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Longtime owner/breeder Milton Higgins III died in April, but it will be awhile before his influence on Maryland’s Thoroughbred industry ceases. 

Case in point, this year’s Fasig-Tipton Midlantic fall yearling sale at Timonium, Md., Oct. 2-3. Bowman and Higgins Stable, the partnership of Higgins and Dr. Tom Bowman, bred the $205,000 sales-topper – a Nyquist colt out of the Not For Love mare How My Heart Works, whose second dam Formalities Aside produced the top yearling at the same sale seven years earlier.

Consigned by Becky Davis, the 2023 sales-topper had potential buyers at hello.

“He was almost a May foal, all the parts were there and he handled himself well every day,” said Michelle Hemingway, who bought the dark bay colt on behalf of Thorostock and Seth Morris Thoroughbreds. “Sometimes you get a little hung up with, ‘Is he as built as all the other ones?’ but it’s OK. He was foaled April 26. It’s going to come.”

Hemingway, Morris and Thorostock’s Nick Sallusto put the colt on their short list and also appreciated a blossoming pedigree page that includes half-brother Monday Morning Qb (the 2020 Maryland Million Classic winner with $334,005 in the bank) and Group 3-placed full-sister Asawer. The latter sold for $200,000 as a yearling in 2021 and brought $450,000 at Timonium as a 2-year-old. 

Formalities Aside has produced nine winners led by $556,593 earner Awesome Flower, the dam of Grade 1 winner Cyberknife, and that 2016 sales-topper ($450,000) First Mondays, who won twice, placed in a Grade 3 and is a sire in Maryland. One more generation brings in Dubai World Cup-G1 winner Well Armed, Grade 1 winner American Patriot and others.

The combination appealed to Thorostock and Morris, who led all buyers with $520,000 spent on six yearlings. Look for the squad in next year’s 2-year-old sales.

“When we get around to the sales in the spring, he’s going to be a monster,” Hemingway said of the sales-topper. “He’s going to go to Ocala at Thorostock and go into training and go that course. He just has a ton of quality.”

Davis, who topped the sale for the fourth time in 10 years, ranked the Nyquist colt ahead of pretty much any she’s sold – even if she saw potential improvement ahead.

“He could have been a bigger, stronger, more robust, imposing figure but I don’t do that,” she said. “I could have bulked him up and had him much more physically big, but I don’t think that translates to being a good racehorse. He didn’t look like a stallion, he looked like a baby because he is a baby. I truly believe he’s the best horse I’ve sold. Whether he shows that in his athletic career remains to be seen because there are so many other factors at work, but he had the best conformation, is physically put together well and is a well-balanced animal. And we really believed in him and told people that.”

She also, of course, thought about Higgins.

“I didn’t stand in my normal place, I went and sat with my dad in the pavilion,” Davis said. “I was trying to keep it together, but it was a flood of emotion. I’m so used to being on the phone with Milton or calling Milton right after. I wished I could have called him.”

Quality was the theme at the 2023 sale, which featured a smaller catalog compared to the previous several years. Over the two days, 368 horses went through the ring – 97 fewer than in 2022. Gross receipts dipped to $7,082,000 compared to $10,266,400 in 2022. The average price of $24,421 came close to matching the 2022 figure of $26,597.

“The results were fairly consistent and comparable to prior years,” said Boyd Browning Jr., Fasig-Tipton’s president and CEO. “I think we’ve seen some indication throughout the last 12 to 18 months of a little weakening in the regional markets and I think that was evident the last couple days. The catalog was smaller this year, due in part to the fact that the Saratoga New York-bred catalog grew by 60 or 70 horses so I think there was some transference of horses that would have normally come to this sale into that sale.”

Browning called that move “a strategic error” on Fasig-Tipton’s part and doesn’t plan on repeating it. The crowded Saratoga catalog also required temporary stalls and created logistical challenges for that sale.

“We had accepted more horses for the sale than we had stalls for and the retention rate there is very, very, very high,” he said. “Most of the breeders want to go to that sale because it increases the likelihood of the horses staying in New York . . . That won’t happen again in 2024 but at the end of the day you had 60 more horses in the catalog and they had to come from somewhere.”

The catalog included a dozen fewer New York-breds compared to 2022, but also felt decreases among yearlings bred in other states including Pennsylvania (100 last year, 61 this year) and Maryland (222, 181). 

“We understand ebbs and flows in marketplaces,” Browning said. “It’s an important market to us. The 2-year-old sale here has become a major, major component of our sales calendar, not just the 2-year-old calendar but our overall sales calendar. You do the best that you can. You try to recruit and use the evidence of some of the results consignors had, particularly at the end of the sale. We’re big believers that if you can stand out, in whatever sale you happen to be in, wherever you are, whatever your price range is, if you can be a bigger fish in a smaller pond or a standout. People that had horses that physically and pedigree-wise stood out, were rewarded for it.

“Look at every regional marketplace, the number of foals in the foal crop continues to decline.”

Those smaller foal crops, unproven regional stallions and some uncertainty within the regional racing programs also impacted the sale, Browning said, though the Mid-Atlantic yearling market will continue to adapt.

“We live in a world where it’s expensive to own horses and we see the trends of slightly smaller fields and there are some concerns on a regional basis,” said Browning. “What’s the future of racing look like at certain racetracks? There’s a little uncertainty in the state of Maryland that we all read about and are aware of. I think there was reduced participation among the Maryland trainers this year than we’ve seen in the past. It’s understandable, I’m not calling them out. When there’s uncertainty, it creates a cautious environment rather than a bullish environment.”

As always, demand remained high for quality horses.

“If you don’t have a good physical and you don’t vet, it’s going to be tough,” Browning said. “There’s just no two ways about it. It’s the nature of the business we’re in right now.”

Hemingway went to $175,000 to buy another colt with a deep Maryland pedigree for Thorostock and Morris. The Street Sense colt’s first three dams won stakes in the region, topped by third dam Who Did It and Run, who won the Jersey Derby-G2 and eight other races and produced nine winners. Her daughter Who’s Cozy placed in a Grade 3 and produced seven winners. Bred by Sycamore Hall Thoroughbreds, the Street Sense colt out of the Jump Start mare Victory Rally went to Saratoga with the Northview Stallion Station consignment but did not meet his reserve.

“The conformation was there, but it was more of a regional pedigree on the female side, and we knew from last year that we can do better here with that,” said Northview’s David Wade. “We’re learning as we go along what it is we need to take to Saratoga. The buyers who spend the money at Saratoga aren’t looking for regional families even though there’s a lot of black type. They’re looking for black type on a national or international level. We thought we would do well bringing the horse back here and we did.”

In both cases, the Maryland-bred designation probably attracted bids but didn’t necessarily sway Hemingway’s decision to buy.

“It’s a perk,” she said. “When the sister brought 450, there weren’t as many [pedigree] updates. Monday Morning Qb hadn’t done as much as he’s done now and obviously the sister went to Dubai so it didn’t matter to those buyers. It’s an addition, though. You know you’ll always have that with the horse.”

Northview sold the third-highest horse at the sale, too, as a Vekoma filly from the Domestic Dispute mare Undisputed Legend brought $170,000. Bred in Maryland by Wade, the filly is a half-sister to Whereshetoldmetogo, a multiple stakes winner in the region and earner of $967,795. Undisputed Legend has produced six other winners while her dam Lunar’s Legend produced eight winners. 

“She brought more than I thought she would,” said Wade. “I had protected her to $100,000 and I’d have been happy if I brought her home and kept her to race myself but you can’t get a number like that – or at least I can’t – and keep the horse to race yourself.”

Wade will get plenty of chances to watch the filly as Maryland trainer Brittany Russell made the winning bid on behalf of Mike Golden’s Golden Lion Racing. 

Like Browning, Wade saw the effects of the smaller catalog and a changing marketplace. He saw fewer buyers on the grounds, went through fewer yearling cards and noticed more online bidding.

“The smaller sale impacts us somewhat,” he said. “There were fewer buyers on the grounds than we’ve seen in the past, in my opinion . . . You had a better idea of what was going to happen with your horses when you knew who was looking at them, how many people were looking at them and who they were looking for. It’s a little more difficult to gauge that now which may be tougher for the people you are consigning for to understand.”

But adapting to new conditions is part of running a yearling consignment, or any business.

“This sale has changed through the years,” Wade said. “There used to be a time when this was a great sale for Maryland trainers to buy from. You don’t see as many Maryland trainers here. It used to be a great sale for the regional stallions and that’s getting tougher. It used to be a very good pinhookers’ sale. That’s changed a little bit. We’re not just in market correction, we’re not just in a correction with regard to the population of horses . . . who our buyers are and what sales they’re going to is correcting too.

Davis topped the sale and still left with concerns – a smaller catalog, a lack of participation by Maryland trainers, overzealous veterinary opinions and inspections, lower overall prices and an uncertain racing future in her home state chief among them.

“The prices coming down could make people a little more realistic with their expectations, the problem is all the other expenses have skyrocketed,” she said. “Not having many Maryland trainers there is a sign of the times. The catalog is smaller, but look what’s happening to the whole foal crop. There’s a lot of apprehension in the state and the industry is smaller.”

Fellow 2-year-old pinhooker Grassroots Training and Sales joined Thorostock/Morris at the top of the buyer board, spending $453,000 on 11 yearlings. A $100,000 Munnings filly bred in Virginia by Audley Farm Equine led the way. Consigned by Gracie Bloodstock, the bay is a half-sister to stakes winner Hold Tight and from the family of Grade 2 winner Millionreasonswhy. The filly was one of three six-figure sales for Gracie, which put two yearlings in the top five and sold 26 for $902,000 (second only to Davis at $1,005,000). 

“There are always people here who have money to spend, you’ve just got to bring them something they can bid on,” said Chris Gracie. “We sold most of the horses we brought here, did better than we thought we might do on a couple of them. We’re happy. This isn’t the only place people come to buy horses and they are very aware of what the market’s doing, sires, averages, physicals. You’ve got to be on top of it.”

Gracie sold a Good Magic colt out of the Tapit mare Tap the Magic for $155,000. Bred in Pennsylvania by the Warrior’s Reward partnership and the Good Magic Syndicate, the gray went to YNot Stable. 

“Donnie Brown and Tom McClay [of Warrior’s Reward] are good clients and they send me a lot of horses so it’s nice to do well for them,” said Gracie. “We knew he was a good horse, we just tried to get him here in good shape.”

A New Jersey-bred Classic Empire colt bred by Greg Kilka and Bright View Farm sold for $135,000 as Hip 3. The colt was familiar to new owner LC Racing, which campaigns stakes-winning half-sister Girl Trouble in partnership with Swilcan Stable. Another half-sibling, 2-year-old gelding Book’em Danno won his debut for Atlantic Six Racing and trainer Derek Ryan before the catalog printed, won a stakes three weeks before the sale and added another stakes six days after.

“We don’t want to get caught up just in one family, but that looks like a quality mare,” said trainer Butch Reid, who made the purchase for LC owner Glenn Bennett. “Two foals to race, both stakes winners, and he’s a very handy-looking horse, not too big and we really liked him.”

Carrying Girl Trouble, Adorabella cost Kilka $14,000 at Keeneland January in 2020.

“They’ve done real well with that mare,” said Gracie. “She gets nice foals and this one came to me after he was weaned so we’ve had him for about a year. He got a big update before the sale, which helped, and when Butch buys your horse, you know it’s going to get a good shot.”

Reid went to $130,000 to get another yearling with a connection to the stable – a colt by Maximus Mischief. Racing for LC and Cash is King, Maximus Mischief won three of four including the Remsen Stakes-G2 before retiring to stud and leading all first-crop sires nationally (through Oct. 10) with $1.3 million in earnings.

“We looked at every Max in the sale and he was our No. 1,” said Reid. “He looks just like his father, maybe not as big because his father was massive, but he’s got good range and he looks like he’s got a lot of scope to him.”

The colt, bred in Pennsylvania by Dr. and Mrs. Bill Riddle, paced consignor Marshall Silverman’s 40 yearlings sold for $871,000 (third on the list by gross) and topped the seven yearlings by Maximus Mischief in the sale.

Virginia’s Morgan’s Ford Farm led consignors by average ($49,750) on four yearlings sold, all homebreds. A War of Will filly out of River Gal led the way at $100,000 on a bid by Cary Frommer for Hillwood Stable. The bay filly is the first foal out of stakes winner River Gal. 

Morgan’s Ford added a Tiz the Law filly out of Maryland-bred star Crabcakes to the catalog’s addendum after she failed to meet her reserve at Keeneland September and was rewarded with a $67,000 sale to Men’s Grille Racing. Morgan’s Ford owners Wayne and Susie Chatfield-Taylor inherited Crabcakes upon owner/breeder Binnie Houghton’s death in 2017, helped finish off a nine-win, $419,532 racing career and added her to the broodmare band.

“She grew another hand on the farm, just blossomed,” said Wayne Chatfield-Taylor of Crabcakes as a broodmare. “What’s really nice is that we’re propagating this family again, just in a different place – Virginia instead of Maryland. It’s been a wonderful thing to be part of. We felt lost in the crowd [at Keeneland]. She’s a local legend here and they called her a celebrity when the filly went in the ring, which was nice.”

SALES NOTES

Maryland-breds occupied the top three spots in the results, and half of the top 10 . . . Dreamtime Stables sold a Minnesota-bred colt by Cross Traffic for $72,000 . . . Maryland-based Men’s Grille bought five yearlings for $277,000, topped by a $110,000 Nyquist colt purchased from breeder Glenangus Farm via Davis. 

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