SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.
A handsome bay yearling colt—known for the moment merely as Hip No. 284—stood in the center of Saratoga's auction ring. Around him the spectators strained forward in their seats for a better look. Voices were raised beyond the customary pitch of the polite whisper, knowing eyes shot excited glances around the pavilion.
"This colt, ladies and gentlemen," announced Humphrey Finney, president of the auctions, "should need no introduction. Hip No. 284 is a half brother to Tulyar. He is by Tudor Minstrel out of Neocracy. I don't have to remind you that I think he's one of the grandest colts we've ever been privileged to offer."
Introduction over, Businessman Finney made sure that his glasses were sitting, as usual, as far down as his nose will allow, and turned the meeting over to the man on his right—hefty Auctioneer George Swinebroad, who delights in his work. Swinebroad looked down at Hip No. 284 from his perch in the auction box. Directly behind the colt he could see the man who had flown the colt from Ireland to Saratoga to be sold—Prince Aly Khan. Everywhere else he looked he could see nothing but faces staring—first at him, then at the colt, then back at him. One of these faces belonged to a deeply sun-tanned lady with nearly white hair. She sat in the third row, left section, and was studying her catalogue.
Swinebroad's deep Kentucky voice rang out across the pavilion. "Who'll give $10,000 for this colt?" Within a minute, Swinebroad had raised the bidding, by $10,000 jumps, to $60,000.
Swinebroad had swept the bidding to one of the highest points in auction history. With only the barest pause, he asked for $70,000. Big Jim Ryan, trainer for Mrs. John R. H. Thouron of Wilmington, Del., signaled that he would go to $65,000.
There was electricity in the air now. Swinebroad knew it, and so did everybody else as Saratoga's 34th annual yearling sales rolled through its final, record-breaking night. For another minute Swinebroad searched devoutly for a higher bid. As the auctioneer rattled away, intent on his work, Humphrey Finney caught the eye of the sun-tanned, white-haired lady in the third row. Without uttering a sound he formed a two-word question with his lips: "S-e-v-e-n-t-y f-i-v-e?"
The lady gave a faint nod. Instantly, Finney bellowed out: "$75,000!" Swinebroad, getting set for the important last pitch, squirmed on his stool. The pitch was made to Jim Ryan, but Jim stood pat. As he gave a last imploring look around, Swinebroad heard one other noise. It was Hip No. 284, letting go with a long whinny.
The whinny broke the tension. Formally, Auctioneer Swinebroad addressed the colt: "Shut up, you. I'm doing all I can for you." Then the hammer came down. The new owner, at $75,000, was Miss Eleonora R. Sears, of Prides Crossing, Mass. She had paid the highest price of the sale, second highest in U.S. yearling history.
THE GENUS SPORTSWOMAN
At the age of 72, Eleonora Sears is a lively example of the genus sportswoman. She flew in an airplane as early as 1910, took a fling at ice hockey, baseball and football (fullback on her own team), once averaged a three-mile swim a day at Newport, won numerous national doubles titles in tennis and was three times runner-up for the national singles title. She has walked the 74 miles from Newport to Boston in 16 hours and 50 minutes, wearing out several young male pacemakers in the process and as recently as last year she played in the national squash championships, an event which she first won in 1928. She has also schooled a couple of generations of young Harvards in the art of enjoying a good party in her Boston town house.
But, for all of her athletic loves and talents, Eleo Sears is primarily a horsewoman. She has ridden for years with the Myopia Hunt (Hamilton, Mass.), owned hunters and steeplechasers which have played important roles in the Madison Square Garden show. Now, as a septuagenarian, she is happily entering a new field with Hip No. 284: flat racing. Of her new baby, she said: "I hope he can run, but I don't know yet."
In her fond hope that her yearling can run, Horse Owner Sears is in the same position as all the other buyers who this year, in two major auctions, have spent a total of $5,576,500 for 616 thoroughbred yearlings—or an average of $9,053 per purchase. At Saratoga, Humphrey Finney's Fasig-Tipton Company disposed of 272 yearlings at an average price of $7,931 and a total outlay of $2,157,200. At the Keeneland (Lexington, Ky.) sales pavilion in July, the co-operative Breeders' Sales Company sold 344 yearlings for an all-time record of $3,419,300, which averages out to $9,940. The Saratoga average was down slightly from last year ($8,350), but more yearlings were sold, and one conclusion that can be made from the figures comes from the men whose business it is to sell the yearlings and from the men who bring them to the sales ring to be sold.
A BARGAIN—OR REAL CLASS
Said happy Humphrey Finney, after closing up his shop Saturday night: "A most selective market." Wing Commander Timothy A. Vigors of the RAF, a veteran of the Battle of Britain, summed it up in a neat package, "There didn't appear to be any middle market in America this year. Your people want a $500 bargain or they'll shoot for real class at $30,000 or more. If you've got the top article to sell, you'll do all right. Otherwise you won't." Vigors brought over from Ireland one article, which apparently was just such a top number; his son of Royal Charger was knocked down to Harry Guggenheim's Cain Hoy Stable for $35,000—exactly what Vigors predicted he would bring.
The $75,000 paid for Hip No. 284 by Miss Sears equaled a Saratoga record established in 1928, when C.V.B. Cushman, bidding for a syndicate, paid that amount for a colt later named New Broom (which earned only $275 in its racing career). The highest U.S. yearling auction price on record is the $86,000 paid this July by F. J. Adams, Houston oil man, for a colt by Nasrullah out of a stakes-winning daughter of Alibhai named Lurline B. New Owner Adams, like New Owner Sears, was entering flat racing for the first time. There was one difference: Adams said, "I don't know much about horses."
For both Adams and Sears, however, along with the hundreds of other people who attend yearling sales, a knowledge of horses may turn out to be immaterial in the long run. Connoisseurs are a dime a dozen in the horse-trading business, and rarely will two of them agree on any point in the sport's greatest guessing game, namely, predicting from a pedigree chart and personal observation which yearling will eventually run faster than the next. For the odds in picking yearlings are higher than in roulette, and the 1954 wheel will only start spinning when this crop of yearlings go postward as two-year-olds in 1955. Nonetheless, the fascination of thoroughbred racing, long strong in the U.S. and growing stronger every year, brought some 2,000 or more interested parties into Saratoga Springs last week to buy, bid or just to watch with compulsive fascination.
For all of them it was a lively week, for Saratoga is not all business. The auction meeting goes with dinner parties, late dancing at the Saratoga Golf Club, breakfast on the clubhouse terrace to watch early-morning training rides. The pace was dizzy, but there were no complaints, except possibly from a few local inhabitants, who, long accustomed to settling down early in the evenings, were subjected all week to the noise of party-goers stumbling in at 4 a.m. and shouting their good-nights to one another across the elmdotted streets.
The 1954 yearling sales were not dominated by any one group or groups of buyers. The money came rolling in from all points, from rich men and women and from the not-so-rich, who could only afford to shell out a few hundred.
At Keeneland the market was controlled largely by western buyers. One of them, Mrs. John McMahan of Hidden Valley, Calif., paid $60,000 for a brother of Your Host. She too is on her first racing venture. Another Californian, R. D. Coon, president of the Joshua National Bank in Twentynine Palms, Calif., forked over $53,500 for a brother to the top-class English filly Happy Laughter.
THE AGA'S AIRBORNE 23
At Saratoga the trend was somewhat reversed and, as usual, the Eastern buyers were the big bidders. After Hip No. 284, the best price was the $43,000 paid by a four-man New Jersey syndicate (Joseph M. Roebling, James Cox Brady, Townsend B. Martin, Anderson Fowler) for another of the Aga Khan's consignment, and among the top Saratoga bidders were F. Ambrose Clark, Harry Guggenheim, Mrs. Anson Bigelow and Mrs. Elizabeth N. Graham (Elizabeth Arden), who owns Maine Chance Farm.
Newcomers to the sport, such as Arthur Godfrey, whose two-year-old Lord Willin' has had lots of publicity but little success this season, were much in evidence at Saratoga. Not all of them were buyers like Godfrey (who paid $40,000 for a yearling) either. Sitting humped studiously over his catalogue one night, nonhorseman Jack Dempsey looked at a spirited bidding session and exclaimed, "It's a hell of an education for anyone, this sales stuff!"
What undoubtedly made the Saratoga sale of 1954 more interesting than any other in a long time was the lot of 23 yearlings from the Aga Khan's Irish and French studs flown to this country (the largest equine airlift of all time) late in July. Finney, in announcing the closing night's sale of this lot, told his audience, "I doubt whether a better group of young horses has ever been sold." Then he cleared up another point. "No one is more aware that the horses sold by the Aga Khan do not win races than his son, Prince Aly Khan. However, I submit for your consideration, where would American racing have been without the horses sold by the Aga Khan—Mahmoud, Bahram, Blenheim II, Alibhai, Nasrullah, Noor, Khaled and the many others?" Two hours later the 23 yearlings sent by the Aga Khan and under the bloodshot eyes of his son Prince Aly at Saratoga, had brought $361,700—an average of $15,726 each. The Aga Khan has indeed set the fashion for American thoroughbred breeding in recent years.
Nasrullah, bred by the Aga and brought to Kentucky's Claiborne Farm in 1951, has sired the year's best two-year-old fillies, Lea Lane and Delta, and in England his three-year-old son, Robert Sterling Clark's Never Say Die, won the Derby. In the 1954 sales it was a son of Nasrullah that brought the record $86,000 at Keeneland, and a daughter sold for $44,000, the year's highest price among the fillies. The trend in both auctions was to spend the most money for the yearlings of the most fashionable sires, and, after Nasrullah, most in demand were the get of Royal Charger, Alibhai, Heliopolis, Noor and Mahmoud. The biggest bids for offspring of American-bred leaders were for yearlings by Citation, Count Fleet, War Admiral, Eight Thirty, Roman and Discovery.
When it was all over, the high-price horses and the low-price horses went home with their new owners. In general, the owners who had paid least had the most comfortable reflections. Man o' War went through the Saratoga ring for $5,000, and earned $250,000. His son, Broadway Limited, sold for $65,000, never finished better than fourth and fell dead trying to win a measly $900 purse at Lincoln Fields.
BUYER Eleonora Sears stared at colt in the ring, then made meeting's top bid of $75,000. Still an athlete at 72, she is making her debut in flat racing.
$75,000 COLT IS A HALF BROTHER TO TULYAR, UNBEATEN AS A THREE-YEAR-OLD IN ENGLAND AND SOLD BY AGA KHAN FOR $700,000 TO IRISH NATIONAL STUD
SELLER Prince Aly Khan sat next to Mrs. E. Cooper Person in front row during auction. Aly was the agent for his father, the Aga Khan, who flew colts here.
FOUR PLANE LOADS of horses debarked at New York International Airport after long trip from Ireland. Consigned to Saratoga by the Aga Khan, the yearlings finished the trip to the spa in horse vans.
AUCTION PRESIDENT FINNEY ANNOUNCES COLT, ASKS FOR A $5,000 RAISE
AUCTIONEER SWINEBROAD GETS ROLLING
"MISTER, HE'S A STEAL AT THAT PRICE"
"LOOK NOW THIS IS THE LAST CHANCE"
"EVERYTHING OUT OF HER DAM FLIES"