The high rollers of horse racing made a detour last weekend en route to this Saturday's $10 million Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park. Everybody who was anybody touched down in Lexington, Ky., where horse breeders paid $89 million at three auctions in two days for some of the country's finest thoroughbreds. But even in that rarefied atmosphere, most of the talk was about one transaction: the auctioning of Lady's Secret, the 1986 Horse of the Year.
On Saturday and Sunday, Hermitage Farm of Goshen, Ky., and Tartan Farms of Ocala, Fla., held impressive dispersal sales: Buyers paid $32,676,500 for 130 horses at the Hermitage sale, the richest dispersal in the Keene-land Association's 51-year history, and $25,634,000 at the Tartan auction staged by Fasig-Tipton, the prominent thoroughbred sales company. But what really caught the fancy of the sheikhs and magnates and barons was a Saturday Fasig-Tipton soiree billed as the Night of the Stars. There owner Eugene Klein and trainer D. Wayne Lukas, the most successful thoroughbred racing team of the 1980s, put 13 of their most illustrious fillies and mares up for sale.
At the beginning of their partnership Lukas and Klein agreed to forgo the breeding end of the business and concentrate on racing. "Five years ago I told Gene to give me X million dollars and let me pick the yearlings I wanted," Lukas said. "I told him I thought we could improve our bank balances and win some big races. We've done that, so now's the time to offer them back to the breeders. This is the culmination of a business philosophy."
The buyers at Night of the Stars were essentially the same crowd that in the early years of this decade had driven the world thoroughbred market to dizzying heights. Under the current "realignment," which is how breeders like to describe the downward spiral of the last two years, no one could be certain what kind of prices the night might bring. Of the 30 race mares who have earned as much as $1 million in their careers, six appeared in the Night of the Stars catalog. But even among such other champions as Life's Magic, Twilight Ridge, North Sider and Life at the Top, the star of stars was clearly Lady's Secret, who retired earlier this year after winning $3.02 million, the most by any filly or mare in history. Some horsemen wondered if the price for the dappled gray daughter of Secretariat might surpass the $7 million world record for mares paid in 1985 for Miss Oceana. Others figured that the poor racing performance of Lady's Secret this year would reduce her value.
When Lukas and Klein began working out the details for Night of the Stars with Fasig-Tipton, Klein sought a minimum guarantee for Lady's Secret. Fasig-Tipton secretly promised to pay $5.7 million if nobody bid that high. But word got out that there was some sort of deal, and after meetings between Klein and Fasig-Tipton on Friday and Saturday, it was decided to publicly announce the agreement.
"This mare is the subject of a prior guarantee," said Fasig-Tipton president John Finney to a pavilion so quiet you could hear a money clip drop. "We are telling you that Fasig-Tipton reserves the right to bid for its own account up to $5.7 million, but may or may not exercise the right to bid below that." With that the bidding opened at $1 million, jumped to $4 million and was gaveled to a close at $5.4 million. The man who signed the sale slip was Bob Levy, chairman of the board of Atlantic City Race Course, who admitted he had bid on behalf of Fasig-Tipton and excused himself to let company executive vice-president Terence Collier field inquiries.
"One of the enticements to get the entire consignment was a presale agreement for Lady's Secret," Collier said. "We negotiated with Mr. Klein on the basis that we could get it done [get a price of more than $5.7 million]. We didn't, but we're convinced that we can get more than that by selling her privately, which we hope to do in the next seven days." Asked if the company had ever before made such a presale announcement, Collier said, "No, but there's never been a Night of the Stars before." Said another Fasig-Tipton official, "This is a little embarrassing."
While Klein left the sales pavilion without comment, Lukas said, "I'm proud that I could present so many good horses in one night. This says a hell of a lot about our program. But as I've been telling these Kentucky breeders all week, I'll just keep their money until next July, and then I'll give it all back for their yearlings."
BEN VAN HOOK
Lady's Secret entered the auction pavilion as a guaranteed success.