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One of the charms of Thoroughbred racing is its tradition. Like the cycles of the seasons or the orbits of the planets, Thoroughbred racing operates around a calendar. One season builds upon the preceding, and as we learn more about the sport, we too partake of its tradition and begin building some of our own.

Yet all too soon we find that a search of the memory produces recollections of horses and places from further back than seems possible. It does not feel so long ago that Fasig-Tipton began its yearling sale in Lexington, but 1976 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Bold Forbes was there, along with that year’s Preakness winner Elocutionist.

The 1975 select yearling sales at Fasig-Tipton included Seattle Slew, who became the 1976 champion colt, then won the Triple Crown in 1977. Those horses provided an amazing way to begin a sales operation in Lexington, and they were necessary to get the company going the right direction.

Fasig-Tipton’s establishment of a select sale for yearlings made it the new boy in town. Across four preceding decades, the July sale at Keeneland had been the jeweled scepter that marked the beginning of the yearling sales season.

Then, with the swiftness of a sword’s stroke, that changed. Fasig-Tipton was operating in Lexington with a breeders’ cooperative at the helm, and the select sale was producing classic winners bought at modest prices.

By the time the great boom in bloodstock came through the 1980s, Fasig-Tipton was an entrenched element of the yearling sales season, offering a large catalog of highly pedigreed yearlings in the sweltering July heat, almost the twin of its rival auction across town.

But then changes to tax laws precipitated the first great bloodstock depression through the end of the 1980s, and something had to give. Fasig-Tipton rewrote its yearling sale as a more select environment to find a racehorse, rather than a yearling with a bejeweled catalog page. This proved popular with buyers and sellers because both were able to operate profitably, and the Fasig-Tipton July sale became the stalwart hunting ground for the new breed of pinhookers who were beginning to trade in first-rate yearlings with average or so pedigrees that could be resold as in-training juveniles at the select 2-year-old sales in February and March the following year.

And just like the seasons and decades, so the traditions of sport and sales have evolved over the years to the present moment as Fasig-Tipton renewed its select July sale with a medium-sized catalog of yearlings, strongly supplemented with horses in training and the dispersal of broodmares and racehorses from the Melnyk Racing Stables.

The evolution of the July sale at Fasig-Tipton from a yearling sale into an élite auction of all-aged stock made a strong step forward this year. The top price for a yearling at Monday’s auction, when 265 yearlings were cataloged, was $550,000 for a bay colt by Cowboy Cal out of the Unaccounted For mare Refugee. The scopy colt is a half-brother to the top-class juvenile filly Executiveprivilege (First Samurai), who won a pair of Grade 1 stakes, and to this year’s graded stakes-winning colt Hoppertunity (Any Given Saturday), who was one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby.

The price for the top yearling, however, was nearly doubled by the overall top lot at the auction. That sale was for the 2-year-old Bedford Land, a chestnut filly by leading sire Speightstown out of the G1 stakes winner Pool Land. Bedford Land brought a sales-topping bid of $1.075 million from Three Chimneys Farm, represented by Chris Baker.

Bedford Land had won her début at Churchill Downs by three and a quarter lengths and will be pointed to the top stakes for juvenile fillies before she is eventually retired to the Three Chimneys band of high-quality broodmares.

Whether she matures and develops into a division leader in the manner of a Bold Forbes or Seattle Slew, only time will tell. But Bedford Land has put an exclamation point at the end of the 2014 Fasig-Tipton July sale with her seven-figure price.

As 2-year-old conditioner and reseller Eddie Woods said to me earlier this year: “A really good horse will bring all the money in any of these sales nowadays. If the horse is there, the buyers will find it, and they will pay serious money for it.”

So we go on, refitting our traditions to the demands of the day, and the gold dust swirls around us as the miners for a nugget of gold keep toiling in the hot July sun.

*The post above was first published earlier this week at Paulick Report.

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