Looking For Success: Getting Value For Your High Dollar Yearling Buck

Liam's Map is one of the more successful expensive yearlings in his group
Possibly the biggest “high money” area of the commercial side of horse racing, every year yearling sales see many yearlings sold for $500,000 or more. While it is rare that horses sold for that much money will make it back on the track, researching sales and race results from some of the horses sold at the the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Selected Yearling and Keeneland September Yearling sales from 2010 to 2013 provided some interesting insight on where buyers may have the best bang for their buck with on-track results.

For this project, all of the $1-million yearlings sold at those sales during that time frame in addition to the top five lots sold at each sale each year in the $751,000 to $999,000 and $500,000 to $750,000 ranges were looked at. If more than five horses tied at one of the top prices, all were included in the table with those ties accounting for the 43 horses in the $500,000 to $750,000 range. The smallest group was that in the $751,000 to $999,000 range with many of the sales having less than five horses selling in the range.

Most likely because of the small sample size, the $751,000 to $999,000 range had the biggest success when it came to average earnings. Of the 23 horses in the sample size, all but one made at least one start with 17 horses at least breaking their maidens for an average of $158,432 in earnings. 

The horse who led the group in accomplishments was this year’s Las Vegas Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Liam’s Map (Unbridled’s Song), who burst onto the scene this year and earned $1,358,940 in his career after being bought for $800,000 in 2012 at Keeneland September. Other successful horses in the group were Grade 1 winner Jimmy Creed (Distorted Humor) and multiple Grade 2 winner Fed Biz (Giant’s Causeway).

The group in this range have combined for 37 victories and 51 other on-the-board finishes in 182 starts for a top three strike rate of 48.35 percent. Of the 22 horses who made it to the track, three are graded stakes winners with four others at least placing in stakes company. The group as a whole cost $20,550,000 with their total earnings coming to $3,643,932. It consists of 15 colts and nine fillies with Shadwell being the top buyer of the horses in this group followed by Besilu Stable. Distorted Humor takes top honors as the sire with the most “toppers” in this range at five with Bernardini and Street Cry (IRE) sitting at three each.

The next most successful range was the $500,000 to $750,000 range with the 43 horses having average earnings of $99,609. The group had 34 horses make at least one start with 25 winning at least one start. 

There were no Grade 1 winners in this group but there were three horses who at least won a Grade 3 race and two who won stakes races. Four others placed in graded stakes. While success at the top level of the sport wasn’t in the cards for the toppers in this group, they did combine for 67 wins and 66 other on-the-board finishes in 264 starts for an on-the-board percentage of 50.38 percent.

As a group, the 43 horses cost $30,235,000 and so far have earned a combined $4,283,219. Twenty-seven colts and 17 fillies make up the group with the leading buyer being Darley’s John Ferguson, whose 10 purchases included seven yearlings sired by U.S.-based Darley stallions. Shadwell was also a major buyer in this group with four of the top lots joining that farm. Bernardini was the king of the sires here with six yearlings taking the top spots.

Perhaps not the most surprising is that the 42 horses who sold for $1-million or more have the worst average earnings of the three groups at $61,758. Only seven of the horses never made it to the track and 21 of the 35 who did race at least broke their maidens.


The horse who leads this group is Grade 3 winner Gala Award (Bernardini) with none of the others winning graded stakes but two winning ungraded stakes. Multiple Grade 1 placed Fascinating (Smart Strike) heads up the three horses whose biggest accomplishments were graded stakes placings. From 259 starts, horses with a $1-million or more price tag combined to win 38 races and hit the board 72 other times for a 42.47 percent strike rate.  

Costing a combined $58,305,000 the 26 colts and 16 fillies earned a total of $2,593,869 as of Dec. 21, 2015. Besilu Stable and M.V. Magnier tie for the top buyers at four each with John Ferguson and Whisper Hill being the runner up at three each. The sire with the most horses in this group was Medaglia d’Oro at five with five separate buyers purchasing the three colts and two fillies.

A.P. Indy and his sons (and grandson in Tapit’s case) keep that stallion’s line alive through the sireline with 35 of the horses in the three categories being sired by either A.P. Indy himself of one of those sons or grandsons.

Other sirelines heavily represented in the three categories were Mr. Prospector, Danzig and somewhat surprising for North America, Sadler’s Wells. A.P. Indy is also the damsire of 15 of the horses listed in the categories with Carson City, Storm Cat and Deputy Minisher all seen multiple times throughout the tables as damsires.

Fed Biz is another expensive success
While the relatively small sample size of 108 horses sold between 2010 and 2013 doesn’t prove 100 percent that horses bought for one price range will always do better than horses bought for another price range, it is interesting to see how the groups shape up.

Admittedly, the small size of the $751,000 to $999,000 group does affect the average earnings in a good way for that group. However, the horses used in the group went under the same criteria of those in the others (the “toppers” of the price range) and had better results on the track outside of average earnings than the other two groups examined.

Overall, if a buyer is looking to break even on a purchase price during a horse’s time on the track none of these price ranges are the way to go. Only one horse (Liam’s Map) was able to make more than his purchase price on the track and only 25 horses in the three groups broke the six-figures earnings mark during their careers (some of the horses under that mark are still active on the track).


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