Where Hay and High Society Meet
It was a startling sound if you were not anticipating it, and I was not. The noise was born somewhere inside the body of the man who stood a few inches away from my right ear when he let loose with the cannon-cry.
His angst rattled around the mezzanine of the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion and ricocheted like a bolt of lightning down to the main floor where it found a man dressed in a black tuxedo. The man looked up and subsequently found us. With a quick gesture of his left hand and a verbal yelp of his own, he returned his gaze to the sea of bidders as the horse in the sales ring next to him relieved itself.
For much of Monday evening and again on Tuesday night the scene was repeated dozens of times. When the final hammer of the gavel’s pound became a feint echo, 108 horses had been sold for a total of $31.87 million.
Dark bay, which sold for $600,000 at Fasig-Tipton
If you were not anticipating it, and I was not, the contrast between a day at the racecourse and a night at the sales pavilion can be, if not startling, at least different. The first act begins outdoors behind the pavilion where the as-yet unnamed horses are moved from their stalls to a back ring in a world where hay and high heels co-mingle together. Once inside they are paraded, one at a time, into a sales ring where they are put on display for potential buyers inside the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion. Named for the late chairman of the Fasig-Tipton Company, Finney was a native of England who had had arrived in New York in 1921 at the age of 18. He procured horses for the Coast Guard during World War II and became a horse auctioneer.
William B. Fasig was an auctioneer who became known for his saddle horse sales in Cleveland in the 1890s. Fasig struck a partnership with Edward A. Tipton to venture into the thoroughbred market in 1898. In their first joint thoroughbred sales venture two years later, they held 24 sales and sold 624 head for just over $400,000. The sales were first held in Saratoga in 1917.
The Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale is free and open to the public to attend. The main floor is reserved for buyers and agents and trainers and, presumably, celebrities. For celebrity-watchers eavesdropping from the mezzanine perch however, there are slim pickings; the answer to the question most people want to know is, ‘Where’s The Sheikh?’
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum: prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, ruler of Dubai, poet, and the owner of nearly 4,000 thoroughbreds across four continents, some of which he had purchased at the Saratoga sale during the past few years. Among the places he calls home is a 106-acre Nelson Avenue farm down the road from Saratoga Race Course which he purchased for $17.5 million in 2007.
But Sheikh Mo – as he’s known in some circles – is not here. The action goes on without him. And there is a lot of action to take in: the darting eyes of tuxedo-draped spotters that roam the aisles in search of bidders; the sophisticated sound of Old England as it rolls off the announcer’s tongue to explain the lineage of the horses; the hammering thunk of a gavel that closes the sale, and the mysterious and sudden appearance of a team member who jets into the sales ring with broom in hand to gracefully scoop away horse droppings, not unlike a roadie at a rock concert emerging from the shadows to fix a technical problem, before disappearing just as quickly back into the wings.
Bid spotter in action. Note Bobby Flay in purple striped tie
The topper is the auctioneer’s chant, which rapidly flows like a high-speed river on a downward cliff: Ayyy-seventyfiveeightdotter-yououtinback-eightyfivenitey-dotterdotter-kadapadop-you'reout-doowop-dapop-aba-daba-bop-shoobop.
Or something like it.
As for the man who let loose with his cannon-cry in the mezzanine, he eventually dropped out of the bidding and never did get his horse, one note among many in a symphony of noises on a night at the pavilion.
In his weekly column, Thomas Dimopoulos takes us down the back streets of Saratoga to bring us the city's best stories.
You can e-mail Thomas, and you can follow him on twitter: @thomdimopoulos
Hooves and heels come together at Fasig-Tipton
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