At tonight’s Fasig-Tipton yearling salein Saratoga, a colt called On A Storm could sell for more than $2 million. It’s a number that would certainly get attention, especially in this economy.
But that’s nothing compared to what happened at an auction at Calder Race Course in Florida exactly 1,260 days ago.
On that day, a two-year-old horse whose only name was the number attached to him (153) sold for a record $16 million.
Because of what happened to him, it’s a sore subject for the industry and his name, which became The Green Monkey, is almost forbidden among those in the business.
It’s easy to see why.
But the story is a fascinating look at how -– as in all of life and all of sport -- there’s no such thing as a sure thing.
You see, The Green Monkey was the perfect horse in every way. He was the son of Forestry, whose colts were commanding a hefty price, and his grandfather was Storm Cat, one of the most heralded stallions of all time. He had the look that bidders loved. And everyone who wanted to take a deeper look at him in the days leading up to the auction found the colt to be virtually flawless.
“We had so many requests for X-rays, he was probably glowing,” said Dean De Renzo, who bought the colt with his partner Randy Hartley for $425,000 just seven months before.
After the horse ran a blazing eighth of a mile in 9.8 seconds, De Renzo knew that he and his partner were going to make a hefty profit.
“I figured he would go for $3 million, maybe $4 million,” De Renzo said.
After all, the record at the time for the highest earnings of a horse at the track was Cigar, who made slightly less than $10 million.
Fasig-Tipton chairman Walt Robertson had been conducting horse auctions for three decades and yet when it was time to auction off No. 153, even Robertson felt like this one was different.
Before beginning his rhythmic numerical chant, Robertson admitted to the crowd, “I don’t even know what to ask for.”
Today, Robertson says he just knew something special was going to happen…and it did.
Robertson began the auction at $500,000 and built up to $300,000 and $500,000 increments as two groups went back and forth for more than seven minutes, intent on getting the can’t miss horse.
On one side, Demi O’Byrne, a bloodstock agent representing Irish-based powerhouse Coolmore and John Magnier. On the other side, John Ferguson, the bloodstock manager for Darley Stud and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
At $14 million, Robertson jumped straight up to $15 million.
“I’m sure that $1 million increment has never happened in the history of horse auctions,” De Renzo said.
When it was all done everyone assessed how this would change their lives. Even after giving up at $16 million, Ferguson went up to De Renzo and Hartley and told them how sorry he was that he didn’t get his colt. O’Byrne joked that this horse would make $16 million look cheap. And when it finally settled in, De Renzo and Hartley shed some tears, realizing that their lives were forever changed.
A couple months later, The Green Monkey fell while training at Churchill Downs in what would later turn out to be a spine injury. Three races produced one in the money – a third place finish at his first race at Belmont.
“He was never able to duplicate the speed he all showed us at Calder that day,” said Todd Pletcher, the champion trainer who was assigned Green Monkey. “So at some point, you just have to say, what can you do? Maybe he’ll turn out to be a profitable stallion.”
And that’s where the story takes its final interesting turn. After being retired less than two years after commanding that $16 million figure, The Green Monkey now stands at stud onDe Renzo’s farm of all places.
“They said that we knew the horse as much as they did and that we’d do the best job with him,” said De Renzo, whose company now owns half of the horse’s breeding rights.
This year, The Green Monkey will generate $350,000, the $5,000 live foal fee multiplied by the 70 clients who took a flyer that his children could grow up to be champions.
We won’t know that until sometime in 2013, when The Green Monkey’s colts and fillies turn three. If they race well, it’s actually possible that $16 million could turn out to be a bargain.
Said De Renzo: “Even if it doesn’t turn out, I’ll personally feed the horse for the rest of my life.”
UPDATE: Check out the video below and watch how the bidding got up to $16 million.
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