Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Sheik speaks

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Posted on Sat, Apr 12, 2008 Zoom + | Zoom -
Fasig-Tipton auction house purchased by Dubai sheik
By PAUL POST, The Saratogian

A sales announcer calls out auction-goers’ bids during the Fasig-Tipton yearling sales in Saratoga Springs in August 2007. (MATTHEW TURRI file photo/The Saratogian)SARATOGA SPRINGS — One of the Spa City’s most important industries could be in store for major improvements from one of the world’s richest investors.

Dubai-based Synergy Investments Ltd., closely allied with Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed, has purchased Kentucky-based Fasig-Tipton Co., whose Saratoga sales each August are among the world’s most prestigious thoroughbred horse auctions.

But the firm’s goal isn’t just to improve sales, but to enhance the entire North American racing experience, in which the sheikh has already has invested more than $1 billion, a spokesman said.

“There are lots of things we can do,” said Terence Collier, Fasig-Tipton’s director of marketing. “Saratoga is one of the most important horse markets in the world. We want to bring a higher level of service to the industry and yes, we intend to grow the business.

“That’s our objective.”

New York State Racing Commissioner Harry Snyder, of Saratoga Springs, said Synergy’s investment should mean good things for the Spa City.

“It means there’s going to be an unlimited supply of capital to put into the business,” he said. “Whatever they take on, they do a first-class job. It should be good for the town and for the entire thoroughbred industry. It’s (Fasig-Tipton) a well-run company. I’m sure it will be even more so with the Moktoums involved.”

The sheik, believed to be among the world’s five richest people, spent a reported

$17.5 million for an exclusive thoroughbred training center on Nelson Avenue last year. His net worth is estimated at nearly $30 billion and he owns Godolphin Racing, among the world’s most successful stables, and Darley breeding operation.

At the 2007 Fasig-Tipton November mixed sale, he paid $5.75 million for bought multiple Grade I winner Round Pond and $4 million for Eclipse Award finalist Octave.

The Fasig-Tipton sale becomes official in May, Collier said. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. He said that no immediate personnel or operations changes are anticipated. The Fasig Tipton name will stay the same, too.

Fasig-Tipton’s principal owner John Hettinger, who’s had serious health problems in recent years, is a part-time Saratoga Springs resident with a house on Circular Street. Snyder credited him with rescuing and restoring integrity to Fasig-Tipton.

“Our agreement includes an understanding that Fasig-Tipton will be operated in a manner consistent with the principles of integrity, customer service, and industry service which have been so critical to our success since controlling interest was obtained by the Hettinger family in 1991,” board Chairman D.G. Van Clief Jr. said in a prepared statement. “Those assurances were critical to John and his son Bill Hettinger, and our entire board of directors, in agreeing to this transaction.”

Founded in 1898, Fasig Tipton is North America’s oldest thoroughbred auction company. In addition to Saratoga Springs, it conducts auctions in Lexington, Ky., Timonium, Md., Miami, Fla. and Grand Prairie, Texas.

Its main two-day Saratoga sale is surpassed only by the September Keeneland sale, Collier said.

“Most people around here, if you ask what the highlight of the Saratoga meet is, they’ll say Travers Week,” said Mike Kane, communications director at the National Museum of Racing & Hall of Fame. “For the industry its sales week. It’s a really important part of the fabric of the Saratoga season. We’re not just racing here in Saratoga.

“Many of the greatest horses that have gone through the auction ring have been sold here in Saratoga. It’s a fun, interesting thing just to see that part of the business.”

Sales are held at the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion on East Avenue, where Hall of Fame inductions also take place. Kane said he’s been assured by Fasig Tipton officials that Hall of Fame ceremonies can stay there.

“I talked to Boyd Browning (executive vice president/COO) and he told me that everything would continue as it has in the past,” Kane said Friday. “It’s a great venue for us.”

This year’s inductions are slated for Monday, Aug. 4. Fasig-Tipton’s main two-day sale kicks off that night. Last year’s sales totaled more than $41 million, an average of $289,000 per horse. Gross sales have ranged from $40 million to $60 million each of the past 10 years, Collier said.

“That’s a lot of business for the small town of Saratoga to enjoy in two nights,” he said.

However, demand for hotel space is so great that buyers, sellers and bloodstock agents sometimes have difficulty finding a room.

Holiday Inn General Manager Cindy Hollowood said that demand for rooms is normally highest from Wednesday through Saturday during the racing meet. During Fasig-Tipton sales, Monday and Tuesday are equally busy, she said.

“That does place a great amount of demand,” she said.

Collier said that Synergy will take immediate steps, beginning this year, to help people with everything from lodging to restaurant reservations and getting a box at the track. The company’s goal is to bring new buyers, sellers and more horses into the business, he said.

“We’ll be working very closely with NYRA (New York Racing Association) and their hospitality people to help people get through the Saratoga experience in the best possible way,” Collier said.

NYRA President and CEO Charles Hayward said, “Fasig-Tipton is an integral part of the Saratoga Race Course meet. We’re sure that tradition will continue under new ownership.”

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