If anyone needed proof that the economy is improving, at least in the horse industry, he had to look no further than the sales pavilion at Timonium Fairgrounds.
For nine straight hours Sunday and seven hours Monday, several hundred people packed the arena and spent more than $2 million on 403 thoroughbreds of all ages.
"It speaks well for what's going on in [the industry] in this area," said T. Mason Grasty, executive vice president of the Fasig-Tipton auctioneering company that conducted the sale. Grasty said it was the first time in the four years that he has been associated with Fasig-Tipton in this region "that we've had back-to-back $1 million days."
Buyers came not only from Maryland, but also from 23 other states, Puerto Rico and three provinces in Canada.
"Usually the December sale is strong for weanlings [foals recently weaned off their dams], but this sale was strong throughout from breeding stock to horses of racing age," Grasty said.
The average price of a horse jumped 65 percent from a year ago, when 419 head were sold for an average price of $3,387. This year that figure rose to $5,181 per horse.
The success of the sale mirrored strong recent auctions at Keeneland, Ky., and local yearling sales held earlier this fall.
"We're not a boutique market anymore, but a strong regional outlet," Grasty said.
"I think people that have money feel they are better off spending it than having it sit in the bank and collecting 3 percent on CDs [certificates of deposit]," said Charles Stancer of Woodbine, who recently sold the broodmare, Missy's Music, in Kentucky for $30,000 and bought two weanlings at Timonium for $13,200.
Grasty, too, said, "The smart guys tell me they can't sit on money anymore. It backs up on them. The stock market is up, then art, now horses and sooner or later it's going to be real estate. Now whether or not buying racehorses is a good investment, I can't say. But I'm sure not going to quibble with anyone that wants to buy them."
Bill Dixon of Annapolis operates the Mea Culpa Stable with his wife, Phyllis. In the last month they have bought nearly a dozen horses, including broodmares and weanlings. On Monday, they spent $26,600 to purchase three more weanlings and went in partnership with Pennsylvania horseman Eugene Weymouth on a $30,000 colt sired by Breeders' Cup Mile winner, Opening Verse.
Dixon said he feels the market is upbeat because of the success of off-track betting and simulcast programs, not only in Maryland, but elsewhere. "Purses are good right now," he said.
House of Love, a 7-year-old mare who is out of a half sister to former Horse of the Year Spectacular Bid, brought the top price of $55,000. She was sold by Ron and Carolyn Green of Westminster and was purchased by William Fenton of State College, Pa.
Jiggs Lancaster of Bowie sold the second-highest-priced horse. His 7-year-old mare, Auxiliary, a half sister to champion sprinter Star De Naskra, was purchased by Daniel Lucas of Mount Airy for $50,000.
Even at the bottom end of the market, prices were higher. About a dozen broodmares were purchased by a dealer who regularly re-sells the animals to meat packers. Instead of paying $500 for that type of horse, the dealer had to go a bit higher to $600 or $700.