Silky Green. South Pacific Bloodstock. Clover Club Co Ltd. The Japan Stallion Company.
For the past few weeks, the talk of the American bloodstock industry has been the large infusion of cash-- about $21 million -- that has been spent at the Florida and California 2-year-old auctions by Japanese buyers who sign the sales tabs with these exotic-sounding names and send the horses back to race in their native country.
"A tidal wave of Japanese interest and money," is how Terence Collier, director of marketing for the Fasig-Tipton sales company describes the unprecedented demand that the Far Eastern horsemen have recently shown for American thoroughbreds.
"It reminds me of the crazy days of the 1980s, when there was no ceiling at the top of the market," Collier said. "But instead of the Arabs [who were the big spenders in the '80s], this time it's the Japanese."
Of course, the purchasing power of the Japanese has been helped by the rise of the yen and the deflated value of the dollar in the international money markets.
When Masaichiro Abe, a prominent Japanese racehorse owner, signed the tab for four thoroughbreds Wednesday at the Barretts Select Sale in Pomona, Calif., his American representative, Claudia Atwell Canouse, said that it took 88 yen to buy one dollar.
"When I first started buying horses for my Japanese clients seven years ago, the exchange rate was 200 yen to the dollar. Now that dollars are so cheap, my customers' purchasing power in the States has more than doubled."
And it has shown in the sales results. Collier said that at the Feb. 27-28 Fasig-Tipton sale in Miami, there were 70 individual Japanese horsemen at the auction representing 12 buying groups. They spent about $7 million, or 41 percent of the gross sales receipts, and purchased 45 horses, including nine of the top 10 2-year-olds.
The Japanese presence at the Barretts sale last week was even more evident, said sales company president, Gerald McMahon. Japanese buyers spent $14 million, or about two-thirds of the gross sales receipts, for 65 horses, including eight of the 10 top-priced animals.
He estimated that there were 150 Japanese horsemen at the auction.
Profiting most have been the pinhookers, middlemen who purchased yearlings last fall, broke them and re-sold them six to seven months later.
The most stunning recent example involves southern Pennsylvania horseman Marshall Jenney. When he sold a son of Unbridled at the Saratoga, N.Y., yearling sale last summer for $200,000, Jenney was pleased with the price. But at Barretts sale last week, that horse just seven months later brought $1.4 million and was sold to a Japanese buyer.
McMahon said there are three major reasons for the Japanese emergence at the sales.
"First, the Japanese Racing Association has been easing restrictions that have allowed more imported horses to run in their races," he said. "That has expanded opportunities for American-bred horses. Secondly, there is a tremendous purse structure in that country. And thirdly, there is the strong yen. Quality American thoroughbreds are one of the few U.S. products that the Japanese need, and they are willing to pay for them."
Collier added that the recent successes of American-bred thoroughbreds in Japanese racing, horses such as Eishin Berlin and Go Go Nakayama, which have won graded stakes and earned several times their purchase prices, have also encouraged the Japanese horsemen's aggressive shopping habits.
"There is also a different kind of Japanese owner emerging," Collier said. "They are not so hidebound as the older owners. It used to be the owners bought their horses as foals from the northern breeders, and the breeders raised the horses for them until they went to the track. Now, a whole new group of owners has seen the physical superiority of the American 2-year-olds and begun vigorously buying them. They get better value for their money in the States."
Collier added that even Maryland breeders could see a "trickle-down" effect at local yearling auctions this year as the pinhookers scour all available markets for horses.
"Of course, people need to be aware of the vagaries of this market," he said. "To a large degree it's dependent on what happens to a group of people that is located quite a distance away. There are a lot of factors that can change and that no one can control."
A Japanese runner in the Preakness?
At the same time that the Japanese are buying more and more American horses, the presence of their flourishing racing industry will soon be felt at American tracks, perhaps even Baltimore's dowdy old Pimlico.
On Saturday, the world's richest female thoroughbred, Hishi Amazon, invades Santa Anita Park from Japan for a start in the $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on the turf.
In Japanese, the word "hishi" means diamond, said Canouse, who has overseen many of the U.S. arrangements for the Abe-owned filly.
The American-bred daughter of Theatrical has earned about $4.8 million in Japan, more than $1 million more than the North American female leader, Dance Smartly.
Soon to follow: Japan's possible first entry in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness -- the 3-year-old colt, Ski Captain, owned by Shadai Stud, the so-called "Claiborne Farm of Japan."
Laurel/Pimlico vice president of racing Lenny Hale is meeting with U.S. Department of Agriculture officials this week about quarantine procedures should the horse come to Maryland.
"Tentative plans now call for the horse to leave Japan and be quarantined at Hollywood Park in California from April 27 to 29," Hale said. "After that, he would go to Kentucky for the Derby [on May 6] and then come to Baltimore."
Should those plans not work out, it's possible Ski Captain will race instead in the English Derby in June.
The colt is a son of Storm Bird and was bred and raised in Kentucky by the Shadai Stud before being shipped to race in Japan.
Canouse said that Santa Anita officials are expecting quite a large Japanese following to see Hishi Amazon race in California.
"About 400 members of the filly's fan club are coming from Japan to see the race," Canouse said. "Then they are expecting about six or seven television crews and a total of about 100 members of the Japanese media."
Canouse added that Hisha Amazon is at Santa Anita and is stabled in Dick Mandella's barn "right along with Best Pal and Afternoon Deelites," she said.
The horse will be ridden by Japanese jockey Eiji Nakadate.
Cigar, the Maryland-bred overachiever
The Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Park next month might bring together two Maryland-bred superstars, Concern and Cigar, for the first time.
Local fans are familiar with the exploits of Concern, the Bob Meyerhoff homebred that has been stabled at Pimlico for much of his career.
Cigar is the new Maryland-bred overachiever, whose sole connection to the state is that he was born here.
Michael Pons of Country Life Farm in Bel Air explains that Cigar, who has won the Donn and Gulfstream Park Handicaps by wide margins in his last two starts, was born at his farm after the horse's owner, Allen Paulson, shipped the colt's dam, Solar Slew, there to be mated with Corridor Key.
Paulson not only bred Corridor Key, but also Allen's Prospect, and vigorously supported both stallions with his mares when they first arrived at stud at Country Life.
Mostly, Pons said, Paulson sent maiden or barren mares, "but the last few years he started to send mares that were pregnant. One of these was Solar Slew, in foal to Palace Music."
All that Pons remembers about the foal destined to be named Cigar was that after he was born at Country Life "he was a nice-looking colt whose breeding suggested that he'd run on the grass."
Indeed, Paulson's trainer, Bill Mott, raced Cigar exclusively on the turf until he switched him to the dirt last fall. Since then, he's become virtually unbeatable.
After Cigar was born and shipped home to Kentucky, Paulson sold Solar Slew in foal to Corridor Key and the stallion, too, left Country Life. The 13-year-old son of Danzig now resides at Shamrock Farm in Woodbine.