Barbara D. Livingston
A $1 million Curlin colt sold Aug. 7 was the third seven-figure offering consigned by Denali Stud in the past three renewals of the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga selected yearling sale.
The Fasig-Tipton Saratoga selected yearling sale is known as one of the industry’s “glitz and glamour” auctions, where high-dollar bidders do battle for elite horseflesh on a highly visible stage. Even with those terms, it’s exceedingly difficult to sell a million-dollar horse in Saratoga.
Only seven offerings have sold for seven figures over the past three renewals, and three of them came from the consignment of Craig and Holly Bandoroff’s Denali Stud.
In 2015, eventual Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit, by Tapit, sold for $1.2 million. The following year, Denali topped the sale with a $1.45 million Medaglia d’Oro filly, and it co-topped the sale again in 2017 with a Curlin colt that brought $1 million.
Getting to that point, Craig Bandoroff said, is not as effortless as the flurry of headlines that follow a sale-topper might make it seem. It takes having the right horses, the right staff, the right clients, and sometimes being in the right place on the sale grounds.
“When you read this stuff, it sounds like it’s not that hard to do – you just need a nice horse, it’s got to tick all the boxes, everybody has to love them, and you get it, but there’s a lot of nuances,” he said. “Even with the Curlin colt, we had to head off a couple things at the pass. You can do that because you’re focused on every single little thing [in Saratoga]. In all honesty, in Book 2 in September when you have 40 of them out there, it’s just not that way.”
The Saratoga sale was important to the Bandoroffs even before the founding of Denali Stud in 1990. Prior to entering consignment, Craig worked for Fasig-Tipton in New York, assisting then-general manager Larry Ensor and inspecting yearlings.
“The very first time we came to Saratoga was the first year we were married, and he was up here wearing the tuxedo,” Holly said, “so it’s always been a special spot for us.”
They moved to the other side of the ring in the late 1980s to manage sales for R.D. Hubbard and Edward Sczesny’s Crystal Springs Farm. When Sczesny died, Hubbard encouraged Craig to expand his role with the farm by leasing him the first parcel of land that would become Denali Stud.
Denali Stud consigned its first two yearlings to the Saratoga sale in 1991. Their first seven-figure Saratoga yearling came in 2006 when eventual Grade 1 winner Mushka hammered for $1.6 million to top the sale.
As the operation became more established, Denali earned a regular base on the grounds in Barn 7, across Madison Avenue from the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion, and found its anchor in the westernmost 7A division of the annex.
The idyllic backdrop, shaded by trees and red and white awnings, not only has room to breathe compared with other, more hectic barns on the property, it has proven good for business. Bandoroff said the location of Barn 7A was a factor in breeder Stonestreet Stables putting this year’s sale-topping Curlin colt under the Bandoroffs’ watch.
“We have a great yard,” Craig said. “That spot is just wonderful, and it’s got a lot of history. Marshall Jenney was there before us. That’s one of the reasons they gave us the Curlin colt. John [Moynihan, Stonesteet’s bloodstock adviser] told me he wanted to put him somewhere that people could see him and watch him walk. It has a unique ambience to it that no other place has.”
As important as Saratoga has been to the past and present of Denali Stud, it also provided a look to the future of the consignment last week in Craig and Holly’s son, Conrad Bandoroff.
The younger Bandoroff, 25, rejoined the operation as vice president earlier this year after graduating from the Darley Flying Start program.
“I grew up on the sales grounds,” Conrad said as he watched over incoming yearlings for the New York-bred sale. “My parents never really encouraged me to pursue a career in the horse business – if anything they probably more discouraged me.
“They were never too excited about the prospects of me coming into the business,” he continued, “but I spent time, cut my teeth, worked the sales, the racetrack, and I think I proved to them that I was in it because I loved the animal, and I love the industry, and I had a passion for it.”
Craig said he didn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon, but knowing the business he built would remain in capable hands tomorrow made his job easier today.
“We’re all excited about Conrad,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing, I think, for a family to have a business that can survive to the second generation. I think Holly and I will get a lot of satisfaction in seeing when his day comes and he takes it over, what he’s able to do with it. He’s definitely part of the story now.”