Justina Severni and John Fahey led the South Point Sales consignment during the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale.
The consignor of a Saratoga-caliber yearling could have the horse’s entire young life to prepare their talking points for their time in the sale ring. Justina Severni and John Fahey had less than two weeks.
South Point Sales founder Mike Recio’s sudden and severe bout with sepsis on July 24, and his continued stay in the intensive care unit as he battles to recover, left the consignment without its captain and mouthpiece heading into one of the most important, high-pressure auctions of the season, the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sale.
Six days before the start of the Saratoga sale, it was revealed that longtime Recio employees and associates Severni and Fahey would share the duties leading the eight-horse consignment, each taking the wheel at a sale for the first time. They’d also serve as the unofficial public relations wing for Recio’s progress while dealing with the dual anxieties of concern over their friend’s health and the pressure of following in his shoes.
If there’s such a thing as trial by fire in the Thoroughbred consignment profession, this is it.
We checked in with Severni and Fahey daily before and during the Saratoga sale to document an auction held under the most unusual of circumstances.
Saturday, Aug. 7 – Two Days Before The Sale
If you didn’t know any better, you wouldn’t know anything was different under the South Point shedrow.
On a day when every consignment on the grounds was active as buyers churned through first looks, the South Point consignment was running smoothly in the courtyard between Barns 8 and 9. Fahey took the call cards from shoppers and dealt with vet work requests, as Severni directed equine traffic while guiding a Bolt d’Oro filly through her paces herself.
This may have been their first sales as the head of the consignment, but this was far from the first rodeo for either.
Versailles, Ky.,-based Severni is in her third year as sales coordinator with South Point, and Louisville native Fahey has worn a variety of hats in the training and bloodstock realms since he was able to go to the track on his own.
“Everything’s been smooth,” Fahey said Saturday afternoon. “The animals have been smooth, people have been smooth. Shows are going well. We’re thinking about Mike and trying to represent him. This is basically the biggest, best Saratoga consignment he’s ever had, so there’s a lot of responsibility, and we’re working toward doing our best for him.”
Recio’s not there, and he hasn’t been well enough to communicate with the staff, but he’s brought up by practically every passer-by, from the million-dollar buyers to the tire-kickers.
“No less than a hundred a day, whether it’s a text or somebody coming by or calling,” Fahey said. “It’s non-stop.”
“He’s stable,” Fahey continued. “Just working on taking baby steps every day. He’s come a long way in 10 days. We’re just staying positive and patient that every day is a new day.”
Even with things running smoothly, anything done on the back foot is going to be more taxing than usual. Being busy can help keep some of that tension at bay or a while.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t incredibly stressed when I realized the entire situation,” Severni said, “but now I think we’ve so completely thrown ourselves into work and helping Mike and his family the best way we can, that it has kept us focused.”
The buyers at the Saratoga sale are among the most unforgiving in the bloodstock market, and a consignor needs to have every answer to make sure the horse gets sold. Normally, the buck would stop with Recio when it comes to fielding those inquires, but Severni and Fahey were under a tighter crunch to learn their product.
Fortunately, they had a deep well of background knowledge to draw upon by committee. Severni had prepped two of the yearlings herself, two were prepped by Mike Heitzmann of Stonebridge Farm, who came to Saratoga to help with the consignment and two others had siblings go through the consignment in recent years, giving them familiarity with the family. Fahey had also had a hand in shortlisting a few of the horses for purchase as weanlings.
“You think about all the things that can go wrong, and it’s wasted energy,” Fahey said. “You just have to take it one day at a time, and one step at a time, and handle whatever happens.
“It’s a crazy world we live in. That’s why they made beer.”
Sunday, Aug. 8 – One Day Before The Sale
Consignor Carl McEntee of Ballysax Bloodstock stopped by Barn 8 to express his support, and offer help however the South Point team might need it from the neighboring barn.
The Thoroughbred industry has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support Recio’s recovery and protect the financial security of his family, but most in the business haven’t forgotten to support the people standing in for him, as well.
“We get about 10 of those a day,” Fahey said. “I said, ‘If I decide to fire somebody, can I have one of your people?’ Just keeping it light.”
Leading the consignment might be uncharted territory for Severni and Fahey, but they haven’t had to face the challenge alone.
“So many people have reached out, it’s been incredible,” Severni said. “Jill Gordon (of Claiborne Farm) was kind enough to come up here to assist us and I cannot possibly thank her enough. Mike Heitzmann from Stonebridge Farm has also been a giant help running cards. Jack Sisterson, who already has done so much by donating a percentage of Lexitonian’s Vanderbilt earnings and his halter to the silent auction, bought the crew lunch one day.”
Severni also said Max Hodge, Fasig-Tipton’s vice president of client services, had also played a crucial role in helping the consignment along in difficult times, assuring potential buyers that the auction company would work with South Point to ensure they have the best sale possible.
The South Point consignment averaged about 150 shows per horse on Saturday, and they’d see a similar number on Sunday. The first looks turned into second and third looks, then visits from the veterinarians.
The Saratoga sale is the big one when it comes to sales, but there won’t be time for Severni and Fahey to rest on their laurels once it’s done. In less than a week, a new draft of yearlings will ship in for the Fasig-Tipton New York-Bred Yearling Sale, where South Point has 11 horses cataloged — 11 new horses to memorize and promote.
The consignment’s two captains had been dealing with the paperwork hurdles and vettings for the New York-bred yearlings, but Fahey said his sights were on the horses in front of him for now.
“Just trying to keep the cart behind the horse,” he said. “I’m trying to worry about those first, and then we’ve got a couple days in between where we can get everything organized. We spoke to the owners, and told them we’d talk to them Wednesday.”
The day ended with another show of support for Recio and the South Point operation.
On the other side of Barn 8, consignor Archie St. George accepted a wager to shave his head if $3,000 could be raised for Recio and his family. Led by a donation from Pat Costello of Paramount Sales, St. George took a seat in the early evening to the chuckles and friendly heckles of onlookers and money-raisers.
When the razor reached the halfway point of its work, Costello jokingly yelled out, “You can change your mind if you want!”
Archie didn’t change his mind.
Monday, Aug. 9 – Day One Of The Sale
Dusk was approaching, and Severni was sitting alone at a table under a wooden South Point sign on her phone about an hour before sale time.
The horses had done all they work they needed to do before the buyers decide whether they were successful. Severni, on the other hand, had a fair bit of air-traffic control left to do.
“I’m doing okay,” she said between calls. “I’m just thinking of all the things I might be missing, and last-minute things. Trying to talk to the owners about reserves and get that finalized.”
The night started with Hip 24, a Pennsylvania-bred colt from the first crop of Gun Runner. The horse was shined up to the nines, and so were the people showing him. The team posed for a picture with the colt before he went to the ring, and the bond they’d all shared getting to that point made it a special photograph.
Just minutes later, the picture went from sentimental to historic.
The sold to Lael Stable for $550,000. With their first horse through the ring, Severni and Fahey oversaw the most expensive yearling in the history of the South Point consignment.
For a while, the colt was the most expensive horse of the sale.
A home run horse can quell a lot of pre-sale jitters, and Severni said it made the rest of the night so much easier.
“That was awesome,” she said. “I think it boosted everyone’s morale a lot. It showed that we could do a good job up here for our owners, and this is good momentum to take to September, as well.”
Three of the consignment’s yearlings went through the ring on Monday. The Gun Runner colt was the only one to change hands at the drop of the hammer, but it didn’t take long to find buyers for the two horses that finished under their reserves.
With a big score, and fair trade underneath it, Severni exited the session with a feeling of relief. If she could make it through one day, she could make it through another.
“I think I have a little bit more confidence in knowing I can get some of this done,” she said. “That helps.”
Tuesday, Aug. 10 – Day Two Of The Sale
The auction’s opening session was a crash course, but it was only a preview for a much busier day that followed.
After sending three horses through the ring on Monday, South Point had four on offer Tuesday, following one scratch. The extra workload was one thing, but this group was personal for Severni.
Severni’s day job is at Mick Ruis’ Wen-Mick Farm in Versailles, Ky., and Ruis is working hard to give his stallion Bolt d’Oro as many advantages as he can in his first crop of yearlings. Ruis had two of his homebreds on offer in Saratoga through the South Point consignment, and Severni had been getting them ready for the sale since she joined the farm’s staff in October 2020.
“Hip 186 was a standout,” she said. “Pretty much no problems all the way through, and we always thought she’d be a Saratoga horse. The other one, Hip 144, is a different physical type, but he’s a beautiful mover. Both of them have great minds.
“Having them here has been somewhat of a comfort, having horses you’ve worked with,” Severni continued. “I was joking they were like my emotional support animals, and they kind of have been. A couple times when I was having a rough go of it, I’d just go into the stall, gave them a little pat, and felt better.”
On a night where a Bolt d’Oro half-brother to the great Rachel Alexandra hammered for $1.4 million, South Point’s yearlings by the Spendthrift Farm resident held their own. Hip 144 went to David and Holly Wilson for $250,000, and Hip 186 bookended the consignment, going to bloodsock agents Frankie Brothers and Solis/Litt for $500,000.
By the end of the night, the South Point consignment had moved five of the seven horses it put through the ring for revenues of $1,705,000, and the two that didn’t sell through the ring had a chance to leave the grounds with a new owner after the hammer.
Two years earlier, South Point had just two horses in the sale, and their combined price couldn’t match its most expensive horse of 2021. Fahey said this was the best consignment that South Point Sales had brought to upstate New York, and he was right.
The last one through the ring for the South Point consignment, Hip 186, was especially impactful for Severni – one brought up with her own hands that had helped her through such a fraught time. Brothers was representing Starlight Racing in the transaction, and before the principals came back to the barn to see their new purchase, Severni hopped into the filly’s stall to shower her with well-deserved praise.
“That was amazing, I don’t know what else to say,” she said. “It was pretty cool. One of the main things is seeing her go to a good place, and she’ll get every chance.”
Just like that, it was over – for now. Severni and Fahey did what they set out to do and steered South Point Sales to a successful Saratoga outing. The New York-bred auction was just around the corner, but having their sea legs under them following the hot stove sale they just endured made whatever came next seem doable.
“There’s way more pressure than you would think,” Severni said. “Just getting the reserves right and making sure everything’s tip-top in shape, especially when you’re dealing with these quality of horses, just making them look the best they can, and making sure they show their best. Every single show has to be important.”
Nothing about this sale involved things going to plan. Severni and Fahey wouldn’t be in the position they were if that were the case.
In Recio’s absence, they carried out the greater plan to outstanding success.
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