FORT WORTH -- Groups raising the money to buy the 285 champion steers, pigs, goats, and lambs exhibited by youths at this year's Fort Worth Stock Show say they're right on top of the commitments they need going into next week's Sale of Champions, the annual auction that sponsors hope will top $3 million.
Larry Anfin, chairman of the Fort Worth Stock Show Syndicate, the largest of several nonprofits that recruit buyers for the sale, estimated that donors have agreed to buy 300 animals.
"There's only 285 animals in the auction," said Anfin, of Fort Worth's Coors Distributing Co., which has bought or teamed up to buy the grand champion steer six times since 1981. "We've got everything covered."
Last year's auction raised a record $2.89 million, which went back to the youth exhibitors. Anfin, in his first of two years as syndicate chairman, said his personal goal this year is $3 million.
"I know it's an auction, and people can bid what they want," he said. "But the way the commitments are going, I think we can do it."
Commitments came in slowly through the holidays, but jumped to 280 from 122 on Jan. 12, the program deadline, Anfin said.
Major benefactors signed up this year include: the Happy Davis Foundation, which has bought the grand champion steer in two of the last three years; Coors Distributing; H-E-B/Central Market; Howard Walsh III; Ross Perot; Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House; Ed Bass; Luther King Capital Management; O'Neal Oil Properties; and XTO Energy founder and Texas Rangers co-owner Bob Simpson.
For the first time this year, the syndicate and other fundraising groups are dangling membership in the new Chairman's Grand Slam Club for whoever buys a grand champion in every animal group over a lifetime, or the same year. The aim is to boost prices for animals other than the steers, which draw the highest bids, and give previous grand champion buyers a reason to buy high again.
"If you have a grand champion in Fort Worth, Texas, it ought to be worth some college education money," said Gary Ray, a Fort Worth oil and gas insurance company owner who is a Grand Slam Club spokesman and head of the Tallest Hog at the Trough, which finds buyers for the 12 barrow hogs in the auction.
The Tallest Hog, in its fourth year since taking over for the defunct Pig Club, rang up $187,000 in total sales at last year's auction. As of midweek, the group had secured eight of 12 commitments for this year's hogs and is expecting "a good hog sale this year," Ray said.
"Year before we started, the 12 pigs brought $42,000," Ray said. "We've moved that mark consistently."
The Grand Slam Club was formed after Aledo commercial real estate investor Larry White Jr. broke a string of records: $100,000 for the champion lamb and $100,000 for the champion hog in 2011; $210,000 (which still stands) for the champion steer in 2010; and $30,000 for the champion goat several years ago.
"I still have the steer, War Admiral," White, the lone member of the Grand Slam Club, said Wednesday, chuckling. "It's in my front yard, in Aledo."
White heads two groups -- the Fort Worth Businessmen and U' Ol Goat Committee -- that spent $360,000 and $33,000, respectively, at last year's auction, with the latter taking the lead on finding buyers for the six wether goats in the sale.
White says fundraising for this year's sale has been slow because of the economy.
"But we're getting there," he said.
He thinks the Grand Slam Club will pay off soon.
"Some year, when the economy gets going, somebody's going to do it [buy all four grand champions] in one day," he said.
Ladies on the Lamb, a group that finds buyers for the eight lambs in the auction, is expecting a strong lamb sale, said Rebecca Pearce, a real estate agent and yoga instructor who heads the group.
Ladies on the Lamb spent $56,000 at last year's auction, not including White's investment in the grand champion.
"We raised quite a bit of money before the show, and we always raise a lot during the show," Pearce said. "We raise money right up until the auction."
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