Everything has to go right for a horse to command a record price at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, and the filly wearing the Hip 498 sticker on Wednesday was the perfect storm to make that happen.
On the top side of her page was Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, a stallion defying all rules of second-crop commercial regression to already have the kind of year at auction even the elite veteran sires never see.
On the bottom was 2016 Broodmare of the Year Leslie's Lady whose produce record reads like a “who's who” of the past decade of racing, producing names like super-mare Beholder, leading commercial sire Into Mischief, and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Mendelssohn.
On the shank was a horse that lived up to the page, drawing return visits to the shedrow of breeder and seller Clarkland Farm from the Thoroughbred industry's deepest-pocketed buyers.
When the filly entered the ring and auctioneer Justin Holmberg started his chant, nearly every bidspotter in the Keeneland sales pavilion cried out, lighting the fuse for what would be an $8.2-million fireworks show.
Given their battles through the first three days of the Keeneland September Sale, the smart money would have pegged Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Godolphin operation or the Coolmore partnership as the favorites to be the last bidder standing. Instead, the ticket was walked to Mandy Pope of Whisper Hill Farm, locking down what became the most expensive filly ever sold at the Keeneland September auction and the co-fourth-most expensive ever offered at the sale of any gender.
“She was the only horse in the sale I really wanted,” Pope said. “This is probably going to put me out of shopping in November. I think I've pretty much gone through my broodmare budget…I'm getting older. I'm going through the final phases of what I'm going to do with my life, and this is what I want to do.”
The previous record price for a filly at the Keeneland September sale was Moon's Whisper, a Storm Cat filly who sold to Shadwell Estate Co. Ltd. for $4.4 million at the 2000 renewal. Her hammer price tied her for the fourth-highest overall price with Act of Diplomacy, a Storm Cat colt who sold to Godolphin at the 2006 sale.
Godolphin also bought the three horses Wednesday's top horse looks up to on the all-time chart: The Kingmambo colt Meydan City ($11.7 million, 2006), the Storm Cat colt Jalil ($9.7 million, 2005), and the Danzig colt Plavius ($9.2 million, 2006).
In addition to the star runners under the produce record of Leslie's Lady, the Tricky Creek mare is the dam of three additional stakes-producing mares. Beyond anything the filly could do on the racetrack, Pope said the residual value she presented as a broodmare made her a horse worth taking a stand.
“You can't fault her,” Pope said. “She's perfectly balanced, she's gorgeous. She's not too big, not too small. Obviously, we're hoping Beholder hits as a broodmare, and she certainly has tremendous value should she not make it to the races, for whatever reason. Like anything else, it's a big gamble. Fingers crossed, lots of prayers, and please wish us well.”
Pope said the filly would be sent to her Citra, Fla., farm, where she recently had a new training center constructed.
Clarkland Farm of Lexington, Ky., bought Leslie's Lady in foal to Orientate for $100,000 at the 2006 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, as part of the dispersal for the late James T. Hines, Jr. The mare went through the ring a year after her eventual Grade 1 winner Into Mischief was born, and future champion Beholder wouldn't be born for another four years after she first joined the Clarkland broodmare band.
The commercial profile for Leslie's Lady was respectable for most of her time at Clarkland Farm, but she became a household name in the auction arena after the Henny Hughes mare Beholder became a multiple champion, and Leslie's Lady officially became the kind of mare that could fill an entire catalog page by hersellf.
That commercial respect first manifested itself in the form of Mendelssohn, a Scat Daddy colt who sold to M.V. Magnier of the Coolmore partnership for $3 million to top the 2016 edition of the Keeneland September sale. He went on to win the 2017 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Del Mar, run in the following year's Kentucky Derby, and pick up graded or group black type on three different continents.
Being at the top of the heap at the Keeneland September Sale might not be uncharted territory for Clarkland Farm's Fred Mitchell, but scaling the mountain again was no less exciting.
“It's something we never dreamed of in our life,” he said. “We dream of breeding a nice horse and this is what it's all about for the little consignors and the small guy. The farm has been in the family since 1774 and it'll be there for the children for the rest of their lives. We're keeping two fillies out of the old mare, this is the last one to sell out of her. The fillies will stay there for the kids and grandkids.
“She's just been special from the time she hit the ground,” he said about the filly that sold Wednesday. “She was born with muscle, she was correct when she was born and she just has such a mind on her, it's unreal. When I watch her compared to Beholder and Mendelssohn growing up, it looked like she had Beholder's sprinting speed in her because when the other fillies came to her out in the field and were running, she was like 'I'll see ya' and had another gear. She's just been special since day one.”
Leslie's Lady, now 23 years old, had a filly by Not This Time in 2019.
Half to Jaywalk Goes To Shawn Dugan, Agent, For $2 Million
Just a few hips before the eventual sale-topper went through the ring, a half-sister to champion juvenile Jaywalk caused a ruckus of her own, going to bloodstock agent Shawn Dugan for $2 million.
The bay filly, offered as Hip 485, is out of the unplaced Orientate mare Lady Pewitt, whose five foals to race are all winners. In addition to champion 2-year-old filly Jaywalk, her offspring includes the Grade 3-placed stakes winner Danzatrice. Her extended family includes Grade 2 winner Mission Impazible.
“We're speechless, we're just so happy,” Dugan said. “She's just a top physical. She's a half-sister to a champion. We're delighted.”
Dugan said the filly would probably stay in the U.S., with a trainer to be decided later.
Gainesway bred and consigned the filly, as agent. Lady Pewitt was added to the Gainesway broodmare as a private purchase while Jaywalk was still in-utero. Gainesway also stands sire Empire Maker.
“She was a really nice filly around May and June of this year, and she's just gotten better every single day up to this point,” said Gainesway's Brian Graves. “There were many agents we showed her to earlier in the year, and they couldn't hardly recognize her today. She's just getting better every day.”
Coolmore, Kelly Buy American Pharoah Colt For $1.3 Million
It took exactly two horses through the ring to pop a little bit of the seven-figure bubbly during Wednesday's session, with M.V. Magnier of the Coolmore partnership and Sarah Kelly teaming up to buy a $1.3-million American Pharoah colt.
The bay colt is out of the unplaced Smart Strike mare Escampette, His fourth dam is the great broodmare Courtly Dee, putting him in the family of champion Althea, Breeders' Cup Classic winner Bayern, G1 winner Ketoh, and G2 winners Aquilegia, Twining, Rainha da Bateria, and Rabbit Run.
“We're absolutely delighted to get that horse,” Magnier said. “He's going to go to Bob Baffert. He was very high on the horse. He's got a couple of very good American Pharoahs, he bought a couple yesterday. We run Monarch of Egypt in a couple weeks and hopefully, Aidan is pretty confident in him and American Pharoah is going so well right now at the moment. Let's hope he's lucky for us and Mr. and Mrs. Kelly as well.”
The Coolmore operation has been one of American Pharoah's biggest supporters at auction, backing up a dual-hemisphere member its stallion roster. The Triple Crown winner resides at Coolmore's Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky., during the Northern Hemisphere season, then shuttles to the operation's Australian base to cover Southern Hemisphere mares.
The colt was a $340,000 weanling purchase by Hunter Valley Farm at last year's Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. The same operation consigned the colt on Wednesday.
“As a weanling, we thought he was the best foal on the grounds,” said Hunter Valley's Adrian Regan. “He's only going to get better.”
Also surpassing the seven-figure mark on Wednesday…
– Hip 519, a Pioneerof the Nile colt out of the winning Distorted Humor mare Magical World who sold to e Five Racing for $2.1 million. The half-brother to Grade 1 winner Guarana was consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent.
– Hip 431, a Curlin colt out of the winning Bernardini mare Grazie Mille who sold to Robert and Lawana Low for $1.2 million. The half-brother to Grade 1 winner Mo Town was consigned by Glennwood Farm, agent.
– Hip 420, a Medaglia d'Oro filly out of the Grade 3-winning Ghostzapper mare Gloryzapper who sold to New River Equine for $1.1 million. Taylor Made Sales Agency consigned the filly as agent for Aaron and Marie Jones.
– Hip 428, a Curlin colt out of the Grade 1-winning A.P. Indy mare Got Lucky who sold to Repole Stables, St. Elias, and Magnier for $1 million. Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency consigned the colt, as agent.
Strong Returns For Revamped Book 1
Change has been a consistent for the marquee Book 1 of the Keeneland September sale, but the improved average and median sale prices show the market has been open to the new concept.
This year's Book 1 comprised three sessions with 569 horses cataloged, which was a significant downsizing from the 2018 sale when 989 yearlings were cataloged over the course of four days.
Because of this, gross numbers are hard to compare. After three days of selling, a total of 340 horses changed hands at this year's sale for revenues of $160,463,000.
Much easier to compare are the average and median sale prices between Book 1 sections, which both saw significant jumps. The average rose 33 percent to $471,950, while the median grew 27 percent to $355,000 from $280,000. The buyback rate dropped slightly to 26 percent compared with 27 percent after three sessions in 2018.
Between the lofty prices, high average numbers, and the revival of the old-school Godolphin/Coolmore bidding wars for the top offerings, the yearling marketplace appears to have a momentum not seen since the high-flying days before the Great Recession.
Bob Elliston, Keeneland's vice president of racing and sales, said a healthy overall economy was a key reason for the commercial marketplace's decade-long climb back from the cellar, but he also noted that there are plenty of reasons within the industry itself why the returns are so positive.
“The underpinnings of how you get a return on investment in this business, when you pay that kind of money for a $700,000 to $1-million yearling, you've got to count on getting a return on investment,” he said. “I think that speaks volumes about purse structures that are growing in key marketplaces like Kentucky and New York. At the highest end of racing in the United States, there are some very positive things happening that I think gives folks confidence and puts wind in their sails to come in here and buy a horse for that amount and expect they have a shot to get a positive return on investment.
“Then, you move over to the stallion side and the residual value of mares as they leave the racetrack, and what happens in November,” Elliston continued. “There are underpinnings of very positive macroeconomics to me that are driving a lot of the confidence in the investment decision that are being made here.”
Taylor Made Sales Agency was the leading consignor of Book 1 by gross, with 61 horses sold for revenues of $23,745,000. The top consignor by average sale price, among those with five or more sold, was Hinkle Farms, with five sold at an average of $1,010,000.
Godolphin was the leading buyer of Book 1, with 10 purchases totaling $16 million. Sheikh Mohammed's operation accounted for each of the top five most expensive offerings of Book 1 except for Wednesday's topper.
Sheikh Mohammed's attendance at the Keeneland September sale often means the Godolphin operation will spend beyond its usual bounds. Even his potential competitors on the buying bench acknowledge the ruler of Dubai's presence is good for business.
“You heard rumors that Sheikh Mohammed was coming here and you can't be more excited for when he does show up,” said bloodstock agent Jacob West. “That man changes people's lives in the sales ring and he carries this sale, he has an incredible presence here. And as an American, I'm just excited that he is over here supporting us.”
A total of 124 horses sold during Wednesday's closing session of Book 1 for revenues of $65,082,000. The average sale price settled at $524,855 – helped significantly by the record-priced filly – the median closed at $375,000, and the buyback rate was 19 percent.
Taylor Made was Wednesday's top consignor by gross, selling 24 horses for $11,085,000. Pope's lone purchase of the session-topper was enough to put her on top as the leading buyer.
To view the full results, click here.
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