It was just like the old days.
In the blue corner was Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum of the Godolphin operation, which had been flexing its financial muscles with impunity during the first two days of the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. In the slightly darker blue corner were the Irish lads of the Coolmore operation, congregated around M.V. Magnier, which had been unusually quiet in the upper reaches of this year's sale.
The prize was Hip 274, a Curlin colt from the Stonestreet Bred & Raised program out of the New Zealand champion sprinter Bounding.
The arena for the latest chapter of the most heated international rivalry in horse racing was the back ring of the Keeneland sales pavilion, with the principals standing less than 10 feet apart.
When Sheikh Mohammed and his entourage appears in the area behind the auction stand, that usually means business is about to pick up. Godolphin had already preceded the $2.9-million purchase of a War Front colt out of Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can, and the buzz was ambient again when the ruler of Dubai took his usual spot as the Curlin colt approached the ring. The colt is out of a daughter of Lonhro, who a cornerstone of Sheikh Mohammed's Australian stallion operation.
The Coolmore representatives stood directly behind the Godolphin posse in their usual place near the exit, an easy place to slip out, but plenty visible to the bid spotters. The colt's Australian bloodlines would have also provided plenty of options for the Coolmore partnership, which has its own stallion base on the continent.
Phones came out in the pavilion to focus on the horse, but they also emerged from onlookers in the back ring when it became clear they were witnessing a bidding war reminiscent of the epic throwdowns that drove the pre-recession auction markets to dizzying heights. With each raise of the bid, the opposing huddle turned inward to debate their counteroffensive.
Bob Elliston, Keeneland's vice president of racing and sales, arrived at Sheikh Mohammed's left side as the price rose past the day's previous high-water mark.
“I didn't realize what was going on until we got in the middle of that,” Elliston said. “I was out front, and there was bidding going on, but then it all stopped out here, and for the last at least $2 million it was in the back, and it was going up $100,000 a pop.
“I was telling Cris Caldwell, the auctioneer in the stand at the time, I thought he did a great job of slowing it down and taking it easy,” he continued. “Cris is animated and he's excitable, but when he did that and I heard it back there, I thought, 'This sounds like the old days,' and sure enough it was.”
The back ring bid spotter looked down at the Godolphin team, then up at Coolmore seeking bids, and when the board flashed $4.1 million, the Irish contingent looked at each other and gradually dispersed.
When the hammer fell, it came down for the most expensive offering at the Keeneland September sale since Mr. Besilu sold to Besilu Stables for $4.2 million in 2010. Godolphin's selection team, including Anthony Stroud, John Gosden, and the American contingent, took turns shaking the Sheikh's hand before his inner circle migrated back into the pavilion.
“I needed oxygen,” said Stroud, who signed the ticket for the Godolphin operation. “We were gasping for air in that range. Luckily, we're under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed, and he is a decisive man. He's completely in control. He's the one who makes these decisions, and in this particular case, he told me to continue.”
Stroud deferred to Sheikh Mohammed when it came to the colt's future, whether he'll remain in the U.S., or test international challenges, as his female family might suggest.
“He's a very athletic horse, a lovely, well-balanced horse from a good farm, and we liked him very much,” Stroud said. “He was just a wonderful mover.”
It was another coup for the Stonestreet Farm breeding program, having already sold a Medaglia d'Oro colt to Godolphin for $2.15 million on Monday. The operation of Barbara Banke went south of the Equator to add Bounding to its world-class broodmare band, buying her as a breeding prospect for $1,374,080 at the 2016 Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale.
“She's spectacularly beautiful,” Banke said. “She was very, very fast. She was a sprint champion, so she brings the speed.”
Stonestreet also owns a majority stake in Curlin, a resident of Hill 'n' Dale Farms, making the new sale-topper a completely in-house production.
“Curlin is having a wonderful sales year, and this should definitely take him over the top,” Banke said. “He's a family member to me. I just want the best mares for him. I want to see them do the best on the track, and I want to produce those classic winners for many years to come, I hope.”
Eaton Sales consigned the colt, as agent.
War Front Colt Out Of Believe You Can Sells To Godolphin For $2.9 Million
Before the $4.1-million Curlin colt blew the roof off the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Sheikh Mohammed had already raised the overall high-water mark at this year's sale when he bought Hip 258, a War Front colt out of Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can, for $2.9 million.
One of the most buzzed-about horses on the grounds in the days leading up to the sale, the dark bay or brown colt offered as Hip 258 is a half-brother to Believe In Royalty, a Grade 3-placed stakes winner. The extended family includes Grade 2 winner Classic Elegance and Grade 3 winner Chorwon.
“Sheikh Mohammed really liked this horse,” Stroud said. “It was a great deal of money, but he liked him. He's bred by Brereton Jones, who has a fantastic stud farm, and he had the conformation to suit. Hopefully it'll prove well worth it, but it was more than we had anticipated.”
Beyond carrying the colors of owner/breeder Brereton Jones's Airdrie Stud into the winner's circle for some of North America's most top races for fillies, Believe You Can has been a commercial godsend as a broodmare.
The daughter of Proud Citizen's produce record includes Birdy Num, a Tapit filly who sold to Don Alberto Corp. for $1 million at the 2017 Keeneland September sale, and Believe In Royalty, a Tapit colt who sold to William Mack and Robert Baker for $900,000 at the 2016 sale. Jones bought back into the colt after the fall of the hammer. Believe You Can is currently in-foal to Airdrie Stud resident Collected as part of his first book of mares.
“You never expect it, but we brought him up here thinking that we had a chance to have a really special Tuesday, and we were really fortunate that everything worked out,” said Bret Jones of Airdrie Stud. “You never know how they're going to handle it. They can have all the class in the world back on the farm, but this horse handled it like the really special horse that he is.
“This horse was just special, and to be very honest, the foal that we have at home by Uncle Mo is a very special filly, as well,” he continued. “This is two years in a row that this mare has had the best foal on the farm, so she's already a graded stakes producer, and really has every opportunity to keep going on, so that's a great feeling.”
Godolphin Buys $1-Million Union Rags Filly
The Godolphin operation wasted little time setting the seven-figure bar on Tuesday, landing a Union Rags filly for $1 million.
The bay filly, offered as Hip 199, is out of the unplaced Bernardini mare Zayanna, whose three foals to race are all black type earners: Grade 2 winner Point of Honor, stakes winner Velvet Mood, and stakes-placed Admiral Jimmy. The extended family includes Grade 3 winners Mr Freeze, Dilemma, and Heavenly Ransom.
“Sheikh Mohammed wants to buy some fillies to race in America, and she fits the bill,” said Anthony Stroud, who signed the ticket for the Godolphin operation. “She's well-bred, very athletic, and just a nice filly.”
Stroud said a trainer was still to be determined for the new purchase. Godolphin's roster of North American trainers includes Kiaran McLaughlin, Tom Albertrani, Eoin Harty, Richard Mandella, Bob Baffert, Brad Cox, Brendan Walsh, Bill Mott, and Michael Stidham.
Taylor Made Sales Agency consigned the filly, as agent for Siena Farm.
Also eclipsing the seven-figure mark on Tuesday…
– Hip 368, a Curlin filly out of Grade 1-winning A.P. Indy mare Dreaming of Julia who sold to Shadwell Estate Co. Ltd. for $1.05 million. Denali Stud consigned the filly as agent for Stonestreet Bred & Raised.
– Hip 351, a War Front filly out of the Grade 3-winning Tapit mare Delightful Joy who sold to the Shadwell operation for $1 million. Gainesway consigned the filly, as agent.
Book 1 of the Keeneland September sale concludes on Wednesday, beginning at noon, Eastern. Following the sale's “dark day” on Thursday, trade picks up daily through the end of the sale, with each session beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern.
After two days of trade, a total of 216 horses have changed hands for revenues of $95,381,000. The average sale price landed at $441,579, the median was $350,000, and the buyback rate sat at 30 percent.
“There was depth way in here, because the median jumping like it did [up $50,000 from Monday to Tuesday] shows it wasn't two horses that caused the numbers to jump,” Elliston said. “There was incredible trade throughout the course of the day. A lot of people were struggling to get horses bought, people who we see every single day on those summaries.”
Tuesday's session finished with 109 horses sold for $49,150,000. The average was $450,917, the median was $375,000, and the buyback rate also finished at 30 percent.
Taylor Made Sales Agency was the session's leading consignor by gross, with 20 yearlings sold for $7,275,000. To the surprise of no one, Godolphin was the day's top buyer, with its three purchases totaling $8 million.
Curlin topped Tuesday's sire list by gross, with eight horses bringing a combined $8,525,000. Claiborne Farm's War Front was the leading sire by average among those with more than one yearling sold, with his six horses averaging $881,667.
To view the full results, click here.
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