At the very top end of the Thoroughbred market where only a select handful can compete, the desire to own those horses deemed collector's items can at times outweigh the rationale behind the final price.
"When they find what they like, they keep bidding so it's not really about valuing those highest-end mares, it's about having the right customers interested," explained John Sikura of Hill 'n' Dale Sales. "They're more concerned about owning the horse than what they paid."
During the second session of the Keeneland November Breeding Stock sale, two representatives of the Hill 'n' Dale consignment were the latest to inspire such fervor.
The mares deemed by Sikura to be the best physical specimens and top pedigreed offerings in the catalog had buyers doing whatever it took to possess them Wednesday as multiple Grade I winner Pure Clan and the blue-blooded Changing Skies sold for $4.5 million and $4.2 million, respectively.
Pure Clan's price is the highest so far for the 2012 Keeneland November sale — bettering the $4.2 million Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty brought Tuesday — as she and Changing Skies continue to demonstrate the resiliency and strength at the top.
Goncalo Torrealba of Brazil's Stud TNT had a handful of reasons for being relentless in his pursuit of the chestnut Pure Clan. Out of the Grade III winning mare Gather the Clan, Pure Clan not only won on turf and dirt, but she sold in foal to Darley sire Bernardini, whose dam Cara Rafaela was campaigned by Torrealba.
"After Fasig-Tipton (Monday night) and what happened yesterday, (the price) was more or less around what we were expecting," Torrealba said. "We're taking her to Three Chimneys and (Three Chimneys owner) Robert (Clay) and I plan on breeding her to nice horses.
"I liked her physical a lot and the way she won on both turf and dirt. We just loved her."
Trained by Bob Holthus, Pure Clan won the 2009 Grade I Flower Bowl Invitational before finishing second in that year's Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, her final career start. The 7-year-old daughter of Pure Prize also took the 2008 Grade I American Oaks and retired with eight wins from 16 career starts and $1,987,498 in earnings.
A graded stakes winner on the track herself, the Sadler's Wells mare Changing Skies has a female family with few peers. Out of the Silver Hawk mare Magnificient Style, the 7-year-old Changing Skies is a full sister to Group I winner Playful Act and a half-sister to recently retired multiple Group I winner Nathaniel.
Playful Act herself sold for $10.5 million at the 2007 Keeneland November sale, then a world-record price for broodmare or broodmare prospect.
"I thought she was the best cataloged mare in the sale. I thought coming in she would top," Sikura said of Changing Skies. "She's just the complete package of a global mare that's run in the highest of form. She was that kind of unique mare; she was just a queen.
"To sell two mares for better than $4 million in 2012, that's a great day. I'm happy for our success and thankful for the people who gave us elite horses."
Comparative figures don't bear it out, but this year's November exercise has exceeded some expectations in its opening two days.
The first two sessions last year featured the dispersals of Edward P. Evans' stock and Chanteclair Farm, respectively, which accounted for a combined 16 seven-figure horses and more than $72.7 million in gross.
Though the cumulative gross of $61,505,000 is down 46.37 percent from 2011, it is actually running 7.56 percent ahead for the first two days if you take out the dispersal figures.
The total average of $294,282 is down 27.87 percent but shows an increase of 3.95 percent without the dispersal numbers.
The overall median of $160,000 is down on both comparatives, dipping 27.27 percent compared to 2011 and 13.51 percent without the dispersals in the equation.
"I think the comments from everyone is it seems to be a more solid, broader base today than yesterday," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "I think with the limited number of top quality mares that come onto the market, people who are interested in that level are willing to pay a premium for them at this stage.
"There just aren't many Grade I mares out there and when they come on the market, they are highly prized."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: Horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl