E. Paul Robsham's breeding and racing operation was never that big — unlike the impact its horses made on the track.
The impeccable quality the Robshams cultivated remains a high standard for owners/breeders, a point emphasized by the mares driving the opening session of the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale.
Multiple Grade I winner Awesome Maria was one of three mares bred and campaigned by the Robshams that broke the seven-figure barrier Tuesday, selling for a session-topping $4 million to Coolmore Stud to spur a day of double-digit upswings over 2012.
The Robshams, involved in Thoroughbred racing and breeding since 1983, are dispersing their breeding stock. Joyce Robsham continued the operation after the death of her husband in 2004 and will maintain her racing stable.
The top end of the market has never backed off its desire for beautiful broodmares. Six of them sold for $1 million or more, just one shy of the auction's total a year ago.
Following the strength of a yearling market that produced numbers reminiscent of pre-economic strife, the first session of Keene-land's 10-day sale saw its gross of $42,255,000 from 113 sold improve by 52.74 percent over 2012. The average was $373,938, up 35.17 percent, and the median was $220,000, up 72.55 percent.
"The Robsham mares, they are collectors' items, and they got collectors' item prices," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "Awesome Maria was beautifully named, and she deserved everything she got today."
The increased health of the market and smaller supply for buyers have made the bidding especially fierce for those mares with the right looks, talent and pedigree.
By Maria's Mon, Awesome Maria won the 2011 Grade I Ogden Phipps Handicap — one of the seven graded stakes she won in her 16-race career. The 6-year-old gray mare also defeated champion Royal Delta by 8 lengths in the 2012 Grade III Sabin Stakes and was sold in foal to Coolmore sire Giant's Causeway.
"She's a lovely mare, a great racehorse and she comes from a fantastic family," said M.V. Magnier, who signed the ticket on behalf of Coolmore clients. "She deserved to make that price. It's nice to see horses like that bringing prices like that again."
Magnier said Awesome Maria would head to Ashford Stud, Coolmore's Kentucky-based operation.
Graded stakes winner Broadway's Alibi — also part of the dispersal — went to Reynolds Bell on behalf of Alpha Delta Stables for $2.15 million. Another Robsham product, Grade I winner R Heat Lightning, sold to Stonestreet Farm for $1.6 million.
"She bred great mares, she took care of her horses and she did the right thing by her horses," John Moynihan, agent for Stonestreet, said of Joyce Robsham. "It's a real tribute to Joyce and Paul because they had a lot of really great horses from not a lot of starters."
One of the stars that was not part of the Robsham dispersal was Eblouissante, a half-sister to champion Zenyatta, who sold for $2.1 million to Ian Banwell of St. George Farm and will go back into training with John Shirreffs.
The rate of horses not sold came in at 20.98 percent, a 30.23 percent improvement over the clearance rate of 12 months ago.
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.