It had to feel like déjá vu for Catherine Parke on Wednesday.
For the second straight year, the operator of Valkyre Stud found herself wonderfully overwhelmed after a colt by Bernardini shook up the Keeneland sales pavilion with a sales price of seven figures.
The result was as much a reward for Parke's most enduring supporters as it was for herself, making the moment that much sweeter.
When Parke first founded Valkyre Stud more than 30 years ago, Betty and Bill Currin were among her first clients. The mutual loyalty was paid back on many levels Wednesday when a Currin-bred, Valkyre-consigned Bernardini colt sold to Coolmore Stud for $1.55 million at the Keeneland September yearling sale during a third session that posted across-the-board gains.
Out of the Currins' top-producing Carson City mare Wilshewed, the Bernardini colt is the second highest priced horse to sell so far in this year's auction. The decision to sell the colt was still a tough one for the Currins as he is a half-brother to the late Grade I winner Stormello, who was raised and trained by Bill Currin.
"I really didn't want to sell him but ... that's a lot of money," Bill Currin said. "I can't be foolish. I have to think about my family. I'd like to train him, but he'll be a good horse — he'll be a champion. He's got the breeding, he's got the looks, he's got the pizzazz. He is a 10½ ."
Currin, who trimmed his stable after suffering a mild stroke in 2009, still owns My Best Brother, a full brother to Stormello and half-brother to the Bernardini colt. Trained by Julio Canani, My Best Brother won the Grade II Del Mar Derby on Sept. 2.
The sale of the Bernardini colt gave Parke a milestone achievement in addition to boosting his connections' financial future.
Parke sold a Bernardini filly to Ben Leon for $1.2 million during the third session of last year's Keeneland September sale. However, Wednesday's deal ranks as the highest-priced horse she has ever sold at public auction.
"They're like my parents," Parke said of the Currins. "Bill's been so passionate and so devoted to this industry his whole life, he and Betty. (The colt) is just an unbelievable-looking animal. He had the pedigree, and when people would look at him they would just come back and look again.
"It's been a beautiful experience to have something positive happen to somebody that has been so very good to you for so many years."
While bidding was spotty at times, eight horses sold for $500,000 or more on Wednesday as gross increased by 5.34 percent over the corresponding session in 2011 and average and median rose by double digits.
With the last of the "Book 2" sessions taking place on Thursday, the overall gross is down 12.66 percent to $97,103,000 from 457 head sold; the decline is due in part to having one less select day this year. The average of $212,479 is up 3.97 percent, with the median dropping 11.76 percent to $150,000.
"The comment I have heard from several buyers is it is tough," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "The horses are not too far over what they appraised for, so we have people saying they've been outbid. But they come back for the next one."