Every time Mandy Pope went to inspect Havre de Grace on the Fasig-Tipton grounds, the 2011 Horse of the Year proceeded to give the owner of Whisper Hill Farm her version of the hard sell.
"She would put her head in my lap just about whenever I went up to see her," Pope said Monday night. "She liked reading the catalog pages."
Few catalog pages in the history of public auction have jumped out like the one that listed Havre de Grace's accomplishments. And after soaking up her class first-hand, Pope couldn't let the 5-year-old mare end up in anyone else's care.
Havre de Grace's time in the ring at Monday's Fasig-Tipton November sale was much like her career on the racetrack: cool and collected with a sterling end result. After more than 30 bids, Pope prevailed in the protracted battle, securing the daughter of Saint Liam for $10 million.
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Havre de Grace becomes the third most-expensive broodmare or broodmare prospect to sell at public auction, behind Better Than Honour ($14 million at Fasig-Tipton in November 2008) and Playful Act ($10.5 million at Keeneland in November 2007).
Consigned by Taylor Made Sales on behalf of owner Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm, Havre de Grace looked a picture as the bidding opened at $500,000 and soared in increments of $500,000, $300,000 and $100,000.
After Pope knocked down the final bid for the multiple Grade I-winning mare, she could do little more than smile at the magnitude of her latest purchase.
"She was absolutely gorgeous. You look at her and she's everything a racehorse could be, and she did everything a racehorse could do," said Pope, who added she probably would sell Havre de Grace's first few foals. "She's the epitome of what we're all trying to breed in terms of conformation and racing ability.
"I thought we had her (around $7 million). This is more than I thought she'd bring, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime shot, and I'm taking a shot at it."
After being conditioned by Tony Dutrow, Havre de Grace was transferred to trainer Larry Jones last season and proceeded to become the third consecutive female runner to earn Horse of the Year honors.
Out of the Carson City mare Easter Bunnette, Havre de Grace won five of seven starts in 2011, including the Grade I Apple Blossom, Grade I Beldame and over males in the Grade I Woodward before ending her season with a fourth-place run in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
Havre de Grace captured the New Orleans Ladies in her 2012 seasonal bow but was retired in April due to an ankle injury. She had nine wins from 16 career starts and $2,586,175 in earnings.
"It was hard when I went to say goodbye to her today," Porter said of selling Havre de Grace. "It was exciting that she brought what she deserved because she's got the whole package."
Added Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales, "This horse literally is the most amazing creature to be around. I don't mean to overstate this, but if you get in her presence, she pulls you in, and that's what happened to Mandy Pope."
With domestic and overseas buyers swinging hard and fast, a total of 15 horses broke the seven-figure barrier as key overall totals skyrocketed.
Untouched Talent, dam of Grade I winner Bodemeister, brought the sale's second-highest price when she sold to representatives of Coolmore Stud for $5 million. A total of 87 horses sold for $60,220,000, nearly double the $32,745,000 generated by 79 horses in 2011.
"The thing that was most encouraging was the breadth of bidders at very high levels," said Boyd Browning Jr, president of Fasig-Tipton. "This was not a sale dominated by one or two buyers bidding on all the big lots. This was a broad cross-section of buyers from all around the world.
"Special things happen when you have special horses. I think our game was raised, and it was a tremendous horse sale."
The average of $692,184 improved from $414,494 last year, while the median dipped from $200,000 in 2011 to $190,000. Selective shopping continued, however, as the buy-back rate came in at 35 percent, up from 28 percent in 2001.
"It's real money, so we think this (market) is healthy right now," Bruce Hill of Live Oak said after purchasing Grade I winner Cry and Catch Me for $3.5 million. "The market is definitely recovering when you're on the buying side of a horse like this."