Tangible joy radiates from Mandy Pope whenever she gets around exceptional examples of horseflesh. And when the owner of Whisper Hill Farm falls head over heels for certain offerings, few within the commercial auction ranks have been able to deny her such happiness.
The gray colt known as Hip 345 in Lyn Burleson's consignment at the Keeneland September yearling sale so captured Pope that she was willing to stray from her usual program of buying gorgeous fillies to go all-out for a stallion prospect. Not even the man who has set the standard for how to win in the sport of Thoroughbred racing was going to stop her Tuesday.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas rarely fails to achieve what he desires. But as hard as Lukas tried to secure an Unbridled's Song colt on behalf of client Willis Horton, it was Pope who threw down the winning bid of $1.6 million to obtain the half-brother to 2013 Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow, pacing a session that produced across-the-board gains two days into the select Book One portion of the catalog.
Pope is used to securing sale-topping horses — usually top-class females such as 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, bought for $10 million at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton November sale.
Never miss a local story.
Out of the Cee's Tizzy mare Tizamazing, herself a full sister to champion Tiznow, the Unbridled's Song colt pushed Pope out of her comfort zone but left her beaming as she signed the ticket.
"I usually buy fillies, but I thought I'd venture out a little bit and try something different," she said. "He's absolutely gorgeous. Everyone says these things, but he is tremendous. Unbridled's Song's tend to go on and become stallions — obviously, that is what we're hoping."
It took a whale of a fight from Pope to pry the colt away from Horton and Lukas.
With the bidding edging up in $50,000 and $100,000 increments, Pope appeared victorious when the gavel was about to fall at $1.5 million, only to have Horton give Lukas the cue to go to $1.55 million.
"He loved the horse as much as I did," Lukas said of Horton, noting that he had trained Oxbow. "I really, really wanted him. He's larger than Oxbow. He's just a beautiful horse.
"I thought at $1.5 million, that was a cutoff point for some people."
Pope said she was nearing her own limit at $1.6 million. But when that bid came down, Horton began to rise from his seat as Lukas shook his head in defeat.
The gray colt will go to GoldMark Farm in Florida before ultimately heading to Whisper Hill.
As Pope relished her purchase, Burleson quietly took in another high-profile success for his farm. At Keene land in September 2006, he consigned Meydan City, a Kingmambo colt that was purchased for $11.7 million — the second highest-priced yearling ever sold at North American public auction.
"I've been fortunate to have some pretty good stock, but he was a special horse," Burleson said of the Unbridled's Song colt. "It takes a special horse to get to where he got. We've loved him since was born.
The Unbridled's Song colt was one of three yearlings to sell for seven figures Tuesday and was the highest-priced of the five horses that have sold for $1 million or more during the first two days into the 13-session sale.
Strength in the upper middle portion of the select market has reigned during the first two sessions, resulting in a cumulative gross of $70,953,000 from 241 head, an increase of 1.91 percent from this point in 2013.
The average continues on its huge pace, jumping 13.75 percent to $294,411, while the median ($250,000) shows the biggest improvement, up 25 percent from last year.
Even with some pricey horses failing to meet their reserves, the rate of horses not sold is 27.41 percent, compared to 28.07 percent through two days in 2013.