There has been some sentiment within the Thoroughbred industry that international shoppers were less willing to invest in pedigrees rooted on this side of the Atlantic.
The four days of selling that comprised the Book One portion of the Keeneland September yearling sale told a different story. And the flagship stallions from two of Thoroughbred racing's most vaunted operations helped close out the final select session of the catalog with results that reflected the global buying strength that filled the pavilion.
The desire to own offspring from Claiborne Farm's leading sire War Front and Gainesway's top stallion Tapit is nearly universal within the industry. Fittingly, the two studs have the co-sale toppers as the 13-session exercise heads into its dark day Friday. Two horses each brought $2.2 million on Thursday: a Tapit colt sold to Shadwell Stud, and a bay son of War Front sold to representatives of Coolmore Stud.
Where Wednesday's session cooled slightly at the top end, selling just two yearlings for $1 million or more, the heavy hitters stretched themselves for exceptional individuals Thursday, helping the overall average and median stay ahead of last year's pace even as the total gross of $142,153,000 is down 7.32 percent.
Six horses sold for seven figures Thursday, bringing the total number of $1 million-plus babies to 13 so far in the sale. Offspring of Tapit and War Front account for six of them.
"Tapit and War Front are the No. 1 and 2 most sought after stallions in North America at the moment," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "These are the horses that are performing at the highest level on the racetrack.
"Both Claiborne and Gainesway have worked very hard, and both horses have earned their positions. There was high competition for all of them."
A flurry of action came early in Thursday's session as three yearlings hit the seven-figure mark within about a 10-minute span, highlighted by a Medaglia d'Oro filly that is a half-sister to Grade I winner Nereid; the filly sold to Irish-based Moyglare Stud for $1.5 million.
Superior quality reared up again later in the day as Coolmore's M.V. Magnier signed the ticket for the $2.2 million War Front colt that was both consigned by Claiborne and a tribute to its heralded breeding program.
The bay colt is out of the Arch mare Gold Vault — herself a half-sister to Grade I winner Pomeroy — and is a half-brother to Grade I winner Contested.
"He's a great mover, a lot of quality, and you don't need to say how good Claiborne is," said Magnier, who added the colt would likely head to Europe. "It's a brilliant pedigree. Arch is a brilliant broodmare sire with (Coolmore sire and champion) Uncle Mo. If he is anywhere along those lines, we'll be happy to pay for him."
A gray Tapit colt from the consignment of Clearsky Farms matched that level, as Rick Nichols of Shadwell Stud outlasted several major operations to take home the half-brother to 2013 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner New Year's Day.
"There is a whole lot of potential there," Nichols said. "If he wins a Grade I, he'll definitely be a stallion."
Global operations were also at the head of the pack after four days of selling with John Ferguson, agent for Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Magnier, and Shadwell representing the top three leading buyers, respectively.
While gross receipts are softer compared to this point in 2013, sparked in part by selling 13.37 percent fewer horses, the average of $300,535 is up 6.98 percent with the overall median of $240,000 up 15.66 percent.
The sale resumes at 10 a.m. Saturday and runs through Sept. 21.