Six years ago, barely anyone took no when Hip No. 2787 walked into the Keene land sales pavilion. And if trainer Phil Sims hadn't raised his hand to land the big-bodied daughter of Congaree for the minimum $1,000 bid during the 2009 September yearling sale, the filly would have walked out of the pavilion as an afterthought.
Grade I winner Don't Tell Sophia returned to the scene of the turning point of her life Monday and left with a new future at hand. With her co-owner and trainer looking on, the 7-year-old mare sold to representatives of Northern Farm in Japan for $1.2 million during a stout opening session of the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale.
Bidding for Don't Tell Sophia, in foal to Medaglia d'Oro, opened at $50,000; the price climbed steadily as she became one of seven horses to sell for $1 million or more Monday, the same number that hit that mark on the sale's first day last year.
Multiple Grade I winner Hard Not to Like was the only horse go for more $2 million, selling for $2.2 million to DATTT Farm.
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The strength of the market in the upper middle levels was especially solid, leading to across-the-board gains in gross, average and median.
The gross of $45,094,000 from 136 head was up 8.93 percent from 2014, while the average ($331,574) and median ($202,500) rose 8.13 percent and 19.12 percent, respectively.
"I think the range from about $400,000 and up was pretty strong today for everything, broodmare prospects, mares in foals, foals," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "We talk about it every year; breeding stock sales are different from yearling sales in that it's just how the catalog falls, what we get in."
Sims, who owned Don't Tell Sophia in partnership with Jerry Namy, patiently developed her through 24 career starts with 11 wins, including her victory in the 2014 Grade I Juddmonte Spinster over a field that featured eventual divisional champion Close Hatches.
From a business standpoint, the decision to give the market a chance at the mare, who had earned $1,382,479, was a sound one — but it wasn't an easy one.
"Oh, we went back and forth. There were a lot of sleepless nights," Sims said. "At the end of the day, it's business, and we have to stay in business. And the risk is so much with these horses that, if the money was there, you had to go ahead and do what is right for business. But it was a very tough decision.
"We're happy with the price, but it's a tough day for us."
Shunsuke Yoshida of Northern Farm called the final bid "a fair price" and added that Don't Tell Sophia probably would be bred to Deep Impact in 2016.
The emotional attachment some sellers have to their mares contributed to a buyback rate of 29.90 percent Monday, up from 25.41 in 2014.
After purchasing Hard Not to Like for $1.5 million at last year's Keeneland November sale, Peter Fluor and K.C. Weiner of Speedway Stable opted to let the 6-year-old daughter of Hard Spun go. She provided them with their first top-level wins as owners with victories in the Grade I Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita Park on May 25 and Grade I Diana Stakes at Saratoga on July 25.
"It was obviously great fun with her this year," Fluor said. "I grew up in Arcadia and I used to go to Santa Anita Park with my father when I was 6 or 7 years old. So when she won the Gamely, I kind of flashed back about 60 years earlier and said, 'What are the chances I'd be sitting here?' as she came into the winner's circle."
Consigned by Taylor Made Farm, Hard Not to Like is out of the stakes-winning Tactical Cat mare Like a Gem. Gary Bush, who signed the ticket as agent for DATTT Stables, said there was a chance the gray mare could race once more this year, probably in the Grade I Matriarch at Del Mar on Nov. 29.