Many types of drama have transpired in the Keeneland sales pavilion during the bellwether September yearling auction’s 73 years. Tuesday’s second select Book 1 session succeeded in adding to that history, with theater inside and outside the ring.
The second day of the 13-session auction was a mirror image of Monday’s opening exercise, with a single horse breaking the seven-figure mark and strength in the $500,000 to $900,000 level. Though a lovely son of Tapit out of the Grade I-winning mare Hooh Why took over as the sale leader when he sold to agent J. J. Crupi for $1.2 million, the $1.9 million buyback of a War Front colt out of 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace generated all sorts of chatter.
Consigned by Timber Town on behalf of owner/breeder Mandy Pope, the War Front colt was pegged as the potential breakout star of the select session for both his elite pedigree page and physical presence. Though the final bid initially suggested such predictions were on point, the second foal out of Havre de Grace failed to meet his reserve.
That came as a shock to Pope.
Visibly upset in the immediate aftermath, Pope told the media that there was a mixup in setting the reserve, and that she wanted buyers and agents to know that she had indeed brought the colt to the grounds to sell.
“We told (buyers) the reserve was going to be one thing then we ran it way past that,” said Pope, who bought Havre de Grace for $10 million at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton November sale. “That was not what we were intending to do at all. I’ve been in this business and I’ve always been honest. I want people to understand this was a total mixup. I did not intend for this to happen. I thought the horse was sold.
“We had what we thought was a reasonable reserve on the horse, which many people were told. A mistake got made, people have taken responsibility for it. But it is what it is, we can’t go back and change it. But what I would like to say is I apologize to all the agents who thought we were trying to take advantage of them. We certainly were not. I love the horse, but … he came to the sale to be sold.”
Pope said the colt is still for sale “at a reasonable price” and that she would also be interested in keeping part of the horse. She declined to go into the specifics of how the mistake occurred.
When asked about the reserve price mixup, Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales, said, “The reserve we (Keeneland) were given is what we went to.”
As was the case during Monday’s opening session, buyers were steadfast in going after quality, but not reaching beyond the seven-figure ceiling. A total of 25 horses sold for $500,000 or more, up from 18 that hit that level during the corresponding session in 2015, as the cumulative average ($319,339) and median ($280,000) improved by 6.44 percent and 12 percent, respectively, over last year.
Though the overall gross of $72,490,000 is down 17.26 percent from last year’s total to this point, only 227 head have been sold compared with 292 in 2015. Selectivity remains prevalent as the rate of horses not sold is clocking in at 33.43 percent compared with 31.46 at this point a year ago.
“It is very strong up to the $900,000 range,” Russell said of the market. “I mean, we’ve seen that all year. The strength has been in that $500,000-$900,000 range, that is the power right now. As we said last night, a million dollars is a lot of money, and you have to have that special horse to break through that level.”
After signing the ticket for the $1.2 million Tapit colt, Crupi said he knew from the minute the gray youngster emerged from his stall that he was special. Consigned by Baccari Bloodstock, the colt opened with a bid of $500,000 and lit up the board in $100,000 increments.
“I got the best horse in the sale,” exclaimed Crupi, who did not disclose who he purchased the colt for but indicated he would likely end up with trainer Todd Pletcher. “He just has a beautiful body, a big walk, and I fell in love with him. We weren’t leaving here without him.”
Chris Baccari of Baccari Bloodstock said the Tapit colt had all the attributes demanded of a top-level offering.
“I saw him as a baby, and when I saw him from 60 feet away I thought, ‘He has to come home,’” Baccari said. “It’s one of those things where you have to have a good physical — you can’t just have a good page. People forget that.”
The sale continues at 11 a.m. Wednesday.