Of all the illustrious horses that have passed through the Fasig-Tipton sales ring, only one has been special enough to merit her own two-page spread in the catalog, her own video presentation detailing her accomplishments, and her own late-night entrance carefully designed for maximum drama.
Without question, there has never been an offering in the Thoroughbred auction arena quite like that of Better Than Honour. The 2007 Broodmare of the Year and last horse to go through the ring on Sunday made Thoroughbred auction history when she was sold to Southern Equine Stables for $14 million — a world record price for a broodmare or broodmare prospect — to highlight an illustrious Fasig-Tipton November sale.
Better Than Honour's price shatters the previous mark of $10.5 million for Playful Act at the 2007 Keeneland November sale. She is also the only mare to produce back-to-back winners of the Belmont Stakes in Jazil (2006) and champion Rags to Riches (2007) and is also the dam of Grade II winner Casino Drive.
The bay mare was entered in the Fasig-Tipton sale when Southern Equine and John Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale Farm announced earlier this year they were dissolving their partnership and offering up all their joint holdings. Southern Equine owned 70 percent of Better Than Honour, Sikura 30 percent.
"The strategy was to take her home," said Southern Equine principal Mike Moreno. "She's the best mare in the world and we're in this thing for the long haul and you can't build a long-term operation without blue hen mares. She's a Picasso, you can't sell a mare like this. We came here saying we're only going to sell her if she brings a number we can't refuse and $14 million wasn't it."
Better Than Honour stepped lightly into the ring and the bidding opened at $1 million, then quickly soared up by $1 million increments. In just a couple of minutes, the board flashed past the $10 million mark and into record territory. Shortly thereafter, Southern Equine trainer Eric Guillot was happily displaying the historic sales ticket for the cameras.
Sikura, who purchased Better Than Honour privately with Southern Equine in 2006, said that although he had mixed emotions letting her go, he was proud to see her notch the accolade she deserved.
"I bid to $10 million because I thought she was deserving of the world record," Sikura said. "If they came to me with the ticket at $10 million I would have stammered a little bit but I would have signed it. It was more a statement that I thought she should eclipse the record."
By Deputy Minister and out of the Grade I-winning mare Blush With Pride, the 12-year-old Better Than Honour was not in foal since she aborted an A.P. Indy colt — which would have been a full sibling to Rags to Riches — earlier this year.
Moreno said she would be sent back to A.P. Indy in 2009.
The record sale of Better Than Honour overshadowed the outing of another 'It' girl as Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and likely champion Stardom Bound sold for $5.7 million to IEAH Stables earlier in the evening. Michael Iavarone, co-owner of IEAH, said the stable would own half of Stardom Bound in partnership, but declined to name who the other partners would be.
"We've got some celebrities involved," Iavarone said.
With 19 horses bringing $1 million or more on the night, the Fasig-Tipton November sale achieved record levels, grossing $70,279,000 from 91 horses sold and recording an average of $772,297. Both numbers were the highest Fasig-Tipton officials could recall for a November sale.
"It was one of the world's finest collection of horses and they brought top dollar," said Boyd Browning, president and CEO of Fasig-Tipton.
Although the demand for prime offerings was fierce, the polarization of the market still shone through as the rate of horses not sold jumped from 26 percent last year to 39 percent for the 2008 exercise.
"I think there continues to be demand for quality offerings ... but it also tells you the market is selective," Browning said. "The buyers continue to be very demanding. You have to meet most if not all of their requirements in order for them to be aggressive in their bidding strategies."
The Fasig-Tipton sale had fireworks from start to finish as former Grade I winner Madcap Escapade — the first horse through the ring — sold for $3.1 million to Sikura, who bought out Southern Equine's percentage
Sikura owned 25 percent of the daughter of Hennessy going in after purchasing her in partnership for $6 million during the 2006 Keene land November sale. He now owns a half-interest in her with Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Lunsford — who campaigned Madcap Escapade throughout her career — retaining his 50 percent ownership.
"We're thrilled to keep her because she's a mare that has made a fortune at auction," Sikura said. "She's back in foal to A.P. Indy and she was a grand race mare so this was a great opportunity."