The overwhelming message coming from the Thoroughbred marketplace in recent months has been that if one wanted the full attention of buyers, one had better bring an offering with exceptional credentials into the auction arena.
Fred and Nancy Mitchell’s Clarkland Farm knows a thing or two about producing horses that crash through top barriers. And during Wednesday’s session of the Keeneland September yearling sale, an offering from their resident blue hen broodmare shattered the glass ceiling that had been hanging over the industry’s bellwether auction.
A bay Scat Daddy colt that is a half sibling to both champion Beholder and sire Into Mischief shook the restraint right out of shoppers during the third select Book 1 session, selling for $3 million to Coolmore Stud’s M.V. Magnier on a robust day of selling that now has multiple key indicators trending well ahead of their 2015 pace.
Consigned and bred by Clarkland Farm, the Scat Daddy colt is out of the farm’s top producer Leslie’s Lady and became the highest-priced horse to sell at the September sale since Mr. Besliu brought $4.2 million in 2010. He also goes down as the highest-priced offering Lexington-based Clarkland has sold at public auction, a milestone that had the affable Fred Mitchell pausing several times to catch his composure.
“Very surprised. I thought he might be the highest price of the sale but I thought $2 million might catch him at the most,” Mitchell smiled. “We were hoping to get $1.5 million for him. And to double that is unbelievable.”
With only two horses breaking the seven-figure barrier during the first two days, buyers were making it clear there would be competitive bidding in that $500,000-$900,000 range but needed something really special to extend themselves beyond that. With a sense of urgency in the air and some of Book 1’s top collector’s items coming through the ring, Wednesday’s session saw six horses sell for $1 million or more, including a Tapit colt that is a half brother to 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man. Bridlewood Farm and Coolmore Stud partnered to land him for $2 million.
With the third Book 1 session posting across-the-board gains compared to last year’s Day 3, the overall figures are sending sales officials heading into Thursday’s dark day with confidence that market strength is sitting on go for Book 2. The overall gross of $120,225,000 from 346 sold is down 10.52 percent compared to the 443 head sold last year to this point, but the cumulative average ($347,471) and median ($300,000) are up 14.56 percent and 20 percent, respectively.
The rate of horses not sold also showed significant improvement, coming in at 24.68 percent for the session and 30.66 percent cumulatively, down slightly from 30.89 percent at this point last year.
“There was a sense of urgency to today,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “I think people realized this was the end of Book 1. This was where the top physicals and pedigrees met and if you were going to play, you needed to play. And (buyers) got busy.”
In addition to bearing a striking resemblance to his future Hall of Fame half sister, the $3 million Scat Daddy colt was the picture of composure since arriving on the grounds, sparking a protracted bidding battle that jumped in $50,000 and $100,000 increments.
As the board leapt from $2 million to $2.8 million in a matter of seconds, representatives of Coolmore laid down the winning bid. The result left Mitchell joyously walking arm in arm with his team back toward their consignment.
“He’s a brother to an exceptional race horse (Beholder). You won’t see many better than her, and also a brother to another top colt,” said Magnier, who added the colt would likely be campaigned in Europe. “Very good mover, very good looking, a very good family.”
Added Mitchell, “I don’t think anybody can have the disposition this colt has got and the conformation he’s got and get a better individual. He took 5 1/2 days of showing and never missed a beat. The way he moved, he was like he was on air. He was striding out unbelievable.”
While the colt is likely heading overseas, the Tapit colt out of Ponche de Leona that Coolmore partnered on will ship to John Malone’s Bridlewood Farm in Florida to begin training.
One day after being distraught over a mix-up over the reserve price which resulted in her War Front-Havre de Grace colt being a $1.9 million buyback, owner Mandy Pope got back to the business of building up her stock when she purchased two Tapit fillies for $1.4 million and $1.1 million.
While discussing her two new purchases, Pope said the War Front colt had not yet been sold privately and would be heading to her Whisper Hill Farm in Florida.
“I think God wanted me to keep him,” Pope said.
The steady action throughout the three select sessions had many consignors predicting that buying power would pick up even more once they got past the early feeling-out process. Given the note Book 1 ended on, it’s a solid theory.
“I think we talked about it being stable the first day. I think you can throw that out the window,” said Bob Elliston, vice president of racing and sales for Keeneland. “This was a dynamite day with the (average) up nearly 15 percent and the median up 20 percent. I’d call that very, very solid.”