Coolmore's M.V. Magnier signed a $2.5 million ticket at Keeneland's September sale Sept. 12, closing out the auction's first week with a sale-leading War Front colt and more strong selling that brought the auction's total number of million-dollar yearlings to 18.
That's 11 more than the entire auction sold last year and the most since 2008 (which also had 18 in total), an undeniable sign that the Thoroughbred world's wealthiest buyers are most freely investing in horseflesh they believe has top-quality residual value.
For high-end breeders and sellers, at least, the recession that plunged a dagger into the bloodstock market five years ago is officially over.
Thursday's final Book 1 session sold 142 yearlings for $41,874,000, yielding an average price of $294,887 and a $210,000 median. Buybacks were 26% for the session. Cumulatively, Book 1's four-day run sold 546 yearlings for $153,385,000, for a $280,295 average and a $207,500 median. The overall buyback rate was 27%, a slight drop from last season.
This year's first week average and median were up by 38.5% and 38.3%, respectively. Last year's first four sessions, featuring a single select session followed by three well supported non-select days, posted a $202,829 average and a $150,000 median. Buybacks were 28.7%.
Magnier's $2.5 million purchase, hip 712, is a Feb. 7 colt out of the stakes-placed During mare Blading Gold Ring. He's bred similarly to Blading Gold Ring's half sister Emerald Gold, a War Front filly who was third in the Del Mar Debutante (gr. I) in 2011. That single buy was enough to make Magnier the session's leading buyer by gross, and the colt was the highest price seen at Keeneland September since 2010 when Besilu Stables paid $4.2 million for Mr. Besilu.
The last time the War Front colt went through the ring, he was a weanling at Keeneland's 2012 November breeding stock sale. There, he sold to Brittlyn Stables for a relatively inexpensive $180,000.
"I've been a War Front believer form the beginning, and, at the time, that was probably plenty of money for him," selling agent Peter O'Callaghan of Woods Edge Thoroughbreds said of the colt's weanling price. "A lot of people would have thought it was too much money. But we bought him, we liked him, we took the chance, and we got lucky."
Hip 712 was the second War Front Magnier bought for seven figures. Earlier in the week, he also nabbed a $1 million son of the Pulpit mare Guide. That March 25 colt descends from the family of grade I winner Zensational and multiple graded winner Departing, another War Front son. It also wasn't the first time Magnier patronized fellow Irishman O'Callaghan's consignment at the auction. He also paid $1.4 million for a colt by Coolmore's world-class sire Galileo; that one is a half brother to European champion Mastercraftsman.
Coolmore also picked up a $1 million colt, a half brother to graded winners Heart Ashley and Ashley's Kitty, by Gainesway's Tapit . And O'Callaghan's seven-figure streak didn't end with the session-topper, either; he also sold Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum's Shadwell organization a $1 million Tapit-Evrobi filly. The gray Jan. 21 filly is a full sister to grade I winner Tell a Kelly and a half to recent winner Don't Tell Lou.
The session's highest-priced filly—and second highest price overall Thursday—was a Tiznow half sister to 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace that Alex Solis bought for a relatively new client whom he did not name. The Mill Ridge Sales agency consigned the Feb. 15 filly, who sold just minutes after David Ingordo signed for the Lane's End agency's $1 million Medaglia d'Oro colt out of two-time grade I winner Dream Supreme. The dark bay or brown colt is a Feb. 9 half brother to grade I winner and second-crop sire Majestic Warrior.
War Front was Thursday's leading sire by both gross and average. His five yearlings sold for $4,475,000 for an $895,000. For Book 1 overall, War Front and Tapit battled for gross sales supremacy. In the end, Tapit won out, with 31 yearlings bringing $13,995,000 to War Front's 27 that accumulated $12,835,000. Galileo was the opening week's leader by average with five selling for an average of $523,000.
Tapit continued to be prominent at Book 1's final session, thanks partly to the farm that stands him.
Gainesway owner Antony Beck partnered with Stonestreet Stables owner Barbara Banke to buy a $1.2 million colt by Tapit. Book 1 bidders were quick to open their wallets for Tapit's yearlings, and so Beck had to compete with his own customers to some extent when he bid for hip 681, a half brother to three graded winners, including grade I victor Justin Phillip and grade II winner Keyed Entry. He's also a three quarters brother to grade III winner Algorithms , who won the 2012 Holy Bull before injury took him off the Kentucky Derby trail.
But Beck also made other customers—including the colt's breeder, Oakbrook Farm—happy with a purchase that padded Tapit's lead among Book 1's leading sire by gross.
"Obviously, Tapit being such an incredibly wonderful stallion, one always tries to get some good progeny of his to run," Beck said.
But a significant factor for Beck and Banke was the colt's dam, Ava Knowsthecode, a graded-placed winner by Cryptoclearance.
"She's an incredible mare with an unbelievable produce record," said Beck. "And, interestingly, this colt is inbred to Fappiano 3 by 4. So who knows? Anything could happen. And I'm delighted to have Barbara Banke as my partner."
The previous day, Banke teamed up with Regis Farms owner Nat Rea for a $1.7 million Medgalia d'Oro half brother to 2010 Derby winner Super Saver , and she joined Spendthrift Farm owner B. Wayne Hughes in buying a $1.55 million Gainesway-bred Tapit half brother to last month's Test Stakes winner, Sweet Lulu, and a $950,000 Distorted Humor colt out of multiple grade I-placed stakes-winner Copper State.
"I've been partners in horses with Antony before, and I own part of (Gainesway stallion) Afleet Alex ," said Banke. "We have a beautiful colt, a 2-year-old named Pacific. I prefer to have partners in colts, because, that way, if it works out it's great for everyone, and, if it doesn't, then you share the pain."
The colt's consignor, Catherine Parke of Valkyre Stud, sold him on behalf of Oakbrook Farm. Parke, annually a small consignor in terms of number, has been collecting Keeneland September headlines and big profits for her clients since at least 2003, when she sold a $1.15 million Giant's Causeway colt. Several other million-dollar yearlings have followed in years since, but Parke said the seven-figure hammer price still comes as "a shock" when it happens.
"I have a hilly farm and a great staff, and we just do it the old-fashioned way," she said. "Nothing fancy, no medications. We do chiropractic and acupuncture and hand walk them. I've been very lucky with some families and very lucky with some good mares like Ava Knowsthecode and Wilshewed. I thought for myself that this was the best colt I ever raised, honestly. He's just a phenomenal, masculine, muscular, very very serious horse. He's very competitive. When he was out back, he was eyeballing all the other horses. He's going to be, I hope, the best horse I ever raised."
Taylor Made Sales agency was Thursday's leading consignor by gross with 21 yearlings sold for a combined $6,435,000, but Woods Edge led by average (three or more sold) with six averaging $775,833. The results were similar on the consignor rankings for the first week as well. Taylor Made led in gross sales after getting $18,390,000 for 68 horses, and Woods Edge led by average with an overall $644,583 for a dozen yearlings.
Shadwell was the week's leading buyer, making 25 purchases totaling $11,300,000.
As the reformatted Book 1 ended its strong run, many consignors—both million-dollar sellers and those whose consignments had not hit home runs—said they were fairly pleased with the market despite its selectivity. And many also were optimistic about the coming week, during which Books 2-5 will sell.
"I think there are a lot of people who will be on airplanes who aren't here yet," said Parke. "I know a lot of trainers I'm friends with are coming next week. I think it's going to be healthy."
The Keeneland September sale will continue through Sept. 21. Friday, Sept. 13, is a dark day, and the remainder of the sale sessions will begin at 10 a.m. daily.