Mandy Pope of Whisper Hill Farm collected another high-class filly Sept. 11 at the Keeneland yearling sale, scooping the $2.2 million session-topper and sale leader, an Indian Charlie half sister to grade I winners Will Take Charge and Take Charge Indy .
The filly, hip 541 in the Hill 'n' Dale Sales consignment, got an eye-popping pedigree update when Will Take Charge won the Travers Stakes Aug. 24 to earn his grade I stripes. The Jan. 12 filly also is by the late Indian Charlie and is a member of that successful sire's final crop, lending some urgency to the bidding.
Pope's $2.2 million yearling was one of five to bring $1 million (and the first to crack the $2 million barrier) or more at the auction's third session, helping to keep the Keeneland auction's Book 1 on pace to beat last year's first-week figures. Through its first three days, the auction already has sold 13 seven-figure horses, nearly double the total of seven that sold at the entire 2013 auction-—a sign that the market's heavy hitters are loosening the purse strings for horses that pass muster.
Wednesday's session sold 135 horses for $41,890,000 for a $310,296 average and a $240,000 median. The buyback rate was 25.8%. The first three days of Book 1 have so far sold 404 yearlings for $111,511,000 for a $276,017 average and $200,000 median. The three-day cumulative buyback rate stands at 27.3%.
Keeneland reformatted the auction this year, extending the select portion and Book 1 from one session to four. The change weakens the effectiveness of session-to-session comparative figures, a traditional barometer. In 2012, the third session grossed $34,573,000 for 196 yearlings, for a $176,393 average and a $145,000 median; the buyback rate was 26.6%. After the first week last year, the four-day average and median stood at $212,479 and $150,000, respectively, and buybacks were 28.7%.
Pope, accompanied by her advisor, Todd Quast, bid from behind the auction ring and outgunned Spendthrift Farm owner B. Wayne Hughes. Last year, Pope astounded auction observers when, in the span of two days, she bought 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace for $10 million at Fasig-Tipton's November sale and 2011 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Plum Pretty for $4.2 million at Keeneland the next afternoon. Pope's Wednesday yearling acquisition is part of the same long-term plan: to build a world-class broodmare band at Whisper Hill Farm in Ocala, Fla.
On paper, the $2.2 million filly already has ample qualifications. Her dam, the multiple grade I winner Take Charge Lady, by Dehere, isn't just a stellar producer. She also was a knockout racemare and onetime $175,000 Fasig-Tipton yearling who went on to earn more than her yearling daughter cost.
"We're going to run her in the footsteps of her daddy and her mother and her brothers," Pope told the crowd of reporters who pressed around her after she signed the hefty ticket. Later, asked to explain the long-term optimism that seems to have gripped boutique buyers like her, she said: "They are being optimistic, and I hope that they're right, because I'm right in there with them. But with this economy and the global world that we live in, God only knows what's going to happen. Hopefully, things we'll keep improving and we'll get back on track. Obviously, with the stock market going up this past year—it did have a little down day the other day—but I think the country in general is feeling more optimistic."
Pope also picked up a $335,000 Tiznow filly from the Woodford Thoroughbreds agency; she's a full sister to grade I-placed Big Tiz. Her two buys made Pope the day's second leading purchaser by gross with $2,535,000 in total expenditures. She was behind leading buyer Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum's Shadwell Estate Company, which added six yearlings to their program at a total cost of $3,025,000.
Pope's purchase lifted the tide for Indian Charlie, who had a very good session and led the day's sires by average sale price. His five yearlings averaged $780,000.
Gonçalo Torrealba, whose family bought into Three Chimneys Farm last November, paid the day's second highest price of $1.75 million. That was for a Tiznow half sister to champion and leading sire Speightstown . Torrealba, seated with Three Chimneys Farm owner Robert Clay in the back of Keeneland's sale pavilion, outlasted a determined challenge from Bridlewood Farm manager George Isaacs.
Isaacs, representing new Bridlewood owners John and Leslie Malone, bid to $1.7 million before bowing out on Torrealba's quick $50,000 raise. Bridlewood came back later to buy a $550,000 Scat Daddy half sister to grade I winner Dance Card and grade II-placed Tempted to Tapit. The Malones paid $14 million for Bridlewood, the late Arthur Appleton's Ocala, Fla., nursery, last month.
Torrealba has been a busy bidder at Thoroughbred auctions in the last year in his zeal to build a high-caliber broodmare band for his family's Borges Torrealba program and Three Chimneys. Among the horses he's bought for that cause are grade I winner Pure Clan, a $4.5 million sale from last year's Keeneland November breeding stock auction, as well as the sale topper from this year's Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select auction, a $1,225,000 Dynaformer filly who is a half sister to Optimizer .
Torrealba's newest big filly was bred by Aaron and Marie Jones, who together built one of America's most successful breeding programs. Consigned by the Joneses' longtime agent, Taylor Made Sales, the Jan. 19 filly sold as hip 446. She is out of Canadian champion juvenile Silken Cat, by Storm Cat.
"She comes from a stallion pedigree family, and that's what we're trying to build at Three Chimneys and Borges Torrealba," Torrealba said. "We liked her."
Prices for fillies have been especially robust as buyers pursue long-term residual value at a time when foal crop numbers have dwindled to their lowest level in more than two decades.
"You always wish to buy them for less, but I guess everyone tries to buy them for less," Torrealba said after signing the ticket. "We overpaid, according to our valuation, but we really liked her."
The Hill 'n' Dale Sales agency made a strong mark on Wednesday's sale results and led sellers by average price. John Sikura's farm consigned six yearlings on Wednesday, averaging $925,833.
Taylor Made, which sold 17 horses for a $5,575,000 total, led all sellers by gross.
In addition to selling the $2.2 million Indian Charlie filly, Hill 'n' Dale also consigned the session's most expensive colt. That was hip 523, a $1.7 million Medaglia d'Oro half brother to 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver , one of this year's freshman sires.
Spendthrift Farm owner B. Wayne Hughes did the bidding and won, but it quickly emerged that he wasn't alone in making the purchase. The woman sitting one seat away from Hughes, Barbara Banke, partnered with Hughes for the March 30 bay colt. The two have partnered before. They campaigned Dominus , now a Spendthrift sire, and Stonestreet also stands Tiz Wonderful at the historic Lexington, Ky., farm. Hughes also was a good friend of Banke's late husband, Stonestreet's founder Jess Jackson, Banke said.
As for the partnership's new yearling, who shares the same sire with Stonestreet's 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, Banke said, "I've had the best Medaglia d'Oro ever to be bred, and he reminded me a little bit of her."
Banke surprised many earlier in the session when Stonestreet's name appeared alongside Nat Rea's Regis Farm as buyer of hip 515, a $1.55 million Tapit colt out of Orientate 's grade III-winning daughter Successful Outlook. This colt got a pedigree boost before the sale, too. His half sister, Sweet Lulu, appeared in plain type on the catalog page as a three-time winner. But by the time the sale rolled around, she had become a grade I winner by virtue of her victory over Wildcat Lily in the Aug. 24 Test Stakes.
That victory came on the same afternoon and at the same track, incidentally, that Will Take Charge added the Travers win to the session-topper's bloodline. Sweet Lulu is now undefeated in four starts. Gainesway bred and consigned the $1.55 million colt, a gray or roan foaled April 10, 2012. His sire, Tapit, was the day's leading sire by gross after seven yearlings sold for a combined $4,375,000.
The afternoon's other seven-figure yearling was a $1.4 million Galileo—Starlight Dreams colt that Coolmore's M. V. Magnier signed for.
Peter O'Callaghan's Woods Edge agency consigned the March 22 colt, a full brother to European champion Mastercraftsman. Starlight Dreams, by Black Tie Affair, also is the dam of graded winner Genuine Devotion and group I-placed Famous. Coolmore stands Galileo in Ireland.
Consignors continued broadly to praise Keeneland's new format, and big buyer Torrealba conceded that it might be having a positive effect on the sale.
"It's not very convenient for me because I have to overstay, but I guess if it's not convenient for me, it's good for the market," he said.
The Keeneland September sale will continue through Sept. 21. Book 1 sessions will run through Thursday, with sessions starting each day at noon. Friday, Sept. 13, is a dark day, and the remainder of the sale sessions will begin at 10 a.m. daily.