By Michael Compton
A hush fell over the jam-packed pavilion at Ocala Breeders' Sales Company March 13 when Hip No. 333 entered the auction ring late in the OBS March select 2-year-old sale.
Following an opening bid of $400,000, auctioneer Ryan Mahan quipped, "Nice tee shot." As it turned out, the opening bid landed far from the green.
Following several minutes of spirited bidding, the hammer finally fell at $1.8 million on the Smart Strike colt out of the graded stakes-winning Pulpit mare Mini Sermon. Barbara Banke's Stonestreet Stables outlasted underbidder Nat Rea, a relative newcomer to the Thoroughbred industry who made headlines earlier this year buying a short yearling by Street Sense for $1.45 million at the Keeneland January horses of all ages sale.
"The price shocked us a little bit," said John Moynihan, acting on behalf of Stonestreet Stables. "I didn't think he would go for that much. We love the horse. Of course, we've had a great deal of success with Smart Strike. We won't see too many more like him during the 2-year-old sales this year. He came out of his breeze unscathed and sound. I hope he gets us to some of the big dances as a 3-year-old."
Moynihan added that details are still being finalized on a partnership for the sale topper who worked a co-bullet eighth in :09 4/5 for consignor Raul Reyes' King's Equine at the under tack preview. The colt was the first million-dollar purchase at OBS March since 2006, and his price equaled the sale's previous record high.
Reyes acquired him at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton October sale out of the Taylor Made Sales Agency consignment for $115,000. Moments after the colt left the ring on Wednesday, Reyes said, "I figured he could bring any amount of money. The price doesn't surprise me."
Bred in Virginia by the Estate of Edward Evans, the gray or roan colt is from a female family replete with black-type winners. His dam, Mini Sermon, earned $272,930, winning the Top Flight Handicap (gr. II) at Aqueduct Racetrack and finishing third in the Lexus Raven Run Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland and the Sabin Handicap (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park. The colt's third dam is Minidar, a graded stakes winner of $350,900 and the dam of Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) winner A Little Warm, an earner of $752,280.
"He was like a big kid when I bought him at Keeneland," Reyes said. "I thought at the time if he can grow into that frame that he could be a real nice colt when he's fit. You expect that from all of them, but he went the right way every step. He never had an issue and he came out of his breeze great."
A few hours before the colt was to enter the ring, a hopeful Reyes discussed the possibilities in leading a colt over that had been the talk of the sales grounds a day earlier.
"He had as much traffic as you could ever expect," Reyes said. "He received attention from all of the big players. All the right people who know how to buy good horses were on him."
The second-highest price of the second session and the sale was Hip No. 276, a bay colt by War Front —Henna, by Horse Chestnut, purchased by Steve Young, agent, for $600,000.
"He's by one of the best sires in America," said Young, who would not disclose the client. "The colt is as advertised. He's very balanced and has great mechanics. His breeze was great. He started close to the pole and then just exploded. From here on out it's up to him to be great."
Bred in Kentucky by Cherry Valley Farm, the colt, from the family of multiple grade I winner Pomeroy , was consigned by Harris Training Center, agent.
"He's one of those horses that checked all the boxes," said consignor Robert Harris. "The stallion has had a phenomenal last year or two. The colt did everything right. He was a pleasure to work with. All the vets got along with him as well and that's always important."
Eddie Woods, agent, consigned the top-priced filly of the day and the sale, Hip No. 318, a daughter of Discreet Cat who sold to West Rock for $425,000. Bred in Kentucky by Liberation Farm and Brandywine Farm, the filly was purchased by Reckless Farm for $90,000 out of last year's Keeneland September sale from Brandywine Farm, agent for Liberation Farm and Brandywine.
The two-day auction, which attracted many of the leading owners and trainers from across the country and horsemen from around the globe, set March records. For the entire sale, 182 horses sold for a total of $28,871,000 compared with 180 horses grossing $24,739,500 last year.
The average price was a March record $158,632, up 15.4% from the $137,442 average in 2012 and eclipsing the sale record average of $143,262 set in 2008. The median price also was a record $127,500, surpassing the previous sale record of $100,000 equaled a year ago and set in 2008.
The sale's buy-back percentage was 22.9%; it was 25% last year. A total of 120 horses sold for $100,000 or more over the two days, compared to 93 in 2012.
"What a tremendous sale," said OBS President Tom Ventura. "The sale set records for average and median. Even if you back the sale topper out of the figures, it still would have averaged more than $150,000. We're thrilled. It was an excellent sale.
"As it turned out, the last 20 horses or so in the sale were the horses that really jumped through all the hoops and attracted most of the attention from buyers," Ventura added. "The end of the sale was loaded with some serious horseflesh. The sale started strong, and we had hoped the end of the sale would provide a strong finish. We couldn't have mapped out anything better."
A total of 83 head sold in the final session of the sale, fetching a gross of $15,077,000 compared to $12,720,000 on 86 sold for the corresponding session a year ago. The average rose 22.8% to $181,651 from $147,907 in 2012. The median price soared to $135,000 compared to $110,000 last year. The buy-back percentage for the final session was 27.2% compared to 25.9% a year ago. Fifty-nine horses sold for $100,000 or more compared with 45 last year.
Eisaman Equine led all consignors on the day, selling 11 juveniles for $2,645,000. Wavertree Stables Inc. was next with 10 head sold for $1,870,000. King's Equine ranked third, selling only the sale topper for $1,800,000. Eisaman Equine sold 22 over the two days for a gross of $4,110,000 to lead all consignors at the sale.
Stonestreet Stables topped all buyers for the session and the sale, purchasing two for $2,070,000 on March 13 and three in total for $2,420,000.
The next sale at OBS is the April spring sale of 2-year-olds in training April 22-25 with under tack shows scheduled for April 16-19.
By Michael Compton