Thirty years ago, on July 20, 1976, the first yearling ever sold for $1 million or more went through the ring at the Keeneland July sale. By Secretariat, the half-brother to champion Dahlia was sold by Nelson Bunker Hunt and purchased by a group of Canadians for $1.5 million. The following is an excerpt from
The Blood-Horse of July 26, 1976:
At least four different syndicates were put together to buy the colt for more than a million dollars.
Aaron U. Jones of Oregon formed a syndicate with trainer Charlie Whittingham and Lou Doherty, Harold Snowden, and three Californians. Doherty suggested the only way to scare off contending bidders was with one bid; an opener of $1,100,000. The problem with this strategy was that Hunt placed a $500,000 reserve bid on the colt.
To begin the bidding on the gleaming chestnut Secretariat--Charming Alibi yearling, auctioneer Tom Caldwell acknowledged $500,000 from one bid spotter and an immediate raise to $600,000 from another spotter, and then recognized a record bid of $716,000. It came within 10 seconds of the opening of the bidding, and it came from a syndicate of Canadians who last year had been the immediate underbidder on the $715,000 Elegant Prince.
The Canadian syndicate was composed of six men: The Burnett brothers, financier Joe, real estate developer Jack, and attorney Ted, owners of Blue Meadow Farms near Toronto; their business associate Harry Federer; Hill 'n' Dale Farm owner John Sikura, and Toronto dentist Harold Potash. Their record $716,000 bid was just a starter; they intended to buy the colt.
Quickly the bid rose, $800,000 $900,000, to One Million Dollars. The bidding had gone only 30 seconds. Jones' syndicate quit. Trainer Bart Cummings, representing a syndicate of Australian horsemen, reached his limit at $1.1 million.
Will Farish III of Houston went to $1.2 million. Polo player, steward of The Jockey Club, owner of 1972 Preakness winner Bee Bee Bee, Farish headed a 10-man syndicate of relative newcomers to horse racing, including car racer A. J. Foyt.
Jack Burnett immediately raised to $1.25 million. Farish spent nearly a half-minute consulting with his syndicate members before bidding $1.3 million. Blue Meadow quickly jumped to $1.35 million.
Farish hesitated for 45 seconds and then went to $1,375,000. Caldwell suggested the Canadians bump the count to a million and a half..."Four then? Thank you; now Five, a million five..."
For 1 1/2 minutes, Caldwell discussed the possibilities with Farish: "I have a million four, five willya; million four, fifty do you wanthim. Now I have a million four, asking for fifty, do you want him? Fifty? Well then I guess that's all..."
Farish had put his 10-man syndicate together at $1.4 million, thinking the colt would go at about $1.1 million. But he also had another group ready for contingencies. Farish bid $1,450,000.
Burnett immediately raised. "Yessir! That's a million and a half! Yes, it is..." Caldwell could get no more. He had the most. Blue Meadow Farms bought the flashy Secretariat--Charming Alibi, by Honeys Alibi, colt for $1,500,000.
FOOTNOTE: Racing in Ted Burnett's colors, Canadian Bound made four lifetime starts, failing to win a race. He ran second in his initial outing. His first two races were in France, his final two while trained by Whittingham in California. He sired 106 foals with no stakes winners. Canadian Bound died in 1992.