Keeneland's November breeding stock sale opened with a dramatic flourish Nov. 5 in Lexington when English champion Playful Act shattered the world record for a broodmare or broodmare prospect sold at public auction with her jaw-dropping price of $10.5 million.
It also was a spectacular day in other ways as the gross revenue of $109,064,000, which was up 30.2% from a year ago, and the number of horses sold for $1 million or more apiece, 28, were both also world records.
"Today's session was unprecedented," said Keeneland director of sales Geoffrey Russell. "It's hard to come up with a straight economic answer as to why at this second; it's beyond me. We knew going in that we had a good catalog, and we knew that it had tremendous international appeal. But the number of seven-figure horses was a pleasant surprise."
The 194 horses sold averaged $562,186, and their median price was $272,500. Compared to 2006, the number sold increased 18.3% while the average rose 10%. But the median dropped 8.4% while the buy-back rate plummeted from 29.6% last year to 19.2% this year.
Russell didn't seem too concerned about the downturn in the median.
"The not sold rate being down might have had an effect on the median," said Russell, explaining that consignors might have sold more horses of lesser quality instead of buying them back. "It's early yet, it's only day one," he added. "We’ve got 14 more days after this, We'll just sit back now and enjoy the successes of today."
In addition to Playful Act's huge price, Russell mentioned the enthusiasm of a large group of international buyers as a reason for the November sale's impressive start.
"We like to talk here about the international market, and I think today proved how international our marketplace is," Russell said. "I thought it was very widespread, from Saudi Arabia, to Japan, to America, back to Dubai, and to Germany. It was a phenomenally international place."
A furious bidding battle between Sheikh Mohammed's bloodstock manager, John Ferguson, and his biggest rival, the Coolmore Stud team led by John Magnier, sparked the spectacular financial fireworks for Playful Act.
Ferguson emerged the winner, signing the sale ticket in the back of the sale pavilion behind the auction stand and saying Sheikh Mohammed's determination to buy Playful Act was, in part, a tribute to the late Robert Sangster, who bred the 5-year-old daughter of Sadler's Wells in the name of his Swettenham Stud.
John Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency consigned Playful Act for the Swettenham dispersal that is being conducted by Sangster's heirs. Sangster, who died in 2004, was a longtime Coolmore associate. He was the driving force in 1985 when BBA (England) purchased the most expensive yearling ever sold at public auction, Seattle Dancer, for $13.1 million at the Keeneland July select yearling sale.
"My father would have loved it, absolutely loved it; he would have been thrilled to bits," said Ben Sangster of Playful Act's world record price. "He was a horse trader and in trading horses, he was always game. He would have thoroughly enjoyed that situation. That's what's the whole game's about."
Of the racing and buying rivalry between Coolmore and Sheikh Mohammed when Robert Sangster was alive, Ben Sangster said: "They had a lot of respect for each other across the years in racing. They were in the game for a long time, and when one man had a winner, the other would congratulate him. They were very respectful of each other."
Playful Act, raced by the Sangster family, captured the 2004 Meon Valley Stud Mile (Eng-I) and a pair of group II events, She also finished second in the 2005 Darley Irish Oaks (Ire-I).
The former world mark of 4.6 million guineas ($9,358,608) was established last November by group I winner Magical Romance (in foal to Pivotal) at Tattersalls in England. James Wigan of London Thoroughbred Services purchased her for Lady Rothschild. The former North American record was the $9 million paid by Sheikh Mohammed for champion Ashado during the 2005 Keeneland November sale.
Produced from group III winner Magnificient Style, Playful Act is a full sister to group II winner Percussionist and a half-sister to group II winner Echoes in Eternity and added-money winners Stylelistick and Petara Bay. Playful Act produced her first foal, a filly by Giant's Causeway , earlier this year, but she aborted a Kingmambo foal that she was carrying prior to the Keeneland sale.
"From a European standpoint, she was an outstanding filly on the racetrack," said Ferguson of Playful Act. "Sadler's Wells has proven to be a great broodmare sire, as we all know, but most importantly, Sheikh Mohammed was determined to have this mare because of Robert Sangster, Swettenham Stud, and for everything Robert achieved. He (Sheikh Mohammed) felt very strongly that this was a mare that he very, very much wanted to own.
Ferguson was the session's biggest spender, paying $18.5 million for five horses. His other purchases were Evil (in foal to Bernardini) for $2.7 million, Melhor Ainda (in foal to Maria's Mon) for $2.3 million, Rosa Parks (in foal to Kingmambo) for $2.3 million, and a Dynaformer--Mandela weanling filly for $700,000.
Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings ranked second to Ferguson among buyers, paying $8,375,000 for six horses.
Sheikh Hamdan's Shadwell Farm bought the session's second-highest-priced horse, grade I winner Spun Sugar, who is in foal to A.P. Indy. Hidden Brook consigned the 5-year-old daughter of Awesome Again for Frank Stronach's Adena Springs operation, which is reducing its stock.
"She's just a gorgeous mare, a good racemare that is in foal to the right horse," said Rick Nichols of Shadwell. "We own her full brother (Daaher) that we’re expecting some great things from. She's very much like her brother, very similar. He's a gorgeous animal himself. I thought I'd have to pay a little bit more, actually, with the way things have been selling today."
A Pulpit filly out of grade I winner Madcap Escapade was the most expensive weanling sold, bringing $1.7 million from Southern Equine Stables. Southern Equine already owned an interest in the bay weanling and is a partner in her dam, which brought $6 million while carrying the filly last November at Keeneland.
Champion Fleet Indian, who is in foal to Storm Cat, was bought back by her owner, Paul Saylor, on a bid of $3.9 million. Taylor Made Sales Agency consigned the 6-year-old daughter of Indian Charlie.
The previous world record for seven-figure horses in a single session was 24 in the Nov. 6 session of the 2000 breeding stock auction. That session also held the former world mark for gross of $102,450,000. The highest number of seven-figure horses for a single session of the Keeneland September yearling sale was the total of 21 in the opening session of 2005.
The Keeneland November auction continues Tuesday, with selling beginning at 10 a.m. (EST).