Even though we're in the midst of a global financial crisis, a special horse can still bring a jaw-dropping amount.
Better Than Honour, the dam of back-to-back Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winners Jazil and champion Rags to Riches, set a world Thoroughbred auction record for a broodmare or broodmare prospect Nov. 2 when her price soared to $14 million during the Fasig-Tipton November select mixed sale in Lexington.
The last horse in the sale ring, Better Than Honour was purchased by Michael Moreno’s Southern Equine Stables, which had owned a 70% interest in her prior to the auction. John Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms had owned the other 30%. The mare, which is not in foal, was sold because Southern Equine and Sikura were dispersing their joint holdings. The former is more interested in racing, and the latter is more interested in commercial breeding.
“There was no strategy, just take her home,” Moreno said. “She is the best mare in the world, and we’re in this thing for the long-term. You can’t build a long-term operation without blue hen mares, and she’s it. She’s a Picasso; you can’t sell a mare like this.”
A 12-year-old daughter of Deputy Minister and the grade I-winning Blushing Groom mare Blush With Pride, Better Than Honour won the 1998 Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) and she was the 2007 Kentucky Broodmare of the Year. In addition to Jazil (by Seeking the Gold) and Rags to Riches (by A.P. Indy), she has produced 2008 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) winner Casino Drive (by Mineshaft ).
“You don’t plan these kinds of things out; you let it evolve,” Moreno said. “I think we had live bids up to $12 million or $13 million. We had no reserve on her, so we just kind of went into the process and let it pan out. Honestly, anybody that bid on her in the early stages probably realized they were bidding for fun because she was going to bring obviously a world record for any broodmare that ever went through a sale. We just need another Rags to Riches, and we’ll be in good shape.”
The previous record, established in 2007, was held by Playful Act, who had brought $10.5 million at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale from Sheikh Mohammed’s bloodstock manager John Ferguson. Better Than Honour is the second-highest-priced Thoroughbred ever sold at public auction, behind only The Green Monkey, which went for $16 million at the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Florida select sale of 2-year-olds in training.
“The hardest thing was probably getting to the point of decision to put the mare into the ring,” Sikura said. “Of course, it’s emotional, but at the same time it’s very satisfying that you’re a part of history. I feel good about it. Mike has been a very good partner and put up his money every time I wanted to buy a mare or do something. It was a leap of faith, and he never once wavered or said, ‘Are you sure you want to buy this mare?’ or ‘this is too much money.’ He’s been rewarded by owning a fantastic champion broodmare, and hopefully, she’ll reproduce another champion horse for him.”
Sikura was among the bidders for Better Than Honour.
“I went to $10 million because I thought she was deserving of the world record,” he said. “I guess if they had come to me with the (sale) ticket at $10 million, I might have stammered a little bit, but I would have signed it. I felt very confident after that point ($10 million) there were other people who would still be bidding.”
Boosted by Better Than Honour’s world record price, the Fasig-Tipton November sale overcame a slumping Thoroughbred market and economic turmoil to post sharp increases from a year ago in its gross revenue, average price, and median price.
“I think this sale shows that there continues to be demand for quality offerings,” said Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning. “There was fierce competition for a lot of the top horses, including and exclusive of the Southern Equine/Hill ‘n’ Dale horses. But the market also is selective, and we expected that we would find increased selectivity in the marketplace this year based on what we had seen in the 2-year-old and the yearling sales. The buyers continue to be very demanding, and you have to meet most, if not all of their requirements, in order to get them to be aggressive in their bidding strategy. ”
The 91 horses sold grossed $70,279,000 and averaged $772,297. The median was $250,000. Compared to 2007, the number sold dropped 15.0% from 107 while the gross rose 35.1% from $52,036,000. The average was up 58.8% from $486,318, and the median increased 38.9% from $180,000. The buy-back rate advanced from 25.7% last year to 39.3% this year.
Fasig-Tipton officials could not remember a higher gross or average for the company's November sale.
"We had a very, very good catalog, and the statistics reflect the quality of the catalog that we had," Browning said.
There were 13 horses in the Sikura/Southern Equine partnership that were consigned to the auction through Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency. They all sold without reserves and grossed $27,350,000, which represented 38.9% of the auction’s entire gross.
Southern Equine purchased seven of the horses for $23,375,000. In addition to Better Than Honour, the group included stakes winner Crystal Current (by A.P. Indy), a 5-year-old full sister to grade I winner Majestic Warrior. They are out of the 11-year-old grade I winner Dream Supreme (by Seeking the Gold). Crystal Current, which brought $3.1 million, is in foal to Distorted Humor .
Sikura signed the $3.1-million sale ticket for grade I winner Madcap Escapade, who is in foal to A.P. Indy. With the transaction, Sikura said he became the owner of a 50% interest in the 7-year-old daughter of Hennessy out of the stakes-winning Saratoga Six mare Sassy Pants. Bruce Lunsford, a candidate for a Kentucky seat the U.S. Senate, retained the other 50%, according to Sikura.
“We’re thrilled to keep her,” Sikura said. “She’s a mare that made a fortune at auction and has done nothing wrong. The most expensive weanling in North America (a Pulpit filly that sold for $1.7 million at the 2007 Keeneland November breeding stock sale) was her first foal, and she’s back in foal to A.P. Indy. She’s carrying a filly, which is great.”
Before Madcap Escapade went through the sale ring, Sikura and Southern Equine each owned 25% of the mare, so, in essence, Southern Equine’s interest was bought out. Lunsford had sold Madcap Escapade, when she was in foal to Pulpit, at the 2006 Keeneland November breeding stock sale to Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Bloodstock, agent, for $6 million. Soon afterward, Lunsford bought back a 50% interest in Madcap Escapade and the foal she was carrying.
Madcap Escapade is a half-sister to grade I winner Dubai Escapade (by Awesome Again ) and added-money winner Real Estate (by High Yield).
The highest-priced Fasig-Tipton November sale horse outside of the Sikura/Southern Equine dispersal and the auction’s second-highest-priced offering overall was Stardom Bound, winner of the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and the probable champion 2-year-old filly. She brought $5.7 million from IEAH Stables, which is headed by Michael Iavarone and Richard Schiavo. Her new trainer will be Rick Dutrow, who conditioned recently retired Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Big Brown for IEAH and partners.
The immediate underbidder was Frank Stronach, who was in the back walking ring of Fasig-Tipton’s sale pavilion. Charles Cono, who raced Stardom Bound before she went into the auction ring, went to $4 million. Nick Sallusto signed the sale ticket for IEAH.
“We wanted her,” Iavarone said. “She came in a little bit more than we thought, but I guess if you’re going to spend $5 million, you can spend $5.7 million. We were getting pretty close to the end. I think one more (bid) might have been the end of it.
“She’s got plenty of residual value. I see a couple of million dollars worth of risk here, and we’ve taken more risk than that before. Any time you’ve got a horse like Big Brown, you want to try to parlay that and find good mares.”
A gray or roan daughter of Tapit out of the stakes-winning Tarr Road mare My White Corvette, Stardom Bound captured the Del Mar Debutante (gr. I) and Oak Leaf Stakes (gr. I) in addition to the Juvenile Fillies. She was consigned to the Fasig-Tipton November sale by Hill 'n' Dales Sales Agency.
“Her hip and shoulder,” said Iavarone, when asked what impressed him and Dutrow the most about Stardom Bound. “She’s a big beautiful filly, and we know she can run. I think Rick is going to help her out. Hopefully, we can have a really big campaign (next year).”
Iavarone said IEAH probably would take a half-interest in Stardom Bound and “we’re going to split up the rest with some really interesting guys. We’ve got some celebs on this one with us. They will make it a lot of fun. As we get ready to race her, we’ll come out and say who is going to partner up.”
Stardom Bound has earned $1,420,600. She has finished no worse than second in five career races.
“I love her,” Dutrow said. “We were at the Breeders’ Cup, and as soon as she won I said, ‘Mike, we’ve got to get this one. We’ve got to have her.’ When I met her, she seemed so sweet and laid back. She’s our kind of horse. I can’t wait to train her.”
According to Iavarone, Stardom Bound will stay in Kentucky for “a little bit and we’ll let her graze on some grass and put some weight on.” Then she will go to Florida, and Dutrow will make a racing plan for her.
Stardom Bound’s former trainer, Chris Paasch, who was with Cono at the Fasig-Tipton auction, said they planned to bid $5 million for the filly. But “when we bid $4 million, they (IEAH and Stronach) kind of took over for themselves after that. They took off on their own.”
Cono had mixed emotions about selling Stardom Bound.
“I hate to lose the horse, but there comes a time in your life when you know you’ve got to fish or cut bait,” he said. “I’m getting out of the horse business and so is Chris. We had eight years of good fun, and we had a lot of good horses. If I decided to do it over again, I would do the same thing. I’ve got two companies I own, so I’m busy all the time. I’ve got a full plate already, and we’ll also race some horses next year.”
Paasch purchased Stardom Bound for $375,000 at this year’s Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. March select sale of 2-year-olds in training. Her consignor was Shadybrook Farm, agent.