Boosted by a $1.55 million son of Bernardini , the Keeneland September yearling sale in Lexington enjoyed an upbeat third session. The gross, average price, and median price all rose from the corresponding session in 2011, registering increases of 5.3%, 15.6%, and 11.5%, respectively.
Sept. 12 was a big day for the selling team of Catherine Parke of Valkyre Stud and Bill Currin. The session-topping colt was the most expensive yearling ever sold at public auction by both Parke, whose small farm is located near Georgetown, Ky, and Currin, who bred the strapping bay. Currin and his wife, Betty, have been Parke's clients for more than 30 years.
"Bill and Betty are like my parents," said Park, struggling to hold back tears of joy. "It's a beautiful experience when something like this happens to the people who have been so good to you for so long."
The colt was one of eight yearlings that commanded prices of $500,000 or more during the second session of book two of the September sale catalog. The results for the day included a gross of $34,573,000 for the 196 yearlings that were sold. The average price was $176,393 and the median price was $145,000.
The number sold fell 8.8% while the buyback rate rose to 26.6% from 23.5% in in 2011.
The auction started with a select session (also known as book one) Sept. 10.
"It was fun at the top," said Walt Robertson, Keeneland's vice president of sales, at the third day's end. "We sold a Bernardini real well today that was a very nice horse and we also sold some other horses real well."
The $1.55 million session topper was the sixth seven-figure horse sold so far at this year's September sale. Six were sold during the auction in 2011.
Demi O'Byrne of the Coolmore Stud buying team purchased the Bernardini colt, making his offers from the bidding area behind the auction ring in Keeneland's sale pavilion. Charlotte Weber and her Live Oak Stud crew also were in the hunt for the expensive yearling, but O'Byrne's determination proved to be greater.
"He's one of the best here, I thought," O'Byrne said. "He's a good-looking horse with a good walk. He's the one I liked. It (the price) was about what I expected."
But, O'Byrne added, the amount was about as much as he was willing to pay. "I was coming to the end," he revealed.
The colt is a half brother to Stormello (by Stormy Atlantic ), who captured the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) and Norfolk Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) in 2006, and My Best Brother (by Stormy Atlantic), who triumphed in the Sept. 2 Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) after winning the Oceanside Stakes and finishing second in the La Jolla Handicap (gr. IIT) earlier this year.
Bill Currin and Alvin Eisman are the breeders and owners of My Best Brother, who is trained by Julio Canani. The two men bred and raced Stormello, who was trained by Currin. According to The Jockey Club, Currin is the sole breeder of the $1.55 million yearling.
"It's about as high as you can get; it made me feel good," said Currin of the emotion involved in being the breeder of a seven-figure sale horse. "I really didn't want to sell him, but it was a lot of money. I can't be foolish; I have to think about my family.
"I would like to train him," Currin continued. "He'll be a good horse; he'll be a champion. He's got the breeding; he's got the looks; he's got the pizzazz. He's a 10 and a half."
The price "exceeded expectations just a little bit," Currin added. "I thought he would do $1.3 million or $1.35 million. If it (the final price) had been $1.1 million, I would have bid. I was very proud of him and I'm very happy."
During the bidding, "I was holding my breath," Betty Currin said. "I forgot to breathe and then I decided I better breathe before I passed out. It was very exciting."
According to Parke, the colt has been an outstanding physical specimen all his life and he attracted a lot of attention from shoppers before he was offered at Keeneland.
"He's just an unbelievable looking animal and he had the pedigree," she said. "People would come back and look at him again and again; they never looked just one time. They would bring more people, more advisers, and more veterinarians. The momentum was just so serious. People that I really respect so much said he was a lovely horse and they brought more experts with them that said the same thing. There just weren't any holes in him. He just was a beautiful animal."
On the third day of last year's September sale, Parke sold a Bernardini filly out of Silk 'n Sapphire that she bred in partnership with Sheikh Mohammed's Darley operation for $1.2 million to Benjamin Leon Jr.'s Besilu Stables. The filly, named Secret Jewel, has not raced yet.
O'Byrne also purchased the third day's second-highest-priced yearling, an $825,000 Big Brown colt out of the winning Dehere mare Cold Awakening, who finished second in the 1998 Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies Stakes at Turfway Park. Consigned by Warrendale Sales, agent for Whitechurch Bloodstock, the dark bay or brown yearling is a half brother to 2008 Illinois Derby (gr. II) winner Recapturetheglory (by Cherokee Run).
"He is a great mover and he has a lovely head," O'Byrne said. "He is a very stylish horse. Obviously, I liked his looks, but he is a horse with a big pedigree."
O'Byrne said the colt "probably" would remain in this country to race and "probably" would be sent to multiple Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher. But O'Byrne added: "I'm not certain. Basically we buy the horses and take them back to the farm. The decisions will be made in the next month."
The combined results for the September auction's first three days included a gross of $97,103,000 for the 457 horses that were sold. The average was $212,479 and the median was $150,000. Compared to the combined results for two select sessions and the first two sessions in book two last year, the number sold was down 16% and the gross was down 12.7%. The average was up 4% and the median was down 11.8%
The September auction continues through Sept. 21. There will be a break from selling Sept. 14.