Champion and two-time Breeders' Cup winner Groupie Doll provided an emotional and financial high Nov. 6, bringing a session-topping $3.1 million bid on a day that saw more gains for the Keeneland November breeding stock sale.
Mandy Pope, who famously paid a world-record $10 million for broodmare prospect and Horse of the Year Havre de Grace a year ago, added Groupie Doll to her world-class broodmare band Wednesday in one of the day's eight $1 million-plus transactions.
Wednesday's second session ended with more big across-the-board advances as 129 horses fetched a combined $44,277,000 and averaged $343,233. Gross and average jumped 30.8% and 10.6%, respectively, and the $220,000 median was 10% higher than last year's second-day total.
The buyback rate also fell for the second day, dropping from 31.8% last year to 19.8% Wednesday.
Cumulatively, the auction's first two days have grossed $86,532,000 for 242 horses, an increase of 40.7%. The two-day average of $357,570 was up 21.5%, and the $220,000 cumulative median figure bounced up by 37.5%. Overall, buybacks were down from last year's 31%, at just 20.4%.
Groupie Doll, already last year's champion female sprinter, came to Keeneland off a second win in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I). Offered as a racing or broodmare prospect, the 5-year-old Bowman's Band mare has earned $2,478,850 from 11 wins in 21 starts, and she could land a second championship as North America's top female sprinter.
The decision to sell their best horse was an emotional one for trainer Buff Bradley and his father, the brigadier general and former Kentucky state senator Fred Bradley, who bred the mare in partnership and raced her with minority partners Carl Hurst and Brent Burns. But it proved financially rewarding as the market for Thoroughbreds continues its post-recession rise.
After the hammer fell, Buff Bradley left his dad seated on the hallway bench among an ebullient throng of wellwishers and weaved through the crowd as friends reached out to shake his hand, slap his back, offer hugs and congratulations. Let into the pavilion by a side door, Bradley waited until the press scrum stepped back from Pope, then slipped into an empty seat beside her. He thanked her, and gave her a business card, which could come in handy if Pope were to decide to keep Groupie Doll in training.
"I'll tell you one thing, she's a fan favorite," Bradley told Pope. "Everybody loves her."
"I wish I'd been out in California to see her, but I was busy here working," Pope said.
"She loves peppermints," Bradley added.
"Okay, we'll have plenty of peppermints and carrots, I'm sure," replied Pope, smiling broadly.
"She eats carrots, too, but she loves peppermints," said Bradley, "and she's full. I'll tell you right now, she's full."
That was no surprise. In the hours before the sale, fans and friends stopped by Groupie Doll's stall in Tom Evans' Trackside consignment, gripping Bradley's hand, wishing him luck, and offering treats to the mare herself, who seemed unfazed by the attention.
"We're so excited that you got her," Bradley told Pope before taking his leave. Indeed, he had confided after the hammer fell that "the main thing" he had hoped was that Groupie Doll would remain stateside.
It seems unlikely, though, that she will remain in training. Pope seemed taken off guard by that suggestion.
"I don't know," she said when questioned by reporters about the Cigar Mile (gr. I). "I really hadn't thought about it until it just came up. I bought her as a broodmare, and I'll have to have her gone over quite thoroughly before making that decision.
"Obviously he (Bradley) did a great job, knew the mare quite well, and knew what she was capable of doing without pushing her too hard, and I'm sure he took very good care of her," Pope said. She added that the mare's campaign was "very well planned, to do what she did off her limited racing this year. It was an excellent job on his part."
"I told her that if she thought about racing her again, I'd love to train her," Bradley told reporters after leaving Pope. "We're so thrilled that she got her. We know she's building up a big, strong broodmare band, so we're very happy about that. We know she's going to a place that's just down the road, and, you know, she said that we can come see her. Everybody's thrilled about that. This is the best possible ending, for Mandy to get her."
Pope will send Groupie Doll to Wayne and Cathy Sweezey's Timber Town Farm near Lexington, where she will join Havre de Grace, Plum Pretty, and another expensive 2013 acquisition, $5.2 million Betterbetterbetter, the Fasig-Tipton November sale-topper that Pope bought on Monday night.
"I hope to end up with a broodmare band up around 20 of the best quality mares that I can get," Pope explained. "That's my goal."
Mt. Brilliant Farm owner Greg Goodman signed for the session's first seven-figure horse (and the session's second most expensive lot) after bidding $2.6 million for grade I winner Star Billing. The 5-year-old Dynaformer mare will join Goodman's dual-purpose broodmare band. Goodman said he has a partner in the purchase, Orrin Ingram from Nashville, Tenn., who will own 30% of Star Billing.
Star Billing, who is carrying a Giant's Causeway foal, is out of the Thunder Gulch mare Topliner. Topliner is a half sister to a pair of grade I winners in Stellar Jayne and Starrer. Goodman, like many other largely commercial breeders, stretched to get his top choice after repeatedly clashing with wealthy homebreeders over earlier offerings.
"She's really correct, she's really nice, and she's kind of a different-looking Dynaformer," Goodman said. "We loved her. In Book 1, this was the horse we wanted. We went after a few others that we didn't get, so we just went a little higher here.
"We sell and race out of our mares, and I think there are a lot of people here that race that are willing to pay a lot more than us that sell out of our mares as well."
Asked whether Star Billing's foal will be auction bound, Goodman said: "I like to sell, (Ingram) likes to race, so we always have that discussion on any horses that we buy together. So we'll race some out of her and sell some out of her."
The second session's other seven-figure horses were:
$1.8 million Ask the Moon, a two-time grade I winner in foal to War Front, whom the Gainesway agency sold to Stonestreet.
$1.75 million Upperline, a graded winner in foal to War Front and consigned by the Stone Farm agency, sold to Town and Country Farms.
$1.5 million Arena Elvira, a graded-winning daughter of millionaire Two Item Limit now in foal to Tapit, sold to Audley Farm from the Belvedere Farm agency.
$1.3 million Zealous Cat, dam of Tapicat and carrying a full sibling, sold to Shadai Farm from Hill 'n' Dale's agency.
$1.3 million Daisy Devine, winner of the grade I Jenny Wiley and seven other stakes, whom the Eaton Sales agency sold to the Niarchos family's Flaxman Holdings.
$1.1 million Zoftig, dam of grade I winners Zo Impressive and Zaftig and now in foal to Hard Spun, whom Live Oak Stud (Warrendale Sales, agent) sold to Stephen Hillen.
Summer Soiree, reckoned one of the day's millionaires, did have a hammer price of $1,950,000. But that wasn't enough to get past her reserve. Campaigned by Team Valor, the grade I winner by the in-demand War Front was cataloged in foal to another much sought-after stallion, Medaglia d'Oro. But she returned unsold to Denali Stud's consignment.
"We're working on getting her sold, but right now we own her," said Denali's Craig Bandoroff. If there's no private deal worked out, Bandoroff said, "we're going to get a good foal out of her and breed her back."
Although they did not end up with any seven-figure horses, Haras Don Alberto, the entity that bought Tom Simon's Vinery operation in Kentucky last month, was the leading buyer by gross Wednesday. The Chilean-based operation paid $4,130,000 for nine horses. Those were led by $850,000 Reach the Stars, a winning Galileo mare in foal to Tapit that Eaton Sales, agent, consigned.
Hillen led buyers by average (three or more purchased) with a trip of horses totaling $1.6 million and averaging $533,333.
Evans' Trackside Farm was leading consignor by average overall with its one horse, Groupie Doll. But the Hill 'n' Dale Sales agency was tops among consignors by total sales and by average (three or more sold) after 12 horses grossed $8,035,000 for an average sale price of $669,583.
Among sires, Bowman's Band led all by gross sales on the strength of Groupie Doll's purchase; she was the late sire's only horse in the session. But among stallions with multiple sales, the late, great Storm Cat grabbed a sale-ring headline for old time's sake, leading by gross and average (three or more sold) with four horses totaling $2,985,000, for an average price of $746,250.
Bernardini was the session's top covering sire by gross. The six mares in foal to him grossed $3,735,000 and averaged $622,500. By average, War Front led overall with two averaging $1,775,000, but by the common qualifying standard of three or more sold, it was Giant's Causeway in the lead. His three mares in foal averaged $990,000 from a $2,970,000 gross.
Keeneland's November breeding stock sale will run through Nov. 14. Sessions start daily in the Keeneland sale pavilion adjacent to the racetrack.