Champion Take Charge Brandi reminded auction-goers of earlier, exuberant markets when she sold Nov. 3 for $6 million, the highest price seen at Keeneland's November breeding stock sale since Playful Act brought a record $10.5 million at the 2007 edition.
Hill 'n' Dale Farms owner John Sikura, who consigned the 3-year-old Giant's Causeway filly, bid aggressively against his customers and bought the mare for himself.
At a time when even the extreme upper end of the Thoroughbred market has seemed relatively conservative and the wealthiest bidders have been hewing closely to their budgets, Take Charge Brandi's sale proved that there is an abundance of money available for the rarest and most desirable offerings. And she was not the only proof. Take Charge Brandi, who was last season's champion juvenile filly, was one of five horses to bring $2 million or more at Tuesday's session, up from three at last year's second session; 14 horses brought $1 million or more on Tuesday, compared with 11 a year ago.
Powered by that spending, the Tuesday session scored double-digit gains in gross, average, and median, compared with last year's second day. Tuesday's session sold 143 horses for $63,784,000, an increase of 17.1% from last year, when 138 horses grossed $54,454,000. The day's $446,042 average was 13% higher than last season's $394,594, and the $250,000 median improved by 6.4% from $235,000 a year ago.
But buybacks also increased, stepping up from 22.5% on day two last year to 25.1%.
Cumulatively, the first two sessions comprising the sale's select Book 1 have sold 279 horses for a combined $108,878,000, up 13.6% from last year's $95,852,000 aggregate for 273 horses. The two-day cumulative average of $390,244 gained 11.1% on 2014's $351,106, and the $230,000 median increased 15% from last year's $200,000 cumulative median.
Book 1 buybacks also were up, rising from 24% for 2014's first two sessions to 27.5%.
"The upper end is very, very strong, and it was shown today," said Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell. "There were many different people buying at the top end, like yesterday too, and multiple bidders at the top end. They're still very particular with what they buy, but they're willing to give top dollar for the good horses."
The mares weren't the day's only stars. Weanlings also provided some big fireworks, with a War Front filly out of Take Charge Brandi's second dam, 2013 Broodmare of the Year Take Charge Lady, setting a North American weanling auction price at $3.2 million. Mandy Pope's Whisper Hill Farm bought the March 19 filly, who sold immediately after Take Charge Brandi. Her price edged out the previous record, set here last year when Bridlewood paid $3 million for Serena's Harmony, a Tapit filly out of Serena's Cat. Eaton Sales consigned the 2015 War Front filly.
The War Front half brother to Serena's Harmony came close to hitting his older sister's price when he brought $2.6 million. Coolmore Stud's Aisling Duignan signed the ticket on behalf of M.V. Magnier for the Hill 'n' Dale Sales agency's 2015 foal out of Serena's Cat. He is a half brother to multiple grade I winner Honor Code.
"We anticipated that we had a box full of crackerjack foals, and they certainly delivered," said Russell. "We were very confident going in that the market would react very favorably towards these foals, and it beat our expectations. And then there was Take Charge Brandi."
When Take Charge Brandi entered the ring, bids rang out from all over the place for the champion, but when the hammer fell, it was Sikura who had lasted longest.
"I thought that mare was a $5 million to $6 million mare," Sikura later said. "She's champion, has a unique pedigree, is a beautiful individual, and you saw a weanling filly from the immediate family bring $3.2 million, so it's a highly coveted family in the marketplace. Very rare, and you have to have rare, unique stuff if you're going to compete at the top of the market. So, top to bottom on any metric of the way you want to measure value, she had it: pedigree, performance, champion, temperament, active family, by the right sire, everything.
"I deal in emotion, not in facts, so I just keep bidding. I got a little excited. I wanted to own her so bad we kind of jumped our own bid. They wanted $4.2 million, we said $4.5 million. I wanted to end the process. I've always found that when you try to buy a mare cheap and it hangs on, they always cost more, so I try to be aggressive and let people know we're here to buy the mare and they can react as they wish."
Asked what the immediate plans for the 3-year-old filly are, Sikura said: "Get her home and safe, that's the immediate plan. Obviously, she'll be bred this year, and we'll figure it out in the coming weeks."
Sikura had plenty of time to make up his mind to bid: Take Charge Brandi has been at Hill 'n' Dale Farm near Lexington since shortly after the Sept. 19 Cotillion Stakes (gr. I), in which she was eased.
"She was good," Sikura said of the filly's time at the sale. "She got mad and kind of was on the muscle and wanted to do something, like she was saying, 'This sale thing is boring. I walk up and down, people look at me, I go back in, I walk up and down, people look at me.' So she kicked and acted up a few times, but she's got a lot of vigor, a sweet, beautiful face, great temperament, and obviously a body to perform at the elite level. We've had her at the farm for a while now after the Cotillion, and she settled right in. Her hair coat stayed good, and she settled right down. She was integrating into farm life easily."
Sikura also bought another horse out of his own consignment: dual grade III winner Aurelia's Belle for $1.8 million. That purchase essentially dissolved a partnership, because Hill 'n' Dale raced the 4-year-old Lemon Drop Kid mare in partnership with James F. Miller.
With those two purchases, Sikura was Tuesday's leading buyer by gross with a total bill of $7.8 million. And Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale Sales ended up as the session's leading consignor by both gross and average after selling 22 horses for a $23,875,000 total and a $1,085,227 average price.
"I think it's a pretty tight, specific market," said Sikura. "You've got to bring just the right stuff, you know. My job as a seller and as a buyer is to have unique things. And we spend a lot of time, money, and research to try to do that. We sold unique products today, and they're exceeding the marketplace. We try to bring the best of the best."
Take Charge Brandi's previous owner, Willis Horton, provided a counterpoint to Sikura's jubilation. Horton watched the bidding from the pavilion, seated immediately in front of trainer D. Wayne Lukas, and as the press gathered to await comments from Sikura, Horton headed outside through the lobby for a little fresh air.
"That was a good sale," he said, looking very much like a man who nonetheless had mixed feelings about receiving $6 million for his mare. Asked whether he was satisfied with the outcome, Horton knitted his brow and frowned slightly. "Well," he said, then paused for a moment. "I hate to see her go," he finally said. "But, you know, you've got to break off from some of them. You can't keep them all."
Horton said he opted to sell Take Charge Brandi because of her value, but it wasn't a popular decision in the Horton family.
"My family, they're tore up," he said. "My wife, she just cried about it. She wouldn't come to the sale. I told her we couldn't afford to marry these things.
"But she has a good home, that's the main thing," Horton added.
"Mr. Horton bought her from us," Keeneland's Russell said of Take Charge Brandi. Horton bought Take Charge Brandi for $435,000 at the 2013 Keeneland September yearling sale. "Watching her sell, I'm sure, was very tough for him, but I think he obviously recovered well, because he bought the last horse in the ring."
Horton did indeed return to his seat in the pavilion, and, settled down in front of Lukas again, he reinvested some of his Take Charge Brandi money to buy Hill 'n' Dale's Hip 491, a $2 million War Front filly out of grade I winner and million-dollar earner Awesome Maria, from the family of such grade I winners as Discreet Cat and Discreetly Mine. But, even so, Horton confessed that he was "holding back tears" as he folded the yellow receipt for his latest acquisition.
"This is the heir to Brandi," Horton said. "So I have to give her credit for this one."
Horton confided that he hadn't wanted to pay quite that much for the War Front filly, "but you do things when you don't want to sometimes."
Horton said the filly would go to Lukas, unless he decided to try pinhooking her to a yearling sale next season.
"We may bring her back to the sale next September and she may bring $5 million," he said. "You never know."
Galileo's grade I-winning daughter Photo Call sold for $3 million as the day's second most expensive mare and third-highest price overall. J. J. Crupi of Crupi's New Castle Farm signed the ticket on behalf of an unidentified buyer who is amassing a racing stable (and eventual broodmare band) to be trained by Todd Pletcher. Crupi said Photo Call will join Pletcher's stable and race again before retiring to the mare band.
Minutes after buying Photo Call, Crupi also picked up a $1.3 million Tapit weanling out of Refugee for the same unidentified client. The March 22 filly is a half sister to a pair of grade I winners in Hoppertunity and Executiveprivilege.
"We'll break her next year as a yearling, race her—she'll go to Todd Pletcher—and then she'll go on to the broodmare band," said Crupi. "That's why we bought her, for her breeding. She had a perfect physical."
Crupi said the filly will go back to his Crupi's New Castle Farm in Florida.
Denali Stud consigned Photo Call, and Eaton Sales consigned the weanling Tapit filly.
Crupi was the session's leading buyer by average price (three or more purchased), with his five buys averaging $1,150,000, and his $3 million bid for Photo Call helped lift her sire Galileo to the top of the session's sire ranks by gross returns. Galileo's seven progeny grossed $8,965,000.
Giant's Causeway, Take Charge Brandi's sire, led by average price (three or more sold) with a trio of horses averaging $2.1 million. The day's top covering sire by gross was War Front with a single lot; Terrific, a Galileo full sister to Irish highweight Together and a half sister to group I winner Jan Vermeer, brought $1.9 million from Moyglare Stud as the day's only mare to sell in foal to War Front. Hill 'n' Dale Sales also consigned her.
Golden Artemis, the dam of 2103 Alcibiades Stakes (gr. I) My Conquestadory and cataloged in foal to War Front, was a high-priced buyback after the final $1.15 million bid failed to reach her reserve price. Denali Stud was consigned the stakes-placed Malibu Moon mare.
The session's top covering sire by average price (three or more sold) was Bernardini with three in-foal mares averaging $605,000.
Tuesday's session got off to a roaring start when Bella Jolie, the dam of the popular 2015 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winner Runhappy and now carrying a Cairo Prince foal, brought $1.6 million from Barbara Banke's Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings. Among the underbidders was Runhappy's owner, James McIngvale, whose daughter Laura McIngvale Brown told consignor Wayne Lyster after the hammer fell that McIngvale had gone to $900,000 for the 8-year-old Broken Vow mare out of stakes-producer Jolie Boutique. Bella Jolie is a half sister to graded-placed Millennium Storm and to two stakes-placed runners: Itsabeautifulthing and Merrill Gold, dam of stakes winner Isabelle.
"Obviously, we couldn't be more pleased," said Lyster, who bred Runhappy in partnership with sons Bryan and Gray. "That's a pretty big deal for Ashview Farm. We're very a small farm, I run it with my two sons, it's entirely my family, and that was our horse. It's very gratifying to breed a champion when you think of the number of possibilities that are out there with the number of horses born every year, to have it happen here at Keeneland, and to get a really, really strong, good price—there's just no way to describe it. but it's not all the price, and it's not all the money. It's important, but for me to be able to co-breed this champion sprinter with my two sons? There's no value that you put on that."
Ashview Farm, located near Versailles, currently has 14 mares and offered only eight yearlings in 2013, the year they sold Runhappy to McIngvale at the Keeneland September yearling auction. Bella Jolie's first foal, Runhappy brought $200,000, a huge return on the Lysters' investment in his dam.
The Lysters claimed Bella Jolie, a two-time winner who didn't start until her 3-year-old season, for $5,000 from Midwest Thoroughbreds back in 2010. On the face of it there was nothing particularly compelling about her, but the Lysters had done their homework.
"We actually got her sight-unseen," Lyster said. "She was a little light on pedigree, but she was the highest-priced Broken Vow the year she sold."
Bella Jolie brought $220,000 from trainer Todd Pletcher at the 2008 Keeneland September sale, which suggested to the Lyster family that she had to have had been a correct physical specimen.
"Everybody knows what a good horseman Todd is," Lyster said. "We have changed with the market in the fact that we understand that we have to bring the right conformation, a well-conformed horse, to the sale. For $5,000, in light of what we have to spend on so many horses, she was a little light on pedigree but her conformation was there. It was just one of those things that worked out."
Bella Jolie's 2015 Exchange Rate foal was cataloged to follow her into the ring, but the Lysters withdrew the April 25 foal because, Lyster said, "He was just a little immature for this sale. But you will see him somewhere next year."
The November breeding stock sale continues Wednesday through Nov. 13 in Keeneland's sale pavilion in Lexington. Sessions start daily at 10 a.m.