Mandy Pope was trying her best not to tip her hand.
Since her operation first rocked the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion five years ago, when she chased a beautiful bay distaffer campaigned by owner Rick Porter, Pope's Whisper Hill Farm has been at the forefront of the commercial race to land the most desirable additions to a broodmare band. And with another champion lady from Porter's Fox Hill Farm stable going through the auction house during its Nov. 6 Fasig-Tipton November sale, most observers had Pope as the morning-line favorite to add the brilliant Songbird to her pasture full of collector's items.
And so, Pope tried to be subtle—tried not to let her ebullience for the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro show itself to her competition. When it comes to Songbird, however, everything about her has been obvious—from her ability, to her looks, to the lengths buyers would go to in order to make her their own.
"I was trying to play it cool and really on purpose not pay much attention to her," Pope said, adding quickly, "and you see how well that worked."
Rare was the moment during Songbird's 15-race career when she didn't live up to the lofty expectations hung on her dark bay frame, and her time in the Fasig-Tipton ring was no exception. With a pavilion full of buyers enraptured, the 4-year-old, two-time Eclipse Award winner nearly made history when she sold to Pope for $9.5 million Monday night following a prolonged bidding battle.
Songbird's final price ranks second all-time for a broodmare prospect, behind only the $10 million Pope paid at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton auction for Havre de Grace—the 2011 Horse of the Year also campaigned by Porter. It was a level her new owner said taxed her budget more than expected, but the opportunity to land the nine-time grade 1 winner was one that wouldn't be denied by practicality.
"I really didn't think I'd have to go that high. I really had a budget, and I really didn't keep to it," Pope said. "So my accountant is not going to be very happy with me. I may not be able to go home."
Consigned and masterfully marketed by Taylor Made Sales, Songbird's appeal is one that could have sold itself.
In 2015, she earned the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old filly following a perfect four-race campaign capped off by a 5 3/4-length victory in the 2015 14 Hands Winery Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1). Her 3-year-old campaign brought more of the same, with four more top-level triumphs added to the pile—including blowout wins in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) and Alabama Stakes (G1), both at Saratoga Race Course. Even her first career defeat went down as one her greatest efforts, when she was beaten a nose on the line by eventual four-time champion Beholder in the 2016 Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) following a stirring stretch duel between the two heroines. Despite that, she was a no-brainer in the Eclipse Award balloting for champion 3-year-old filly.
"I can't imagine having a horse that was more fun, (to) just go watch her race, to find out about her works. ... because she was doing it so easily," Porter beamed shortly after Pope signed the ticket. "Just the anticipation of watching her race. There is no better feeling than going to watch her win for fun."
Prior to her runner-up finish in the Aug. 26 Personal Ensign Stakes (G1), her final start, Songbird was still overwhelming rivals with her class this season, earning victories in the Odgen Phipps Stakes (G1) and Delaware Handicap (G1).
"She was just remarkable," Porter said. "There hasn't been another filly in my opinion, and I'm biased, that has put on a show for the public like she did and did it so easily. She won by a lot and did it so easily."
Porter said he put a reserve of under $5 million for Songbird, and it took only seconds before that threshold was hit and surpassed.
After opening with a bid of $1 million, the bidding climbed up in $500,000 and seven-figure increments to $8 million in moments. From there, Pope really had to dig in to land her girl.
At $8.5 million, the board crept up more steadily, in $200,000 and $300,000 jumps. With the number flashing $9.2 million above Songbird's head, Pope threw down the winning bid to the delight of the crowd—all angling with their cell phones, trying to capture the indelible moment.
"What an awesome race mare. What can you... what can you not say about her?" Pope said. "She's awesome-looking. She's by Medaglia d'Oro, who I think is one of the best sires, and I think there are the genetics there to go on and make a good mama. So fingers crossed, lots of prayers are needed."
Pope said no decision has been made on who Songbird will be bred to in 2018, but mentioned all the usual suspects.
"We have a couple ideas of where to go. Obviously I could send her to Frankel or Galileo or Tapit or whoever I want to," Pope said. "I just need to regroup and see how she is and decide which way I want to go."
Out of the graded stakes winning mare Ivanavinalot, Songbird joins a broodmare band that, in addition to Havre de Grace, also includes 2011 Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Plum Pretty, champion Groupie Doll, and Betterbetterbetter.
"If you look at Rick's program. It's just incredible," said Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales. "We sold Round Pond for ($5.75 million), and Havre de Grace for $10 million, and this mare for $9.5 million. Plus there are a lot of others that don't even hit the radar screen. It's a tribute to him and everything he's done."
Just as her appeal was undeniable, so too are the depths of what Songbird has meant to those taken by her exceptional feats.
As he detailed a record-setting evening of selling for the auction company, Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning Jr. choked up for several moments, overcome with emotion as he recalled the call he received from Porter that Songbird was joining the November sale catalog. Browning was in Central Baptist Hospital that day with his father, who has since passed, and his dad shared in the joy of the major score, while also mourning the fact he knew he wouldn't be around to see the filly's next great act.
"He said...'This is really going to stink, I'm not going to be here to see her'," Browning said of his father. "He loved just being around here and he knew my relationship with Rick. He had an affinity (for Songbird) because he knew she was really good and that she would be really valuable.
"He knew we were going to kick some (butt) with this one."
Claire Novak contributed to this report.