Keeneland realized double-digit growth in gross, average, and median prices during the Jan. 8 opening session of the 2018 January horses of all ages sale, which was highlighted by the $485,000 purchase by agent Steve Young of Bellavais, a stakes-winning daughter of Tapit from a successful female family developed and raced by Darby Dan Farm.
Young said he purchased Bellavais for an undisclosed client and that she would resume training with Todd Pletcher for her 4-year-old season.
On Monday, Keeneland sold 186 horses for $13,265,100, up 26.17% above last year's first session when 163 horses grossed $10,514,000. The average of $71,318 increased 10.57% from $64,503 in 2017, while the median of $45,000 rose 28.57% from $35,000 last year. Of the 303 offered 117 were buy-backs for an RNA rate of 38.61%, which is down slightly from 38.95% in 2017.
"We started the sale week off very well," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales operations. "The gross, average, and median are all up, so there's a positive start to the sale. It was a good, consistent market all the way through today. (Short yearlings) were at a premium.
"January's always been a good spot to buy a racehorse, and today Steve Young found one (in Bellavais). When these rare pedigrees are offered, they command premium prices."
Consigned by Darby Dan Farm, agent, as a racing or broodmare prospect, Bellavais is out of grade 3 winner La Cloche, by Ghostzapper . La Cloche is out of multiple grade 1 winner Memories of Silver and is a half sister to grade 1 winner Winter Memories, both campaigned by the Phillips family of Darby Dan.
Bellavais' 3-year-old half sister Tap Fever, by Tapit , scored her first victory Sunday at Golden Gate Fields for owners Don Alberto Stable, Mark DeDomenico, and Edward D. Taylor. Another member of the family, Hawkish, a 3-year-old Artie Schiller gelding, was an impressive winner of his career debut Saturday at Gulfstream Park for AJ Suited Racing Stable.
"It is kind of sad (to sell Bellavais), but we are bound by business disciplines," Darby Dan owner John Phillips said. "We have several in this family, and we are going to keep that family going. I'll never sell a gold mine, but every now and then I will sell a little gold because we have to.
"The price was very good," he added. "She is small but very correct, and has a great heart and is very competitive. If you look into the pedigree, you will find that some of the smaller fillies have produced really well. I regret that I had to sell her, but someone else will do very well with her."
"She's from a family that you have to have a world of respect for—the Darby Dan mares," Young said. "And there's such an infrastructure of other horses in that pedigree that are doing well. I thought she would be a good gamble to go ahead and run as a 4-year-old. A lot of that family gets a little better as they get older. She's a multi-surface stakes horse, and I think she was an obvious pick."
Monday's top-selling yearling was a $400,000 colt from the first crop of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah . Consigned as Hip 303 by Pope McLean (Crestwood Farm), the son of the winning French Deputy mare Air France is a half brother to grade 2 winners Smooth Air and Overdriven. He was purchased by Robbie Harris for Alex and JoAnn Lieblong. Three years ago, McLean sold the colt's half sister, All Laced Up, to the Lieblongs for $450,000 at Keeneland's 2015 September yearling sale.
Earlier in the sale, Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services, agent, paid $375,000 for Stradivarius, a half sister to grade 1 winner Eskendereya and English group 1 winner Balmont, carrying her first foal by leading sire Medaglia d'Oro . The 5-year-old daughter of Street Cry (IRE), consigned by Denali Stud, agent for Earle Mack, is out of the winning Seattle Slew mare Aldebaran Light and from the family of Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Cannonade.
"She ran very fast when she broke her maiden, and (I like that) she is in foal to Medaglia d'Oro," John Stuart of Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services said. Stuart reported Stradivarius might be bred back to Medaglia d'Oro or sent to his son Violence .
Shadai Farm of Japan acquired two of the day's top-priced horses, paying $350,000 for Majestic Quality, a multiple graded stakes-placed daughter of Quality Road , and $300,000 for two-time Indiana Horse of the Year and grade 2 winner Lady Fog Horn. ELiTE consigned both horses as racing or broodmare prospects along with $65,000 Discovery Bay, and ended the day as the leading consignor by average ($238,333).
Also bringing $350,000 during the opening session was Charm City Girl, a 7-year-old daughter of Pioneerof the Nile in foal to Union Rags . Consigned by Upson Downs Farm, agent, she was purchased by Larkin Armstrong, agent. Charm City Girl is out of the Storm Cat mare Charming Toutsie, a daughter of multiple grade 1 winner Tout Charmant.
Town & Country Horse Farms purchased Motown Lady, a multiple graded stakes-placed daughter of Uncle Mo , for $340,000. Consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent, the 5-year-old mare is out of the winning Vicar mare Binavicar.
"She checked all the boxes for us for the Town & Country breeding program," said Shannon Potter, president of the operation. "Hopefully she will make a nice addition to our broodmare band. We came to this sale not wanting to buy, but this mare was my favorite in the sale and we ended up with her. The price was probably a little more than we wanted to pay, but the market is strong for a good, young mare."
Potter said Motown Lady will be bred this season, but no decision has been made about a mate.
Another whose breeding plans will be determined in the future is multiple stakes winner Happy Mesa, purchased by Winchell Thoroughbreds for $300,000. The 4-year-old daughter of Sky Mesa , consigned as a racing or broodmare prospect by Bluewater Sales, agent, is out of the winning Broken Vow mare Happy Choice.
"We thought she'd be about $300,000," Winchell racing manager and farm manager David Fiske said. "She could run and she was a very pretty mare. We'll figure out (plans for her) later. We've got several stallions we could send her to, so we'll see what we decide. No decision has been made."
Taylor Made Sales Agency was the session's leading consignor by gross, selling 31 horses for $2,786,500.
"I think (the market) is really good," said Mark Taylor, Taylor Made's vice president of marketing and public sales operations. "It's still early, but watching other peoples' horses and our horses sell, anything that's got any quality to it is hard to buy."