11/06/2017 8:00PM

Fasig November: Songbird sells for $9.5 million

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Fasig-Tipton
Mandy Pope, seen examining Songbird prior to the Fasig-Tipton November sale, went to $9.5 million to acquire the two-time champion.

Champion Songbird was standing in the auction ring, her bright eyes on either side of her distinctive broken blaze taking in the packed house as she was theatrically unveiled from the cover of her red cooler. Meanwhile, champion Tepin, the dapples on her dark bay coat gleaming under the lights, was circling the back walking ring as she awaited her own turn in the pavilion for the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall selected mixed sale.

Only one thought was going through the head of Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning

"I hope I don't throw up," Browning said, admitting that he had scouted out a nearby trash can. "Literally. We take it really, really seriously when someone gives us a horse like Songbird or Tepin. … You just want to make sure you’ve done everything, so you can look [the owners] in the eye, and you can say, ‘We have done everything we possibly could to prepare your horse to sell as well as she can.’ At that point [in the sale ring], it’s completely out of my control.”

But oh, Songbird was in control. The two-time Eclipse Award champion sold for $9.5 million to Mandy Pope's Whisper Hill Farm Monday night at Fasig-Tipton, ranking her among the highest-priced broodmare prospects of all time. Less than half an hour later, Tepin sold for $8 million, continuing to fuel a major night.

Songbird, a 4-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro was consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency for owner Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farm, who does not maintain a broodmare band and regularly sells his top fillies and mares. Songbird's price ranked her second among broodmare prospects sold at public auction who have never carried a foal, including horses in training offered as racing or broodmare prospects – and Porter, Pope, and Taylor Made are quite familiar with that leaderboard. The record-holder is another former Fox Hill colorbearer - 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, who Pope purchased for $10 million at the 2012 edition of the Fasig-Tipton November sale. Songbird will now join that older mare at Wayne and Cathy Sweezey's Timber Town Farm outside of Lexington, where Pope boards her mares and foals.

"I really didn't think I'd have to go that high," Pope said. "I really had a budget, and I really didn't keep to it. My accountant is not going to be very happy with me. ... [But] she's awesome, and Havre de Grace wanted somebody who cost about what she did. She was feeling a little lonely there."

After a highlight reel of her accomplishments played, Songbird entered the ring draped in a red cooler and was 'unveiled' by her handlers, a bit of theatricality Taylor Made has employed in the past with anticipated offerings. With Fasig-Tipton's auctioneers continually asking for respectful quiet from the packed pavilion, bidding on Songbird opened at $1 million and swiftly climbed in seven-figure increments to $6 million before the pace began to slow.

"It's a lot of money, but that's a lot of mare," auctioneer Danny Green said as the figure on the board hit $9 million.

With the action paused at $9.2 million, Pope deliberated before upping her bid to $9.5 million. She had to sweat it out for 43 seconds before the hammer finally fell. All told, Songbird was in the ring for about seven minutes, with the house erupting into applause following her exit.

Pope, who said she had been watching Songbird for about two years and had visited with her at Saratoga, said she has not yet decided to whom she will breed Songbird next spring for her first foal.

"I have a couple ideas of where to go," Pope said. "Of course, right now, people are saying, 'Why don't you go here?' I could send her to Frankel or Galileo or Tapit, whoever I want to. Obviously, I think they'll take her. I just need to regroup, and see how she is, and decide which way I want to go."

Songbird, a $400,000 purchase by Porter out of the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga selected yearling sale, won the first 11 starts of her career to capture the public imagination. Her unbeaten Eclipse Award championship 2-year-old campaign in 2015 was highlighted by a score in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. The following season, the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee missed the Kentucky Oaks due to a minor illness, but romped in a pair of historic stakes for the division in summer at Saratoga, winning the Coaching Club American Oaks by 5 1/2 lengths and the Alabama Stakes by seven. She finished second by the barest nose to four-time Eclipse Award champion Beholder in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, but had done enough to lock up her second Eclipse title despite suffering her first defeat. She became the sixth filly in the history of the modern Eclipse Awards to be honored as champion at both 2 and 3, joining Ruffian, Open Mind, Go For Wand, Silverbulletday, and Beholder.

This year, Songbird returned to win the Ogden Phipps and the Delaware Handicap, pushing her number of Grade 1 victories to nine. However, she finished second to Forever Unbridled - who subsequently won the Breeders' Cup Distaff - in the Personal Ensign Stakes, prompting Porter to send her for a complete veterinary workup under the care of Larry Bramlage at Rood and Riddle.

"Over the winter, Songbird had bone bruising and a specific area was very slow to heal," Porter said. "She was finally cleared to return, but the three races from Songbird this year weren't what we expected from the bigger, stronger, and smarter Songbird. There were so many variables with her long layoff, shipping, tiring tracks, going 1 1/4 miles, and more, we were never sure which of the variables may explain what wasn't quite Songbird. After [the Personal Ensign], we thought something seemed off in her hind end, so we sent her to Rood and Riddle for an evaluation. Her lameness was readily apparent to Dr. Bramlage, and ultrasounds proved both hind suspensories were enlarged. Since suspensories are usually the result of something else amiss, and he knew of her history, Dr. Bramlage shot a set of X-rays of the area of bone Songbird had issues with over the winter. A distinct line on the bone was present.”

In addition to the enlarged suspensories, Songbird was found to have a severe bone chip, prompting her retirement. She was consigned at Fasig-Tipton as a broodmare prospect only.

Songbird finished her racing career with a record of 15-13-2-0 and earnings of $4,692,000, a run on the track coinciding with Porter's battle with cancer. Browning said the mare provided "hope and inspiration" to her owner, who was declared in remission this summer and in attendance for the sale.

The journey was also an extremely emotional one for Browning, who had discussed Songbird with his late father, Boyd Browning, Sr. The younger Browning haltingly told the story of the day he got the call that Songbird would come to Fasig-Tipton.

“I was at Central Baptist with my dad, and he’d followed Songbird, and he said, ‘Damn, this is really going to stink,’” Browning said, his voice choked. “I said, ‘What do you mean, dad? We just got Songbird.’ He said ‘Yeah, I’m not going to be here to see her.’”

The elder Browning died on Sept. 11 at age 84.

“Songbird was a kind of bittersweet, but for one of my good friends, it was one of the most magnificent horses that we ever had the privilege to sell, and it was a great experience.” Browning said.

Songbird, bred by John Antonelli, is out of the Grade 2-winning West Acre mare Ivanavinalot. The mare's foals also include Wide Range, dam of Grade 3 winner Mico Margarita. As a broodmare sire, Medaglia d'Oro is represented by Grade 1 winners Rachel's Valentina and Rock Fall. Songbird is bred on the same Medaglia d'Oro over Forty Niner-line cross as Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, the dam of Rachel's Valentina.

"What an awesome racemare," Pope said. "She's awesome-looking. She's by Medaglia d'Oro, who I think is one of the best sires, particularly with fillies, as she proved. I think there are the genetics there to go on and make a good mama. Fingers crossed, lots of prayers are needed."

-- additional reporting by Joe Nevills

Top broodmare prospects sold in North America

Includes mares sold as broodmare prospects, and horses in training sold as racing/broodmare prospects

Price Horse Buyer Sale
$10,000,000 Havre de Grace Whisper Hill Farm Fasig-Tipton November, 2012
$9,500,000 Songbird Whisper Hill Farm Fasig-Tipton November, 2017
$9,000,000 Ashado John Ferguson Keeneland November, 2005
$8,500,000 Royal Delta Besilu Farm Keeneland November, 2011
$6,000,000 Take Charge Brandi Hill 'n' Dale Farm Keeneland November, 2015
$5,750,000 Round Pond John Ferguson Fasig-Tipton November, 2007
$5,700,000 Stardom Bound IEAH Stables Fasig-Tipton November, 2008
$5,400,000 Lady's Secret Fasig-Tipton Bloodstock Fasig-Tipton November, 1987
$5,000,000 Riskaverse Eaton Sales Fasig-Tipton November, 2005
$4,600,000 Open Mind Kazuo Nakamura Keeneland November, 1989