11/06/2012 1:44PM

Fasig-Tipton November: $10 million mare Havre de Grace paces robust mixed sale

Photos by Z
The $10 million bid for Havre de Grace set a world record for a broodmare prospect.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – It was with a remarkably steady hand that Mandy Pope, the owner of Whisper Hill Farm in Florida, signed her world-record $10 million receipt for 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace on Monday night at Fasig-Tipton’s November selected mixed sale. But buying the champion mare hadn’t been as easy as it looked, Pope said.

“I was nervous,” Pope said after making the purchase. “I’m still nervous. I’m totally overwhelmed.”

At $7 million, the bidding had paused long enough that Pope and her adviser, Chris Brothers, thought they had won the star of the sale. But the bidding took off again. By the time it reached $9 million – Ashado’s 2005 world record price for a broodmare prospect – even the most jaded auction-goers and hard-bitten horsemen in the pavilion were holding cell phone cameras aloft to record Havre de Grace’s extraordinary sale. At $9.7 million, asked to raise her bid, Pope and Brothers leaned together in the pavilion seats and considered, carefully but quickly, what to do next.

[FASIG-TIPTON KENTUCKY: Fall mixed sale summary and leaders boxes]

What they did next was bid $10 million, causing a loud collective gasp in the pavilion. Crowds filled the seats and pressed against the walls to watch, and when the hammer fell on Pope’s bid, they erupted in applause.

“About $7 million I was confident that we had her,” Pope said. “We had her valued between $6 million and $8 million, so [at $7 million] I was right where I would have been comfortable, and this is a little bit more. I just hope she knows what she’s worth and she has nice babies! It will take a bit for her to pay for herself with her foals, but if her foals look anything like she does, they should be in here bringing a lot of money. And I’m sure if she has a filly along the way, we’ll keep a filly out of her. But, to begin with, we need to get her to help pay for herself.”

The price surprised Havre de Grace’s consignor, too, said Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales. The Nicholasville, Ky., agency had mounted an enthusiastic marketing campaign to sell the 5-year-old mare by Saint Liam out of Easter Bunnette.

“I know five people were up there above $7 million or $8 million,” Taylor told Pope after the sale. “It was a very crowded room trying to get to $10 million, and I think you just beat them there. I’ve never seen that much money on a horse over $5 million.”

Havre de Grace was the first reigning Horse of the Year to sell at public auction since Lady’s Secret brought $5.4 million in 1987, and her record price fueled a 67 percent increase in the November sale’s average price, which rocketed from last year’s $414,494 to $692,184. The session sold 87 horses for $60,220,000, nearly doubling last year’s $32,745,000 for 79 horses. Median dipped 5 percent, falling from $200,000 to $190,000 this year, but that decline was shallow enough to be in line with Fasig-Tipton’s presale predictions that the market would be selective but similar to last year’s.

Thanks to an array of international buyers, 15 horses sold for $1 million or more, up from 13 last year, and five brought more than $3 million each. Those included $5 million Untouched Talent, dam of Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister and in foal to Unbridled’s Song. Consigned by Brookdale Sales on Audley Farm’s behalf, Untouched Talent was purchased by Coolmore, with Pope the underbidder. Ireland’s Moyglare Stud paid $4.3 million for Lane’s End consignee Switch, a two-time Grade 1 winner. Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation spent $3.5 million for the Street Cry mare Cry and Catch Me, a half-sister to recent Group 1 winner Certify and in foal to Bernardini from the consignment of Hill ’n’ Dale. And another Lane’s End-consigned filly, 2011 Spinaway Stakes winner Grace Hall, went for $3.2 million to Reynolds Bell Thoroughbred Services, agent, and she is expected to race again.

But buybacks were 35.1 percent, up from 28.5 percent.

“Buyers are selective,” Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning said. “Horses in a sale like this oftentimes have other options. It’s not like the owners don’t sometimes have the option to return them to the racetrack or, if a mare’s in foal to the right horse, they’re willing to drop a foal and breed them back and take their chances.”

Havre de Grace’s former owner, Rick Porter, said he did not regret selling her, although he admitted he felt a twinge of sadness when he stopped by the Taylor Made Sales barn to see his 2011 Horse of the Year one last time.

“I spent some time with her today, and she gives you that look and looks you in the eye,” Porter said. “I fed her some carrots. But this is part of the program that we do. We try to recapture some of the capital that we put out. When we get a good broodmare or a good stallion, we try to sell.

“You get emotional because she’s provided so much excitement, you know, all the great races we’ve gone to. She’s provided what you’re looking for in this sport, that’s what she’s given to us, and you get emotional when you think it’s over and she’s gone. It’s hard, but I know I have to do it. I spend a lot of money at Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland, and I’ve got to get some of it back!”

Porter and his wife, Betsy, stood aside as the press peppered Pope with questions, then they stepped forward to offer their own thanks and congratulations.

“I just think it’s great that you have her,” Porter said as he shook Pope’s hand. “Mark [Taylor] and everybody were telling me how much time you spent over there with her. I know she’s got a great home. She’s a special lady, and I wish you the best of luck.”

“Obviously, she was absolutely gorgeous,” Pope said of her new mare. “There’s nothing more to say. I mean, you look at her, and she’s everything a racehorse could be. She did everything a racehorse could do. She had a wonderful attitude; she was very sweet. She would put her head in my lap, just about, when I went to see her.”

[Hip-by-hip results from the Fasig-Tipton November sale]

So beguiled was Pope, she carried a peppermint in her pocket when she came to the auction, just in case. After discussing her world-record purchase to the press, she headed off to feed Havre de Grace that mint.

Shortly after selling, Havre de Grace shipped from Fasig-Tipton to Timber Town Stables, about a 15-minute van ride from Fasig-Tipton’s Newtown Paddocks sale facility. Pope said she hasn’t chosen a mate yet for the mare. For the moment, she was just glad she had her.

“She’s the epitome of what we’re all trying to breed, in terms of conformation and racing ability,” Pope said. “Hopefully, she will pass that on to her foals.

“It is a once in a lifetime shot, and I’m taking a shot at it and we’ll see what happens.”