01/08/2018 6:59PM

Keeneland January: Bellavais highlights gains in opening session

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Multiple stakes winner Bellavais will remain in training after leading Monday's opening session of the Keeneland January horses of all ages sale.

The Keeneland January horses of all ages sale started off on a positive note Monday, with across-the-board gains led at the top by the $485,000 stakes-winning filly Bellavais.

Monday’s opening session of the four-day sale finished with 186 horses sold for revenues of $13,265,100, up 26 percent from last year’s opening session when 163 horses brought $10,514,000. The average sale price rose 11 percent to $71,318 from $64,503, while the median increased 29 percent to $45,000 from $35,000. The buyback rate finished at 39 percent, unchanged from last year’s opener.

At the top of the market, two horses sold for $400,000 or more, down from three last year. However, the number of transactions of $250,000 or more rose to 12 from three, while six-figure sales rose to 41 from 30.

“I thought we started the sale week off very well,” Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales operations, said. “There was no million-dollar horse or $700,000 horses, but I thought it was a good, consistent market all the way through. Foals were at a premium. January is always been a good spot to buy a race filly, and obviously today, [bloodstock agent] Steve Young found one.”

Young bought session topper Bellavais on behalf of an unnamed client. He said the 4-year-old Tapit filly will remain in training, and will move from the barn of Jimmy Toner to Todd Pletcher. The chestnut filly previously raced as a homebred for Phillips Racing Partnership, helmed by Darby Dan Farm owner John Phillips. Darby Dan consigned the filly.

Bellavais has won 3 of 11 starts for earnings of $199,210, highlighted by victories last year in the Ginger Brew Stakes at Gulfstream Park and the Drumtop Stakes at Suffolk Downs. She also finished in the money in the Wild Applause Stakes and Soaring Softly Stakes, both at Belmont Park.

"She's from a family that you have to have a world of respect for, the Darby Dan mares,” Young said. “It's such an infrastructure of other horses in that pedigree that are doing well. She's a stakes-winner, she has to have a base value out there as a safety net that she'll never be worth less than.

“I thought she would be a good gamble to go ahead and run as a 4-year-old,” Young continued. “That family gets a little better as it gets older, she's a multi-surface stakes horse, and I think she was an obvious pick.”

Bellavais is out of the Grade 3-winning Ghostzapper mare La Cloche, whose two foals to race are both winners. She is one of the latest productive runners from a successful branch from a cornerstone Darby Dan family, reaching back to fifth dam Golden Trail, who was purchased by farm founder John Galbreath following the death of prominent breeder Isabelle Dodge Sloane in 1962. La Cloche is out of multiple Grade 1 winner Memories of Silver, the pivot point for runners including Grade 1 winner Winter Memories.

"Obviously, we're very pleased,” Phillips said. “We'll sell a little bit of the gold sometimes, but not much of the goldmine. It's really more of a business decision. I'd have much preferred not to have sold her, because there's been quite a number of those fillies that have come out of that family that have been on the small side, which was her downside, but they've done well nonetheless.

“I'm not quite sure who the buyer is,” Phillips continued. “Steve was coy about that, but I know that he buys only for people that really care and will do right by her, so I'm quite happy with that.”

Bellavais was the only foal Darby Dan bred out of La Cloche before she was sold to Don Alberto Corp. for $2.4 million at the 2014 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. La Cloche was offered in foal to Tapit, and she produced a colt named Tap Fever who was later offered at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale, but finished under his reserve with a final bid of $475,000. He has gone on to win once from two starts for Don Alberto Stable and partners.

Among the newly-turned yearlings on offer at Keeneland January, Monday’s leader was a colt from the first crop of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, sold to Alex and JoAnn Lieblong for $400,000.

The second highest price of the session, the youngster tied for the fifth-highest all-time among yearling colts at Keeneland January. Sun King, by Charismatic, went to Tracy Farmer for the same price at the 2003 edition of this sale.

"He's just a really nice colt,” said Robby Harris, who signed the ticket as agent for the buyers. "[The price was] getting a little bit to the uncomfortable zone, but [Lieblong] was bullish."

The bay American Pharoah colt is out of the winning French Deputy mare Air France, whose eight winners from nine runners include Grade 2 winners Smooth Air and Overdriven. He is also a half-brother to Super Phoebe, dam of stakes placed Sky Gold. The extended family includes Grade 2 winners Penny's Reshoot and Pok Ta Pok.

Mount Joy Stables bred the colt in Kentucky, and he was consigned as agent by Crestwood Farm.

"He was getting out quite a bit, but I think a lot of people feel like those horses are out of their range, so you're busy, but you're not crazy busy,” Crestwood’s Marc McLean said about buyer interest in the colt. “We were getting the right people looking at him.

"That baby's just super-quick and has been his whole life,” McLean continued. “He's got a great hip on him and never had any issues. The mare throws a good-bodied baby and I think with that combination, it was even better."

Monday's hammer price is the second-highest for a foal out of Air France, trailing the Bernardini filly All Laced Up, who also went to the Lieblongs for $450,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale. All Laced Up raced twice as a sophomore in 2017, breaking her maiden on debut by 2 1/4 lengths at Oaklawn Park.

Taylor Made Sales Agency finished as the session’s leading consignor by gross, with 31 horses sold for $2,786,500. Leading the way was Motown Lady, a Grade 1-placed racing or broodmare prospect by Uncle Mo who sold to Town & Country Horse Farms for $340,000.

Japan’s Shadai Farm was Monday’s top buyer, with two purchases totaling $650,000. The most expensive was Majestic Quality, a Grade 2-placed Quality Road filly who hammered for $350,000.

Book 1 of the Keeneland January sale concludes Tuesday, and the auction continues daily through Thursday, with each session beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern.

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-- additional reporting by Nicole Russo

For complete session results, click here.