01/11/2016 7:33PM

Keeneland January: Payson snaps up opening session's top offerings


Virginia Kraft Payson spent years racing her horses against horses owned and bred by Gerald Leigh and later by his daughter Sarah Jane Leigh, and admired the family’s breeding program. When the Leigh family’s stock was put up for dispersal at the Keeneland January horses of all ages sale, Payson bid boldly to secure those bloodlines.

At the end of the auction’s opening session on Monday, Payson had three of the day’s four most expensive offerings, all from the Leigh dispersal.

“I haven’t bid on a horse myself in years, probably 30 years, and I’ve always had a friend of mine bid on the horses, but I didn’t have anyone and I kept going,” Payson said.

Those purchases helped drive gains compared with the opening session of last year’s January sale, including a higher session-topper.

A total of 182 horses sold for $13,631,200 during Monday's first of two Book 1 sessions, up 8 percent from 204 sold for $12,607,200 during the corresponding session in 2015. The average price, $74,897, and median, $39,500, were up 21 and 13 percent, respectively, from $61,800 and $35,000.

Five horses sold Monday for more than $400,000, which was the highest price of last year’s opening day. The 18 offerings to bring $200,000 or more bettered the 14 to do so during last year’s comparable session.

“It gets to be an old adage, but quality sells,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “If you bring the right product to market, you are fully rewarded. We saw that very much in 2015, and so far in 2016 that’s continued on. People are willing to spend good money on horses and pay top dollar for them if they are perceived to have some quality.”

The buyback rate was 33 percent, staying even with the kickoff session of last year’s sale.

The session's top two lots were a pair of half-sisters, with Payson going to the wire for the $700,000 broodmare Summer Solo and the $550,000 racing or broodmare prospect Summer Sweet as back-to-back lots. Earlier in the day, she bought the co-highest-priced yearling of the day, a $450,000 Arch filly. All three were consigned by Craig and Holly Bandoroff's Denali Stud as agent for the partial dispersal of the Estate of Sarah J. Leigh, who died in August.

“It was sad in some regards - it was the end of an era with the Leigh dispersal,” Russell said. “Mr. Leigh was a great supporter of Keeneland, and Sarah afterwards, too. In a way, it was a fitting end. While we’re very happy with the way the market reacted to the horses, it’s sad to see the end of an era.”

Sarah Leigh, a prominent theatrical agent, grew up at her father Gerald Walter Leigh's Eydon Hall in England. Following his death, she continued the bloodstock business. Eydon Hall has been responsible for European Horse of the Year Barathea, European champion and classic winner Bosra Sham, and classic winner Gossamer.

"I sometimes feared she'd mix up the files in her office, and her filly Summer Sonnet would book a musical at the Walter Kerr Theater, and I'd have to compete in the Belmont Stakes," playwright Doug Wright said in an obituary of Leigh. "Happily, that never occurred."

Summer Solo, trained by Christophe Clement for Leigh, won the first three starts of her career, all on the New York circuit. She suffered her only loss when third, beaten just over three lengths, in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational. The mare is now carrying her first foal, by Ghostzapper.

“The legs on the mare were thick and short, short cannon bones, and they were absolutely beautiful,” Payson said. “I wrote ‘buy’ in the catalog.”

Payson said after the purchase that Summer Solo would be sent to Stone Farm in Paris, Ky., to have her foal.

Summer Sweet, a 2-year-old by More Than Ready, immediately followed her older half-sister through the ring. She will be sent to the barn of Christophe Clement to begin training for her ontrack career.

“I was sort of iffy about the More Than Ready [filly] because he’s not very tall, and my broodmare band is all short, but they’ve won a lot,” Payson said. “I don’t mind small, but when you sell out of small, buyers don’t like them. They like big, but I prefer the small ones.”

Summer Solo and Summer Sweet are out of the Caerleon mare Summer Solstice, a stakes winner in France and the dam of stakes winners Summer Breezing and Adirondack Summer. The second dam is stakes placed Summer Sonnet, dam of multiple Group 1 winner Act One, as well as Group 1-placed Summer Symphony and Gharir.

The top end of the weanling market was strong during the November mixed sales, and yearlings picked up the baton on Monday. Yearlings accounted for two of the day's top four lots, led by a War Front colt and an Arch filly who each sold for $450,000.

The War Front colt, a May foal, sold to Cromwell Bloodstock out of the consignment of Greenfield Farm, as agent. The colt is out of the unraced Unbridled's Song mare Exogenetic, whose five winners from six starters are led by Grade 3 winner Super Ninety Nine and and stakes winner Elusive Horizon. 

Exogenetic is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Exogenous, who was by Unbridled, the sire of Unbridled's Song. It is the extended family of champion Countess Diana, and of Grade 2 winner Barbarika, second dam of champion Curlin.

Gatewood Bell of Cromwell Bloodstock said the decision would be made to race or resell the colt at a later time, but the hammer price on Monday probably forced the new owner's hand toward sending him to the track.

“He’s got a lovely profile and is going to grow into a nice horse, I think,” Bell said. “He’s a May foal. A nice walk to him. I love May foals. Usually you get a little discount, but I don’t think we did with that one. Time will tell.”

The colt was one of two horses sold to close out the dispersal of the late Jerre Paxton’s Northwest Farms. The official dispersal took place in two phases during the Keeneland September yearling sale and Keeneland November breeding stock sale, with the horses sold this week having been previously scratched.

“I thought it was just a hair better than I expected,” said Bruce Gibbs of Greenfield Farm. “The colt had some minor X-ray issues. He’s a very young horse, being a May 6 foal, and he had a very good chance to outgrow them. Otherwise, there was nothing wrong with the horse.

“He was a shade sick in November right before the sale, so I scratched him and came here. All things considered, he got nine scopes, so the X-ray issues were acceptable. It’s a risk factor, but I believe people will take a risk on the conformation of the horse and the family.”

The Arch filly purchased by Payson from the Leigh dispersal is out of the unraced Seeking the Gold mare Seeking Atlantis, dam of two winners from as many starters, led by Grade 3-placed Seeking Her Glory. The filly will also be sent to Stone Farm to continue her development.

Immediately prior to the filly's sale, Seeking Atlantis sold for $300,000 to Castleton Lyons. Seeking Atlantis, out of multiple graded stakes winner Atlantic Ocean, is a half-sister to stakes-placed Golden Galleon and Converge.

“I knew the filly was going to sell well,” Craig Bandoroff said. “It’s a very strong price, but it’s a testament to Sarah Jane. She bought Seeking Atlantis from the [Edward P. Evans dispersal of 2011], and said this was one she could build on and have as a foundation mare. Unfortunately, she wasn’t here to carry it through.”

Taylor Made Sales Agency was the session’s leading consignor by gross, with 34 horses sold for $3,243,000. Leading the group was Bahnah, a multiple Grade 3-winning racing or broodmare prospect by Elusive Quality who sold to Brookdale, as agent, for $285,000.

Payson Stud, the business moniker of Virginia Kraft Payson, was the day’s leading buyer, with two purchases totaling $1,250,000. She also bought one horse under her own name for $450,000, bringing her purchases to a total of $1,700,000.

The Keeneland January sale was to continue through Friday, with sessions beginning at 10 a.m. each day.

For complete sale results, click here.

- additional reporting by Nicole Russo