Updated on 09/12/2012 4:18PM

Keeneland September: Coolmore pays $1.55 million for son of Bernardini

Coolmore Stud purchased this Bernardini colt for $1.55 million.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Catherine Parke’s 10-horse Keeneland September consignment produced a millionaire Wednesday at the second Book 2 session when Coolmore went to $1.55 million for a Bernardini-Wilshewed colt from her Valkyre Stud agency.

In making the purchase, Coolmore patronized a fashionable young stallion that longtime Coolmore rival Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum stands at his Darley Stud. And they created a personal best yearling price for breeders Bill and Betty Currin, who have kept broodmares with Parke for more than 30 years. The bay colt, foaled Feb. 22 last year, is a half-brother to Grade 1 winner Stormello, a homebred that Bill Currin, now 76, also trained. He’s also a half-brother to My Best Brother, who won the Del Mar Derby the week before the sale. The Currins’ partner in both horses was Al Eisman.

At 4 p.m. Eastern, the $1.55 million colt was leading Wednesday’s session, which at that time showed average price and median running well ahead of last year’s Book 2 second session. That put the session on pace to add a third consecutive day of gains in those figures, following upswings in average and median at Monday’s select session and again Tuesday at the first Book 2 session.

Keeneland reformatted the September sale this year and shortened the select sessions from two days to one, making year-to-year comparisons inexact. But comparing the first session of Book 2 with last year’s first Book 2 day indicates that Tuesday’s session was continuing an upward trend that started at Monday’s select session.

Tuesday’s session was topped by a $700,000 Tapit full brother to Tempted to Tapit and Dance Card. Stonestreet Stables bought the colt from Bruce and Luke McMillin, Gainesway Farm, and the Tapit syndicate, which bred the colt on a foal share agreement.

Tuesday’s session sold 186 horses for $32,240,000, just 2 percent less than last year’s first Book 2 session grossed for 200 yearlings. But the session average and median put up gains. Average price climbed 6 percent, from $163,783 to $173,333, and median easily outperformed last year’s Book 2 opening day, rising 18 percent from $127,500 to $150,000.

But the buyback rate also increased to 32 percent. Last year’s Book 2 opener had a 28 percent buyback rate.

Cumulatively, the auction’s first two days grossed $62,530,000 for 261 yearlings. Understandably, the gross was down based on the most apt comparison to last year’s first three sessions, two select and one non-select, which sold a combined 329 horses for $78,356,500. Average eked out a half-percent increase, going up from $238,166 to $239,579. Cumulative median was down 10 percent, from the three-day figure of $200,000 to $180,000 after two sessions this year, but that decline was largely a function of the smaller catalog and the loss of a select session, Keeneland’s vice president of sales Walt Robertson said. With two select sessions, last year’s auction had sold more horses at higher prices overall by this point. With one fewer select session, and a smaller catalog overall, naturally there were fewer horses sold in the upper echelon early, as Robertson explained it. The difference resulted in a lower median this season.

“It’s math,” Robertson said.

But Tuesday’s buyback rate ticked up noticeably, from 30 percent for 2011’s first three days to 33 percent after this year’s second day.

“There is some uncertainty in this market right now, as there is in any shifting market,” Robertson said. “But expensive horses are selling well. Any time there’s a shift, consignors are less sure about where to put their reserves.”

By 4 p.m., three horses had sold above the $500,000 mark. In addition to the sale-topper, Japan’s J. S. Company bought the Lane’s End agency’s $600,000 Medaglia d’Oro-Weekend Whim colt from the family of Any Given Saturday, and Todd Pletcher, acting as agent, purchased Siena Farm’s $550,000 Empire Maker-Back Bay Dixie colt from the family of Lakeway and Mushka’s dam, Sluice. A Distorted Humor-Capote’s Crown colt from the family of champion and sire Smoke Glacken, had sold for $500,000 by that stage. He went to Martin Anthony from the Sweezey and Partners consignment.

But the afternoon belonged to the Currins and Parke. The seven-figure price for Stormello’s half-brother scored a notable double for Parke, who sold another million-dollar Bernardini here a year ago. That one, a daughter of Silk n’ Sapphire, brought $1.2 million from Besilu Stables.

“I wanted it so much for them,” Parke said of the Currins. “I’ve worked for the Currins for 33 years. They were one of my very first clients. To raise another good horse for him in My Best Brother and to sell this yearling so well is really my lifelong work.”

The Currins watched the auction with Parke from inside the sale pavilion in seats that back up to the press box. “I didn’t want anybody to see me if I had to bid, because at about 1.1 million I would have bid,” Bill Currin said.

“It made me feel . . . ” Currin paused, weighing his emotions carefully before finally saying, “Good. I didn’t really want to sell him, but that’s a lot of money. I can’t be foolish. I have to think about my family. I’d like to train him. He’ll be a good horse. He’ll be a champion. He’s a good Derby horse, and he’ll stay the distance, I’m sure. He’s got the breeding, he’s got the looks, he’s got the pizzazz. He’s a 10 and a half.”

In recent years, the Currins have scaled their broodmare band down from about 40 to three. Wilshewed, a 13-year-old Carson City mare, produced a filly by Coolmore sire Giant’s Causeway on Feb. 28 and is back in foal to that stallion; she is carrying a colt, Currin said. The Currins have nominated Wilshewed’s weanling filly to the November sales. “We have to talk to the tax man, but I have misgivings about selling her, too, because she’s so pretty,” Currin said. “She is a beauty.”

Officially, the Currins have been keeping their broodmare band small, Currin intimated. “But that’s until now,” he quipped. “Now I’ve got some new money, I might come out here in November and do a little shopping.”

The Keeneland September sale’s Book 2 section continues through Thursday with sessions starting each day at 11 a.m. After a dark day on Friday, the auction will resume with Book 3. Book 3 and the remainder of the sale sessions, running through Sept. 21, will begin at 10 a.m.