Updated on 09/12/2012 4:46PM

Keeneland September: Part-time breeder McMillin hits jackpot


Bruce McMillin isn’t a full-time horse breeder, but you wouldn’t have known it by looking at the Tapit colt he sold for $700,000 to top Tuesday’s session.

McMillin, 68, bred the pale gray colt on a foal share agreement with the Tapit syndicate and Gainesway Farm, which stands the stallion, and the $700,000 sale to Stonestreet Stables was a personal best for McMillin. He and his family have bred Thoroughbreds as a sideline to their regular farming business for about 50 years. After his brother Sharon died in 2006 and another brother, Pat, decided to get out of the horse-breeding business, McMillin and his son Luke, 28, have kept the family’s involvement going with four mares.

The Tuesday session-topper’s dam, Tempting Note, joined the McMillin band not long after producing her most illustrious foal to date, graded-placed Tempted to Tapit, also by Tapit. The Editor’s Note mare also is the dam of the promising 3-year-old filly Dance Card, another Tapit, who gave the McMillins a nice Keeneland catalog update when her recent Saratoga allowance score made her a winner in two of three starts.

McMillin said his late brother Sharon bought the family’s first Tapit season in 2006, the one that produced Tempted to Tapit. That colt convinced Bruce to stick with the Pulpit stallion as his popularity – and his stud fee – climbed from $15,000 in 2006. By 2010, when McMillin got a foal-share agreement, Tapit was standing for $50,000.

“We quit farming tobacco back in 1996, but we put up hay, raise some corn, have cows and calves, and it all keeps us busy,” Bruce McMillin said.

The McMillins also raise their own foals, and McMillin remembers the $700,000 colt’s foaling well.

“It was early in the night, and everything went fine, just like it’s supposed to,” he said. “He came out chestnut, but right around his eyes, he was gray, and you could tell he was going to be gray. About a month or six weeks later, he was gray.”

If the Tapit colt becomes a Grade 1 winner, it won’t be the family’s first time around that block. They also bred, in partnership with James Devaney, 2010 Travers winner Afleet Express. Farming hasn’t been easy this year, thanks to Kentucky’s early summer drought, McMillin said, adding: “this sale kind of makes up for it.”

But don’t look for Bruce and Luke to quit their day job anytime soon.

“The cattle market stays pretty steady, not like the one for horses,” he said. “But farming and the horse business are both pretty tough. With Thoroughbreds, most of the time you don’t know what you’re going to get. Farming, you do know what you’re going to get, but it’s a hard job.”

Divine Park having big sale

Divine Park, a Chester House stallion who stands at Airdrie Stud in Central Kentucky for $10,000, did not exactly have a break-out year when his first yearlings hit the sales ring last year. In 2011, 21 of his yearlings sold for an average price of $46,343. Twelve of those sold at last year’s Keeneland September yearling sale – while 13 others in the same sale did not meet the reserve set by their owners.

One year later, Divine Park is a new horse.

Three of his yearlings have sold so far at Keeneland September – the only three cataloged through the first three days – for average price of $382,000, ranking him among the tops for all sires at the sale so far. The highest-priced of the offerings, a filly out of Don’t Trick Her, who has produced three stakes winners, brought $500,000 during the sale’s Monday night select session, and the other two sold on Tuesday and Wednesday during the sale’s second book for $260,000 and $385,000. Last year, the highest-priced Divine Park yearling to sell went for $220,000.

Divine Park, who won the Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile in 2008 and set a new track record over Keeneland’s artificial surface, entered stud in 2009 at Airdrie for a fee of $17,500. His stud fee was dropped the subsequent year to $10,000, where it stayed through the 2012 breeding season.

“The market didn’t agree with us,” said Brereton Jones, the owner of Airdrie Stud, in reference to the first-year stud fee. “So we dropped our price, and we also went out to get some good strong mares, and bred a lot of our own good mares to him. We really believe in the horse.”

Headley Bell, who bought a $385,000 Divine Park filly out of the dam of the multiple stakes winner Trickmeister for the Lael Stable of Gretchen and Roy Jackson, said that the filly stood out as an individual.

“I wasn’t buying because of Divine Park,” Bell said. “That being said, he was a bona fide racehorse, and he’s a Chester House, who’s just been a great broodmare sire. He has every chance to be a great sire.”

Considering the first-year performance of his horses at auction, it was surprising to see that Divine Park was represented at all in the first book at the September sale (disregarding the influence that Jones, a former Kentucky governor and a leader in the Central Kentucky breeding industry, has at Keeneland). Earlier this year, Divine Park was represented by one horse in the Fasig-Tipton July yearling sale, a $47,000 buyback; he had no horses in the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Selected Yearling Sale.

But Jones said that Divine Park has been producing some exceptionally good-looking 2-year-olds and yearlings that have been highly rated by buyers, stimulating interest. Plus there’s that pedigree, a Mr. Prospector sire line coupled with a Northern Dancer-line mare.

“Are you kidding me?” Jones said, rhetorically. “That to me is dynamite.”

– additional reporting by Matt Hegarty