Updated on 01/09/2012 7:09PM

Keeneland session has gains across the board with $1.4M topper

Benoit & Associates
Star Billing (right), with Victor Espinoza up, wins the Matriarch, giving her dam, Topliner, Grade 1 credentials.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Star Billing’s Nov. 25 win in the Matriarch Stakes translated into a $1.4 million price tag for her dam Monday at Keeneland’s January all-ages sale.

Topliner's $1.4 million led selling at the first of four sessions, which grossed $13,932,200 for 209 horses and saw increases across the board. Gross receipts grew by 30 percent, while the $66,661 average price and $32,000 median were up by 17 percent and 60 percent, respectively. In more good news, the buy-back rate also fell from last year's 35 percent to 28 percent.

"All these are favorable indicators, and we hope that the momentum continues," said Walt Robertson, Keeneland's vice president of sales.

Star Billing’s half-length score in the Matriarch finally made her 10-year-old mother, Topliner, that highly coveted item: producer of a Grade 1 winner. Japanese breeder Katsumi Yoshida, who had been relatively quiet at the fall’s top breeding stock sales, reemerged to buy Topliner, who sold in foal to Darley’s popular sire Medaglia d’Oro. The Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales agency consigned Topliner, a 10-year-old Thunder Gulch mare.

Yoshida is an important upper-level mare buyer at sales around the world, but, like many, he found his preferred animals very expensive at the November sales. “They tried,” adviser Naohiro Hosoda explained after signing the ticket for Topliner. “They tried hard. But, then, the December sales at Tattersalls were left. But this sale is the final major auction of broodmares.

“We expected more than $1 million,” he added, regarding Topliner’s price. “It just depends on the market.”

Another Star Billing relative, the 5-year-old Storm Cat mare Celebrity Cat, brought $360,000 from Blandford Bloodstock. Consigned by Hill 'n' Dale, she is out of Grade 1-winning Dynaformer mare Starrer, who is a half-sister to Topliner.

Spice Island, whose Pulpit son Ice Box won the 2010 Florida Derby and finished second in that year’s Kentucky Derby, was another obvious standout at Monday’s opener. A Grade 2 winner herself, the 13-year-old Tabasco Cat mare was carrying a Tapit foal, a three-quarter-sibling to Ice Box. The hammer fell after Hunter Valley Farm’s $775,000 bid. Bluewater Sales agency was the consignor.

Hunter Valley’s managers, Irishmen Fergus Galvin and Adrian Regan, declined to identify the buyer, saying only that he is an existing client.

“We thought she’d be value under a million, and we’re happy to get her at that price, for sure,” said Galvin. “She made where we had her valued.”

The 2011 yearling sales’ stronger-than-expected performance didn’t hurt when it came time for Hunter Valley’s anonymous client to bid, Regan acknowledged, but it wasn’t the only factor.

“Last year gave everybody a perk, definitely,” he said. “Our client had a very good year last year, and it just follows along. He’s in it for the long haul, he’s a businessman, and he realizes the type of mare that that mare is. They don’t come up too often.”

Thoroughbred Times bloodstock writer John Sparkman turned the tables on sales press early in the session when he bid $350,000 for the Three Chimneys agency’s Receipt, a stakes-placed Dynaformer daughter of Grade 1 winner Finder’s Fee. Sparkman said he’s not giving up writing but also now advises Receipt’s buyer, the new St. Elias Stables. Receipt, cataloged in foal to the late sire Indian Charlie, was the second mare so far for the new concern, which Sparkman said will be based in Kentucky and probably will breed both for racing and sales.

“We want to build a broodmare band, and she’s the type of mare who can be a foundation mare for the future,” Sparkman said.

Sparkman declined to identify the stable’s owner, a New York resident who currently boards his mares at Tom Evans’s Trackside Farm in Lexington.

“He’s been in the business on a small scale before, and he’s going into it more seriously now,” Sparkman said.

One day after Caracortado’s dramatic last-to-first finish in Santa Anita’s Daytona Stakes turf sprint, his dam, Mons Venus, sold for $250,000 to WinStar Farm and Airdrie Stud. The two Kentucky farms will own her in partnership, said WinStar’s president, Elliott Walden, and will breed her this year to Airdrie stallion Haynesfield. She’s carrying a Harlan’s Holiday foal at the moment.

“I’m gonna send the state police after you for stealing!” Tom Van Meter, who consigned Mons Venus on Mike Machowsky’s behalf, told Walden after the sale.

“I don’t think the win over the weekend did anything for her [price],” Walden said of Caracortado’s recent win. “He was already a very, very good horse, and she’s a nice young mare who has produced that very good horse.”

Machowsky, who bred and trains Caracortado, could have been forgiven for having second thoughts about selling Mons Venus. But he appeared to have no regrets about selling his only broodmare, whom, he reasoned, now deserves bigger stud fees than he might want to pay.

“Holding on to a mare like her is expensive,” he said. “She’s got a good home.”

With the sale proceeds in his account, was Machowsky planning to reinvest in another mare at the auction? He laughed. “My wife might kill me if I buy another mare,” he answered.

Ben Walden’s 14-year-old daughter, Hope, is likely to have the opposite reaction when she finds out about Hip No. 203. Walden owns Pauls Mill near Versailles, Ky., and he paid just $1,000 for the unraced 3-year-old Corinthian filly Try This Girl as a surprise project for Hope.

“We’re going to breed her to U S Ranger,” Walden explained, referring to the Danzig stallion he stood at Pauls Mill before relocating him to his brother Elliott’s care at WinStar Farm. “And we bred Corinthian, you may remember, so it was near and dear to my heart.

“I’d like to use this as an opportunity to expose Hope from the beginning of the process of mating a mare, waiting for the foal, having the foal, deciding who to breed back to the next year – just an opportunity to learn about the business.”

And, Walden added, the future sale of Try This Girl’s foals might come in handy for Hope’s college fund.

The Keeneland January sale was to continue through Thursday, with continuous sessions starting daily at 10 a.m.