09/13/2016 6:33PM

'Mix-up' at Keeneland sale prevents Havre de Grace's colt from being sold


The buzz that had been building as the bay colt made his way toward the auction ring at the Keeneland September yearling sale reached a crescendo as bidding climbed to $1.9 million. However, that quickly turned to murmurs of surprise and disappointment when it was revealed that the War Front colt, out of 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, was, in fact, a high-ticket buyback.

No one was more surprised than the colt’s breeder, Mandy Pope – who later disclosed that there was a mistake made when entering the colt’s reserve, which caused him to officially become a buyback even though the bidding reached above the price she had intended. Pope declined to reveal the reserve and would not elaborate on how the error was made.

"I thought he had sold, and then I turned around and saw [Wayne Sweezey of consignor Timber Town],” said Pope, who described herself as “distraught” immediately following the hammer fall.

"Since I've been in this business, I always have been honest and done everything the right way, and I want people to understand that this was a total mix-up,” Pope said. “We had what we thought was a reasonable reserve on the horse, which many people were told. ... We told [buyers] the reserve was going to be one thing, then we ran it way past that. ... What I would like to say is, I apologize to all the agents who thought we were trying to take advantage of them.”

Pope purchased Havre de Grace, from the only crop of Saint Liam, for $10 million at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall selected mixed sale – part of a buying spree of high-quality mares over the next two years that also included Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty ($4.2 million, 2012 Keeneland November breeding stock sale) and champion Groupie Doll ($3.2 million, 2013 Keeneland November). Pope said at the time that she would likely retain fillies out of her mares to eventually join her broodmare band, but that male offspring would be sold to help recoup the investment.

Havre de Grace delivered a Tapit filly in the spring of 2014 at Timber Town in Lexington, where Pope boards her mares. Named Heavenly Grace, the filly is in training with Ralph Nicks at Belmont Park for Pope. After producing her War Front in 2015, Havre de Grace produced another Tapit filly this spring and was bred back to the leading sire for next spring.

"He came to the sale to be sold,” Pope said of this colt. “When I bring horses to sale, I bring them to sell them. If I don't want to sell them, they stay home. I have a 2-year-old filly out of Grace and a Tapit filly this year. I wanted to sell this one."

Pope indicated that options are open for the War Front colt, saying that Sweezey was reaching out to agents who had bid on the colt, but that she would also be amenable to racing him with a partner.

"The horse is still for sale at a reasonable price,” Pope said. “Hopefully, people will come back and look at him again. If they still have an interest, we still are interested in selling the horse. I would be interested in keeping a piece of the horse."

Racing for Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm, Havre de Grace first emerged in the summer of 2010, finishing second to champion Blind Luck in three consecutive stakes, including the historic Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. She turned the tables on that rival with a win in the Grade 2 Cotillion Stakes. Blind Luck and Havre de Grace were second and third to Unrivaled Belle in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic to end the season.

Havre de Grace won three Grade 1 events in her championship campaign the following season, highlighted by the Woodward Stakes, which she was only the second female to win. She also triumphed in the Apple Blossom Handicap and Beldame Stakes. Her only losses on the year came when a close second to Blind Luck in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap and when a creditable fourth against males in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Havre de Grace won the New Orleans Ladies Stakes to begin 2012 before an injury abruptly ended her career, with more than $2.5 million in earnings. Porter, who does not maintain a broodmare operation, offered her at the Fasig-Tipton sale, where Pope outlasted competitors in a long bidding war to secure her for the staggering eight-figure price tag. It was the highest price ever for a broodmare prospect sold at public auction, eclipsing the $9 million price for Ashado at the 2005 Keeneland November sale.

"The most important thing is the horse,” Pope said of her prize mare’s colt. “I want him to have a good home, and if it's with me, then that's what God intended."

:: DRF BREEDING LIVE: Real-time coverage of breeding and sales