11/08/2011 5:53PM

Royal Delta brings $8.5M at Keeneland November sale


LEXINGTON, Ky. – Ladies’ Classic winner Royal Delta, the only 2011 Breeders’ Cup winner to be offered at Kentucky’s November sales, came from Churchill Downs to Keeneland’s auction ring Tuesday and blew the roof off the market, selling for $8.5 million to Benjamin Leon’s Besilu Stables.

Leon outdueled Adena Springs owner Frank Stronach and said afterwards that he will return Royal Delta to the races in 2012 at age 4. First, though, she will take a break at his farm near Ocala, Fla. Consigned as part of the late Saud bin Khaled’s Palides Investments dispersal, Royal Delta brought the Keeneland November auction’s third-highest price for a racemare or broodmare prospect, behind $10.5 million Playful Act in 2007 and $9 million Ashado in 2009.

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Tuesday’s session sold 138 horses for $51,405,000, a staggering 64-percent increase over last year’s gross for the equivalent session that sold 143 horses. The $372,500 average price was up even farther, by 70 percent, and median shot up 46 percent to $197,500.

Cumulatively, the first two sessions sold 285 hoses for $114,681,500, up 63 percent. The $402,391 average price soared 86 percent, and the $220,000 median gained 63 percent.

Cumulative buy-backs were 19 percent, level with last year.

Royal Delta was one of 22 horses so far to sell for $1 million or more, compared with eight in 2010. The late Saud bin Khaled, who died on Feb. 1, bred and raced Royal Delta. She was the headliner Tuesday, but Khaled’s Palides Investments dispersal also provided three other seven-figure horses at a session dominated by American buyers.

It was easy to spot Royal Delta’s stall at Keeneland. Her Ladies’ Classic blanket of purple and yellow mums was draped over the shed row wall in front of it, alongside the purple cooler Royal Delta wore after she won the race. It said “Breeders’ Cup champion,” not that anyone on the sale grounds needed reminding. Royal Delta stayed in Barn 14, stall 9 in the Chanteclair Farm consignment. It was a corner stall, and from it the filly had a good view of the potential buyers, shadowed by a small band of trade reporters, who came to see her on the morning of the auction.

Brought from her stall for one of the last times before the sale began at 10 a.m., the stately Royal Delta strode into the stable yard, racy as a whippet, glossy and dappled. She patiently tolerated the bustle around her as serious lookers took pictures and asked her handler to adjust her stance just so, in order that faraway clients could see the finer aspects of her conformation in their digital photos. Standing in the warming sunlight, she closed her eyes sleepily. She took little notice as her relatives in the auction – her dam, Delta Princess, heavily in foal to Distorted Humor, and her weanling half-sister by Smart Strike – walked by to be shown.

Delta Princess sold to Adena Springs for $2.6 million. The losing bidder then, Besilu Stables owner Benjamin Leon, came back to pick up Royal Delta’s weanling half-sister for $1.6 million.

The Palides dispersal also sold $1.65 million Camargue, a three-quarter-sister to Royal Delta’s dam and to Grade 1 winner Indy Five Hundred. Cataloged in foal to Street Sense, she went to Adena Springs. Her weanling filly brought $900,000 from Besilu Stables.

Those earlier prices for her close relatives added more buzz to Royal Delta’s appearance in the ring at 3:40 p.m. on the dot.

The sale pavilion was packed with spectators, and they gasped when auctioneer Ryan Mahan announced he already had an opening bid of $2.5 million. Bidding advanced in $1 million increments up to $6 million, and in short order it was down to Stronach and Leon. The two men, seated less than 20 yards apart inside the pavilion, had traded blows for other horses all day. When Stronach finally shook his head when Mahan asked him to bid $8.7 million, Mahan raised his gavel and glanced toward Leon’s wife, Silvia, seated next to Leon. “What a birthday gift,” Ryan said to her, then dropped the gavel as applause erupted.

It was indeed Mrs. Leon’s birthday, Leon confirmed. After accepting congratulations from Royal Delta’s trainer, Bill Mott, Leon said, “She’s going to go down to Florida to our place,” he said. “I want to keep her there for a couple of weeks. I want to go over there and be with her and get to know her and enjoy her for a few days, and then she can go on wherever she’s going to go.”

Todd Pletcher generally trains Besilu’s horses, and it is assumed Royal Delta will head to that barn, though Leon said he hadn’t made a decision yet on the filly’s specific plans.

Mott was in the audience during the sale and called it “very exciting.”

“The other day when she left Churchill we took her to the van, and that was a little bit of a tear-jerker,” he said. “But she presented herself so well here, and she came into the ring as such a professional. It was exciting to see how the place filled up to see her.”

Another Ladies’ Classic winner, Blind Luck’s 2010 vanquisher Unrivaled Belle, was the session’s first horse to break the $1 million dollar barrier – and the $2 million barrier, too. An iron-gray mare, she was offered as a broodmare prospect. Gary Seidler and Peter Vegso’s 5-year-old hasn’t raced since finishing second in the Grade 2 La Troienne on Derby day, but she bounced into the auction ring racing-fit and on her toes. As the bidding hit $1.1 million, Unrivaled Belle skittered around her auction ring handler, threatening to rear, and auctioneer Scott Caldwell asked that the mare be led out of the ring again, concerned she might injure herself. Unrivaled Belle pranced out again, head bowed, and bidding continued around the empty ring. It stopped, finally, at $2.8 million, the last bid made by one of Keeneland’s off-duty auctioneers, Justin Holmberg.

Swarmed by media, Holmberg explained he had been enlisted by Unrivaled Belle’s consignor, Reiley McDonald, to bid on behalf of Betty Moran of Brushwood Stables. McDonald owns the Eaton Sales agency. He also often buys horses on Moran’s behalf.

“It was to show that it was a fair deal,” Holmberg said. “She loved the mare and said she’s a beautiful mare, and she was very happy to get her.”

The other non-Palides millionaires to sell Tuesday included $2.1 million Love Me Only, a 3-year-old half-sister to Giant’s Causeway and the sale’s only mare in foal to Sea the Stars. Summerwind Farm bought her from the Eaton Sales agency. Other millionaires Tuesday were $1.6 million Porte Bonheur, in foal to Tiznow, whom Paramount Sales, agent, sold to Australia’s Waratah Thoroughbreds; and $1.05 million racing or broodmare prospect Gypsy’s Warning, a Grade 1 winner that Denali Stud, agent, sold to Flaxman Holdings.

The Keeneland November breeding stock sale was to continue through Nov. 17. Sessions begin daily in the Keeneland sale pavilion in Lexington.