Champion Will Take Charge retired to Three Chimneys

Will Take Charge, the champion 3-year-old male of 2013, has been retired to stand stud at Three Chimneys Farm after suffering a mild strain to a branch of his suspensory apparatus, it was announced Sunday afternoon. A fee for 2015 will be announced at a later date.


Trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, Will Take Charge had been prepping for a start in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on September 27 and had posted a bullet move at Churchill Downs on September 10, covering five furlongs in 1:00.40.


“Will Take Charge’s retirement is particularly disappointing as we were primed, as an older horse, to win the Classic this year which we lost by a whisker last year,” Lukas said in a release. “This horse has done what few other horses can do any more. He defeated the best 3-year-olds in the country in the Travers and then the best older horses in the Classic. He is a true champion who ran to his blue-blooded pedigree.”



His 17-plus hand, chromed out frame and striking face made Will Take Charge a distinctive specimen on the racetrack. By Unbridled’s Song and out of 2013 Broodmare of the Year Take Charge Lady, the 4-year-old chestnut set himself apart with his durability and late-blooming talent during his sophomore season.


Despite finishing off-the-board in all three Triple Crown races, Will Take Charge moved himself to the head of the 3-year-old class last season with victories in the Grade I Travers Stakes and Grade II Pennsylvania Derby before finishing just a lip behind Mucho Macho Man in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park.


Though denied that day, Will Take Charge came back with a championship-clinching victory over older horses – including multiple Grade I winner Game On Dude – in the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs last November 29, his 11th start of 2013.


“He is a different kind of Unbridled’s Song,” Lukas said of the colt. “He proved himself to be the best of his generation. He is a proud addition to my resume.”


Will Take Charge opened 2014 with runner-up finishes in the Grade I Donn and Santa Anita Handicaps and was most recently third in the Grade I Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on August 2. His lone win in six starts this year came when he captured the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap on April 12.


Co-owned by Willis Horton, who sold a 50 percent interest in Will Take Charge to Three Chimneys in December, Will Take Charge retires with seven wins from 21 career starts and earnings of $3,924,648. He had finished on the board in ten of his last 11 races.


“Will Take Charge is a horse of a lifetime, and I can’t say enough about how “hickory” he has been, starting 21 times all across the country against the stiffest competition time after time,” Horton said. “We have had the time of our lives with him, and met wonderful people
all across America.  He’s been a real  fan favorite, and we think he’ll be a Kentucky breeders’ favorite too.  I also can’t compliment Wayne enough on developing this exceptionally talented horse into a Champion.  It’s been one heck of a ride.”


Added Three Chimneys chairman, Gonçalo Borges Torrealba “As we forge a new path forward at Three Chimneys, we feel very fortunate to announce that a champion like Will Take Charge will help us write the next chapter in the farm’s storied history whose foundation as a stallion operation was built on the shoulders of such towering breed changers as Seattle Slew, Dynaformer, Rahy, and the like.”

Global buying power paces Book One session of Keeneland September sale

Though largely anecdotal, there has been some sentiment within the Thoroughbred industry that international shoppers were waning in their willingness to invest in pedigrees rooted in this side of the Atlantic.

The four days of selling that comprised the Book One portion of the Keeneland September yearling sale told a different yarn. And the flagship stallions from two of Thoroughbred racing’s most vaunted operations helped close out the final select session of the catalog with results that reflected the global buying strength which filled the pavilion.

The desire to own offspring from Claiborne Farm’s leading sire War Front and Gainesway’s top stallion Tapit is a near universal one within the industry. Fittingly, the two studs have the co-sale toppers as the 13-session exercise heads into its dark day Friday, with a Tapit colt selling to Shadwell Stud for $2.2 million Thursday and a bay son of War Front going to representatives of Coolmore Stud for the same price earlier in the session.

Where Wednesday’s session cooled slightly at the top end, selling just two yearlings for $1 million or more, the heavy hitters stretched themselves accordingly for exceptional individuals Thursday, helping the overall average and median stay ahead of last year’s pace even as the total gross of $142,153,000 is down 7.32 percent.

Six horses sold for seven figures Thursday, bringing the total number of $1 million-plus babies to 13 thus far in the sale. Of that baker’s dozen, offspring of Tapit and War Front account for six of them.
“Tapit and War Front are the No. 1 and 2 most sought after stallions in North America at the moment,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “These are the horses that are performing at the highest level on the racetrack.

“Both Claiborne and Gainesway have worked very hard and both horses have earned their positions. There was high competition for all of them.”

A flurry of action came early in Thursday’s session with three yearlings hitting the seven-figure mark within about a 10-minute span of each other, highlighted by a Medaglia d’Oro filly that is a half sister to Grade I winner Nereid and sold to Irish-based Moyglare Stud for $1.5 million.

Superior quality reared up again later in the day as Coolmore’s M.V. Magnier signed the ticket for the $2.2 million War Front colt that was both consigned by Claiborne and a tribute to its heralded breeding program.

The bay colt is out of the Arch mare Gold Vault – herself a half sister to Grade I winner Pomeroy – and is a half brother to Grade I winner Contested.

“He’s a great mover, a lot of quality, and you don’t need to say how good Claiborne is,” said Magnier, who added the colt would likely head to Europe. “It’s a brilliant pedigree. Arch is a brilliant broodmare sire with (Coolmore sire and champion) Uncle Mo. If he is anywhere along those lines we’ll be happy to pay for him.”

A gray Tapit colt from the consignment of Clearsky Farms matched that level, as Rick Nichols of Shadwell Stud outlasted several major operations to take home the half brother to 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner New Year’s Day.

“There is a whole lot of potential there,” Nichols said. “If he wins a Grade I, he’ll definitely be a stallion.”

Global operations were also at the head of the pack after four days of selling with John Ferguson, agent for Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Magnier, and Shadwell representing the top three leading buyers, respectively.

While gross receipts are softer compared to this point in 2013, sparked in part to selling 13.37 percent fewer horses, the average of $300,535 is up 6.98 percent with the overall median of $240,000 up 15.66 percent.

The rate of horses not sold is running slightly ahead of last year, coming in at 27.34 percent compared to 27.01 percent in 2013.

“I think you’re seeing over and over again, the $400-$500,000 level is solid, solid sales. Even if it’s not spectacular at the top, I’ll take that any day over a few big numbers,” said Bill Farish of Lane’s End, the leading consignor heading Book Two. “You know the more stallions we get that fit that bill, then the more (international buyers) will be here. It’s as simple as that. Everyone likes to talk about medication and other things, but the bottom line is if you don’t have the pedigree for them they’re not going to come.

“When we had the Kingmambos and those kind of stallions, they all came. You just have to have the right pedigrees.”

The sale runs through September 21 and resumes on Saturday beginning at 10 a.m.
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

Coolmore lands War Front colt for $2.2 million at Keeneland September sale

The appeal of War Front once again proved its reach far beyond the states as a bay colt by Claiborne’s leading sire became the highest priced horse to sell thus far at this year’s Keeneland September yearling sale when he sold to representatives of Coolmore Stud for $2.2 million on Thursday.

Consigned by the Hancock’s family’s Claiborne Farm, the colt is out of the Arch mare Gold Vault and is a half brother to multiple Grade I winner Contested.

“He’s a great mover, a lot of quality, and you don’t need to say how good Claiborne is,” said M.V. Magnier, who signed the ticket on behalf of Coolmore. “It’s a brilliant, brilliant pedigree. Arch is a brilliant broodmare sire with (Coolmore sire and champion) Uncle Mo. If (this colt) is anywhere along those lines we’ll be happy to pay for him.”

Magnier added that the colt would likely head to Europe.

The new sale topper is a tribute to Claiborne’s noted breeding program as they stand both War Front and Arch. Gold Vault herself comes from a top family as she is a half sister to Grade I winner Pomeroy.

“War Front is so good he’ll hit the states and get runners internationally as well,” said Claiborne president Walker Hancock. “That’s the reason everyone likes him so much. Dirt, synthetic, turf, it doesn’t matter, any distance. It just all adds to his appeal.

“We knew (this colt) would bring a big number. He’s a great athlete, great specimen. He was all business, very professional. He had this presence about him that he knew he was something special and that says something I think when a horse does that.”

The War Front colt became the fifth horse to hit the seven-figure level during Thursday’s session alone, giving the sale a total of 12 babies thus far that have sold for $1 million or more this week.

Trio of seven-figure yearlings pace early action on Day 4 of Keeneland September sale

After only two horses reached the seven-figure level during Wednesday’s session of the Keeneland September yearling sale,  top-end fireworks came in bunches during the fourth day of selling as three yearlings sold for $1 million or more during about a ten minute span on Thursday.

Leading off the action was a dark bay Medaglia d’Oro filly hat is a half sister to Grade I winner Nereid who sold to representatives of Moyglare Stud for $1.5 million, the second highest priced baby of thus far in this year’s  sale.

Fiona Craig, who signed the ticket on behalf of Moyglare Stud, completed the bidding just moments before she had to catch a plane back to Ireland for Irish Champions Weekend taking place at Leopardstown this Saturday and Sunday. Out of the Belong to Me mare Dowry, the filly proved worth the wait and Craig said the youngster would likely remain in the United States.

Sea Queen, who is also a half sister to the Medaglia d’Oro filly, is herself being campaigned stateside and most recently finished fourth in the Grade I Del Mar Oaks for trainer Christophe Clement.

“It was worth staying for,” Craig laughed. “The owner is extremely happy and she will most likely stay in the U.S. and race here. And she’s a lovely filly. A  Medaglia d’Oro related to two Group I performers, its makes sense if you’re in the stud business.”

The Medaglia d’Oro filly also marked the first seven-figure horse sold at public auction by Damian and Braxton Lynch, who consigned her.

“She just did it all herself,” Braxton Lynch said of the filly. “My husband brought her over and she looked great but she performed. She came out every show like just, clockwork from the  first show to the 200th show, just never put a foot wrong. She did it on her own. These are the easy ones to sell, they do it themselves.”

Moments later, a Tapit colt out of multiple Grade I winner  Dream Rush sold to representatives of Coolmore Stud for $1.2 million. Consigned by Taylor Made Sales on behalf of Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, the colt is a a half brother to Grade I winner Dreaming of Julia.

Just as the Tapit colt left the ring, a Tiznow colt out of multiple Grade I winner and producer Dream Supreme stepped in and continued the high-dollar bidding with trainer Mark Casse outlasting Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas to obtain the colt for $1.35 million on behalf of owner John Oxley.

“We just liked everything about him,” said Casse, who bid while seated next to Oxley. “He’s a big, strong athlete, big pedigree. We loved him.

“He’s got a huge stallion prospect value. We knew he wouldn’t be cheap. He’s a lot like his mom too.”

The Tiznow colt was consigned by Lane’s End on behalf of Kinsman Farm and is a half brother to Grade I winner Majestic Warrior and stakes winners Evolutionist and Crystal Current.

“She’s a special mare who keep delivering year after year, it’s amazing,” Bill Farish of Lane’s End said of Dream Supreme. “You don’t see it that often where they have this kind of quality foal later on in life. But he’s a big strong well balanced colt that is really racy. All my friends supposedly were cold watering me and he went a lot higher than they said they were wiling to go. It’s fun to see it work out that way.”



Another million-dollar success for Flay at Keeneland September sale

Among the many aftershocks that came as a result of the economic correction of 2008 is it weeded out who had the resolve to stay devoted to the Thoroughbred breeding industry.

Celebrity chef Bobby Flay is among those who re upped his commitment despite the strife. The past couple sessions of the Keeneland September yearling sale have seen Flay richly rewarded for his allegiance to the sport.

One day after selling a Tapit filly out of his Grade III winner Super Espresso for $1 million, Flay had the bloodlines he invested in sought after again as a Tiznow filly out of his mare Countess Lemonade went to Stonereath Stud for $1.1 million, adding some jazz to a day that featured middle market strength in place of fireworks.

Flay’s involvement in Thoroughbred racing has been increasingly steadfast over the years as his stable has boasted multiple graded stakes winners and he currently serves on the Breeders’ Cup board of directors.

He viewed his purchase of Countess Lemonade for $1,146,159 at the 2010 Tattersalls sale as an opportunity to buy into what he called one of the best families in the stud book. Peter Berglar and his father Dr. Christoph Berglar of Stonereath concurred, making the mare’s first foal one of two yearlings to crack the seven-figure mark on Wednesday.

“I think what that proves is if you buy quality racehorses and mares, that the blood continues on,” said Flay, who boards his broodmares at Arthur Hancock’s Stone Farm and consigned his fillies through the venerable operation. “I’m in this for the long run.

“These fillies are carrying the bloodlines and as you can see, the produce beautiful babies. It was very hard (to make the decision to sell) but…unlike some people here who are lucky enough to be able to hold onto everything they breed, I can’t do that. I have to sell. I love to race but I have to sell some things that are good as well.”

Where last year’s third day proved the most lucrative in terms of gross receipts from the four select Book One sessions, Wednesday’s action was bullish in the $400,000-$500,000 range but didn’t have that level of breakout horses.

While the gross for the third day was down 29.30 percent compared to the corresponding session in 2013, the overall numbers are still holding steady. The cumulative gross of $100,568,000 from 345 head sold is down 9.81 percent from last year but the average ($291,501) and median ($250,000) remain up by 5.61 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

A total of seven horses have sold for $1 million or more to this point compared to 13 that had breached seven figures this time last year.

“We’ve sold 81 horses for over $400,000 versus 69 last year. That’s where the meat and strength of this market is,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “There is great strength in that level. A million dollars is a lot of money no matter where you are so the fact we have as many million dollar horses as we do is very positive.

“The $400,000 level tells you the market is rising so  hopefully that will help in later weeks.”

Fillies have accounted for five of the seven $1 million-plus babies thus far, and a daughter of Darley sire Dubawi with global appeal was the standard bearer on Wednesday.

The bay filly sold to the Niarchos family’s Flaxman Holdings for $1.45 million, making her the second highest priced yearling three days in behind the Unbridled’s Song colt that went for $1.6 million Tuesday.

Consigned by Lane’s End, the filly is out of Group I Epsom Oaks winner Casual Look and will head to Europe to be campaigned.

“It’s a big number but she’s by Dubawi and there aren’t a lot of them in the market,” said Charlie Vaughan-Fowler, who signed the ticket on behalf of the Niarchos family. “She’s from a good family so that is obviously one of the things that attracted us to her. She’s a very good looking, very athletic filly.”

Bred in England by Lane’s End owner William S. Farish, the Dubawi filly was considered a physical standout in addition to having the international appeal with her pedigree.

“There was a lot of thought about selling her in Europe, but dad really wanted her here,” said Bill Farish of Lane’s End. “She’s always been a really special filly physically. She was raised with two other Dubawis over in England at Watership Down Stud and the three of them are just three exceptional individuals. It will be fun to see how she does on the racetrack.”

The final day of the Book One portion of the 13-session sale begins at noon Thursday.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

Dubawi filly goes to Flaxman Holdings for $1.45 million at Keeneland September

After going through most of the day largely devoid of major fireworks, the third session of the Keeneland September yearling sale got some seven-figure life injected into it late in the afternoon as the Niarchos family’s Flaxman Holdings operation stretched to $1.45 million to land a filly by Darley sire Dubawi on Wednesday.

Consigned by Lane’s End Farm, the bay filly was a gem for international buyers as she is out of Group I winner Casual Look.  Charlie Vaughan-Fowler, who signed the ticket on behalf of the Niarchos family, said the filly would indeed be headed to Europe for her career.

“It’s a big number but she’s by Dubawi and there aren’t a lot of them in the market,” Vaughan-Fowler said. “She’s out of an (Epsom) Oaks winner and we’re very pleased to get her. She’s a beautiful filly. She’s from a good family so that is obviously one of the things that attracted us to her. She’s a very good looking, very athletic filly.”

Bred in England by Lane’s End owner William S. Farish, the Dubawi filly was considered a physical standout in addition to having unique global appeal with her pedigree.

“Dubawi is obviously a phenomenal international sire,” said Bill Farish of Lane’s End, who added they did consider selling in one of Europe’s top auctions. “She’s always been a really special filly physically. She was raised with two other Dubawi’s over in England at Watership Down Stud and the three of them are just three exceptional individuals. So it will be fun to see how she does on the racetrack. But she’s always been really correct, showed a great mind.

“This whole sales experience, she never turned a hair.”

The Dubawi filly is the second highest priced horse thus far at this year’s Keeneland September yearling sale and the sixth horse to bring seven figures.

Ryan named General Manager of Stronach’s Adena Springs

Edited release:

Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs Farm announced Wednesday that Eoin Ryan will assume the position of general manager, replacing Eric Hamelback.

Ryan, a native of County Tipperary, Ireland, spent 11 years with Coolmore America, and most recently managed Glennwood Farm in Versailles, KY.

“Adena Springs is a world-class program with first rate facilities and personnel,” Ryan said in a release. “I am very excited about the opportunity that Mr. Stronach has made available to me, and I am looking forward to the challenge with great enthusiasm.”

Hamelback, a current member of the Board of Trustees for TOBA, a member of the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Foundation Board, a member of the TCA Board of Directors, and on the advisory committee for the KBIF, has spent 14 of the last 17 years with the Adena Springs organization in Kentucky and Florida.

“We are appreciative of Eric’s service and commitment during his tenure at Adena Springs. His talent, horsemanship and energy are unquestioned. We have just decided to move in a different direction. We wish Eric the best,” Stronach said.

“The decision to part ways with Adena Springs has not been an easy one,” Hamelback added.  “The opportunity to foal and raise talented racehorses such as Red Bullet, Macho Uno, Ginger Brew, Stately Victor, Hunters Bay, Judy the Beauty, Game On Dude, and working with one of the finest stallion rosters in the industry, can only be described as a highlight of my career. Those accomplishments are only surpassed by the friendships that I have formed with the outstanding staff at Adena Springs.”


Pope outduels Lukas, Horton to land $1.6 million half brother to Oxbow

There is a tangible joy that radiates from Mandy Pope whenever she gets around exceptional examples of horseflesh. And when the owner of Whisper Hill Farm falls head over heels for certain offerings, few within the commercial auction ranks have been able to deny her such happiness.

The gray colt known as Hip 345 in Lyn Burleson’s consignment at the Keeneland September yearling sale so captured Pope, that she was willing to stray from her usual program of buying gorgeous fillies to go all-out after a stallion prospect. Not even the determination of the man who has set the standard of how to win in the sport of Thoroughbred racing was going to stop her on Tuesday.

Rare are the instances in trainer D. Wayne Lukas’s Hall of Fame career when his has failed to achieve want he desired. But much as Lukas tried to secure the specimen of an Unbridled’s Song colt on behalf of his client Willis Horton, Pope threw down the winning bid of $1.6 million to obtain the half brother to 2013 Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow, pacing a day that produced across-the-board gains two days into the select Book One portion of the catalog.

Pope is used to securing sale-topping horses, but it is usually in the form of top-class females like 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace. whom she purchased for $10 million at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton November sale.

Out of the Cee’s Tizzy mare Tizamazing, herself a full sister to champion Tiznow, the Unbridled’s Song colt pushed Pope out of her comfort zone but left her beaming in familiar fashion as she signed the ticket.

“I usually buy fillies but I thought I’d venture out a little bit and try something different,” Pope said. “He’s absolutely gorgeous. Everyone says these things but he is tremendous. Unbridled’s Songs tend to go on and become stallions, obviously that is what we’re hoping.

“He’s awesome. It’s definitely overwhelming for me to spend this much money on a colt. Fillies, okay. But the colts, it’s a very risky business.”

It took a whale of a fight from Pope from pry the colt away from Horton and Lukas, who himself had an emotional tie having trained Oxbow.

With the bidding edging up in $50,000 and $100,000 increments, Pope first appeared victorious when the gavel was about to fall at $1.5 million only to have Horton give Lukas the cue to go up one more time to $1.55 million.

“He (Horton) loved the horse as much as I did. And I was so connected to the horse with Oxbow,” Lukas said. “I really, really wanted him. He’s a larger than Oxbow, he’s just a beautiful horse.

“I thought at $1.5 million, that was a cutoff point for some people.”

Pope said she was nearing her own limit at $1.6 million. But when that bid came down, Horton began to rise from his seat as Lukas shook his head in defeat.

The gray colt will now head to GoldMark Farm in Florida before ultimately heading to Pope’s Whisper Hill facility.

As Pope relished her latest top purchase, Burleson quietly took in another high-profile success for his farm. Burleson consigned Meydan City, the Kingmambo colt who was purchased for $11.7 million at the 2006 Keeneland September sale, the second highest priced yearling ever sold at North American public auction.

“I’ve been fortunate to have some pretty good stock but he (the Unbridled’s Song colt) was a special horse,” Burleson said. “It takes a special horse to get to where he got. We’ve loved him since was born.

“(The attention on) this colt really didn’t pick up until yesterday afternoon but it all paid off in the end.”

The Unbridled’s Song colt was one of three yearlings to sell for seven-figures on Tuesday and is the highest priced of the five horses that have sold for $1 million or more two days into the 13-session sale.

Strength in the upper middle portion of the select market has reigned during the opening couple sessions, resulting in a cumulative gross of $70,953,000 from 241 head sold that is up 1.91 percent from this point in 2013.

The average continues on its huge pace, jumping up 13.75 percent to $294,411 while the median ($250,000) shows the biggest improvement, up 25 percent from last year.

Even with some high dollar horses failing to meet their reserve, the rate of horses not sold is still clocking in at 27.41 percent compared to 28.07 percent through two days in 2013.
“The below-million-dollar horses to about $400,000 seems very strong,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director sales. “That’s what is probably carrying it. Before, maybe those horses did pull into a million and now they don’t. But there seems to be more of them.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

War Front colt new leader at Keeneland September sale at $1.3 million

The global appeal of War Front was borne out again during the second session of the Keeneland September yearling sale as a bay colt by Claiborne Farm’s top stallion sold to representatives of Coolmore Stud for $1.3 million on Tuesday.

The War Front colt is the highest priced yearling to sell thus far in this year’s bellwether auction. A Bernardini filly and Curlin filly sold for $1.2 and $1.1 million, respectively, during Monday’s opening session.

Consigned by Denali Stud, the War Front colt ticked all the blue-blooded boxes, being out of the A.P. Indy mare Score. Score herself is out of multiple Grade I winner Educated Risk and is a full sister to stakes winner Strategy.

He’s a very nice horse,” said Coolmore’s M.V. Magnier, who signed the ticket. “He’s the same cross as (stakes winner) Due Diligence. You have to expect to pay that kind of money when a horse looks like that and he has a great pedigree. Hopefully he will be worth it.”

Magnier added that “we’ll decided over the next couple of days but most likely he’ll go to Europe I’d say.”

Denali’s Craig Bandoroff said he wasn’t surprised the colt brought such a lofty figure, pointing out that he has rarely consigned a horse that got as much pre-sale attention.

“He’s a beautiful horse, by a great stallion and it’s a real pedigree,” Bandoroff said. “It’s very hard to get them to tick all the boxes and he ticked all the boxes. You never know, but we came in knowing we had a nice horse.

“I can’t ever remember showing a horse more than that horse showed. He showed over 250 times and he showed like a man, did his job. I’m proud of everyone at the farm and I’m proud of him. It’s hard thing to do, especially for a yearling at this level.

Fillies get Keeneland September sale off to steady start

By Alicia Wincze Hughes

The shared goal for most participants in the bloodstock market is to either cultivate or obtain those horses carrying enduring excellence in their bloodlines.

Such standout familial ties were the driving force behind the first day of the Keeneland September yearling sale as a pair of regally-bred fillies became the first youngsters to sell for seven figures at this year’s bellwether auction, which got its 13-session run off to a thoroughly respectable start on Monday.

Where last year’s corresponding session featured four horses selling for $1 million or more, an athletic daughter of Bernardini and a bay filly by Curlin were the only two to crack that barrier Monday, selling for $1.2 and $1.1 million respectively.

The overall numbers still got the auction out of the gate in positive fashion. While the total gross of $33,165,000 from 120 head sold was down 4.52 percent from last year, the average improved 3.44 percent to $276,375 with the median jumping 22.50 percent to $245,000.

“I think the first day started off very well with some strong competitive bidding and a good cross section of buyers and prices,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “It just showed the strength of the day’s sale that we are so close to last year’s gross with 10 less horses sold (from last year).”

In a scene that has played out countless times inside the Keeneland sales pavilion, John Ferguson, agent for Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, found himself surrounded by media after signing the ticket for the current session topper.

Ferguson, the leading buyer at Keeneland September 11 times, put down a final bid of $1.2 million to secure the Bernardini filly who is out of the Grade I-winning Empire Maker mare Mushka.

Such a price continued a tradition of distinction for the filly’s family in the sales arena.

Mushka herself has sold for seven figures twice at public auction, bringing $1.6 million at the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale and $2.4 million in the 2008 Keeneland November Breeding stock sale, while her colt by Distorted Humor sold for $1.65 million to Shadwell Stud at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale.

“It’s one of the best pedigrees in the book,” Ferguson said of the Bernardini filly. “Mushka was a beautiful looking yearling and I believe we were underbidders on her. This one looks very much like her but not only that, it goes back to a lovely family.”

Added Reiley McDonald of Eaton Sales, which consigned the filly, “It’s always a great sales pitch to have a horse who looks exactly like its mother who is a Grade I winner. But in this case, this was Muskha. She had her head type, her neck. She was shown 250 times…and she never got tired.”

Fred and Nancy Mitchell of Clarkland Farm have prided themselves on raising the best horses possible, even if they don’t always have the flashy pedigrees that land with more elite operations.

Still, there are few better families than the one behind the Curlin filly Clarkland consigned and that George Isaacs of Bridlewood Farm stretched to $1.1 million to purchase. Out of the stakes winning mare Leslie’s Lady, the filly is a half sister to champion Beholder and Grade I winner Into Mischief.

The filly also marked the first seven-figure horse Clarkland has sold.

“To raise good horses that come off your farm is really what is it all about,” said Marty Buckner, Nancy’s daughter and yearling manager for Clarkland. “It’s exciting and just a great blessing when a family comes to life like that. (To sell a 7-figure horse) is not really in our wheelhouse, that’s not really in our realm. We didn’t predict that but we were hoping she would present herself well which she did.”

Lingering spottiness in the market brought the rate of horses not sold in at 27.71 percent, an improvement over last year’s session rate of 30.48 percent.

Were it not for one monster RNA, the overall gross would have been on the upside. A War Front colt bred by Jon and Sarah Kelly and out of Group I winner Meridiana looked to be the new topper when it was hammered down for $1.95 million, but ultimately failed to meet its reserve.

“I think he’s a super horse,” said Michael Hernon of Gainesway, which consigned the colt and did not disclose what the reserve was. “In the auction arena, everyone has their own opinion and evaluation which they are certainly entitled to. This was a case in point.”

The second session of Keeneland September sale commences at noon Tuesday.  The select Book One portion of the catalog is featured during the first four days before the traditional dark day on Friday.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl

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