John Sikura stood inside a doorway looking into the heart of the Keeneland sales pavilion, a smile of immeasurable satisfaction upon his face as he glanced over to the seats and put the events of the day into perspective.
“We’re happy for ourselves, our clients, for everybody. And my family is here,” the owner of Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms said. “Hopefully, seeing these kind of things will inspire them and get them to say ‘I want to be a horseman’.”
What was witnessed during the second session of the Keeneland November Breeding Stock sale touched all the bases of success in the Thoroughbred marketplace.
There was the champion filly with her regal pedigree bringing the highest price the sale had seen since 2011. There was the record-priced weanling from the same family.
There was an emotional owner seeking out a replacement for the girl he let go and there was Sikura, having as good a day on both fronts as a sales participant could ask.
The second and final Book 1 session of the November sale brought the drama on all fronts Tuesday, led by Sikura both consigning and purchasing champion Take Charge Brandi from owner Willis Horton for $6 million to pace a day of top-end fireworks that yielded double-digit, across-the-board gains in the key indicators.
Take Charge Brandi, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2014, is the highest priced horse to sell at the Keeneland November sale since Royal Delta brought $8.5 million in 2011. The chestnut daughter of Giant’s Causeway is out of the Seeking the Gold mare Charming, who herself is a daughter of 2013 Broodmare of the Year – and Keeneland legend – Take Charge Lady.
That family would prove the star of the day as a bay filly by War Front out of Take Charge Lady established a North American record price for a weanling when she sold to Mandy Pope for $3.2 million.
Sikura didn’t have too bad a day himself, selling 22 head for $23,875,000 including three of the top five prices on a day that saw 14 seven-figure horses go through the ring. Though he has had bigger days in terms of numbers – selling 13 horses for $27,350,000 in the 2008 Fasig-Tipton November sale – Tuesday’s session was arguably pound for pound some of the best his operation has ever brought to the table.
“My job as a seller and a buyer is to find unique things,” Sikura said. “We sold unique product today and they are exceeding the marketplace. We try to bring the best of the best with that goal that they fit all the criteria of what the market will demand.
“It’s sort of ever changing but once you define it, you want to try and bring that product here. And if they like it you are well rewarded.”
Take Charge Brandi was that offering that hit every box in terms of looks, race record and pedigree.
The fight to grab her was fierce with Sikura getting aggressive as he battled with the likes of Mandy Pope and Gainesway’s Antony Beck. With the bidding jumping in $200,000 and $300,000 increments, Sikura raised it one last time from $5.7 to the final tally.
“I wanted to own her so bad, we kind of jumped our own bid at one point,” Sikura said. “They wanted 4.2 million, and we said 4.5 million. I wanted to end the process. You have to be aggressive and let people know we are here to buy the mare and they can react as they wish.”
Though Pope lost out on Take Charge Brandi, she made up for it one hip later when she landed the leggy War Front filly, which she says she plans to race.
Horton, who was seated just in front of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who conditioned Take Charge Brandi, ended the session on a fitting note when he purchased a War Front filly out of Grade I winner Awesome Maria for $2 million from the Hill ‘n’ Dale consignment.
Still, as he talked about hopefully buying “the heir to Brandi”, the Arkansas resident was awash in emotion while reflecting on what his champion filly meant to him.
“I’m holding back tears,” Horton said. “But it’s been a good deal and I’m proud of everything.”
Added Lukas, “Mr. Horton agonized over (selling Take Charge Brandi) a lot. She got to be so special to the family. But at some point, you have to regroup and maybe reinvest. The best part is the Horton family will reinvest.”
Weanlings accounted for three of the top five prices of the session and the strength of that market sparked bullish overall results. The total gross of $108,878,000 from 279 head sold after two days is up 13.59 percent over 2014 while the average ($390,244) and median ($230,000) increased 11.15 and 15 percent, respectively.
The rate of horses not sold is at 27.53 percent, up from 23.96 percent last year.
“We anticipated we had a box full of Crack Jack foals and they certainly delivered,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales.
The sale continues Wednesday beginning at 10 a.m.
Alicia Wincze Hughes: Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.