Affordable at the Top - By Eric Mitchell

Electricity crackles through the air whenever an auction horse’s price spins upward through six-figure territory. These are treasured days for breeders.

But every bit as galvanizing is the experience breeders and owners of more modest means have when one of their horses gets a shot on a stage as big as the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

Thirty-two horses pre-entered in this year’s championships races were sold publicly as yearlings for $50,000 or less, with 17 having been sold for $20,000 or less.

The poster child for this group has to be owner/trainer Phil Sims’ superstar Don’t Tell Sophia. Sims bought the daughter of Congaree for $1,000 out of the Taylor Made Sales Agency’s consignment at the 2009 Keeneland September yearling sale. He had expected to pay between $25,000 and $30,000 for her but wound up casting the only bid. Don’t Tell Sophia, who is co-owned with Jerry Namy, has gone on to win seven stakes races and heads into the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) off a victory in the Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland. Bred by Stonerside Stable, she has earned nearly $980,000.

Sims saw right away the talent he had purchased.

“Before she ever started she worked a couple of times with horses that broke in front of her, and she would just catch them,” Sims told The Blood-Horse earlier this month. “She was always an impressive, big, long-striding filly.”

Goldencents is another grade I bargain. The son of Into Mischief out of the Banker’s Gold mare Golden works was sold at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October sale by Pope McLean, as agent, for $5,500 to pinhooker Webb Carroll. The colt continued to be a bargain, selling for $62,000 as a 2-year-old to Dennis O’Neill, the brother of trainer Doug O’Neill.

Two of the five graded stakes won by Goldencents have been grade I affairs. He already has a Breeders’ Cup win to his credit, having won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I).

A lot of factors shape a horse’s value at auction. Sometimes the pedigree is unproven; sometimes the horse has an issue that raises too much doubt in a buyer’s mind.

Hard-knocking New York-bred Dayatthespa fits into the latter category. She sold relatively well at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton New York-bred preferred yearling sale. Pinhooker Niall Brennan picked her up for $50,000 when the average for the sale was $39,106. When Brennan went to sell her as a 2-year-old, however, buyers couldn’t get past her wide way of walking. The daughter of City Zip is also a bit offset in her knees, just like her sire. Brennan knew City Zip raced and remained sound despite his knees, as have many of his progeny, so he wasn’t concerned. Dayatthespa was special to Brennan because of the way she floated over the racetrack.

“You might be a little critical of the way she walked, but she didn’t move that way on the racetrack,” he said. “You can see how beautiful and efficient she was.”

But Brennan ended up withdrawing her from the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s March 2-year-olds in training sale because she wasn’t getting the attention he felt she deserved. Bloodstock agent Pete Bradley was there and snapped her up privately. Both Bradley’s partner Steve Laymon and trainer Chad Brown could see the potential as well.

Dayatthespa has won nine stakes races since 2011, including two grade I wins. She is the only contender entered in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) coming into the race off two stakes victories. The filly is co-owned by Bradley’s Bradley Thoroughbreds, Laymon, and brothers Jerry Frankel and Ronald Frankel.

Other grade I winners among our group worth $50,000 or less as yearlings include Majestic Harbor (Breeders’ Cup Classic, gr. I), who sold for $20,000 at the 2009 Keeneland September sale; Judy the Beauty (DraftKings Filly & Mare Sprint, gr. I), $20,000 at Keeneland September; Private Zone (Xpressbet Breeders’ Cup Sprint, gr. I), $15,000 at Keeneland September; Belle Gallantey (Distaff), $10,000 at Keeneland September; and Big Macher (Sprint), who brought $10,000 at the Barretts 2011 California Cup yearling sale.

These kinds of stories keep the magnetism of Thoroughbred racing strong.

Longtime owner/breeder Gary Player summed it up well during a keynote address at the recent Thoroughbred Owner Conference in Lexington.

“We want to be involved in a sport that is not only for the wealthy, but where everybody has got a chance,” he said.

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