Bid After Bid - by Evan Hammonds

Coolmore’s M.V. Magnier had the attention of Keeneland’s bidspotter in the back ring of the sales pavilion. Without batting an eye he held three fingers to his chest, and just like that, the restraint that has been seen in the auction arena the last several years went out the window.

The bid—at $3 million—was the final one on Hip 454, Clarkland Farm’s exquisite Scat Daddy—Leslie’s Lady colt. The battle for a half brother to top sire Into Mischief and three-time champion Beholder Sept. 13 was between Magnier and Spendthrift Farm’s B. Wayne Hughes. The price was the highest one for a yearling in North America in six years.

Positioned just behind and to the right of Magnier at Keeneland was Fred Mitchell, who owns and runs Clarkland with his wife, Nancy; stepdaughter Marty Buckner and her husband, Matt Ernst. Mitchell, like everyone else, watched the protracted bid duel unfold with a sense of amazement.

“The bidding seemed like it took a long time…because we’ve been waiting 16 months to sell that little sucker,” Mitchell said a few days later when he’d caught his breath. “Early on he was just a plain little package, but he had such a walk on him even as a foal. We’d watch him move every morning going in and out. Marty would say, ‘Don’t worry about this colt. He’s a nice colt. Don’t worry about him Fred.’

“The closer to the sale it got…we’d turn him out at night…and I’d go out there just before I’d go to bed and look at him in the paddock to make sure he wasn’t underneath the fence or something like that. We’d get up in the morning and go to the barn and look over toward his paddock and make sure he was still out there moving around,” he said with a laugh.

Clarkland’s recent good fortune stems from a pair of astute purchases a decade ago at the 2006 Keeneland November sale and is a nod to the late Bob Holthus, the gentleman trainer known on every backstretch in the Midwest as “Mr. Bob.” One of his clients was western Kentucky businessman James T. Hines Jr. Hines died at his home near Owensboro, Ky., in February 2006, just as his nice colt, Lawyer Ron, was coming to national prominence. Among Hines’ broodmare holdings were Leslie’s Lady, whom he had purchased for $27,000 out of the 1997 September sale, and grade II winner Ruby Surprise.

Nancy Mitchell was intrigued by both mares and Clarkland took them both home; Leslie’s Lady for $100,000; Ruby Surprise for $115,000.

“Leslie’s Lady was a nice 2-year-old stakes winner; we like 2-year-old stakes winners,” Fred Mitchell said. “Nancy was very determined to buy both of those mares, mostly off the (pedigree) page. At that time we were looking at $75,000-$100,000 mares, and she fit the bill to a T.”

The game plan has always been to buy “decent” racemares. Don’t expect the family-run Clarkland Farm to stray from its business model moving forward. After all the congratulations, well-wishes, and back-slapping that comes with selling a yearling for $3 million, it was business as usual.
“The afternoon after he sold I came home and got on the tractor with the bat wing and mowed some paddocks to relax…and nobody could bother me,” Mitchell said. “I did put the tractor a couple of gears slower than I usually mow and just enjoyed myself.

“The first thing we did today was put the yearlings in the barn and then put all the babies up.”

The Clarkland crew then loaded up the six yearlings they have for Book 3 and shipped them to Barn 10 at Keeneland.

Ever the salesman, Mitchell couldn’t help himself: “We’ve got a pretty nice Into Mischief colt in the group...”

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