A Shot in the Arm - By Deirdre B. Biles

Just when Catherine Parke thought life couldn’t get any better, it did.

During the third session of the Keeneland September yearling auction, the owner of 225-acre Valkyre Stud near Georgetown, Ky., sold a Bernardini filly for $1.2 million to Benjamin Leon Jr.’s Besilu Stables. Hours later, while savoring the big accomplishment, Parke and Valkyre yearling manager Paul Anthony were letting their dark bay or brown Keeneland star graze outside her sale barn Sept. 13.

“It was late at night, and lo and behold, Mr. Leon and his wife showed up,” Parke said. “It was just so wonderful because Mr. Leon petted her and told me, ‘I want you to know that she will race, but then she will go back to my farm and be a broodmare. I will keep her forever.’

“Being a small breeder, I fall in love with my horses,” she added, “so, to me, it couldn’t get any better than that.”

Parke purchased the filly’s dam, Silk n’ Sapphire, for $40,000 from Greenfield Farm, agent, at the 2008 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. The winning Smart Strike mare, who was in foal to Pleasant Tap at the time, produced a filly the following year. Parke sold that offspring, named Colonial Flag, for $475,000 at the 2010 Keeneland September auction to Skara Glen Stables.

In a foal-sharing arrangement with Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley operation, which stands Bernardini in Kentucky, Parke sent Silk n’ Sapphire to the stallion and got the $1.2 million yearling.

“She just had it all,” said Parke of the half sister to 2010 Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. I) winner Shared Account (by Pleasantly Perfect). “She was so big and beautiful, and she was so classy.”

To make the sale even better, Parke sold a Bernardini colt for Oakbrook Farm for $625,000 Sept. 14.

The Valkyre owner previously had sold two other yearlings for seven-figure prices at public auction, both for clients. In 2000 a Robert Spiegel-bred Cozzene filly named Combermere commanded $1.1 million at Keeneland in September. Three years later a Giant’s Causeway colt, bred by Michael and Reiko Baum, brought $1.15 million at Keeneland in September. Named Noble Causeway, the colt became a winner and finished second in the 2005 Florida Derby (gr. I) for My MeadowView Farm.

Other horses foaled, raised, and/or sold by Parke and her Valkyre staff include Combermere’s half brother, 2002-03 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) winner Milwaukee Brew and 2004-05 Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) winner Riskaverse. Among the additional notable Valkyre graduates are 1995 Flower Bowl Invitational winner Northern Emerald, 2006 Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) winner Stormello, and 2010 Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) winner Haimish Hy. Another, Justin Phillip, captured this year’s Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. II).

“It’s the result of the farm and my staff, not me,” said Parke of Valkyre’s success. “My little farm is very hilly, and it has just raised runner after runner.”

Originally, when Parke moved from Ohio to the Bluegrass State, she was interested in hunter/jumper horses. She attended the University of Kentucky and earned a degree in animal science.

“It was pretty tough to make a living with the hunter/jumpers,” Parke said. “I worked on farms to pay my bills for my riding horse, and I got more and more involved with the Thoroughbred industry.”

According to Parke, the three jobs most important in shaping her career were stints with Henry White at Plum Lane Farm, Susan Proskauer and Victor Heerman at Buck Pond Farm, and working at Bloodstock Research.

Parke also entered the breeding business.

“I started with old mares that had a lot of pedigree,” she said. In 1978 Parke founded Valkyre, using the money she had made from selling a weanling for the down payment. She financed the construction of an office with the commission she received from selling Combermere.

Parke, 59, also plans to use the proceeds from the $1.2 million Bernardini filly for practical purposes.

“I’m not going to go crazy,” she said. “I’ll be very careful and buy another mare and make my farm payments. It’s nice to know it’s going to be OK for a while.”

In the days immediately following the sale of the seven-figure yearling, Parke enjoyed hearing from numerous people offering their congratulations. “It’s been overwhelming,” she said. “I’ve been so honored and humbled by the people who have called.”

Parke owns three mares on her own and four with partners. Because her breeding operation isn’t large, she said, the fact that it can produce a $1.2 million yearling gives other farm operators of modest means hope. “Something like this happens to the big farms a lot, and, thank God, they are successful because they’ve got to stand and support our top stallions,” Parke concluded. “But when it happens to one of the smaller guys, it’s a wonderful thing; it’s a real shot in the arm.”

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