Songbird sale at Fasig-Tipton could enter the record books
Martin Stevens looks at the potential value of the brilliant filly
The retirement of Songbird from racing means we will never again see the extraordinary cruising speed and supreme natural ability she exhibited in her nine Grade 1 victories – all gained by at least a length, and most often by huge margins – on the track.
But she has one last public engagement that will surely cause sparks to fly as much as they did when she crushed her rivals in her racing career: her appointment with the auctioneer at the Fasig-Tipton November Breeding-Stock Sale later this year.
Thoughts naturally now turn to how much Songbird might make on the open market: can she once again lead the field when it comes to historical prices given publicly for broodmares or breeding prospects?
It would have to be considered unlikely that she could top the record sum of $14 million that Better Than Honour made when she was offered at Fasig-Tipton to dissolve a partnership in 2008, after her consecutive foals Jazil and Rags To Riches had both won the Belmont Stakes and the next, Casino Drive, had taken the Peter Pan Stakes.
That price will be so difficult to beat because the transaction was something of a mirage. The winning bid came from Mike Moreno, of Southern Equine Stables, who was buying out 30 per cent of the mare he did not already own from his partner, John Sikura. The pair were reported to be the only bidders on the daughter of Deputy Minister.
Next in the list of biggest prices paid for a broodmare or breeding prospect, and one generated by a more clear-cut case of a horse changing hands, comes Playful Act – bought on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed for $10.5m at Keeneland in 2007.
There was a conjunction of rather special circumstances that led to that event, though: a dispersal of a once-in-a-generation significance, that of the late Robert Sangster's stock; a mare who was a Group 1 winner and a sibling to Group 2 scorers Echoes In Eternity and Percussionist (and since then, two more top-level winners in Nathaniel and Great Heavens); and a bull market in which prices for the best stock soared as Sheikh Mohammed went on a spending spree to strengthen his Darley breeding operation.
Perhaps, then, the third biggest price for a broodmare or breeding prospect fetched at auction – the $10m paid by Mandy Pope's Whisper Hill Farm for Havre De Grace at Fasig-Tipton in 2012 – is a more useful gauge to measure what Songbird might make.
Havre De Grace, also campaigned by Fox Hill Farms and put on the market at the end of her racing career, won 'only' a third of the number of top-level events that Songbird did. But, crucially, she did own a cherished Horse of the Year title for 2011 after beating the boys in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes – Songbird has been retired never having taken on colts – and storming to an eight and a half-length win over another brilliant racemare in Royal Delta (and another big-money buy at $8.5m) in the Beldame Stakes.
Racing Post Ratings have it that Havre De Grace is just one pound better than Songbird with a mark of 125 versus 124.
Ashado also makes for an interesting comparison with Songbird. She was another prolific Grade 1 winner, against her own sex on all seven of those occasions, and posted a peak RPR of 123 – one pound below Songbird.
That said, Ashado's tally included two key races that eluded the later filly – the Kentucky Oaks (which Songbird missed due to a fever) and the Breeders' Cup Distaff (in which Songbird was beaten a nose by Beholder in a race for the ages).
Ashado was, like Playful Act, bought by Sheikh Mohammed for $9m at Keeneland in 2005.
Comparing racehorses throughout the ages is a dangerous business and, regardless of her number of Grade 1 wins and Racing Post Ratings , it is impossible to fathom the value that the world's wealthiest broodmare owners will place on Songbird.
Any breeder in North America would want her in their stables, that much is certain. Japanese buyers' fondness for a top-class US filly is also well-known. But will the big European-based breeding powerhouses make a play?
Songbird raced solely on dirt, and most members of her distaff pedigree have performed on the surface, but she is by Medaglia D'Oro, a rare sire who supplies stars on dirt and turf and a son of the Irish champion two-year-old El Prado, who in turn was by Sadler's Wells. So she should hold true international appeal.
Speaking of Medaglia D'Oro, it might perhaps enhance Songbird's allure that another fan favourite by the sire, Rachel Alexandra, came up with Rachel's Valentina – winner of the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes and second to Songbird in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies – from only two foals produced.
So exactly what price Songbird will command at auction in November is anyone's guess. Seven figures are certain, and it would only take two deep-pocketed buyers determined to have her to push bidding into the elusive eight-figure territory.
As with all the great fillies and mares down the ages, Songbird will enthral and entertain even after her retirement from racing and as she enters the second phase of her career.
SPACE FOR SONGBIRD? THE SIX MOST EXPENSIVE MARES SOLD IN THE US
Better Than Honour
Price, sale: $14 million, Fasig-Tipton 2008
Buyer: Southern Equine Stables
$10.5m, Keeneland 2007
Havre De Grace
$10m, Fasig-Tipton 2012
Whisper Hill Farm
$9m, Keeneland 2005
$8.5m, Keeneland 2011
$7.1m, Keeneland 2003
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