Proven power prominent in record-breaking opening Harrisburg session

Full sisters to star trotting mares Atlanta and Manchego fetched $750,000 and $700,000, respectively, as the first session of the Standardbred Horse Sales Company auction set a record for average ($130,368) and grossed $17,730,000, the second most in history.

by Ray Cotolo

In the last 10 years of harness racing, the sport has seen debatably two of the greatest trotting mares to ever set foot on a racetrack. Spectators and participants then had the privilege to, in recent seasons, see Atlanta and Manchego spar on multiple occasions, putting forth several miles etched into the slates of racing records. Though their rivalry ended this year, their blood battled through the ring on Monday (Nov. 8) during the opening session of the Standardbred Horse Sales Company’s (SHSC) yearling sale in its return to Harrisburg, PA.

First of the two was In Italian, selling as Hip 69 of the 136-yearling session. The Concord Stud Farm-consigned filly, bred by Stefan Balazsi, is sired by New York stallion star Chapter Seven and out of the Cantab Hall mare Hemi Blue Chip, whose first foal became the multi-millionaire world-record holder and 2018 Hambletonian winner Atlanta (6, 1:49M; $3,058,601). And standing in the corridor from the sale’s arena to the Main Hall of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex, Brad Grant of Atlanta’s ownership – among many other prominent standardbreds – scored the winning and session-topping bid of $750,000 on his star mare’s full sister.

“Well, I know a little about Atlanta,” Grant said with a grin. “I think she’s the best and that’s what I came here to buy. Howard Taylor and I are partners on (In Italian), but we kind of put a number on her and luckily we didn’t have to get here. Not a drop-dead number in our minds of $800,000, but at $800,000 you’d kind of get the feel for how it’s going.

“She was the horse I specifically came down for.”

Grant confirmed that he and Taylor plan to have the yearling trained by Ron Burke, who became Atlanta’s regular trainer in 2019. Grant also said he and Taylor will discuss adding Michelle and Al Crawford of Crawford Farms to the ownership and bring the whole Atlanta band back together.

“Everything says that she should be as good as her sister,” Grant said. “If we have half as much fun as we did with Atlanta, we’re going to have a good time.

“Really, I thought I’d have to go at least $800,000. I’m glad I didn’t, but I think she’s the best in the sale and I think she’ll end up being the best price in the sale, although Manchego’s full sister is in here, too.”

Manchego (4, 1:49M; $3,144,627) and Atlanta came from the same crop; the foal class of 2016. As 3-year-olds, Manchego continued the Hambletonian Oaks domination of trainer Jimmy Takter and driver Yannick Gingras by winning the 2018 edition at The Meadowlands just one race before Atlanta became the first filly since Continentalvictory in 1993 to win the biggest race in the sport. That day, Manchego went the faster mile – a 1:50 coast-to-coast victory – while Atlanta, having finished second in the first heat of the Hambletonian, uncorked a 1:50.4 mile. Both fillies grew into mares who transcended the trotting speed barrier of the 21st century: the 1:50 mark.

Oddly enough, neither mare broke the glass ceiling for the speed threshold. It was their one-time rival Plunge Blue Chip who became the first trotting female to win in sub-1:50 when she beat Manchego in the 2018 Del Miller Memorial. Manchego, into her aged career, won three races where she beat the 1:50 mark while Atlanta just recently won her second sub-1:50 race when taking the $81,000 Allerage Filly & Mare Trot at Lexington. Manchego and Atlanta have faced off on 12 occasions since becoming aged competitors in 2019. In eight of those events, Atlanta came out on top. And in this unusual matchup just outside downtown Harrisburg, nearly a month after the announcement of Manchego’s retirement from racing, another point went to Atlanta, but the margin was fittingly tight.

Manchego’s full-sister sold at the tail end of Monday’s session as Hip 118 – a Hanover Shoe Farms-consigned filly named Swanky Hanover. She lured a $700,000 bid from Jeff Snyder, registering as the second-highest sale of the session.

“My wife said she liked it. She likes the filly and my son did also,” Snyder said before Paula Snyder added with a laugh, “I liked her… I didn’t like the price.”

“We hope we’ll get lucky,” Jeff said. “We’re concentrating on trotters this year and we sold a few pacers, so we can fund it a little bit. There’s some real good residual value there… that’s one reason that we went that high. There’s pedigree there. The only thing I was concerned about is that she’s a June 11th foal, so we’re going to have to take our time and wait on her. But, if all goes well, she’ll be a broodmare somewhere down the line and we’ll sell them here at the Harrisburg sale, like these crazy prices are going for.”

Snyder also confirmed that Swanky Hanover will go into training with Marcus Melander.

Record-breaking session

The sale’s opening session grossed $17,730,000 and set records for average ($130,368) and median price ($100,000). Only the 2019 opening session grossed more ($19,227,000) and it did so selling 32 more horses (136) than this year (168).

Compared to last year’s sale held in Timonium, MD due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the gross was up 38 per cent over the first-day total of $12,813,000 and the average was up 57 per cent from the 2020 opening average of $83,201.

Monday’s average was 14 per cent higher than the previous sale record for an opening session average set in 2019 ($114,446).

These numbers come off a strong Lexington Selected Yearling Sale which smashed records in every category.

Big bucks from Blais and others

When first asked about the price of Craft Made, a Walner half-brother to Fashionwoodchopper (2, 1:53M; $490,858), trainer Luc Blais only said, “Too much, too much.” Purchasing the colt for his owner Serge Godin (Determination), Blais nonetheless liked a lot about the colt, except the price.

“For the [Walners] I saw selling, it was the nicest one I saw,” Blais said. “Nice-looking horse, good page. He was perfect. I know we paid lots of money, but it’s tough to buy right now, this year.

“We connected with that horse, that’s for sure. When I saw him, I always liked him. I saw him lots of times and all the time it was, ‘Wow, wow.’

The final bid on Craft Made, consigned by Preferred Equine, was $610,000, marking him as the session’s third-highest sale. Two others in the first day broke the $500,000 mark. The next highest price came for Hip 58, Lord Bridgerton – a Muscle Hill colt consigned by Concord Stud Farm. From the Cantab Hall mare Fine Tuned Lady (3, 1:52.2M; $643,987), he left at the slam of the hammer to the tune of $530,000. Robert Lindstrom purchased the colt as agent for “owners from Sweden.”

“I don’t know exactly how the group is going to be finalized,” Lindstrom said, “so I don’t want to say anything for the moment – someone could be left out.

“He was a big horse and he grew with every visit. Such nice conformation and he moved so easily. I was looking at him at the farm… they let him out and everything and he was super, a super nice horse. It’s a top family, impressive in the bottom – Credit Winner family, but so good on so many branches of the family.”

Lindstrom also confirmed that, although the ownership is from Sweden, that they plan to race the colt in North America. “We take them over when they agree to be a stallion,” he said with a laugh. He also later confirmed that the colt will go into training with Marcus Melander.

Andy and Julie Miller had the last half-million-dollar acquisition, though it came in as the first. With the second horse of the day going into the ring, Team Orange Crush won the auction for $500,000. The filly they purchased is named Defacement, also consigned by Concord Stud Farm and by Muscle Hill out of the Windsong’s Legacy mare Thatsnotmyname (2, 1:55M; $340,730). She is a full-sister to Fifty Cent Piece, who recently won in the Swedish Breeders Crown. Coincidentally, Fifty Cent Piece and Future Secured, a Thatsnotmyname foal by Cantab Hall, both drew $500,000 when they went through the ring at Harrisburg. Breeder Order By Stable retained Future Secured’s full-sister Basquiat while Take This Society sold for $475,000 in 2019.

“Well, I’m pretty fortunate,” said Julie Miller, whose husband Andy Miller made sure to deservingly point all the credit to her in picking out this filly. “Andy and I went out to Concord Farms because we liked the horse. We liked the turn out, the floor presentation. The page was amazing, so we were pretty fortunate that the ownership group of Katz, Brixton Medical and Hatfield decided to go together and buy her today and we’re honored to get to train her.

Though they purchased the filly early in the afternoon, Andy and Julie stood to their usual perch against the fence in the West Hall and watched several of the higher-priced horses go through the ring.

“That was a bargain, I guess, in today’s market. Now [Katz et al.] can pay their training bills and staking bills, I guess,” Julie said with a laugh. “We loved the filly and we were tickled pink with her. She check off all the boxes so we’re happy to have her in our barn. Size, her proportion, her substance… just looked like the kind of animal that you can’t wait to get your hands on to train.”

Concord comes out on top

Robin and David Meirs III’s Concord Stud Farm led all consignors of the opening session, selling 25 yearlings for the leading average of $197,120. And, of the five that broke the half-million mark, three came from Concord including the sale’s topper. Blue Chip Farms checked in second with an average, from four horses, of $189,250 followed by Hanover Shoe Farms selling 48 for an average of $135,354 and Allamerican Harnessbreds with eight selling at an average of $126,125.

“After watching Lexington and seeing those numbers we sort of expected that we would have some good numbers here,” Robin Meirs said. “We didn’t know what those numbers were going to be, but we were hoping they were going to be high. We’re just so proud of everyone that is here. Most of the horses are born and raised on our farm and a lot of them are for our owners as well, so it’s great to be able to do such a great job for them, for all of our clients.

Asked about whether the first foal from Fine Tuned Lady would attract such a high price when compared to the pedigree on their full sister to Atlanta, Robin said, “I was not anticipating $530,000. We were hoping to hit a home run with him being a first foal. We purchased the mare and then bred her to Muscle Hill right away. We were really hoping that was going to be a home run for us and it was. That was a good home run for us.”

Even though the first day for Concord was strong, Robin said she and her consignment are excited for several other yearlings set to go through the marathon sale of the next two days with just about 300 yearlings to sell today (Nov. 9).

“We’ve got some great horses (Tuesday). There’s a ton of interest in the #165 (Known Agenda), the Resolve out of True Friends. At #178 (A Good Chardonnay), we’ve got a Walner filly. The Walners have been selling amazingly, so who knows where we’re going to go there.”

Concord yearlings were not the only ones bringing high bids. Through the whole session, a total of 69 yearlings brought a six-digit figure to the credit line – accounting for just over 50 per cent of all the horses sold on the day.

“People want to buy horses,” Robin said. “That’s very clear. I thought we had a good crowd today. People were here and they were getting their hands up. You weren’t really getting away with… if there was something nice, you were going to pay for it.”

People want to buy horses

“It was incredible,” said Dale Welk, who is in his first year as president of the Standardbred Sales Company, of the opening session. “Far exceeded [expectations]… not far, but it exceeded more than what I thought it would. I’m very happy with what everything brought. We had a few that didn’t bring what we thought, but we had others that just far exceeded. I’ve got to thank the buyers, the bidders, the consignors, the owners that sell horses with us… it was an incredible day for my first time in this seat.

“[It’s a] very healthy market,” Welk said. “I think some of it, too… last year people were kind of reined in and they couldn’t be here. When you have the people here, it makes a big difference. Big difference.

“I think the border opening helped some. I did a couple hundred letters for our Canadian friends. Some of them had to use them and some of them didn’t when they went across. There was a lot more online bidding last year and I think part of it was because of that, but I can’t be happier with the way the day was and I think it’s going to carry on. I really do.”

Online bidding became a staple of the yearling auctions with the onset of the COVID-19 in 2020. But nearing the third year of the pandemic, many buyers made their way back to bid in person while the sale offered online bidding merely as an option.

“I listened to the auctioneers closely when someone was bidding online and I think it was okay, but it wasn’t near what it was last year,” Welk said. “It was, you know… I don’t know yet how many bought online – there was some, but nothing like last year when we sold 130 online. Or 115. I’m not sure how many were bought online, but there was some bidding, and pretty aggressive bidding, on the big horses especially.

“It’s good to be so-called ‘home.’ This would’ve been our 83rd sale here, but we missed last year, so it’s 82 years here and it’s just like being at home. You’re under a roof. As you know, last year the tent went down. Jim (Ladwig) from Winbak came up and said, ‘The roof is still standing.’ We got through that, but there’s nothing like being here and nothing like having a day like today.”