Chris Brothers checks in with one of his favorites, Union Rags, at Lane's End Farm. Photos courtesy of Fashion at the Races.
For the first time since 2008, a mare reached the magical eight-figures plateau in 2012 at public auction in the United States.
Havre de Grace, the mare sold for eight figures, has a spectacular race record and soon she will start her new career as a broodmare next to another star, Plum Pretty. It is a blessing to have both of these female all stars remaining in the U.S., and we owe that in part to Chris Brothers, president of Xavier International Bloodstock.
A native New Yorker, Chris grew up close to Aqueduct and Belmont Park. He frequented these tracks on the weekend with his father, and during the summer he would sometimes head to Saratoga Race Course. As his horse racing passion developed, Chris moved to the heart of horse country in Lexington, Ky. After working at Hidden Brook Farm and gaining experience in all facets of the farm, he took the leap and started Xavier International Bloodstock.
Amazingly, in his first year Chris experienced a feeling many horseman never get the chance to feel, he got to watch one of his horses compete in the 2012 Kentucky Derby (G1). Although Union Rags didn't have a great trip in the “Run for the Roses”, he came back to secure a victory in a Triple Crown race in the Belmont Stakes (G1).
“I’m big on first impressions with horses and when I saw Union Rags, he really stood out. He wasn't perfect up front as far as conformation goes in his knees, but he had a very big walk and great size to him. It was one of my proudest professional moments watching him win the Belmont Stakes last year."
Last year proved both a successful and an exciting time for Chris and Xavier International Bloodstock. Chris was an integral part in the purchase of two of the best female racehorses to hit the auction block. Plum Pretty, the 2011 Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner, walked across the stage at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale and Chris signed the winning ticket on a final bid of $4.2 million.
“We ball-parked her between $3-4 million. She was definitely hyped up as there was heavy promotion, and people knew her number was coming up in the ring. We were keen on her from the beginning when we heard she was entered in the sale. Both the Apple Blossom [Stakes (G1)] and Oaks wins were impressive. Physically, she was a big, strong mare, which is what we look for in broodmares."
You'd think that would be enough to headline this story, but think again. A day earlier, Chris was involved in the mind-blowing $10 million purchase of 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace.
"She, in our opinion, is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of horse. Not every day is a Horse of the Year a female, and, more importantly, rarely do they come to the auction ring. She is one of those special kind of horses where you look at her race record first and it’s hard for the physical [evaluation] to overwhelm such an impressive race record. But the first time I saw her, she literally took my breath away. She was a big, strong, beautiful horse but had such a presence and class about her — very impressive and quite amazing. We were seated in the ring five to six hips before because we knew the possibility of how crowded the place could get, we also wanted to make sure we had a good seat for the bid-spotter to see us."
It was a good thing, too, that Chris and his group got seated early as it was indeed a packed house before the Havre de Grace entered the ring. The lights dimmed and the she was introduced with her race record and a video to give her the credit due a Horse of the Year. The auctioneer informed the audience to hold the applause until after the horse left the ring.
When she entered, they initially asked for $5 million with no response, so the asking price decreased to $500,000 and from there it quickly grew to the $5 million mark.
“We first put our hand up around the $4 million mark, at that point five or six were bidding, then $7.1 [million] is where it paused with our bid. From then two bidders got back in, increasing the price in $100,000 increments until it got to $9.8 [million], at which we put our hand up for the $10 million mark. I kind of had a feeling when that 10 came up it would rattle some people as the double digits is a visually intimidating mark. After our hand went up, bidding stopped, and I was wishing they would drop the hammer.”
The hammer did fall, and you could hear whispers in the crowd before the great mare was led out of the ring to rousing applause.
“When it dropped, all eyes were on us. After it ended was when my nerves and the excitement set in, because that's when I realized what we just did. The bid spotter came up and said ‘Thank you’ and shook hands with [buyer] Mandy [Pope] and myself.”
These two may have expected the press to swarm but what they didn't expect was the positive response from other horsemen.
“One thing we discussed beforehand was we were getting really tired of our great racemares leaving the country for currency that may be better than our dollar at the moment. The biggest thank you we received from people was keeping her in the states and some said, ‘Thank you for standing up to foreign money.’ ”
Both mares are now happily settled in at Timber Town Stables in Lexington, and as they are settling in together in a lush paddock, they have become fast friends.
HAVRE DE GRACE AND PLUM PRETTY
“Obviously, we want to breed them to the best, but we are more focused on what will lead to their success as a broodmare and will produce the best racehorse.”
Owner Pope has recently decided on the glamour couples pairings, with Havre De Grace to be bred to Tapit and Plum Pretty to Distorted Humor.
When asked what a bloodstock agent’s role is in gaining new interest from the public, Chris gave a very modest response.
“Being a part of the purchasing of two great mares for a total of $14.2 million is nice but isn't a regularity for us. We have had success at all levels from small prices to big. The key to the future of the Thoroughbred industry is attracting new fans as well as their participation. It's nice to see the mares sell for $10 million, but the lower-end horses that are bought and sold, and raced, is what keeps this business alive. We are very much involved at this level and love to create that love and interest in the industry, which is so necessary.”
Xavier International Bloodstock also is working on creating a racing partnership, which anyone can become involved with and feel the love of the sport first-hand. One of his latest purchases already has made a name for himself. Merit Man finished second by a nose in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Sprint, and he has won three of four starts and earned $292,000 in prize money, not bad for a $75,000 purchase.