Songbird bought for big price, but with no guarantees

By Ron Flatter  ( 

November 17, 2017 10:24 AM
Songbird in the Lexington auction ring, where she was sold for $9.5 million at the Fasig-Tipton November Sale.
© Photo courtesy of Fasig-Tipton TV

LAS VEGAS — If a work of art that may or may not have been painted by Leonardo Da Vinci can go for $450 million, why are we getting breathless over a racehorse that sold for $9.5 million?


Call it the shiny-object theory. The same reason we gravitated to the news about Salvator Mundi (the painting) was the same reason we were drawn to the story of Songbird (the filly that won nine Grade 1 races, of course).


So does that mean we should automatically be drawn like magnets to every foal that she eventually produces? Should the $9.5 million that Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm spent last week at the Fasig-Tipton sale for Songbird make that first baby a must-bet in a maiden race in 2021?


“I think there are the genetics there to go on and make a good mama,” Pope told reporters at the sale. “Fingers crossed. Lots of prayers are needed.”


It sounds like Pope is keenly aware that her $9.5 million bought no guarantees – for herself or for horseplayers. One man who analyzes thoroughbreds says it may be best to completely ignore the value of a stallion or a broodmare.


“I think it can lead you down the wrong path to the betting window,” said Bruno De Julio, who operates the racing database Bruno With the Works when he is not buying horses for considerably less than $9.5 million. “The auction prices are only relevant to the seller and the buyer.”


Even Coolmore’s world-conquering scheme to pair the studly European stallion Galileo with its new $8 million mare Tepin is by no means certain of producing a champion. The same goes for the Curlin foal that Tepin will soon deliver to her new Irish owners.


Ponder this. There has been only one million-dollar horse to win the Kentucky Derby – Fusaichi Pegasus 17 years ago (actually $4 million). The most notorious, big-money flop might have been Dunkirk. A well-bred colt by Unbridled’s Song out of an A.P. Indy mare, he cost Coolmore $3.7 million. Heavily hyped coming into the 2006 Kentucky Derby, he stumbled out of the gate and finished 11th.


The following month Dunkirk finished a game second in the Belmont Stakes despite a broken cannon bone. But after only five races he was retired, making back less than 10 cents on the dollar for Coolmore. Dunkirk has since been shuffled off to a modestly successful stud career in Kentucky, South America and Japan.


Conversely, there is as much danger in disrespecting sires, dams and foals that come with low purchase prices. That does not necessarily mean they are cheap. De Julio owns Ms Locust Point, a 3-year-old Dialed In filly for which he paid $17,000 in early 2015. Late that year he tried to sell her, but nobody wanted her at auction, so he bought her back for $27,000. It would be another year before what looked like a forgettable horse – especially in past performances – would prove her worth.


“We sent her to (trainer) John Servis,” De Julio said. “She ran second in October (2016), she broke her maiden, then we ran her at Laurel in a ($100,000) stakes race. She aired (won by 4¼ lengths), and I got calls for three straight days wanting to buy her. We ended up selling a percentage of her based on $700,000. Now that $17,000, $27,000 means nothing.”


Ms Locust Point won again last weekend at Parx in an optional claiming race that brought her career earnings close to $140,000.


One common theme through all these examples is to take heed when looking at the sale price at the top of each horse’s past performance, and weigh it against another important dollar figure – the stud fee at breeding. Without that second figure, the worth of the horse may appear inflated in that line at the top of her PPs.


“Let’s say you have a stallion that has a fee around $300,000,” De Julio said. “What if his horse gets $250,000 at the sale? He’s under the stud price. You have to judge by what that stallion goes for. The purchase price is going to give you a pre-conceived notion. Doing a little homework helps, and so does being a little skeptical.”


Most of the horses sold the past two weeks at the Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland sales have gone for five figures, not seven. The average Keeneland price of $91,316 through Thursday was down 6.4 percent from the same time last year. The $40,000 median price was unchanged from 2017. De Julio all but said these numbers are overrated for handicappers.


“The value of the horse is what they’re going to do on the track, not what they paid at auction,” De Julio said.


Just to toy with the numbers a bit more, try this on for size. Through the first 10 days of the Keeneland sale, 2,197 horses were sold to new owners for $200,620,600, down 5.2 percent from the first 10 days in 2016. At this rate nearly 5,000 racehorses would be worth the same as a single Da Vinci – give or take a Tuscan notary’s stud fee.


Bolt still favorite; McKinzie shortens for Derby


While Bolt d’Oro (15-1) remains the favorite, McKinzie (30-1) shortened in futures betting at the Wynn Las Vegas for next year’s Kentucky Derby.


The 2-year-old colt sired by 2007 Derby winner Street Sense won his debut last month for trainer Bob Baffert in a seven-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita. McKinzie is expected to start next on Dec. 9 in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity. That will be at the track that was run by his namesake Brad McKinzie, who died three months ago of kidney cancer.


After Bolt d’Oro, Derby odds for the next three betting choices – Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic (18-1), Montauk (22-1) and Solomini (30-1) – remained the same Thursday as they were in Wynn’s last odds report last week.


Racing notes: Queally rides at Golden Gate


Irish native Tom Queally, 33, who rode two-time world champion Frankel in all 14 wins of an undefeated career, moved his tack to California. Saying he has long wanted to try American racing, Queally began riding Thursday at Golden Gate Fields, finishing next-to-last in his two races on the all-weather Tapeta track near San Francisco. Queally told the San Francisco Chronicle that the Bay Area “can be my home for the next two or three years if I get the results I want.” Queally rode Frankel to nine consecutive Group 1 wins in 2011 and 2012. By contrast Golden Gate Fields offers only five graded stakes in a given year.


Enable, the 3-year-old filly that beat the boys in the King George and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, was announced Tuesday as the Cartier Horse of the Year, an honor that goes to Europe’s top thoroughbred. Trained by John Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori, Enable won five straight Group 1 races, including the Epsom Oaks and Irish Oaks. Presented in London, the Cartier was based 30 percent on a points system from big races, 35 percent on a survey of racing journalists and 35 percent on a vote by the public.


Inducted four years ago into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Lure died Wednesday at age 28. Bred by Claiborne Farm in Kentucky and trained by Shug McGaughey, the horse sired by Danzig began his career on the dirt before McGaughey moved him to the turf in 1992. Lure would win the Breeders’ Cup both that year and the next with Mike Smith riding. With earnings of $2,515,289, Lure was named by the Blood-Horse the 85th best U.S. racehorse of the 20th century.


Not only are tickets available to wager on the Kentucky Derby, but so are tickets to get into Churchill Downs next May 5. General-admission and reserved tickets go on sale at noon EST Friday through Ticketmaster accounts at General-admission tickets bought before Jan. 1 cost $60 and go up to $80 after that. Tickets for the Kentucky Oaks on May 4 start at $40 and go up to $60 onJan. 1. Two-day ticket packages cost as much as $2,750.


Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every Friday morning at You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod every Friday morning at This week it features legendary Del Mar race caller Trevor Denman and racing database creator Bruno De Julio, who expands on his advice for bettors looking for angles coming out of the thoroughbred sales this month in Kentucky. Please subscribe and offer a review at iTunes.

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