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Payson 'Pays' Big for Leigh Family Bloodlines


With just four broodmares in her band and one-horse in training, Virginia Kraft Payson, who bred champions Vindication (Seattle Slew) and Farda Amiga (Broad Brush) and raced the likes of homebred GISW Rutherienne (Pulpit), has been keeping a low profile in the racing world these days. The former Sports Illustrated writer jumped back into the horse racing spotlight in a big way at Monday’s session of the Keeneland January sale when buying three horses from the Sarah Jane Leigh dispersal for a total of $1.7 million, including $700,000 session-topper Summer Solo (Arch).

“I raced against Gerald Leigh, Sarah’s father, for years and I really wanted to have one of his families,” remarked Payson, who admitted to being a nervous wreck while bidding. “I haven’t bid on a horse myself in years, probably 30 years. I have always had a friend of mine bid on the horse, but I didn’t have anyone today and I kept going.”

Seated in the back of the pavilion, Payson started her buying spree with a determined winning bid of $450,000 to secure hip 230 , an Arch filly out of Seeking Atlantis (Seeking the Gold). Leigh purchased the 10-year-old mare, who is out of MSW Atlantic Ocean (Stormy Atlantic), for $375,000 at the 2011 Keeneland November sale in hopes of developing her own family. Preceding her filly into the ring as hip 229, the dark bay, who sold in foal to Ghostzapper, brought $300,000 from Castleton Lyons.

“She will go to Stone Farm, to Arthur Hancock’s, till she grows up,” Payson said of the Arch yearling. “I hope she grows up to be worth the price!”

The owner of Payson Park Training Center in Florida and Payson Park Stud in Kentucky added, “I knew the family and that is what I liked about her. I have four broodmares, but they are all the same bloodlines and I needed some diversification.”

Craig Bandoroff, whose Denali Stud consigned the six-head Leigh dispersal, was happy with the amount the filly brought. “I knew the filly was going to sell well,” Bandoroff commented. “It was a very strong price. It’s a testament to Sarah Jane and [her advisor] Dan [Rosenberg]. They bought Seeking Atlantis from the Evans dispersal. She said, ‘This is one I can build on and have as a foundation mare.’ Unfortunately, she wasn’t here to carry it through. It was a very good price. I was a little worried Seeking Atlantis was going to slip through there, you know, with the cover date, but she picked back up. It was good.”

Payson was quick to return to her seat after speaking with the media about her new yearling because she had her eye on another Leigh horse, Summer Solo. Engaged in another round of feverish bidding, the determined horsewoman would not be denied, extending to $700,000 for the session-topping hip 259, who is in foal to Ghostzapper.

Before she could even sign the ticket on the 5-year-old mare, Payson engaged in another heated bidding war for the bay’s 2-year-old half-sister Summer Sweet (More Than Ready). Bid spotter Pete McCormick marched up and down the aisle fueling the spirited back and forth between Payson and bloodstock agent Ted Voute, who was seated about 10 rows ahead of his rival bidder. Voute graciously bowed out when the persistent Payson brought the price up to $550,000 to take home hip 260.

After congratulating Payson on his way out of the pavillion, Voute said, “She’s a beautiful filly. If we had bought her, we would have sent her to Andre Fabre in France, but we didn’t so we will follow her over here. Mrs. Payson, I used to sell for her over in England, so I am delighted she got her.”

Payson was equally delighted with her purchase. She was all smiles when gathering with the media in the hallway to discuss her plans for her new additions.

“I have the family,” she proclaimed victoriously. “The front legs on [Summer Solo] were thick and short, short cannon bones. They were absolutely beautiful. I wrote buy in the catalog when I looked at the short yearling [Hip 230]. I was sort of iffy about the More Then Ready [Summer Sweet] because he is not very tall and my broodmare band is all short, but they have won a lot. I don’t mind small, but when you are trying to sell out of small, the buyers don’t like them. They like big, but I prefer the small ones.”

Payson added that she did not expect to pay quite so much, but that she has a “terrible habit” of not being able to stop when bidding on a horse she wants.

Summer Solo is out of one of Gerald Leigh’s foundation mares Summer Solstice (Ire) (Caerleon), a French stakes winner who was recently retired from breeding. Winner of three of four starts and third in the 2014 GI Belmont Oaks for trainer Christophe Clement, she is a half-sister to SW Summer Breezing (Langfuhr) and SW and GSP Adirondack Summer (Thunder Gulch). Clement also trains her 3-year-old half-brother Summer Candy (Candy Ride {Arg}), who broke his maiden at Belmont in October.

Summer Sweet, the final foal out of Summer Solstice, was previously in training with Randy Bradshaw and will now head to the Clement barn.

“The 2-year-old is going to Christophe Clement immediately,” Payson remarked. “The short yearling is already on her way to Stone Farm and the mare will also go to Stone Farm. I am not keeping any mares [at Payson Stud] anymore because I only have four mares and now I have five. It doesn’t make sense to run a whole farm for that few plus I think Arthur [Hancock] does a better job than I was doing. (chuckles)”

Sarah Whitney, executive administrator at Gerald Leigh’s Eydon Hall Farm (click here for story on Eydon Hall Farm) for over 30 years, flew to Kentucky earlier this week to oversee the dispersal on behalf of the executors of Sarah Jane Leigh’s estate. Beyond thrilled with the results of the sale, the English native was first in line to congratulate Payson on her purchases and offer her any assistance she could.

“It’s unbelievable, a perfect result,” Whitney enthused. “Sarah and Mr. Leigh were looking down on us. It couldn’t have gone any better. We are thrilled. The legacy will continue. The involvement with Christophe Clement, who has been an integral part of our training operation for a number of years, is also something to really look forward to. It’s a dream, just a dream.