Thoroughbred racing isn’t called the Sport of Kings for nothing. Horses at the top of the market can cost so much that you almost need to be a king, a prince, or a sheikh to afford them.
Some of the large investments pay off, but many don’t. But what are the most expensive Thoroughbred horses of all time?
Answering the question historically while taking inflation into account is not easy. But in strict dollar terms, here are the most expensive horses.
Most expensive filly foal at auction: ¥600 million ($5,217,319) – Daoine Sith (2006)
Fillies yet to reach a year old have sold up to $3 million in North America, but none have topped the 600 million yen (about $5.2 million) paid in 2006 at the Japan Racing Horse Association foal sale in Hokkaido. That was for Daoine Sith, a filly by top stallion King Kamehameha out of To The Victory, a Sunday Silence mare who won at the top level in Japan and then finished second to Captain Steve in the 2001 Dubai World Cup (G1). Sadly, Daoine Sith was unraced and has not had much success at stud.
Most expensive colt foal at auction: ¥580 million ($5,087,720) – Admire Virgo (2017)
The Japan Racing Horse Association sale remains the strongest in the world for select foals, as illustrated in 2017, when the most expensive colt under a year old to sell at auction went through the ring. That was for a colt by champion sire Deep Impact out of the Irish-bred mare Elusive Wave, the 2009 Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (G1) winner. Named Admire Virgo, the colt has won four times from 12 starts, the wins including two ungraded stakes races in 2020.
Most expensive yearling colt at auction: $13.1 million – Seattle Dancer (1985)
Today’s yearling colt market still hasn’t reached the crazed years of the early 1980s. The most extreme of them came over this horse — a Nijinsky half-brother to 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew — at the Keeneland July yearling sale. It was the Robert Sangster-Coolmore Stud combo that came out on top over a syndicate organized by leading US trainer D. Wayne Lukas at the Keeneland for $13.1 million — more than $33 million in 2022 money.
On the track, Seattle Dancer didn’t do as badly as some expensive buys. From five starts, he won twice — the Gallinule (G3) and the Derrinstown Derby Trial (G2), both in Ireland, and he later finished second in the Grand Prix de Paris (G1). At stud, I have sired 37 stakes winners, including the Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Pike Place Dancer.
Most expensive yearling filly at auction: 5 million guineas ($8.44 million) – Al Naamah (2013)
Auction markets have never been quite the same for yearling fillies as they are for colts, but their potential both on the racetrack and as broodmares means they can still be in serious demand.
The record for a yearling filly was set at the Tattersalls October yearling sale in England in 2013, when a filly by champion Irish sire Galileo out of Alluring Park, a half-sister to Epsom Derby winner New Approach, sold for 5 million guineas ($8,443,575 ). A full sister to 2012 Epsom Oaks (G1) winner Was and the stakes winner Janood, the filly was bought by Qatar Sheikh Joaan al Thani’s Al Shaqab Racing, which beat out Coolmore to land the filly.
Named Al Naamah, she wasn’t without ability, winning a maiden and notching two placings in Group 3 company and another in a Listed race, but she wasn’t good enough to win back anything like her purchase price. Two of her younger brothers of her have however added to her of her value of her: 2020 Epsom Derby (G1) third-place finisher Amhran Na Bhfiann and 2017 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (G3) winner Douglas Macarthur. Al Naamah is in her early years as a broodmare.
Most expensive two-year-old colt at auction: $16 million – The Green Monkey (2006)
When he went up for sale at the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Florida sale of select two-year-olds in training, a Forestry-Magical Masquerade colt had already gained followers when running a furlong in 9.8 seconds prior to the auction. Few could have expected the extent of the bidding war between the Coolmore team and Sheikh Mohammed, however. It didn’t stop until Coolmore’s Demi O’Byrne successfully won the auction at $16 million, making the colt the most expensive horse ever sold at auction.
It also made him the world’s most successful “pinhook” — a horse bought at an auction and then prepared for re-sale at another auction. The colt had been bought the previous year by Dean De Renzo and Randy Hartley for $425,000 — usually a difficult price for pinhookers to make a profit from at re-sale, but in this case the profit was a stunning $15,575,000.
Named The Green Monkey, the colt was sent to leading trainer Todd Pletcher. But in three starts he never finished closer than third. Sent back to De Renzo and Hartley to stand at stud in Florida, The Green Monkey achieved little as a stallion before succumbing to laminitis 12 years after his record-breaking sale.
Most expensive two-year-old filly at auction: $5.7 million – Stardom Bound (2008)
Unlike The Green Monkey, who hadn’t been raced when he was bought, Stardom Bound was already proven on the racecourse when she was sold for $5.7 million at the Fasig-Tipton November Breeding Stock sale in 2008.
From the first crop of champion sire Tapit out of the Tarr Road mare My White Corvette, the filly was bought for $375,000 at the 2008 OBS March sale of two-year-olds by trainer Chris Paasch on behalf of owner Charles Cono. It proved to be a bargain as Stardom Bound later that year won the Del Mar Debutante (G1), the Oak Leaf S. (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), securing the Eclipse Award for champion two-year- old filly.
Having earned $1.42 million at this point, Cono put the filly up for auction, and after a spirited duel, Michael Iavarone and Richard Schiavo of IEAH Partners beat Frank Stronach with their $5.7 million bid. IEAH would have been happy at Stardom Bound’s immediate progress as she won the Las Virgenes (G1) and the Santa Anita Oaks (G1), taking her winning streak to five. Unfortunately, she failed to win in five further starts.
Sold in foal for an undisclosed sum to Japan’s Northern Farm, Stardom Bound produced at least three winners in Japan, none at stakes level.
Most expensive broodmare prospect at auction: $10 million – Havre de Grace (2012)
Horse of the year in 2011, champion mare Havre de Grace was consigned for auction at the end of her racing career in late 2012 by her owner, Rick Porter, of Fox Hill Farm, at the Fasig-Tipton Mixed Bloodstock sale in November 2012.
Porter, who bought Havre de Grace for $380,000 as a yearling and then saw his mare earn $2.59 million on the track, had every reason to be pleased with the result. After seven minutes of bidding, Havre de Grace was sold for $10 million to Mandy Pope of Whisper Hill Farm.
So far, Havre de Grace’s foals have been good, if not outstanding as yet. Of her six foals of her aged three or older, five have raced and all have won. The most successful, the mare Graceful Princess, is a Grade 3 winner, though the three-year-old colt Saint Tapit may outshine them all. He has raced just twice and won both times, the latest a Saratoga allowance on Aug. 6.
Most expensive broodmare at auction: $14 million – Better Than Honor (2008)
Unlike Havre de Grace, Better Than Honor was a known commodity as a broodmare when she was offered at the 2008 Fasig-Tipton Mixed Bloodstock sale. A 1996 daughter of Deputy Minister and the Kentucky Oaks winner Blush With Pride, Better Than Honor was a $750,000 yearling who was a Grade 2 winner and Grade 1 placed on the track.
At stud, she provided herself an outstanding broodmare. She had produced consecutive winners of the Belmont (G1) — Jazil (2006) and the filly Rags to Riches (2007) — along with the Grade 3 winner Casino Drive when she was put up for sale in 2008 as part of a dispersal sale of horses jointly owned by Michael Moreno’s Southern Equine Stables and John Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms.
It was Moreno, who already owned 70 percent of Better Than Honour, who made the winning bid of $14 million to buy the mare outright. It made her the second most expensive horse ever sold at auction behind The Green Monkey.
Though the black type winners have dried up somewhat for Better Than Honor since that sale, the prices of her progeny at auction have remained high, ranging from $600,000 to $2.2 million.
Most expensive stallion: $75 million (est.) – Justify (2018)
Justify was a valuable horse before he hit the racetrack, costing a cool $500,000 to Maverick Racing and China Horse Club at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. But he quickly became much more valuable once he started racing.
According to reports by ESPN and The New York Times, Justify’s stallion rights were sold soon after he won the Kentucky Derby — his fourth win from four starts — to Irish-based stud giant Coolmore for $60 million. The reports, which were neither confirmed nor denied, said that if Justify went on to win the Triple Crown, an extra $15 million would be added to the purchase price.
Sure enough, the son of Scat Daddy went on to add the Preakness S. and the Belmont S., ensuring his purchase price would be $75 million, breaking the previous record of $70 million held by 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus.
Injury meant Justify never raced again, but he still has reasonable prospects of making his purchase worthwhile. After serving four books of mares in Kentucky at an average fee of $125,000 and three in Australia at an average fee of about A$66,000, he may have gone close to paying off his purchase price in service fees alone, and that doesn’t take into account sale-ring figures. If his progeny of him prove they can run — and his first crop of two-year-olds have begun well in 2022 — he could prove a huge earner for many years to come.