The United States sales market dwindles to a steady halt following the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. So when John Sykes of Woodford Thoroughbreds told Will Walden of his desire to build his stable of "Saturday afternoon-type" horses, the young trainer suggested a trip overseas to Tattersalls could provide the owner just the stock he was looking for.
"We had won a race for (Sykes) the week before (the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale) and we had won a race for him with a different horse a month prior," said Walden. "I think it kind of relit his fire for racing. All we had ahead of us this late in the calendar was the Keeneland Horses of Racing Age Sale. I went through the catalog, and I just didn't find anything that I felt hit our number, and then a couple of horses scratched that we were interested in."
On the advice of his father, WinStar president Elliott Walden, who had successfully purchased solid racing fillies at the Tattersalls December Mare Sale during his tenure as a grade 1-winning trainer, Walden pitched the idea to Sykes.
Sykes was sold, and Walden was bound for his first trip to the scenic Park Paddocks.
"The venue itself is absolutely beautiful," Walden said. "As far as the hospitality and the facility itself, it's top shelf. Jimmy George runs Tattersalls and couldn't have been more hospitable. He helped us out and really made us feel welcome."
After three days of selling Dec.4-7, Walden landed three auspicious European-bred fillies for Sykes for a gross of 1,805,000 guineas (approx. US$2,377,781).
Walden signed the ticket on one 2-year-old, a listed stakes-winning Kodiac filly Pipsy, and two 3-year-olds, the stakes-winning Olivia Maralda, the most expensive of the purchases at 725,000 guineas, and the group 3-stakes placed Aussie Girl.
The trio of fillies are currently in quarantine in England and won't reach Walden's Turfway Park-based stable until Jan.9.
"We don't have a specific target or plan mapped out for the fillies yet," Walden said. "Once they get here, we're going to let them acclimate, and they can tell me when they're ready. That might be a month to six weeks out."
Aussie Girl, a daughter of Starspangledbanner Walden picked up for 380,000 guineas, boasts an Americanized pedigree. Although Walden said she would likely race on the turf, in "sprints and up to a mile," the filly's third dam is Gorgeous, a three-time grade 1 winner on the dirt. Aussie Girl was victorious in a listed stakes at the Curragh in July before running third in the Aug. 27 Ballyogen Stakes (G3) at Naas.
Walden and Sykes have the highest expectations for Olivia Maralda. The Kodiac filly was second by three-quarters of a length to next out Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1T) heroine Meditate in the 2022 Debutante Stakes (G2). She claimed the listed Surrey Stakes at Epsom earlier in the year and has knocked heads with some of the best runners in Europe during her salty 3-year-old campaign.
"We hope Olivia Maralda can turn into a graded stakes filly over here—a Keeneland, Saratoga, Belmont type horse—a premier Saturday afternoon-type filly," Walden said. "A main goal would be the Breeders' Cup Mile next year if she proves to be a grade 1-type filly. But that's very far away at the moment.
We hope all of them are Saturday afternoon fillies here like they were over there."
The last of the fillies, Pipsy, was bought for 700,000 guineas. Hailing from the family of group 2 winner and the multiple grade 1-placed runner Ziyad, Pipsy was a winner in her last two starts in Ireland, including a victory in the listed Legacy Stakes on the all-weather course at Dundalk.
Walden feels stabling at the winter at Turfway Park will only aid in the fillies' acclimation process once they're stateside.
"I like Turfway specifically for these fillies because they don't have to come over here and go straight to the dirt with their training," Walden said. "They can find a happy medium between what they're used to training on, or maybe what they have trained on with the synthetic. I think it's good they can acclimate themselves and get their legs underneath them on a surface that caters more to grass than it does to dirt."
Walden would relish the opportunity to return to the Tattersalls sales ground next year, possibly for the prestigious Tattersalls September Yearling Sale, which American buyers have frequented in the last decade.
"It all depends on how these three fillies do," Walden said. "If I could, I would love to come back next year for the yearling sales. Certainly, (bloodstock agents) Mike Ryan and Liz Crow have done tremendous buying horses over there to compete in the U.S. I would love to go over there and buy yearlings to bring back and race over here. I would definitely return. I have nothing but respect for Tattersalls.
"It was a great experience, I loved every minute of it."