Nothing lights up an elite yearling sale quite like a good old-fashioned bidding duel between two of racing’s super-powers.

The last proper head-to-head battle was for the 2015 October Book 1 sales-topper, a daughter of Darley’s flagship sire Dubawi from the family of Jude which has served Ballydoyle so well.

If any yearling was going to present us with the opportunity to see some financial muscles being flexed it was this one, and she didn’t disappoint onlookers in Tattersalls’ packed amphitheatre when, after a prolonged rally of high-stakes ping pong, she was sold to MV Magnier on behalf of Richard Henry for 2.1 million gns, with John Ferguson as the underbidder.

But these moments of sales-ring drama are becoming few and far between. More of the bigger owners have formed powerful allegiances – such as Qatar Racing and Newsells Park Stud’s collusion in the 1 million-guinea purchase of Purr Along – as a means to spread the risk and not be pushed into paying over the odds for the more desirable lots.

It’s no doubt frustrating for vendors and sales companies alike and, along with John Ferguson’s absence from the buyers’ sheet at Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga Yearling Sale and Arqana August, has probably contributed towards a slight fall in aggregate at those two early yearling sales in 2016.

Coolmore started as an alliance between John Magnier and Robert Sangster and has always nurtured such relationships. Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith have been longstanding investors in and beneficiaries of a successful partnership with the team from Tipperary, while along the way Teo Ah Khing and Fitri Hay are among the names to have been added to the list.

South African owner-breeder Markus Jooste, who heads a group of investors known as the Mayfair Speculators, has increasingly made his presence felt at major European sales in recent seasons. Buying through agents Peter and Ross Doyle, the Mayfair team spent close to 5 million gns at Tattersalls last year and €4.5 million at Arqana in 2014 and 2015, with purchases at the latter including the Group 3-winning Monsun filly The Juliet Rose.

Markus Jooste wasn’t in Deauville this August but was represented by his son Michael and Derek Brugman, who, with the Doyles and MV Magnier, made two purchases within minutes of each other, signing up the top-priced €1.4 million Galileo filly and another daughter of Galileo from the same Ecurie des Monceaux draft for a total outlay of €2.05 million.

The previous week in Saratoga, Magnier had also strengthened other allegiances, appearing in the buyers’ list alongside four different yearlings bought for a collective $3.5 million with three different partners – Stonestreet Stables, China Horse Club and Bridlewood Farm.

Monceaux and co
Another operation to deploy these tactics skilfully is Lucien Urano’s Ecurie des Monceaux. When the new Arqana sales company rose from the ashes of Agence Francaise and Goffs France in 2006, the Normandy farm, which is managed by Henri Bozo, had not even started to consign yearlings, but in its seven years as a commercial entity, it has been the leading August vendor for the last five years and has been responsible for the sale-topper for three years in a row.

The stellar draft offered each year has neither happened by accident nor is as a result of leading breeders in France sending their horses to be sold by Monceaux. The consignment includes only yearlings raised on the farm and they are the result of some strategic mare-buying with a variety of key partners over the last 13 years.

The stud’s foundation mare Platonic, bought in partnerhsip with Lady O’Reilly through Patricia Boutin of Suprina for 100,000gns from Fittocks Stud, has proved to have been a shrewd acquisition.

In the last two years, the offspring of two of Platonic’s daughters – Pacifique and Prudenzia – have topped Arqana at €2.6 million and €1.4 million with a colt by Dubawi and a Galileo filly.

Prudenzia, who was retained to race by her breeders and won the Listed Prix de la Seine, has become a particularly valuable addition to the Monceaux broodmare ranks. Her five yearlings sold at Arqana thus far, including her Irish Oaks-winning daughter Chicquita, have collectively brought €5.2 million back into the Monceaux coffers.

With another well-made Galileo filly foal at foot this year, it would be no surprise to see a repeat of the names at the top of the Arqana August leader board for 2017, though Prudenzia may have competition from her own mother, whose strapping filly foal of 2016 is likely to be one of the stand-outs from the first crop of Kingman.