There was something of a surreal air at Tattersalls during the October Yearling Sale. The Indian summer played its part, but it wasn’t only the unseasonal warmth that led to such a feel-good factor.

Throughout Book 1, buyers and vendors alike shook their heads in wonder at the strength of trade. While feedback throughout the middle weekend hinted at a declining standard in the physical qualities of the horses on offer in Book 2, trepidation proved unfounded as another three-day catalogue, with colts outnumbering fillies approximately two to one, proceeded seemingly undaunted by the problems of the wider world.

Book 3, largely populated by the stock of smaller British breeders and with a heavy filly bias, returned to the realms of realism but that too posted an improved aggregate on 2010, even with 60 fewer horses sold.

There are many positives to be drawn from an elite sale which attracted a diverse band of buyers, many of whom were investing heavily in fillies with long-term breeding interests in mind. The polarisation of interest in key sires, however, should be of concern to breeders and to the studs which stand all but the most in-demand stallions.

In the words of one successful breeder during Book 2 at Tattersalls, “If your horses aren’t by the right stallion you’ve got no chance. Most agents haven’t even pulled my horses out to have a look at them and they’re from good families. By different sires, they would have been Book 1 horses.”

Large owner/breeders can of course take a chance on using whichever stallion they deem will work best with their mare. Witness the fact that the Aga Khan regularly has top-level success with horses by under-the-radar sires such as Refuse To Bend (Sarafina), Desert Style (Mandesha), Polish Precedent (Darsi) and Key Of Luck (Alamshar).

Keeping ahead of the curve

For breeders who have to be more commercially-minded, foresight that goes beyond just being a shrewd judge is required to second guess who will be top of the hot list a few years hence. Of course it wouldn’t necessarily have taken a crystal ball to predict the success of Galileo, but he is beyond the reach of most breeders.

The rise in demand for yearling colts by Acclamation, who was the leading first-season sire of 2007, comes on the back of a very good year on the track, with eight individual Group winners including Harbour Watch and Lilbourne Lad. His average for yearlings sold in 2011 (to the end of Book 3) has leapt to 83,769gns, from 38,643gns in 2010.

It’s understandable that racecourse success leads to an upsurge of fortunes at the sales – Exceed And Excel has enjoyed a similar rekindling of interest to Acclamation – but nothing could be more dispiriting for breeders than to have a line put through a yearling’s page in a catalogue simply because the top-half of the pedigree doesn’t fit that season’s fashion.

Big prices naturally dominate the sales headlines but each year on the racecourse there are a handful of results to keep all of us at the lower end of the game living in hope, and we were spoilt for choice on Arc day. Five of the seven Group 1 winners at Longchamp were offered for auction and made the following: Danedream €9,000 (BBAG Breeze-up), Dabirsim €30,000 (Arqana August), Dream Ahead $11,000 (Keeneland September) and £36,000 (DBS Breeze-up), Elusive Kate $70,000 (Keeneland September) and Tangerine Trees, not sold at £8,000 (DBS October).

It’s also worth considering the sires of these five horses: Lomitas, Hat Trick, Diktat, Elusive Quality and Mind Games. With the exception of the American-based Elusive Quality, none of these stallions would be considered to be particularly fashionable.

Admittedly such results can be bittersweet for those that bred and raised these horses, particularly if, as in the case of Danedream, the dam has also been sold, but there is some consolation to be had in the form of vindication of mating plans. And for agents and trainers, it’s a reminder that good racehorses come at all prices and are sired by stallions fashionable and unfashionable alike.