In David Ashforth’s excellent new book Racing Crazy, one of his amusing skits on the world of bloodstock sales ends with the line, ‘Straight out of the doors, turn left for the real world’, which is pretty much exactly what I did on leaving Tattersalls after the final day of Book 1.
During the short stroll home, still a bit shell-shocked from watching the equivalent of £70 million walk through the ring on four legs over three days, I consoled myself with the fact that, as much as the headline-making top-end trade is needed, so are the buyers and prospective owners in the lower divisions, who form an important base from which the peak of racing’s pyramid can emerge. The only problem is that base continues to be eroded.
Only about 10% of horses sold in Book 3 made any sort of profit and, while a greatly improved clearance rate – from 72% to 87% – was encouraging, more than one small breeder selling in Book 3 spoke of giving up altogether with so little prospect of being able to make ends meet. At least in some countries there is more incentive for breeders to put horses into training. That is not the case here, and even the tariffs don’t go far enough to address this problem.
Many international buyers gathered to spend pre-recessionary amounts on yearlings but there’s still a dramatic disconnect between the top and the bottom of the market
A filly from our stable has given her owners tremendous fun this season by winning her last three starts and being placed three times. Her reward for these efforts? A pathetic £7,387. It’s all very well allocating millions to a marketing budget for a celebratory finale to the British Flat season, but for how much longer will there be anything to celebrate if those in charge don’t get a very firm grip on the urgent need to boost prize-money for everyday meetings?
The predicted levy increase for next year will help but while we can all marvel at the fact that so many international buyers gathered to spend pre-recessionary amounts on British and Irish yearlings, there’s still a dramatic disconnect between the top and the bottom of the market – for owners, breeders, trainers and vendors.
Meanwhile in Book 1, where most buyers are seemingly immune to recession and prize-money worries, the figures tell a very different tale. Twenty-two horses sold for half a million guineas or more and there were several moments of pure theatre that every sales-goer longs to be caught up in. The colt named Hydrogen was at the centre of what will almost certainly be the most exciting few minutes in a sales ring anywhere in the world this year. Authorized’s little (three-quarter) brother was unfazed by the attention but the man who made the 2.5 million-guinea bid to secure him for his client was clearly moved by the occasion.
A sense of responsibility
There are plenty of people in the bloodstock world who must long to trade places with David Redvers but with his new central role in the industry, facilitated by his association with British racing’s generous new benefactor, Sheikh Fahad Al-Thani, doubtless comes plenty of pressure.
It was somehow reassuring to see Redvers shaken and almost tearful at spending so much of someone else’s money. Plenty of agents with patrons operating at the higher end would easily become blasé at being involved with such largesse, but Redvers was swift to put the sheikh in the spotlight while humbly admitting how fortunate he is to be acting for an owner who is both “enthusiastic but measured”.
For while Redvers is unlikely to forget the moment he bid 2.5 million gns for Hydrogen, he would doubtless count the purchase of Lady Rebecca for 400gns at Doncaster as an equally career-defining moment. That sense of perspective at both ends of the market is vital.
While the familiar members of the Maktoum family and their associates accounted for a little over 20% of the Book 1 aggregate and Coolmore almost 10%, the significant input of Sheikh Fahad in Britain and his relation Sheikh Joann bin Hamad Al-Thani in France brings them shoulder-to-shoulder with the acknowledged superpowers. With that brings some bright new key players on the sales circuit.
Redvers, only 42, seems positively ancient next to the fresh young Gallic faces of Nicolas de Watrigant of Mandore International Agency and Benoit Jeffroy, who represent Sheikh Joann’s racing and bloodstock interests. But the man who will forever be a parliament-storming hero of the hunting fraternity has a fresh young face of his own to rely on in his assistant Hannah Wall.
Along with the new blood, a reassuring factor of the elite sale is the sense of long-term planning by the major participants. Investment at this level – out of reach to most – is first and foremost buying a racehorse, but doing so with one eye already on their future as a breeding prospect.
“He’s a stallion in the making,” declared Sheikh Fahad of his Galileo colt, while de Watrigant said of the 1.5 million-guinea sister to Was, “She is the one you need in your broodmare band”.
With the major owner/breeder so often referred to as some sort of relic of former days, there’s hope to be drawn from the fact that there are still a number of people out there with the foresight, patience and, most importantly, money to engage in what will potentially be a lifelong commitment to racing and breeding. Let’s face it, we all need to escape from the real world every now and then.
Racing Crazy, by David Ashforth, is available from Racing Post Books for £18.99