Anyone present at the July Sale at Tattersalls could have been forgiven for thinking that everything is rosy in the garden of British horseracing.
The sun shone, there was free ice cream for all and, as ever, the Tattersalls team did a first-class job of encouraging potential buyers from around the world to come to Newmarket. They reciprocated by virtually clearing the shelves at Park Paddocks to give, from two horses-in-training sessions, unprecedented clearance rates of 96% and 95% respectively. Only the ice-cream man could better this.
The reputation of British- and Irish-bred thoroughbreds remains high, as does the regard in which our racing is held internationally
There are various reasons for the rocketing popularity of form-horse sales. The reputation of British- and Irish-bred thoroughbreds remains high, as does the regard in which our racing is held internationally. However, the continued dire levels of prize-money in the lower echelons of the British racing programme – despite some advances in this area – mean that owners are all too keen to sell on a decent horse, usually encouraged by agents who naturally have a vested interest, not just in that transaction but in future purchases that owner might make. And when that sale might be for tens or even hundreds of times the amount a horse might reasonably be expected to win if they continue to race in Britain, then who can blame the owner?
But this is becoming an increasingly desperate situation, not just when it comes to the number of runners who are lost to these shores, but for the owners themselves. Surely registering to become a racehorse owner goes hand in hand with the dream of racing a good horse in one’s colours on the big stages of Ascot, York or Goodwood, rather than merely banking a cheque after a maiden victory and perhaps having to wait years for another decent horse to come along.
We can continue to congratulate ourselves on having some of the best racing in the world but we should judge the state of the industry as a whole by the results of some of the lesser yearling sales later this autumn.
On pages 44-51, Carl Evans talks to some leading players on the sales circuit to gauge opinion ahead of the curtain rising on the yearlings in mid-August. It’s nothing new to hear that most expect the top end to remain strong. The elite yearlings managed to weather even the global financial crisis and will doubtless fare well again, despite whispered concerns among consignors about who will be buying for Godolphin following John Ferguson’s departure, and whether or not Al Shaqab Racing will be buying at all with Qatar’s fallout with its Middle-Eastern neighbours far from settled.
Plenty of breeders or foal pinhookers may well already have discovered that there’s no place for their yearling at this year’s sales
This is not the area we should be too worried about. Plenty of breeders or foal pinhookers may well already have discovered that there’s no place for their yearling at this year’s sales, with both Tattersalls Ireland’s September Sale and the Goffs Sportsman’s Sale losing a day of trade each and strict limits being imposed elsewhere.
Tattersalls Ireland offers some consolation in the form of a new sale at its Ascot branch on September 12, which will offer an outlet for those who may otherwise not have found a sales slot, or perhaps for vendors wishing to steal a march on those selling in October.
A significant percentage of the horses at the lesser yearling sales will be the products of smaller British operations and, as TBA board member Philip Newton mentioned in his address at the recent annual seminar, small breeders cannot be expected to continue to operate at a loss. Reality has already bitten for some and the number of breeders in this country is likely to continue to fall unless the BHA sticks to its pledge to enhance dramatically the returns to owners of the more moderately talented racehorses. It’s one thing for purists to cry that this is merely pandering to mediocrity, but the peak of a pyramid is naturally the smallest part and without a decent base to support those at the top, the search for future stars will become harder while the racing programme becomes less vibrant.
Whatever the sales bring, this summer has so far been an enjoyable one for a number of British breeders. Enable may well prove to be the best of her generation and has already secured two Oaks victories, not just for her breeder Juddmonte but also for Newsells Park Stud’s young stallion Nathaniel. Elizabeth and Ken Grundy enjoyed a second Group 1 success as breeders of The Tin Man, by Nathaniel’s studmate Equiano. Meanwhile, fearless Joyce Wallsgrove, who looked after the famously cantankerous Moonax in her days with Barry Hills, is reposnsible for breeding one of the best juveniles in Ireland, Gordon Elliott’s Group 2 winner Beckford.
The newly-promoted Group 1 Goodwood Cup will hopefully see the return of one of the most popular horses in training, Big Orange, who provided his co-owner/breeder Tim Gredley with the first half of a notable double when winning the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. Gredley, an accomplished showjumper and point-to-pointer, subsequently showed off his skills on the Flat when winning the Newmarket Town Plate aboard Bivouac.