There are times when going against the grain is the smart move. As an example, the commercial market remains driven by those sharply-bred, fast-looking individuals but plenty can also be gained by thinking outside the box, especially for those buying with a more patient eye as anyone who has traded on a middle-distance talent can attest.

Valmont, guided by agent Alex Elliott, is one such owner. Still a relatively young operation, the ownership vehicle of Anthony Ramsden has made it its business to target later-maturing types with an eye on future trading, and with great success if last year’s sales season is anything to go by. Valmont had only its first runner in the spring of 2022 but by the time autumn the following year had rolled round, had built up enough of a portfolio to sell 2,227,000gns worth of stock at the Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training Sale. It marked quite the sales debut for Elliott’s fledgling consignment Imperium Sales, especially in light of the fact that the 13-strong draft included 575,000gns sale-topper Balance Play.

The ambition is for Imperium Sales to become a major player among consignors within the form horse and mare market. Meanwhile at the buying end, Elliott headed to the Oaks at Epsom with a pair of live shots in You Got To Me, a 200,000gns yearling purchase owned by Valmont with Newsells Park Stud who entered the Classic picture with a front-running win in the Lingfield Oaks Trial (she ran a fine fourth in the event itself), and €78,000 yearling buy Forest Fairy, who jumped from a maiden Wolverhampton win to victory in the Cheshire Oaks on only her second start. Both are trained by Ralph Beckett, a key component to Valmont’s ascendancy who has worked closely with Elliott in the ten years since the agent went out on his own.

The undoubted star, however, of Elliott’s career to date has been last year’s top three-year-old King Of Steel. Amo Racing’s colt was the sole Wootton Bassett yearling catalogued to the 2021 Keeneland September Sale but the large colt wasn’t to everyone’s taste. Elliott takes up the story.

“Kia Joorabchian [of Amo Racing] was the first person that really let me buy expensive horses,” says Elliott. “Kia is fantastic at backing young people. It was Keeneland September 2021 and Mick Fitzpatrick, a great friend, was down at the back ring and said to me ‘have you seen the Wootton Bassett?’. Keeneland is so vast, you can’t cover it on your own. There’s so many horses, the selling is so quick and if someone saw a giant horse, you’d go ‘no can’t have it’. But Fitz said to me ‘you have to come and see this horse’.

“So I traipsed up to Gainesway [who was selling him on behalf of breeder Bonne Chance Farm] and when he came out it was like Jack and the Beanstalk. But then I watched him walk up there and he was so light on his feet. All the angles were there and he was in proportion – he was just big.


“Kia came up with his crew and we thought ‘well he’s a Wootton Bassett, let’s go and see what he makes’. Everybody stood around watching and I think Kia bid the reserve, $200,000. There were a few people laughing because he was so big. But the rest is history.”

He adds: “Kia has got some kind of kick out of that horse. For someone who supported me in the beginning and to get a horse of the lifetime, that’s the biggest thrill. I’d love to see him stand in England at the end of it. He’s so striking and he’s also going to be an outcross.”

King Of Steel gained plenty of admirers last season, with his runner-up effort to Auguste Rodin in the Derby followed by wins in the King Edward VII and Qipco Champions Stakes at Ascot. His sizeable stature leant confidence to the idea that he would be better again at four but last month came the news that injury had delayed his 2024 campaign.

‘It was like Jack and the Beanstalk’ – King Of Steel ranks as one of Alex Elliott’s best buys. Photo – Bill Selwyn

Even so, there’s still plenty for Elliott Bloodstock Services to look forward to in its tenth year of operation. In that decade, the agency has successfully mixed between Flat and the National Hunt, with a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in A Plus Tard and Grade 1-winning hurdlers Teahupoo, Irish Point and Supasundae sitting alongside King Of Steel, Royal Lodge Stakes winner New Mandate and the aforementioned Oaks trials winners Forest Fairy and You Got To Me on the Flat.

Flying Start

“I went to Philip Hobbs after school at 18,” says Elliott. “I began as a groom and then became pupil assistant. All I wanted to do was train and I was all about the jumps. I had two years with him when he had the likes of Rooster Booster and Flagship Uberalles.

“I did the Darley Flying Start and then went to the US where I worked for Christophe Clement in the year he had [champion] Gio Ponti and then for Eoin Harty when he had [Grade 1 winners] Victor’s Cry and Colonel John. I was pretty set I was going to train but was always going to come back to England. But when I did come back, I was unemployed, had no money and because I’d been away, no connections. I literally sat at home for a few months thinking what on earth am I going to do.”

It could be argued that Elliott has trading in his blood given his aunt is Gill Richardson, who forged a very successful career as a bloodstock agent, her reputation built upon the savvy Mick Channon-trained value buys such as Music Show and Majestic Desert.

“Jamie McCalmont kindly gave me a position and I worked for him for a year and a half,” says Elliott. “Ralph Beckett was working with Jamie at the time, and he and I hit it off immediately. When I went on my own in 2014, Ralph kindly gave me a chance.

“I’d been buying for a few pinhookers at Keeneland but I really had nobody. I spent a lot of time driving to and from sales without buying a horse. Looking back, it was crazy. But then that’s what drives you forward. And you’re looking at horses all the time, making contacts.

“Ralph backed me. He was training predominantly for owner breeders at the time. We started off buying 30 to 40,000gns horses. Staying horses is what Ralph likes to buy – there is the resale value on them and we slowly started to work that angle.”

A Plus Tard clears the last in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Photo – Bill Selwyn

The markets have changed immeasurably over the past ten years. The export trade, most recently fuelled by emerging racing nations in the Middle East, is now a key factor to the health of British and Irish racing as owners cash in. The number of public sales, meanwhile, has never been higher. Agents can easily spend the year darting from Australia to Europe to America in search of prospects if they choose. And that is before the National Hunt market is taken into account.

“Different markets fluctuate,” says Elliott. “Australia seems to be booming at the moment, but that’s only really happened in the last eight years. And of course the Middle East.

“I’m very lucky that I get to buy some lovely jumps horses out of France. Horses like A Plus Tard, Teahupoo and Irish Point – that’s been really nice. I have very good contacts in Nicky de Balanda, and Sebastian Desmontils. But I’d say it’s 95% Flat now. The sales season has become so much more busier. Covid accelerated the digital side. I’ve got a young family so from January to March, I’m not going to Australia because it’s so busy during the second half of the year.

“One of the big things they talk about in the National Hunt world is the dearth of good horses. To get a good horse, you either have to look at France, which is where I go, or to Ireland. Back in the day, you had those horses off the Flat. When I worked for Philip Hobbs, we had [Triumph Hurdle winner] Detroit City, who was second in a Bahrain Trophy for Jeremy Noseda on the Flat. You had horses like him and horses like [Champion Hurdle winner] Katchit. Those horses now aren’t around. The layman owner in England who wants to buy a nice juvenile hurdler for £100,000 or under now can’t buy that horses.

“When I first started I bought Beltor, who won the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle for Rob Stephens. We got him for 30,000gns. Today, those horses have already been sold. The foreign markets want them, places like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and they like those middle-distance horses.”

Anthony wouldn’t do it if we didn’t trade, it wouldn’t have any appeal. It’s hugely important

Hence trading is a key part of the modus operandi behind Valmont. The string is split between various trainers in Britain although the bulk are with Ralph Beckett. In addition to You Got To Me, they include Moon Over Miami, a Sea The Moon gelding who has won both his starts this season, the highly regarded Night Of Thunder colt Valvano, the winner of a back end Nottingham maiden last season who ran into 2,000 Guineas winner Notable Speech when second on his return at Kempton in April, Feigning Madness, an Ulysses colt who won both his starts last year, and recent impressive Salisbury maiden winner Oxford Comma, like You Got To Me a daughter of Nathaniel. There is also the older Salt Bay, who was beaten just a neck when third in the John Porter Stakes at Newbury.

“Anthony and I met when I was with Eoin Harty in America and we’ve spoken every day since,” says Elliott. “He was the best man at my wedding last year and I was the best man at his.

“We started Valmont in 2021. There’s the fun element to it, which is what it should always be about. But we try and buy the best yearlings we can within value. We’re looking for stars of course, but they’re obviously few and far between so we have to be sensible about it and from our point of view, our strongest asset is the trading. Anthony wouldn’t do it if we didn’t trade, it wouldn’t have any appeal. It’s hugely important.

“And once you’re on the wheel, doing that year after year, it doesn’t take a lot of patience as there’s always horses coming along. It takes someone with vision like Anthony to understand that and to also understand that you might have to go the handicap route to get the best out of a horse.

“Half the key is having a good trainer, and we haven’t just got a good trainer in Ralph, we have a brilliant one. It works brilliantly. He’s programmed into the fact that we’re traders – that’s a real asset. I’d love to see him be champion trainer one day.”

Elliott signed for around 80 yearlings last year giving him plenty of fledgling ammunition. He has also been busy at the breeze-ups, where purchases included a pair of high-profile Justify two-year-olds at the Arqana May Sale; a colt out of Curlylocks bought for €1 million on behalf of Amo Racing and a filly out of Sarah Lynx purchased for €800,000 on behalf of MV Magnier.

The whole market was down last year and Anthony and I stepped in and gave it a good kick

“Now we’re at the point of being able to buy a lot of horses and a lot of nice horses,” he says. “There’s a lot of good people out there able to buy good horses but they don’t have the backing. My aunt Gill Richardson has an amazing eye – she became known for buying all those 30,000gns superstars. It’s a fickle game and I owe Kia a lot for allowing me to buy those good horses early on.

“I’m very lucky that the main horses I buy are for my good friends. We’re all winning and all losing together. That’s been an important bedrock to the whole thing.”

Stability has always been important part of business but perhaps more so right now given the volatility of the market, something that was brought into sharper focus at last winter’s breeding stock sales and again at this year’s early round of breeze-up auctions, where it was pretty much feast or famine.

“The business has grown organically, I’m proud of that,” says Elliott. “We’re at a stage when we’re hitting the window of opportunity and we’re ready for it.

“The whole market was down last year and Anthony and I stepped in and gave it a good kick. There is still a real hunger for good horses. But it’s so top heavy at the moment. Everything has become so expensive and it costs as much to keep a good one as it does a bad one. It does leave an opportunity for people hunting because as we know, good horses come from anywhere.

“The biggest thing that makes me tick is a horse increasing in value and doing a client a service. They’ve backed me with their judgement and there’s not a greater feeling than being vindicated and doing it together as a team.”

Forest Fairy (left red cap) was one of two live shots for the agency in the Oaks. Photo – Alan Wright




‘It was like everything had finally come together in a way’

Imperium Sales could easily have been a soft launch. Instead, it turned over nearly 2.3 million guineas on its sale debut for Alex Elliott and his team at last year’s Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training Sale and another 765,000gns at the later Tattersalls December Mares Sale. With a selection of Valmont-owned horses, many of them progressive-looking three-year-olds, under its banner, it jumped in as a top-end player, particularly at the Autumn Horses in Training Sale where it sold the 525,000gns sale-topper Balance Play, a three-time winner who was knocked down to the Gai Waterhouse, Adrian Bott and McKeever Bloodstock team, and 104-rated He’s A Monster, who made 450,000gns to Wathnan Racing through Blandford Bloodstock.

Balance Play tops last year’s Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training Sale. Photo – Tattersalls

Meanwhile at the Tattersalls December Mares Sale, two-time winner La Isla Mujeres, by Lope De Vega, realised 330,000gns to Jason Kelly and Paddy Twomey.

“Imperium was something I’d wanted to do for a long time,” says Elliott. “One thing that doing so much work in the States taught me is that presenting horses well is invaluable.

“I’d seen other agents Brad Weisbord [of ELiTE Sales] and Jacob West [of Highgate Sales] do it in the US. So I’d had it in my mind to do it for a while – I just wanted to have a group of horses to be proud of. I said to my assistant Lucy Ryan ‘I want to do this’ and she just got it done. Lucy is a massive part of everything. When I started buying a lot of yearlings, she came to be via Mathilde Texier and she’s been a game changer. There’s a lot of admin and she thinks two steps ahead for me the whole time.”

Several of the draft have already gone on to acquit themselves well. They include Redemption Time, who won the Binaa Cup in Bahrain for Al Adiyat Racing following his sale for 150,000gns to SackvilleDonald.

He adds: “All I wanted to do was train and that night, to put your own brand on there and watch them walk up there, that was just as close as I’ll get to training. That was a proud moment, especially for the team as a whole. It was like everything had finally come together in a way.”