By their very nature, the breeze-up community are a resilient group and so there is a sense of cautious optimism as they approach this year’s sales season.
The breeze-up market can be one of the toughest of its kind, one where those involved not only have to adhere to the constrictions of fashion but also often to the demands of the clock, an increasingly important element of many a buyer’s armoury come breeze day.
And with this year comes the looming spectre of Brexit. While an extension to Article 50 was a very real possibility at the time of writing, the current situation has naturally induced some trepidation ahead of a season that undergoes its first test, the Tattersalls Ascot Breeze-Up Sale, on April 3, just five days after Britain’s original scheduled departure from the European Union on March 29.
“It couldn’t have come at a worse time politically speaking,” says Mark Dwyer of Oaks Farm Stables. “We’re in tricky times. But we just have to get on with it.”
Against that, however, there is the allure of several new sale incentives, namely a £100,000 bonus for any two- year-old sold at Ascot who goes on to win at this year’s Royal Meeting and a £15,000 bonus attached to the Tattersalls Craven Sale for any purchase who wins a qualifying race. In addition, breeze-up sales have rarely enjoyed such an exalted standing on the world stage.
For example, last year’s Arqana’s May Sale is the source of current leading Kentucky Derby fancy War Of Will. The son of War Front was set to contest the Louisiana Derby at the time of going to press, having captured two of this year’s major Classic preps, the Lecomte and Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, for owner Gary Barber. He could well be joined on the American Classic trail by Godolphin’s Divine Image, a fellow Arqana graduate who has the Kentucky Oaks on her agenda.
Another high-class breezer, last year’s Natalma Stakes heroine La Pelosa, also sits within Godolphin’s three-year-old battalion.
Recent seasons have also featured a Poule d’Essai des Pouliches winner in Teppal, sold by Bansha House Stables to Blandford Bloodstock at Arqana, alongside Group 1 graduates of the ilk of Sands Of Mali, Quiet Reflection, Brando, Khan, Hunt, Gronkowski, Thundering Blue and East.
Data compiled by the Breeze-Up Consignors Association shows that over 50% of breeze-up graduates sold since 2014 are winners, among them 30% who score at two. So far, the 2017 crop has accounted for 258 winners of 450 races, while those sold last year have already won 190 races between them.
A total of 291 have also struck in black- type company since 2009, including 24 Group 1 winners.
“The winners that come out of the breeze-ups are remarkable,” says Norman Williamson, whose Oak Tree Farm sold War Of Will. “War Of Will is particularly great for the breeze-ups as it shows a good horse can come from anywhere. It shows you can go there and not only come away with a good turf horse but one that can go on dirt as well.”
War Of Will was picked up privately by Williamson and his team at the Keeneland September Sale after failing to meet his reserve of $175,000. Beautifully related as a Niarchos-bred War Front half-brother to Irish Group 1 winner Pathfork, he returned to the Arqana May Sale to make €250,000 to agent Justin Casse and was sent back across the Atlantic to be trained by Casse’s brother Mark, who saddled him to be Grade 1-placed on the turf last August before switching him successfully to dirt.
“He was a beautiful horse who covered a lot of ground,” says Williamson. “I’m delighted for his connections, especially Justin Casse as he came to see me about the horse at the sale and I could easily recommend him.”
In War Of Will, Williamson offered a horse with the pedigree, action and physique to attract attention. He is indicative of the level of horse breeze-up consignors are focusing on in today’s market, and, given how recent seasons have played out, it’s easy to see why.
Although last year’s season didn’t feature a seven-figure horse, the top end of the market remained robust as nine youngsters spread across the Tattersalls Craven and Arqana May Sales sold for in excess of €500,000. In keeping with market trends overall, however, the middle to bottom end of the markets were tough for vendors, an aspect that contributed to drops in average for each of the main six sales (albeit in some cases from record levels achieved in 2017).
“Funnily enough, we didn’t end up with anything left over last year but then we took a view that if there was a sale to be had, we’d take it,” says Mark Dwyer, who also maintains an association with Willie Browne of Mocklershill while selling under his Oaks Farm banner. “That meant we took a beating on some but we had some big touches too, which handled the bad.”
Although Dwyer and Browne later found it tough to buy in the autumn, their current numbers are on a par with last year.
However, several consignors have taken the conscious decision to cut back, partly in response to an emerging reluctance to place those lesser unsold yearlings into the system. As a result, those catalogues released at the time of writing are of a more condensed nature.
“I think everybody last year was conscious of the growth in numbers within the breeze-up scene, and that it wasn’t beneficial,” says Jimmy George, Marketing Director of Tattersalls. “One has to be careful in balancing supply and demand.
“The Craven has 147 catalogued, down from 172 horses last year, and we’re aiming to trim the Guineas Sale as well.”
Ambrose O’Mullane and Mary Reynolds of Ardglas Stables, who topped the 2016 Tattersalls Guineas Sale when selling Pouvoir Magique for 300,000gns, were among those to cut numbers.
“Even though we pulled through the season, it was difficult unless you had the top horses,” says Reynolds. “The clock has a lot to do with it. We’re not hard on our horses, we let them breeze to the best of their ability and what they do on the day is what they do on the day.
“Last year we had also some for clients who hadn’t sold as yearlings. This year, all bar one – which is a homebred of a client’s – were bought specifically to breeze, so we have fewer to sell. We worked hard at the sales but they were hard to buy as the breeze-up buyers all land on the same types.”
She adds: “I think we have a nice bunch, in particular a fast Moohaajim filly for Ascot and a nice Hot Streak for Doncaster.”
Her views are echoed by Williamson, another to have reduced numbers.
“We had a reasonably good year last year but those that didn’t match were difficult,” he says. “We’ve never had huge numbers, probably about 15-18 in the past, and this year we have 11 to sell.
“We found it very difficult to buy. Everybody is going for the better horse and there were very few cracks in the middle to the top of the market. As we all know, the bottom of the market is not the place to be. To contradict that though, there will always be those breeze-up horses bought for not much money who go on to do fast breezes.”
He adds: “We have a nice group going to the Craven, and they’re by fashionable sires. The Dark Angel colt is sharp-looking and we have a Farhh colt that goes beautifully. The Kodiac colt is a lovely horse too.”
By contrast, Star Bloodstock will send more horses through the ring this spring following the enthusiasm of their investors to jump back in following a “good enough season last year in a tough market”.
Star goes to the Craven with six juveniles, including a Kodiac half-brother to Trip To Paris, himself a celebrated breezer, and a highly regarded No Nay Never filly. They also have six catalogued in Doncaster.
“My feeling is that we won’t see the true effects of Brexit – if it happens – until around July time,” says Star Bloodstock’s Matt Eves. “I think the bigger issue is how many buyers will be attracted to the major sales – I’m hopeful that we will see more American buyers.
“I would say I’m mildly optimistic. We’ve had a number of agents visit to see the horses, in fact more than ever, so I’m feeling a better vibe about it all than this time last year.”
For all the pre-season hopes and anxieties, only time will tell how this year’s season is to play out. There is one certainty, however, and that is a number of high-flying performers will be lurking within those horses offered. The achievements of previous crops provide testament to that, and, come May, there could be further cause for yet more Classic celebrations.
Heightened interest from America
Should War Of Will and Divine Image make it to Churchill Downs next month for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, Arqana will be in the remarkable position of having sold live chances for two of America’s premier Classics out of a breeze- up sale that numbered 170 horses last May.
The achievements of War Of Will, in particular, has brought European breeze- ups to the attention of the wider American racing public and, as a result, Arqana are hopeful of an upturn in interest from American buyers when they come to stage this year’s sale in Deauville on May 10-11.
“We already have buyers confirmed as coming over for the sale,” says Arqana Executive Director Freddy Powell. “Our American representative Tony Lacy has been in Ocala, Florida, liaising with people and I am going over to Keeneland for their April meeting and breeze-up sale.
“War Of Will has definitely helped – obviously it’s a big thing having a horse good enough for the Triple Crown. It’s very encouraging to have that confirmed American interest, especially in a year when we don’t know whether the British market will be slowed down by Brexit.”
The emergence of War Of Will as a primary American Triple Crown contender has come at a time when the popularity of European-sourced horses is running particularly high. Proven European imports have long fared well in America but in recent years there has also been an increasing number of American buyers working the European yearling sales; look no further than Klaravich Stables, whose first buying trip to the Tattersalls October Sale in 2017 yielded champion Newspaperofrecord as well as current unbeaten stakes winner Digital Age.
With the New York Racing Association (NYRA) also recently having announced the creation of a Turf Triple Series worth $5.25 million aimed at the best three- year-old turf runners, the prestige attached to American turf racing has never been greater.
Last year’s Tattersalls Craven Sale featured some American interest, notably from owner Kaleem Shah, who went to 420,000gns through Alex Elliott for an Animal Kingdom colt from Tally-Ho Stud. Tattersalls representatives were present at the recent American breeze-up sales in Florida and the company is hopeful that their own sales will once again attract their share of US attention.
“There’s a real momentum behind the whole turf scene there at the moment,” says Jimmy George, Marketing Director at Tattersalls. “America is an increasingly important area of our focus, especially with the NYRA Triple Turf Series, which can only be a positive for all of us selling turf horses.
“The exploits of Newspaperofrecord are nothing short of extraordinary and from Tattersalls’ perspective you couldn’t ask for a better representative in America.”
First-Crop sires to follow in 2019
The breeze-up season often offers a useful snapshot into the potential performance of the year’s first-crop sires. Here a selection of consignors offer their insight into what they have seen from this particular group so far.
Church Farm and Horse Park Stud
“We have a very sharp Gleneagles colt for Doncaster. He looks precocious. I’m not sure if he’s typical of the sire or not but he looks quick and he’s well up for it. Our Muhaarar might need a bit of time but she’s catching up now and is a good mover – we like her. And our Night Of Thunder goes well.”
“Our Hot Streak colt for Doncaster is a big, strong horse. He has a great attitude, he’s a gentleman who loves his work. We also have a nice Night Of Thunder filly for a client. She’s very straightforward and I’d say he’s a sire to keep an eye on.”
Oaks Farm Stables
“We’re involved in a few Muhaarars. The guys all like them. We also have a nice Gleneagles, a very good moving horse who goes well.”
“There’s been a massive word for Competitive Edge in the States and the colt we have for the Craven is going very well. We also have two Daredevils – a nice colt for Doncaster and a big, scopey animal for the Craven.
“Byron Rogers is a great help to us when it comes to America and he identified Competitive Edge and Daredevil as two American stallions to target – both were very good two-year-olds.
“We’re also happy with our Hot Streak colt and we have a very nice Night Of Thunder filly for Arqana – she’s very fast.”