It may never boast the might, glitz or history of its giant Newmarket rival but the duo that began Doncaster Bloodstock Sales 50 years ago this month and those that developed it over the past half-century can only look back with pride at their achievements.
DBS has become the ultimate dual-purpose sales company with a roll of honour that features inexpensive Classic heroes alongside winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and Grand National.
One of the features of a visit to the South Yorkshire town has been the fun factor both at and away from the sales complex, and below we list 50 notable Doncaster facts and figures, some more serious than others…
1. The beginning
Tattersalls abandoned selling at Doncaster in 1957. Encouraged by council leader Albert Cammidge, the new Doncaster Bloodstock Sales was set up by trainers Ken Oliver and Willie Stephenson in 1962. They each lodged cheques of £150 with the Royal Bank of Scotland in Hawick to start the company, the only capital they ever put in.
2. Ken Oliver
In his biography, The Benign Bishop, Oliver is described as a “livestock auctioneer, amateur jockey, farmer, National Hunt trainer, co-founder of Doncaster Bloodstock Sales, golfer, tennis player, country lover and partygoer”. As well as being a great host at the sales, Oliver, who died in 1999, was also Scotland’s most successful ever jumping trainer, saddling five Scottish Grand National winners from his Hawick stables. Oliver’s widow Rhona is still on the DBS board and is a regular sales visitor.
3. Willie Stephenson
As well as co-founding DBS, Stephenson is one of only five people to have trained winners of the Derby and Grand National. Arctic Prince (1951) and Wyndburgh (1959) completed the double from his Royston stables.
4. May 22
The date of Doncaster’s first sale in 1962. The catalogue, priced at four shillings, featured a photo of the Willie Stephenson-trained Oxo beating Wyndburgh, saddled by Ken Oliver, in the 1959 Grand National. The sale was held in a marquee over the pre-parade ring, although permanent buildings were soon put up.
5. Harry Beeby
An integral part of the DBS success story. The son of Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning trainer George Beeby, he gave up a career as a London estate agent to join the company on April 1, 1964. The first horse he auctioned was Beau D’Argent, bought in for 420gns on May 18 that year after winning a Hexham seller. Beeby, who recently turned 74, is still going strong as an auctioneer.
6. Michael White
A nephew of Charlie Hall, ‘Mouse’ White retired as DBS Vice-Chairman last month after a career that began with the company in 1967. One of the most distinctive auctioneers with catchphrases such as a gorilla (£1,000 – two monkeys) and the umpire (a single finger), he gained a huge following. Colleague Michael Dale is another stalwart of the firm, while the cousins Jeremy and Stuart Mactaggart, both directors, come from a family with a longstanding connection with DBS.
7. Andrew Oliver & Son
DBS originally shared offices in Hawick with Ken Oliver’s family firm of livestock auctioneers, the oldest in Britain. Founded in 1817, the company advertised in the first Doncaster sales catalogue that it annually sold 282,700 sheep. While the company administration, cataloguing and accounts took place in Hawick, Willie Stephenson was responsible for overseeing the sales paddocks. Cataloguing was originally done by hand. The main DBS office is still in Hawick, while a branch in Lambourn, manned by Tim Kent, was opened recently.
8. St Leger Sale
Doncaster’s most famous Flat auction, now rebranded the Premier Sale, was first held in 1963. The top price of 3,200gns was paid by Keith Freeman for Riding Home, a two-year-old winner for Bruce Hobbs.
9. Right Tack
The first top-class Flat horse sold at Doncaster, making 3,200gns in 1967. He was trained by John Sutcliffe to become the first winner of the English and Irish 2,000 Guineas, going on to land the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.
10. Sandford Lad
Sold for just 1,800gns in 1971, he went on to be the first top-class sprinter to emerge from DBS, winning the Nunthorpe Stakes at York and Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp.
11. Punches Hotel
Apres-sales fun has always gone hand in hand with selling at Doncaster. Through the 1970s and 1980s this hotel was scene of much late-night entertainment and frivolity.
12. Red Rum
Ginger McCain headed to the 1972 Doncaster August Sale with an order from octogenarian owner Noel Le Mare to buy a Grand National prospect. He picked up Red Rum for 6,000gns, the rest is history. Foinavon was the first National winner sold at Doncaster and there have been 12 in all, most recently Silver Birch, who was bought for 20,000gns out of Paul Nicholls’s stable by Gordon Elliott.
13. The sales bar
Particularly at DBS’s original venue, the bar – still run, as in the earliest days, by Rose – was always a raucous hub of activity when selling was on, sometimes drawing those with no business at the sale.
14. Breeze-up sales
DBS brought the two-year-olds in training sales to Britain in the late 1970s. A tie-up with Playboy Bookmakers saw bunny girls liven up the early sales. Tony O’Callaghan of Tally-Ho Stud and Willie Browne, working with his father Mickey at Mocklershill, were still selling this year having been involved from the start.
Bought by trainer Pam Sly for 30,000gns, the 2006 1,000 Guineas heroine is the only British Classic winner sold at a breeze-up.
From its earliest days, Doncaster’s catalogues were well populated with offerings from across the Irish Sea, both at the store sales and with precociously-bred yearlings at the St Leger Sale. Jack White was the first Irish-based director with his brother-in-law, Jack ‘Ginger’ Powell, soon joining the board.
17. Timmy Hyde
Both a DBS director and one of the company’s most successful vendors. The master of Camas Park Stud has consigned the St Leger sales-topper eight times.
18. Robert Percival
“Sue and I were oddities when we started out; we were aged in our 20s amongst all these older people,” says Percival, who began selling at Doncaster in the late 1960s and with wife Sue is still going strong at Glen Andred Stud in Northamptonshire. He was leading vendor at the St Leger Sale for 12 successive years and sold a Grey Sovereign colt for a then massive 42,000gns in 1972.
A select session was introduced to the St Leger Sale in the early 1980s and this Be My Guest colt became Doncaster’s first six-figure yearling when making 104,000gns in 1981.
Winner of the 1983 St James’s Palace Stakes for Matt McCormack, after landing the previous year’s Gimcrack and Coventry Stakes, this 8,000gns yearling was one of a handful of graduates to be remembered by a yard at the sales complex.
21. Jack Berry
“None of the other sales have the buzz or atmosphere of Doncaster, it is brilliant,” wrote Berry in his autobiography. As well as buying stable stars such as O I Oyston, Clantime, Almost Blue and Selhurstpark Flyer in South Yorkshire, Berry once raised money for charity when singing ‘The Crystal Chandelier’ from the Doncaster rostrum.
22. Lyric Fantasy
The ‘Pocket Rocket’ sold for 12,000gns at the 1991 St Leger Sale, going on to win the Nunthorpe Stakes as a two-year-old for Lord Carnarvon and Richard Hannon.
23. Peter Doyle
Has been going to Doncaster sales since 1973, first with his father Jack and then as an agent in his own right, buying for Liam Browne and now Richard Hannon. Doyle’s son Ross is now continuing the family tradition.
24. One Man
DBS have held various sales away from Doncaster, including bookmakers’ pitch sales and now boutique National Hunt auctions at Newbury. A unique event was the late Arthur Stephenson’s dispersal at his County Durham stables in May 1993, when the top price of 68,000gns was paid by John Hales for the future brilliant chaser One Man.
25. May Sale
Grew from its first mixed catalogue of 216 lots in 1962 to a peak of 1,125 animals listed in 2007. The reduced demand for stores and form horse sales growing elsewhere saw that catalogue shrink to 691 lots last year.
26. Garde Champetre
Made 530,000gns in May 2004 and remains the dearest National Hunt horse in training sold at public auction. Went on to win six Cheltenham cross-country races for JP McManus before sadly being killed in March. Clive Smith
unsuccessfully bid just shy of 500,000gns and instead ended up buying a certain Kauto Star.
27. Million In Mind
Garde Champetre was sold in the 22-year-old syndicate’s annual dispersal, always staged at Doncaster in May. The ring is never as packed through the year as when Million In Mind’s members turn up. Other bumper results include the sales of Royal Rosa (340,000gns in 2003), Mister Banjo (240,000gns in 2000), Afsoun (270,000gns in 2006) and Tricky Trickster (£320,000 in 2009).
28. David Minton
No National Hunt agent in the modern era can boast a longer-standing high-profile association with DBS than Minton, through his days with the CBA, BBA and now Highflyer Bloodstock, alongside Anthony Bromley. Minton’s wife Juliet is also a leading vendor from Shropshire-based Mill House Stud.
An integral part of the May store and National Hunt foal fixtures was the pre-sale show-classes with guest judges. The May class has been axed, although the TBA-backed foal show continues.
30. Goldford Stud
Richard and Sally Aston’s Cheshire nursery has dominated the show classes and store sales, and its most recent star was Riverside Theatre, sold for 44,000gns in 2007.
31. Barry Geraghty
Getting just £20,000 in 2009 for a four-year-old at Doncaster did not seem a great result at the time for vendor Barry Geraghty. Subsequently named Bobs Worth, he has brought rewards for his vendor as a jockey on the racecourse with wins at the last two Cheltenham Festivals.
32. Cheltenham Gold Cup
See More Business, who was bought for 5,600gns as a store by Richard Barber, was the latest Cheltenham Gold Cup winner sold at Doncaster. Others are Charter Party, Master Oats and Royal Frolic.
Doncaster’s record turnover in the halcyon days of 2007. Last year in the post-recession era, the aggregate was £27,689,600.
34. Purple Door
Doncaster is not one of the country’s cultural epicentres and some salesgoers found themselves in this down-to-earth gentleman’s club. It was not quite Stringfellows – one of the hostesses was fondly known as Miss Leeds 1974 – and spawned a racehorse who showed a similar level of class to the venue after which she was named.
Doncaster’s shopkeepers love a play on words. While driving to the sales, you can nip into the bookmaker Bet Davis, buy a drink at the Rhythm ‘n Booze off licence, get a bite to eat at Joe’s Plaice chip shop, purchase perfume at Heaven Scent, get your car washed at Mr Hand Job or a coiffeur at Richard E Gent’s Hairdressers.
36. Michael Owen
Doncaster’s new £7 million sales complex finally overcame endless red tape to begin selling on April 1, 2008, with the Lincoln Handicap Sale. Manchester United striker Owen opened the venue.
Many in the bloodstock world were surprised in April 2007 with news that DBS was in merger talks with Ireland’s premier sales company. The deal was completed that July, with DBS receiving a 9% stake in Goffs. Henry Beeby moved to Ireland as Goffs’ Chief Executive.
Doncaster’s old complex had developed some problem areas and one was a damp wall in the press room that proved a remarkably fertile breeding ground for mushrooms.
39. Cockney Rebel
Exactly 38 years after a St Leger Sale graduate had won an English Classic, Geoff Huffer saddled Cockney Rebel to win the 2007 2,000 Guineas. He was purchased for 30,000gns by Bobby O’Ryan, an agent who rarely misses a sale at Doncaster.
40. Sales race
Introduced at Doncaster in 1998 and now held at York in August, the £300,000 race for Premier Sale graduates boasts an impressive roll of
honour that includes the likes of Acclamation and Somnus.
41. Ladies’ Day
Much of the partying from St Leger week Thursday on the racecourse used to carry on in the evening when the main yearling sale took place across the road. A police presence was usually required to diffuse disagreements between well-oiled visitors. Matters are more restrained at the Festival Sale taking place that week at the new complex.
42. Canford Cliffs
Possibly the best horse sold at the St Leger Sale. A five-time Group 1 winner and now Coolmore stallion who was bought for £50,000 by Peter Doyle in 2008.
43. Irish 2,000 Guineas
Doncaster yearling graduates have excelled in Ireland’s first Classic. Canford Cliffs (2010) was following Right Tack (1969), Turtle Island (1994) and Cockney Rebel (2007) when scoring at the Curragh.
The record-priced St Leger Sale graduate, having realised 275,000gns when bought by Hamdan Al Maktoum in 2006. That price was nearly matched by Gale Force Ten, last year’s £280,000 sale-topper, now in training with Aidan O’Brien.
45. Howard Johnson
The now warned-off trainer was a prolific spender for Graham Wylie over the past decade with purchases such as Presenting Forever (£370,000), Royal Rosa (340,000gns), Percussionist (340,000gns), Tidal Bay (300,000gns), On Raglan Road (£320,000), Kealshore Boy (290,000gns), Feathard Lady (270,000gns), Logans Run (220,000gns), Beauchamp Gigi (200,000gns), Diamond Sal (200,000gns) and Bleak House (200,000gns).
A surprising number of Doncaster graduates have excelled across the Atlantic. Kentucky Derby fourth Jumron, Santa Anita Derby scorer The Deputy and Grade 1 winners Milk It Mick and Daytona, bought with the help of Rebecca Curtis, among them.
47. Dream Ahead
Realised £36,000 at the 2010 breeze-up and went on to be one of the best DBS graduates, with five Group 1 successes by the time he retired to Ballylinch Stud this year.
Already has one Group 1 win on board, last year’s Prix du Moulin, and many will expect the bargain £20,000 Doncaster yearling to add to that tally this year from his new base at Ballydoyle.
49. Rock On Ruby
Richard Barber bought a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner at Doncaster in See More Business and completed a rare double in March when Rock On Ruby, whom he had purchased for £23,000 as a store, won the Champion Hurdle.
50. Henry Beeby
Last but very much not least. Ken Oliver and Willie Stephenson may have founded the firm and Harry Beeby did much to help it grow, but nobody has done more for DBS than the latter’s son Henry, its driving force for the past 25 years. Still DBS Managing Director alongside his role at Goffs, the workaholic Beeby has been involved in all aspects of the company.