It’s been a long time coming but for Johnny Collins, the belated opener to the breeze-up season at Thursday’s Tattersalls Craven Sale in Newmarket was well worth the wait thanks to a Night Of Thunder colt who set a new benchmark for the vendor on a 575,000gns valuation.

It was a much-needed feel good story on a day that was challenging for many of the consignors involved. Yet a tricky market was to be expected as the world continues to grapple with Covid-19. A number of vendors have understandably chosen to sell what stock they can privately; others have opted to take their chance at public auction. Regardless, the end result was a depleted Craven catalogue of 84 lots – down from 154 – staged over two months later than its original date in an arena governed by strict protocols.

Tattersalls chairman Edmond Mahony summed up the general feeling well in his closing statement by paying tribute to the resilience of the breeze-up community.

“First and foremost we would like to pay tribute to each and every individual who has worked so hard to make sure that the 2020 Craven Breeze Up Sale took place under almost normal conditions, albeit more than two months later than intended,” he said. “In particular we should recognise the patience and commitment of the breeze up consignors who have worked with us every step of the way and have adapted to the challenges that the global pandemic has thrown at people in every walk of life.

“None of us can pretend that the past few months have been easy, but in these times of adversity it has been even more pleasing than usual to see so many of the consignors well rewarded.”

“He has always been a powerful galloper”

While some rewards were forthcoming, the closing figures showed a drop in trade across-the-board, with 70 lots selling for a total of 6,649,500gns, down 36 per cent from 2019, and at an average of 94,993gns, a drop of 22 per cent. The median fell by 28 per cent to 61,000gns.

Barely half the pinhooks offered turned a profit (taking into account those that sold on their last auction appearance) although against that, 82 per cent through the ring were listed as sold.

As ever, the money was there for the big horse and in that, the day belonged to Johnny and Barbara Collins of Brown Island Stables for the sale of their Night Of Thunder colt for 575,000gns to Tom Biggs of Blandford Bloodstock. Collins paid £72,000 for the colt at last year’s Goffs UK Premier Sale, having previously enjoyed a major turn with one by the sire who sold for 375,000gns at last year’s Craven Sale. It was a landmark achievement for Collins, who was not only recording a personal best but also a first sale-topper.

“I had one by Night Of Thunder last year [multiple winner Path Of Thunder] and really wanted to get another to join the team,” said Collins. “He went through the ring very early at Doncaster, looked like an April 28 foal and was only 15hh high – he is a 16hh horse now.

“The time delay this spring has probably helped him, but he has always been a powerful galloper.”

Johnny and Barbara Collins with Alan Hannigan (right) with the Night Of Thunder colt – Photo: Nancy Sexton

Bred in Britain by The Flying One, the colt is the third foal out of triple winner Thurayaat, a Tamayuz granddaughter of 1,000 Guineas and Oaks heroine Midway Lady.

Plans call for the colt to be trained in Newmarket, as Biggs explained.

“He will stay in Newmarket,” he said. “It was a little more than we had wanted to spend, but you have to pay for this sort of horse. He is a lovely horse; he did a very nice breeze and his sire is doing so well.”

Also staying in Newmarket is a popular son of American Pharoah, who is set to join Simon Crisford after selling for 400,000gns out of the Star Bloodstock draft to an online bid from owner Simon Chapell.

Picked up for $170,000 at Keeneland last September by Byron Rogers and Newminster Bloodstock, the colt is a half-brother to the stakes-placed Song River and out of minor stakes winner Harlan’s Honor.

“I know the guys at Star Bloodstock and they’ve been telling me this colt is a good horse all year,” said Chappell. “At 400,000gns there was no way I was letting a horse like him slip through the net. He’s by the sire of the moment in American Pharoah, he did the third-fastest breeze and has a massive stride, so I used the online bidding system and bought the horse.”

Another American-bred, a daughter of Hard Spun, also found favour, selling as part of the supplementary catalogue for 375,000gns to end the day as the sale’s top filly. Peter Swann’s Cool Silk Partnership, acting with Stroud Coleman, landed the youngster, a daughter of minor American stakes winner Lemonette who was unsold on her previous auction appearance for $70,000 at last year’s Keeneland September Sale.

The late start to the breeze-up season actually played in her favour, as vendor Willie Browne of Mocklershill explained.

“She only arrived with us on March 2,” said Browne. “Then the only sale open was Goresbridge, but with the delays, and as she was working so well, we entered her here on a wild card.

“She is a lovely filly, a seriously good filly, and has been very busy since we got here.”

The Craven Sale was the first auction at Tattersalls in over a decade to offer internet bidding and although there were teething problems, its addition helped aid a welcome level of international participation. As Mahony outlined in his closing statement, buyers from an array of different countries made their presence felt.

“We should equally recognise the huge contribution made by today’s purchasers,” said Mahony. “They have yet again demonstrated the enduring appetite for quality European thoroughbreds and the esteem in which the Craven Breeze Up is held.

“Even in these extraordinary times we have had buyers active from all corners of the world including Australia, Bahrain, Dubai, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Qatar and Spain and the domestic demand has also exceeded expectations.

“Obviously the highlight was Johnny Collins’ spectacular pinhooking triumph with his outstanding 575,000 guineas sale-topping Night of Thunder colt, but there were numerous other success stories and we can be confident that there will be plenty of 2020 Craven Breeze Up graduates performing at the highest level.

“We are expecting international travel restrictions to be eased in the near future, which will be a great relief, and as we look forward to the Tattersalls Guineas Breeze Up and July Sale it has also been encouraging to see the new internet bidding facility being widely used by buyers at all levels of the market.

“We have done our best to explore every possible way for buyers to participate at our sales in these unusual times and it has clearly been well received.”

Prince Of Lir all the rage

Prince Of Lir was the sire on everyone’s mind at the Tattersalls Ascot Breeze-Up Sale, which was staged in Newmarket immediately following the Craven Sale on Thursday.

Ballyhane Stud’s son of Kodiac has made a flying start to his stud career as the sire of last week’s Norfolk Stakes winner The Lir Jet, success that translated on Thursday to the sale of the top two lots.

Leading the way was a half-brother to the Listed-placed Andhesontherun who sold to Mark McStay of Avenue Bloodstock for 92,000gns, a fine markup on the €10,000 that vendor Thomond O’Mara of Knockanglass Stables paid for the colt at last year’s Tattersalls Ireland September Sale.

Meanwhile, the Cool Silk Partnership, who raced Prince Of Lir himself, went to 70,000gns for a colt out of the six-time winner Little Italy from M. C. Thoroughbreds.

The Tattersalls Ascot Sale might not boast the standing of some of its counterparts, but sale officials could take satisfaction from a solid trade that produced figures remarkably resilient to last year. In all, 50 lots changed hands for a total of 1,000,440gns. The average fell by just three per cent to 20,009gns while the median actually posted an improvement from 2019, rising by 21 per cent to 15,750gns.