Britain’s most innovative bloodstock auction since the first breeze-up was held in 1977 is about to take place for the fifth time.

That breeze-up auction at Doncaster was an original, and so is the Futter family’s Yorton Sale, which takes place on  a private stud farm and bucks the current trend for selling unbroken young jumpers/ stores at the age of three. Instead it offers them as yearlings and two-year-olds, following a pattern popular in France and which has the aim of working and educating jump-bred thoroughbreds at a younger age.

Over-doing a very young horse is likely to prove counter-productive, but in the hands of talented practitioners who know when and how to press the buttons it is said to benefit musculoskeletal development, cartilage and tendons, while providing early lessons which benefit the embryonic racehorse once they enter training. David Futter, who runs Yorton Stud with his wife Birte and sons  Lester and Riley, tried and found no downside to the method, and spotting a gap in the market decided to stage a sale devoted to younger stores.

The next renewal takes place amid bucolic Powys countryside on September 7 and involves a 50-lot catalogue comprising 39 two-year-olds and 11 yearlings by 31 sires. Fourteen fillies are joined by 34 geldings and two colts, each lot to be sold at the stud by Goffs. In case you are in any doubt at a time when inboxes receive daily marketing updates about online sales, Yorton’s is of the traditional, horse-in-the-ring type.

David Futter: ‘As each year has gone by we have gained a better feel for what the market wants’. Photo – Carl Evans

Tim Kent, managing director at Goffs’ UK division, says of the Yorton Sale: “It’s a good concept offering something different, and the addition of the BHA’s junior hurdle series has made buying  two-year-old stores more appealing. There’s greater understanding from trainers and point-to-point handlers that getting on with horses earlier does them no harm.

“Nothing happens fast, but people are starting to see benefits from good pinhooks [when Yorton Sale graduates are reoffered at the age of three] and racing results.”

It is a classic mid-summer morning – classic for 2023 – and the pick-up truck’s wipers are on maximum as Futter navigates lanes narrowed by rain-bent foliage while driving to his latest project. It is a leased 325-acre farm of sweeping hills, lush grass and broad-leaved trees, a perfect and peaceful venue for the stud’s large broodmare band to raise foals.

A man of restless energy he may wear out, but will never rust away. There were no equestrians in his immediate family, but he developed the bug for horses at a local riding school and made his first steps in business by selling hunters. Adding equine dentistry to his repertoire enabled him to compile the funds to develop a stud, and that knowledge of horse molars complements Birte’s role as the resident vet.

Of the fifth anniversary of the Yorton Sale he says: “As each year has gone by we have gained a better feel for what the market wants. Any money we have made has been reinvested in getting better stock for the next sale or one after.

“It has become a little more challenging because trade for horses has gone up and that means we are paying more for the horses we buy in as foals or yearlings for the sale. Some come from public auction, others we buy privately from breeders, often in France and Germany, but almost 50 per cent of the catalogue involves home-bred horses, not all by our own stallions.”

Offering yearling and two-year-old stores to the market was a gamble, but the sale made a good start in 2019 with a  £105,000 top lot. Covid’s intervention did  not help the second sale which  resulted in slightly lower figures, but turnover has reached a seven-figure sum in the past two years and the average and median prices have steadily risen. The average price last year was £31,862 following 36 sales from 41 lots.

Perversely the Futters’ auction has presented them with an issue not faced  by other studs; the need to sell foals to generate turnover while pondering whether to keep them to sell at Yorton as yearlings or two-year-olds. Futter says:

“We have to sell to survive, while keeping one eye on the following year and having enough of the right horses for our sale. We manage this by selling when a horse is ready to sell – if a horse is ready to sell as a foal we will take it to Doncaster or sell it privately off the farm. You have to be a stockman and know your stock.

“All the sales companies make more money out of auctioning Flat horses rather than jumpers, but we are lucky in Britain that we have two companies selling jumping horses. Goffs in particular has been very good at offering breeders opportunities to sell stock and I hope their new Select National Hunt Foal Sale and Show is well supported. It is important to look at the bigger picture and get behind the industry.”

At a time when stallion-centricity is acute, he says: “People are beginning to recognise that Yorton is good at prejudging young stallions and backing them by putting their young stock into our sale. It has been part of our foundation in picking some sires very few people have heard of – if a young horse looks like a racehorse and the pedigree suggests he or she will stay a mile and a half on the Flat or go jumping, we will buy them, even though the sire is unproven.”

A yearling filly bound for the sale shows the benefit of early jumping lessons. Photo – Yorton

Victorian farm to thriving stud

The Futters’ recently acquired acreage is in addition to the fields and buildings they rent at Leighton near Welshpool from racehorse owners and breeders James and Jean Potter. No ordinary buildings, but a brick-built former Victorian model farm which in 2010 the Potters bought from the local council on condition they carried out a restoration programme.

That work continues within the restrictions placed on a Grade II  building of such historical importance, while the Futters have used it to create a thriving stud, home to four stallions.

Studs and stables come in a myriad of designs, and there is no doubt that a purpose-built contemporary structure would look very different to Leighton, but it should be a must-see for anyone with an interest in breeding and racing.

Walking around the rectangular complex you can smell the history and marvel at the vision of its founder, John Naylor, who erected the farm between 1847 and 1860, bringing together the best of Victorian industrial and agricultural practice. By staging the Yorton Sale at Leighton, the Futters introduce customers to all areas of their business, and it is doubtful many leave without a sense of awe at the premises.

Futter says: “Many years ago when I was trading hunters I wanted to stage a sale at home. It promotes your brand and reputation, and if you sell successful horses people will hopefully come back. Yorton graduates have won and been placed in Graded races, and we want to reach the stage where people looking for a young horse will have our name on the tip of their tongue.

“Yorton is a working stud farm, not a sales complex, so we cannot put in place rubber runways and the like, but we have put more loose jumping in and placed artificial grass surfaces within the yards. In addition to the temporary structures such as a sales office and auctioneers’ podium, we have food and refreshment areas and have created a better flow from the stabling to the auction ring for horses and clients.

“Goffs [Goffs UK at previous sales] have become massive partners and a big help in this. We could not have started without their help, and as a result of that partnership they held a series of point-to-point sales at Yorton in 2020 and 2021, which was a great help to vendors when Covid was making their trade very difficult.”

Would he like to stage similar auctions in future? “You can never say never, but at the moment the sales calendar is very tight. The point-to-point handlers from Ireland seemed to like our sales, they could get off the boat and be with us in two hours and because of our location the agents could come in, do business and leave without any distractions. The door hasn’t been closed, but there is nothing planned.”

Futter has never been afraid of competition, believing it is good for business and saying: “You have to be confident in what you are producing.” He sees no threat from Goffs’ inclusion of a section of two-year-old stores at its one-day Doncaster September Sale, which takes place the day before Yorton’s auction, having been staged in August last year.

It is thought Doncaster will catalogue some 20 two-year-olds, roughly half the number of last year, but buyers of horses in that age group, particularly those travelling from Ireland and France, now have two opportunities to purchase – at Doncaster and Yorton – in a 24-hour window.

Futter says: “What I can say about our sale is that we select very nice horses and we try to create an event by bringing together people from all areas of the industry in a welcoming atmosphere. Feedback suggests people like buying from one family who have worked with and know the horses and who will say ‘the reserve is this’. We won’t put a horse in the sale if we have any doubts or feel it needs more time. If a horse misbehaves we withdraw it.

“We believe in putting on a sale where we can stand behind every horse, price them correctly, look a buyer in the eye and tell them all about the horse. If people don’t buy we hope they enjoy the experience and will return another day.”

Inthepocket: Grade 1 winner is an early sale graduate. Photo – Bill Selwyn

Futter’s take on stallions

“We had five at the start of the year, but lost Masterstroke to a heart attack early in the last covering season which was a blow.

“Scalo has been leased to France [Haras de Gelos] and Linda’s Lad has been leased to James and Amelia Gray [of Lincolnshire’s Elusive Bloodstock], but we are standing Pether’s Moon,  Gentlewave, Arrigo and Ito. We were delighted to get Ito for the latest covering season because he is by Adlerflug who was a wonderful sire, he’s out of a Grade 1-winning mare and he’s a full-brother to Group 1 winner In Swoop who stands at Coolmore [Beeches Stud]. There’s a lot to like about him.”

Yorton stood six stallions in 2022, but Futter does not envisage returning to that number in the near future. He says: “The market has changed dramatically in the past three or four years and not only in this country. In France and Ireland too breeders are going to two or three popular sires and it makes it very difficult. I just hope one of those sires makes it with success on the track, because when people turn on a stallion they turn on it, which makes it tough for breeders to shift stock.

“Too many breeders are breeding to sell rather than to breed winners, and I understand they have bills to pay, but there is only one way to become a successful breeder and that is by producing winners on the track. Being commercial doesn’t always suit a mare. It’s a chicken and egg and we need a new system.

“The Great British Bonus [GBB] has been fantastic for fillies, and while better prize-money would help breeders, it would also be of benefit if there was an incentive scheme to encourage them to put horses into training, rather than breeding for the sales ring.

“The racing authorities have to bear in mind that without breeders there is no racing. We are lucky that many breeders produce horses out of passion and thank God they do. If it was just for  financial gain there would be far fewer of them.”

Are fledgling studs such as Dahlbury and Alne Park Stud, the popularity of Nathaniel to Jump breeders and the potential of Golden Horn, hitting his own books of mares? He says: “It will have an effect on our stallions, but I’ve been in this game a long time and you need new faces coming in. I don’t just mean stallion investors, but people like Grace and Dan Skelton who are starting up a stud farm from scratch and investing in mares and infrastructure.

“We need people like that, because investors will come and go, while stud owners are in for the longer term. We need Nathanials and Golden Horns in this country.”