Gambling | The Smart Money

Ring in the new yearlings

Horse racing’s biggest buyers are already chomping at the bit for next month’s Tattersalls auction of the most promising one-year-olds of 2011.

September 04 2011
Jamie Reid

If you love beautiful, exciting and unpredictable things, the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale, Book One – taking place at Park Paddocks, Newmarket, between October 5 and 7 – won’t disappoint.

Scores of British-classic winners have been sold at Tattersalls down the years. The name is synonymous with quality bloodlines, and only Europe’s best-bred and best-looking yearlings are accepted for the Book One catalogue.

At the 2010 auction, 449 horses were sold for a total of over £48m, with the top lot, a blue-blooded daughter of the champion sire Galileo, knocked down to Coolmore Stud for a cool 1.2m guineas. By comparison, the least expensive lot cost 5,000 guineas.

Bloodstock auctions are inimitable pieces of theatre, and you don’t have to be a prospective buyer to enjoy the show. The human participants are almost as entertaining to watch as the objects of their desire.

In the 1950s and 1960s, men who automatically wore a trilby to the races all turned up at the sales in uniform tweed caps and hacking jackets. The more nouveau riche owners among them proclaimed their arriviste tendencies by sporting tweeds a little too well pressed and fresh off the peg.

Nowadays, many trainers and bloodstock agents – male or female – favour jeans, cowboy boots and baseball caps, but the smartly suited auctioneers, led by Tattersalls chairman Edmond Mahony, still conduct proceedings with a time-honoured mixture of formality and élan.

When the choicest lots enter the ring, you can feel a sizzle of electricity among the sport’s biggest bidders. As well as a proven pedigree, they’re always impressed by good looks – but, in this marketplace, appearances can be deceptive.

The handsome son of a Derby winner may seem the equine equivalent of George Clooney, and a petite chestnut filly may radiate beauty and poise, but they, of course, remain dumb animals that don’t know how much they cost or who their parents were, and are not always aware that one of their main tasks in life is to run fast – as some of the syndicate owners at Highclere Thoroughbreds can testify.

One of their brightest stars last season was the two-year-old filly Memory, a Royal Ascot winner for the champion trainer Richard Hannon. She was strongly fancied for the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket in May, and her connections were all present and waiting with bated breath. But when the starting stalls opened on the Rowley Mile, she literally dug her heels in and declined to move. She eventually trailed home a distant last.

On a more positive note, the Highclere-owned Dominant, who cost 95,000 guineas at Tattersalls in 2009, romped home in one of this season’s Tattersalls Millions Sales Races at Newmarket in June.

A total of £1.75m is on offer for the eight contests, which range from six furlongs to a mile and a quarter and are staged between the August of a horse’s two-year-old career and the following June. Entry fees are just £4,000, and to qualify for the 2012 series, yearlings will have to have been purchased at Tattersalls Book One Sale next month. As they say in poker, “If you’re not in, you can’t win.”

There will be considerable bloodstock interest in the outcome of the St Leger at Doncaster on September 10. Twelve months ago I tipped the winner Arctic Cosmos at 10-1, and this year I’ve backed Highclere’s improving colt Census, part-owned by Elizabeth Hurley, each way at 5-1 with the Tote.