Racing: Magnier holds Coolmore's fire as the Sheikhs play wait and see

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The Independent Online

The great domed arena at Park Paddocks, home to auction house Tattersalls, is Europe's most glittering emporium for young racehorses and the great bidding battles between the Dubai and Co Tipperary factions, for the sons and daughters of the great stallions, have been the stuff of salering legend. But in future they will be fought on neutral ground. The Sheikh has made a unilateral declaration of independence; he has decided that he will no longer add to Magnier's bank balance by purchasing stock by Coolmore sires.

That, of course, rules out the Sadler's Wellses, the Danehills, those by the latest stallion sensations, Montjeu and Giant's Causeway, and by one tipped for future stardom, Rock Of Gibraltar, so there may be an element of nose-cutting and face-spiting here. Certainly, Magnier remains unmoved by the threat.

"Look," he said yesterday, "I can't comment of what other people do. We just get on with our business and let other people take care of theirs." In 30 years, Magnier, the principal mover and shaker in his field, has created a global bloodstock empire. The Sheikh and his brothers are still playing catch-up but the latest edict suggests they feel the time has come to stand alone. And only time will reveal the wisdom, or otherwise, of the policy.

The horse who might have provided a battleground yesterday was Lot 115A, a handsome colt with a hoof in both camps. A son of the dead Coolmore sire Grand Lodge, he was a full-brother to one of Godolphin's best runners, Grandera, and a half-brother to the Ballydoyle two-year-old star George Washington. Twelve months previously Mohammed had dropped out early from the bidding for the last-named, by Danehill, before Magnier secured him for 1.15m guineas. But this time round neither party took any interest and there was a distinct sense of anticlimax as the bidding for the easy-moving chestnut reached a mere 420,000 guineas.

He was not, in fact, sold; rather retained by his American breeders, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who will send him into training with James Fanshawe. Only time will reveal who was right. Grandera was good, but another sibling, Ampelio, who cost 800,000 guineas, has proved fairly useless. He cost 800,000 guineas and was tailed off first time out. It being Ramadan, there was conjecture as to whether Mohammed would show at all, but an early clue to his intentions was the presence of one of the family bodyguards, who took station in the seats high opposite the auctioneers' rostrum.

His master's eventual arrival during the afternoon in time for the Grand Lodge colt cause a frisson of anticipation, which quickly fizzled out. If not for that colt, was the wallet to be opened at all? "Wait and see," said the Sheikh with a playful smile. "He was very nice and his brother did well, but there are other nice ones.

And who knows which they are?" Mohammed and Magnier ackowledged each other with a nod when they came face to face in a gangway, but true to his vow, neither the Sheikh nor his brothers, nor their associates, not their associates' associates, touched anything with the Coolmore taint. The Sheikh's first strike - and he loves to bid in person - came when secured an Inchinor brother to top-class sprinter Cape Of Good Hope for 400,000gns. Later he paided the same for a filly by Hamdan's stallion Alhaarth, a half-sister to Mona Lisa from the family of two of his past celebrities, Kayf Tara and Opera House.

Magnier kept his own tried and tested policy, spending 625,000gns on an elegant, feisty-looking son of Montjeu, sire of course of Sunday's Arc hero Hurricane Run. And he pushed a Japanese buyer all the way to 800,000gns for a Galileo colt. But there was nothing in yesterday's catalogue to cause the rivals to lock horns. Trading started at 11.30 yesterday morning and lasted nearly seven hours. In a continuous carousel of desire horse after horse, bays, browns, chestnuts, greys, their high-gloss coats shimmering under the bright lights, paraded round and round below the seated banks of goggle-eyes.

Six individual auctioneers kept up their spiel, sometimes monotonous, occasionally arcane, without a break. This is a business built on dreams and watching them in the embryonic stage can be an exotic, even glamorous spectacle. The stand-off between the superpowers did not have a noticable effect on trading, with the average price yesterday, 119,754 guineas, riding above that of last year's. In fact, the vacuum created may afford (relatively) mere mortals in this rariefied industry- the day's turnover was more than 14 million guineas - a glimmer of hope and opportunity.

Witness the first horse of the day, a blue-boooded daughter of Montjeu, knocked down for 825,000 guineas. The buyer was Michael Ryan, a new-money Irish property developer previously into jumpers, notably good hurdler Al Eile. It is an ill haboob that blows nobody good.