Racing: Magnier pays 2.1m guineas for Oaks heroine Ramruma

One of racing's iconic photographs of recent years was a most charming image of a pretty five-year-old princess gazing wide-eyed as a pretty three-year-old chestnut bent her head to accept a gift of grass held in a tiny hand. The two were namesakes: the little girl was Reema, youngest daughter of the late Fahd Salman; the filly the Oaks heroine who bore her pet name, Ramruma. It was a sweet, happy moment but, as all such that are frozen forever by the camera, overlaid with poignancy.

Four years on, the Saudi Arabian prince, Reema's father, is dead, of a heart attack at the unfairly early age of 46. Yesterday Ramruma, one of the champion racehorses who gave him such pleasure and enriched the annals of the Turf, was sold off in Newmarket as part of the final dispersal of Salman's stock, waddling round the Tattersalls auction ring heavy in foal to Machiavellian.

To secure such a prize, the Coolmore Stud owner, John Magnier, had to pay 2.1m guineas, a European record for a broodmare. The price was unsurprising. Ramruma was bred in royal purple and performed accordingly, winning the Oaks, Irish Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks of 1999. Again, there were bittersweet memories attached; her year was the last annus mirabilis for her trainer Henry Cecil. That season he also sent out the winners of the 1,000 Guineas, Wince; the Derby, Oath, and the International, Royal Anthem, and the last two named ran for Ahmed Salman who, shockingly, died suddenly within 12 months of his older brother. Ramruma's win on the Knavesmire was the penultimate time the battle flag at Warren Place was hoisted for a Group One success in this country.

Cecil was on hand yesterday to see another page turn as his old favourite went under the hammer and the great and the good of the industry joined him, crowded into the high-domed Tattersalls arena to pay homage to a proper racehorse. "She was a marvellous mare," he said, "with such good memories. I just had to come to see her."

The occasion was the December Sales, the final flourish of the British auction calendar and the year's last great international gathering of the bloodstock circus. Here, in the shape of pregnant mares and maiden fillies, is the seed-corn that will provide for the future of Thoroughbred breeding. Horsemen and women from all over the globe come, as they have for more than a century, to secure the choicest bloodlines, to buy into some of the Turf's great families and to maybe, just maybe, launch a dynasty of their own.

For those out and about on the racecourse the Flat season may now be a distant memory these grey winter days but here on the factory floor many a long-term masterplan is being hatched with Epsom, Churchill Downs or even Flemington as the final objective. The quest for the holy grail will mean, by the time the gavel descends for the last time tomorrow night, turnover approaching £40m for Tattersalls, Europe's largest equine auction house. A solid December Sales represents faith in the future.

All the big studs and stables offload stock surplus each year and when the opportunity comes to buy into a top bloodline breeders flock like vultures, at all levels of the market, to weave more threads into the tapestry that is the Thoroughbred stud book.

The beauty - in fact, one of the linchpins - of the breeding business is the fact that, because of the way genetics works, a discarded crust from one man's table can, given a different chef and a new set of recipes, turn into another's feast. The mothers of two of this year's best performers were December graduates: High Chapparal's dam Kasora was sold for 270,000gns and Melbourne Cup victrix Makybe Diva's, Tegela, for 60,000gns.

Ramruma was one of three Oaks heroines with a date with an auctioneer catalogued this week. The first, Margarula, 33-1 winner at the Curragh last year and now expecting a Sadler's Wells foal in February, went through the ring for 835,000gns on Monday, sold to Russian interests. The third, Lady Carla, another of Cecil's seven successful Epsom girls, goes under the hammer this evening as part of the break-up of Wafic Said's bloodstock empire.

The consignment from Salman's Newgate Stud, Ramruma and 12 compadres, grossed 5,305,000gns. The star of the show was last in; the warm-up acts included Darshaan's niece Dandanna at 300,000gns, heading for the States; Moon Ballad's sister Velouette at 240,000gns, off to Ireland, and Oaks third Midnight Line, due in February to Rainbow Quest, at a mere 1.3m guineas. Sheikh Mohammed bought her for his Darley operation but, despite the fact that, in the St Leger, Ramruma made Mutafaweq go to his limit, the Maktoum brothers would not go beyond theirs yesterday.

As the bidding yesterday went past the previous record, the 1.7m for Gossamer's sister Brocatelle three years ago, the final battle for Ramruma, conducted by the auction house chairman, Edmond Mahony, before a hushed audience, concerned only Magnier and Sheikh Hamdan's man Angus Gold.

The Irishman set a new mark at 1.8m, Gold ventured a small step to 50,000gns more, Magnier countered with 1.9m and the jump to the round figure was Gold's final offer.

After the beautiful chestnut daughter of Diesis delivers her baby in February, she will be mated with Sadler's Wells. What price the result of their tryst for the 2008 Derby?

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