Racing: New careers beckon for second-hand bargains

Low mileage, one careful owner. Nice little runner. Suit you very well, sir. Wife doesn't like the colour? I expect we can find you one in chestnut. The patter may not be entirely accurate, but the gist is there. The Tattersalls Autumn Horses-in-Training sale, the largest, most cosmopolitan used-horse mart in the world, is in full swing in Newmarket.

Low mileage, one careful owner. Nice little runner. Suit you very well, sir. Wife doesn't like the colour? I expect we can find you one in chestnut. The patter may not be entirely accurate, but the gist is there. The Tattersalls Autumn Horses-in-Training sale, the largest, most cosmopolitan used-horse mart in the world, is in full swing in Newmarket.

More than a thousand second-hand horses, some names we know well, others sad unknowns, will have been offered before close of business tomorrow. The auction marks the end of some hopes and dreams, the beginning of others. This is the sale at which stables large and small offload horses which are surplus to requirements for various reasons: some are simply no good, some have untapped potential but impatient owners, others are being cashed in at the height of their powers.

Some £12m in a dozen currencies will change hands, for the market is global. Time was when Britain's jump trainers would flock here to buy the big, backward colts who would soon become geldings. But the development of racing in the Middle East and the thriving demand from America, the Far East and Australasia has proved a thorn in the National Hunt side. Those prospecting for a Cheltenham star unearthed two recent Champion Hurdle winners, Alderbrook and Collier Bay, but such nuggets are becoming rarer.

The winter game's great and good were at ringside yesterday, trying to sift fact from fiction. The exploits of the horses are there on the catalogue page, but the trick is reading between the lines. "Above all you want a sound horse," said Philip Hobbs. "You try to find out what you can from the yard but sometimes that is the truth but not the whole truth. You look at the form book but often it comes down to gut feeling."

As haruspex, Hobbs has been more than prescient, with Amlah, Moody Man, Greenback, Village King, Dance In Tune, Runway Romance, Sadler's Realm and Spectrometer among captures. "None of them cost big money," he added, "Greenback, who won us eight juvenile hurdles, was just 8,000gns, and Runway Romance, who was second at Aintree, 12,000gns, and we sold him for eight times that to go jumping in America."

Yesterday Hobbs added two three-year-olds to his team, Barry Hills's Pontefract 10-furlong winner Night Driver at 20,000gns and the maiden Code Sign, a cast-off from Manton, for 22,000gns. Two generations ago the latter's family was producing a horse of the calibre of US Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. "Buying Flat-breds with form tends to give you a quicker result and return," he said. "Perhaps with jump-bred stores you'll ultimately get a longer-lasting chaser more often, but then Village King has won eight times over fences and is still with us."

The cover boys on this year's two-and-a-half-inch thick catalogue are Flat stars. Nuclear Debate made the transfer from the European arena to the States last year at a cost of 180,000gns and subsequently won a Grade Two sprint for Darrell Vienna; and Dandy Nicholls found July Cup and Prix de l'Abbaye winner Continent in the high-domed arena two years ago for 40,000gns. The record price at the fixture came last year, when Godolphin head-hunted Mill Reef Stakes winner Firebreak for 525,000gns.

Watch out for the Nicholls touch next year with 2000 Gimcrack Stakes winner Bannister, bought for a song on Monday, and with sometimes unenthusiastic-looking Chapter House, 57,000gns yesterday. "A Group One winner for 1,700gns," predicted the master of Tall Trees about Bannister, "no problem".

Vienna, from California, has been coming to Tattersalls for 15 years. "From an American standpoint, I think you get more mileage for your dollar," he said. "For sure, a horse who has been running in Europe may not adapt to the different environment and methods. But by buying a horse who has already raced and has shown it is sound, you're reducing the uncertainty. But the market this week is strong. I've usually bought 10 by now, but I've only taken one, Hannibal Lad, so far."

The horsetrading works from all standpoints. Take minor winner Iron Lad. The two-year-old cost 24,000gns last year, has been well placed by his small-scale trainer Noel Quinlan to win £25,000 this year and was sold to race in the States for 62,000gns. "The owners have had fun, and we've made it pay," said Quinlan, "cheques in are better than cheques out." The auctioneers' spiel from the rostrum kept going non-stop for 12 hours yesterday as horse after horse after horse circumnavigated the ring, plodding round incuriously and unknowingly with their fate decided by human whims. Lads and lasses say a sad goodbye to their charges, but that is part of the job, and there are the new yearlings to look forward to.

Yesterday the Irish Cambridgeshire winner Masani made 250,000gns, the second-best price ever at this sale, and is off to Saudi Arabia. He will be running there against Dune (180,000gns); Bakewell Tart (95,000gns) and Choir Master (70,000gns) head for the States and American Gothic (140,000gns) is off to Australia. Xtra (120,000gns) and Lowlander (125,000gns) are to go jumping. And the more improbable destinations are increasing; the maiden Woodman colt Cape Wind (15,000gns) leaves Barry Hills for Kazakhstan.

Strings arrived at this great exchange by air and sea from France, by horsebox from Lambourn and Middleham, and on foot in Indian file through the dark, wet Newmarket streets. Whatever their next job in new yard or unfamiliar land, we wish them well.

BHB hits back on funding

Rancour between racing's governing body, the British Horseracing Board, and the Racecourse Association continued yesterday with the BHB responding to the RCA's complaint to the Office of Fair Trading regarding the decision to raise minimum race values for next year by £18m. The RCA announced on Monday that it had made the complaint as, in deciding to raise the values, the BHB had "ignored the views of the RCA representatives on that board, its own executive and its expert committee, the Race Planning Committee".

Yesterday, the BHB's communications manager, Alan Delmonte, hit back, saying: "In May, the RCA cancelled an agreement which had been voluntarily entered into by all sectors of the industry and which divided the industry's incremental income fairly between racecourses, prize-money and central expenditure."

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