The bloodstock and racing business can be a meta- phor for life; the haves and have-nots, equine and human, in terms of talent, wealth, nous, luck. At Wolverhampton yesterday the lower orders were scrabbling round for prizes of less than £2,000; in Newmarket last week, in the great domed auction ring on the hill at the edge of the town, £100,000 was as carelessly spent as a tenner.
The Tattersalls arena certainly earned its rather pejorative epithet: the temple of Mammon. The occasion was the December Sales and by the time the hammer fell for the last time on Friday night, an unprecedented £100 million had changed hands. The High Street stores may be bemoaning a flat Christmas but not Europe's grandest equine emporium.
There were so many seven-figure transactions that any beginning with "1" was almost unremarkable. The high spot came when the pregnant four-year-old Magical Romance, winner of the Cheveley Park Stakes two years ago, made 4.6 million guineas, a world auction record for a female and a European record in any category.
Demand for proven and potential mares was extraordinary and while there is always the fear that the whole thing will in due course implode, as it must, the bull run is no bad thing. A strong market in breeding stock, in seedcorn, is a statement of faith in the future of the industry.
But there is strong, and strong, and last week's events - the average price was 47 per cent up - caught even professionals by surprise. "The top end has been remarkable," said Adrian Nicoll, one of the longstanding agents in the field, "but I suppose the truth of it is that there is an awful lot of disposable money in the world. And this week is an international theatre."
There is more fresh money flooding into this part of the industry than any other, but it does not disguise the fact that racing's financial balances are skewed. "I just wish more people would buy to race," said Nicoll, "but the tragedy is the level of prize money. If we had proper prize money in this country, this business would really go through the roof."
A significant number of bloodstock investment companies are now operating at elite levels, set up with the express purpose of buying for re-sale.
More gratifying last week was the emergence of a breeding-to-race operation. The Rothschild family - mother Lady Serena and son Nat - bought Magical Romance and also, for 3m guineas, the Sun Chariot Stakes heroine Spinning Queen. Sheikh Mohammed was underbidder for both.
"This is something that has been badly needed," said agent Dick O'Gorman, another veteran observer of the scene, "another end-user who can play at the top."
The Rothschild name has long been associated with racing, in France and here. The fortunes of this branch of the family, based on banking, land, art and trust funds, have been boosted recently by shrewd investments in internet and mining interests; new old money. The beautiful Magical Romance, due to foal next month to top sire Pivotal, and Spinning Queen will join a 12-strong broodmare band at stately Waddesdon Stud, near Aylesbury.
Their sales are part of the industry's turning wheel. Magical Romance proved a windfall for construction industry magnate Con Wilson, who bought her for 125,000gns as a yearling and saw her value rocket this summer when her half-sister Alexandrova win three Oaks. "I thought she might make a bit," said Wilson, "and I bought three yearlings on the strength of it. But not in my wildest dreams did I expect that price."
Swiss entrepreneur Klaus Jacobs, through his Newsells Park Stud in Hertfordshire, is another recent bloodstock highflyer and acquired Specifically, dam of Speciosa, for 1.85m guineas, plus High Chaparral's sister Helena Moloney (1.1m) and Magical Romance's aunt, Puce, (750,000gns).
Sheikh Mohammed did go home with two in his shopping cart, the good broodmare Mackie for 1.6m guineas and Musidora and St Simon Stakes winner Short Skirt, who will race on for Godolphin next year, for 1.4m.
In this stock market, the commodities traded have the attraction of bright eyes and individual personalities. "You are a rich man with money to spare," said Jimmy George, one of the Tattersalls directors. "What do you do - phone your stockbroker or come and wander round here for a few days? This is much more fun."
l Recent Punchestown winner Ross River is set to form part of a strong Irish challenge for the £150,000 boylesports.com Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday. The 10-year-old grey, trained by Tony Martin, is rated an 8-1 chance by the sponsors, ,but Martin warns that his charge may be poorly handicapped. Ross River is one of four Irish confirmations to appear among a total of 28. Also set to represent Ireland are Kill Devil Hill, Pearly Jack and Darby Wall.
Boylesports.com Gold Cup (2m5f Cheltenham, Saturday) Sponsors bet: 5-1 Taranis, 8-1 Exotic Dancer, Commercial Flyer, Ross River, 10-1 Reveillez, 12-1 Copsale Lad, New Alco, 14-1 Cerium, Thisthatandtother, Kill Devil Hill, Graphic Approach, Hasty Prince, No Full, 16-1 Tamarinbleu, Knowhere, Pearly Jack, 20-1 Mariah Rollins, Billyvoddan, Bannow Strand, Madison Du Berlais, Darby Wall, 25-1 others.
Nap: Silver Snitch (Sedgefield 2.20)
NB: Folie A Deux (Fontwell 1.10)