Racing: Sadler's Wells leads the way in tsunami aid

The notion of worrying about which one of a group of horses can run faster than the others was rather put into perspective by the events in South-East Asia on Boxing Day. But racing has done its bit in the fund-raising stakes and no operation was quicker out of the stalls to help those affected by the tsunami than Coolmore Stud, whose 12-day auction of stallion services ended yesterday with more than £1m in the coffers for the Red Cross.

The notion of worrying about which one of a group of horses can run faster than the others was rather put into perspective by the events in South-East Asia on Boxing Day. But racing has done its bit in the fund-raising stakes and no operation was quicker out of the stalls to help those affected by the tsunami than Coolmore Stud, whose 12-day auction of stallion services ended yesterday with more than £1m in the coffers for the Red Cross.

John Magnier's empire stands 50 stallions worldwide - 30 in Ireland, 18 in North America, one in Italy, one in Australia - and donated a nomination to each for this season. With the Kentucky January sales in full swing, bids from some of the game's leading players were still coming as the final deadline approached late last night. "People are hanging on until the last minute," said the Coolmore spokesman, Richard Henry, "and we reckon the total will be something like $2m [£1.7m]. The generosity shown has been staggering, especially as many of the individuals concerned had already made private donations as well. We simply did not expect anything like it."

Although Coolmore is oft-criticised for its policy of large, seemingly unlimited, books for many of its stallions, without exception the bids were either equal to or more than the advertised stud fee. But the charity initiative represented a genuinely rare chance for breeders to get to some of the higher-profile horses, whose matings are restricted. The rising star at Coolmore America, Ashford Stud in Kentucky, for instance, is Fusaichi Pegasus, who won the Kentucky Derby five years ago and made an immediate impact with his first-crop juveniles last season. He is advertised at $150,000; the price was $170,000 and rising last night.

But the pick of the limited editions is, of course, Sadler's Wells, who last year won a record 14th sires' championship, beating the 206-year-old tally of 18th century star Highflyer. The son of Northern Dancer, king of Coolmore Ireland in Co Tipperary, is now 24-years-old, his fee is not advertised and the number and quality of his books is, in deference to his venerable age, monitored. At the last count top of the list for a place at his court this spring was Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms, whose offer of €250,000 (£175,000) capped the bid of Alec Wildenstein.

Breeding is always a gamble; in this case particularly so. Normal practice demands payment for services if the mare is confirmed still pregnant in October, but the urgency of the current situation means that the winning bidders must fork out next week, on a non-returnable basis. In the event of barrenness, there is the right of return to the same horse for another go next year. But let's be honest, with an old boy like Sadler's Wells, there is no guarantee that he will still be sexually active or even alive this time next year.

Second choice among the Co Tipperary horses was Rock Of Gibraltar, a sensational racehorse but an unproven sire. His first foals were born last year; Sir Robert Ogden, whose bid of €70,000 (£50,000) was 78 per cent over the odds, has made sure he has the chance of one next year.

Much of the fund-raising in the racing community is being co-ordinated under a Racing To Help banner, and will be an ongoing effort. Pat Eddery has pledged £50 per length of the winning margins for every winner his Pat Eddery Racing syndicate has this year, with a minimum of £50 per victory. "It is at times like this," said the former champion jockey, "when racing, great sport that it is, seems slightly irrelevant. We want to make a contribution to a relief effort that is going to need billions in the long term."

* No sooner had the 40 entries for the Cheltenham Gold Cup been announced, than one of them dropped out. The Noel Meade-trained Harbour Pilot, third behind Best Mate and Sir Rembrandt last year, has picked up a minor injury to a foreleg and will not run again this season. But another recent placee is on course for another tilt; Trucker's Tavern, second in 2003 but badly out of form since, came in from the wilderness at Wetherby on Boxing Day and is to continue his rehabilitation at Haydock on Saturday week in the Peter Marsh Chase, a race he won before his Cheltenham effort.

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