Racing: Sheikh pays £1.2m for half-brother to George Washington

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The Independent Online

If his price tag is an indicator, then the chestnut yearling colt that Sheikh Mohammed bought at auction in Newmarket yesterday will be a better racehorse than his half-brother George Washington. Two years ago, the Ballydoyle team had to go to £1.15m to secure their subsequent 2,000 Guineas and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes hero; the winning bid for his young sibling was £1.2m.

Of course, the cost-and-value equation is never as simple as that. But there was much to like about the Sheikh's new recruit, a son of Pivotal and Bordighera, in addition to his blue-blooded pedigree. Though not as obviously precociously handsome as George Washington, the youngster has a deal of scope and a fluid, athletic movement contained within his immature frame.

"He will certainly need time to develop," said Mohammed, " which we will of course give him. But the raw material is there. He is an excellent walker and looks at this stage what we hope he will be, a Classic horse in the making."

The offspring of Bordighera provide a perfect model of the vagaries of thoroughbred genetics. Two have proved worth every penny of their purchase prices: George Washington and triple Group One winner Grandera, who went through the ring for 20,000 guineas as a yearling, though an outlay of rather more was required from the Sheikh to head-hunt him for the Godolphin team at the end of his three-year-old career. The first of the line was the undistinguished Lake Coniston filly Fifty Five, sold for 3,000 guineas. The second was Grandera, by Grand Lodge, and it was he who made the family famous. But his brother Ampelio is now plying his trade in poor Nad Al Sheba handicaps. The jury is still out on the third of the Grand Lodges, two-year-old Wyeth. Retained by his breeder Gretchen Jackson for 420,000 guineas last year, he has yet to race, though trainer James Fanshawe (who had charge of Grandera before his transfer) reports that he will be out soon.

A significant point about yesterday's seven-figure yearling, whose bright ginger coat is set off by a flaxen mane and tail and white-splashed muzzle, is his birth date. He was foaled on 16 May which, in thoroughbred terms, is late, and two and a half months later than George Washington. "They are different types," said Sheikh Mohammed's right-hand bloodstock man John Ferguson. "George Washington was early, and a flashier individual. This one is a May foal, but he has size and room to develop and is very correct. We've had our eye on him for some time, seen him consistently since the spring at the stud where he was reared, and every time we have he's improved. "

Sheikh Mohammed's Darley operation has a quarter-share in Pivotal, who stands at Cheveley Park Stud. The Sheikh did not bid on George Washington and the Coolmore axis showed no interest whatsoever in getting involved yesterday, the underbidders being the Arab owners of George Washington's regular rival Araafa."We had a fair idea of what we might have to pay," added Ferguson. "It's important to make a judgement and have a level and stick to it."

Bordighera, by Alysheba, is now a Flat broodmare of note but her own siblings have excelled in another sphere. "Look at this," said agent Anthony Bromley, an expert buyer of French jumping stock, "all those names next to hers on the page have done brilliantly round Auteuil." Ah well, it may be of comfort to the Sheikh to know there is some salvage value in his new purchase.

Yesterday's proceedings were the first of four days of superior yearling business in the domed auction arena that dominates the Newmarket skyline. The auction house Tattersalls has had a good year; as well as George Washington its graduates include the winners of five other Classics this season. Yesterday's next best price, 600,000 guineas, was given by Saeed Suhail for a dark brown daughter of Arc winner Dalakhani.