There is nothing anywhere else in the world quite like the Newmarket autumn horses-in-training sale. And, as usual, the world has been beating a path to Tattersalls' door this week to seek a bargain at the greatest used horse mart on the planet. Nice little runner, low mileage, one careful lady owner? We'll find one to suit you, sir. Don't like the colour? Don't worry, madam, there'll be another one along in a moment.
For 10 hours yesterday horses, rugged against weather that was successively bright, bitter and brass monkeys, circled the high, domed auction ring at Park Paddocks, the auctioneers' persuasive spiel unending, hypnotic. Buyers came from the United States, Canada and Australia, from Saudi Arabia and South Africa, from European nations - France, Scandinavia, Germany, Italy, Poland, Bosnia, Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Serbia and Montenegro - and from points further east: Kuwait, the Emirates, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau and Malaysia, to challenge the domestic Flat and jumping trainers at this huge equine exchange.
By the time the gavel falls for the final time tomorrow evening, the auctioneers will have shifted nearly 1,000 horses, some household names, some pathetic nonentities, for something like £14 million. The reasons for sale are manifold: some owners are cashing in, some making room for a new intake, others simply getting rid of a model that might have the bodywork but simply has no engine.
There are transactions that represent a bounty, others the end of a dream. Sheikh Hamdan, for instance, cut his losses over Alamthaal, a Gone West half-brother to Harayir who was conceived in hope but has never seen a racecourse, culling him for 7,000 guineas. But for the owners of progressive juvenile Vikings Bay, there was a satisfactory trade-in; the colt, a five-length winner at Southwell last month, cost 14,000 guineas as a yearling and made 160,000 guineas yesterday, to race in California.
The market for pre-owned horses is probably more transparent, with a closer relationship between cost and value, than that for yearlings, where stallion promotion and the often symbiotic interests of vendor and buyer can cloud issues.
Yesterday, strings being dispersed included animals surplus to requirements at West Ilsley, East Eversleigh, Bedford House, Farringdon Place, Freemason Lodge, Castle Stables, Beckhampton, Manton, Currabeg, and to the silks of the Aga Khan, Khaled Abdullah, Lord Weinstock, the Maktoum brothers.
The Michael Stoute consignment was, as usual, a crowd-puller. This week's trading has been the source in the past of three Champion Hurdle heroes, Make A Stand, Alderbrook and Collier Bay and although in recent years jumping owners have found it increasingly difficult to compete with overseas investment two of the stars of the draft, the Cambridgeshire joint-favourite, Akshar, the Hamilton Class B winner Hasanpour, and Navado, successful at Newbury, will likely have the Cheltenham hill on their agenda come March in the livery of prominent Irish enthusiasts, though the agents who bought them, for 170,000, 150,000 and 70,000 guineas respectively, were coy about specifics.
Among their erstwhile stablemates, Tug Of Love (150,000gns) will continue his career in Hong Kong; Dalaram (67,000gns) and Kasthari (95,000gns) have joined Howard Johnson; while the Scottish Classic winner, Princely Venture (16,000gns), is off to Dubai. Later, Johnson also secured the Cambridgeshire winner, Chivalry, from Mark Prescott for 170,000 guineas to race for his chief patron, Graham Wylie.
There is something rather poignant about this end-of-season gathering. Good and faithful servants, at whatever level, arrive here unknowing and although some do go home - both Hurricane Alan and Chancellor, for instance, returned to their familiar boxes after changing ownership, but not accommodation, at 155,000 guineas and 110,000 guineas respectively - others will be facing dramatic changes of circumstances.
"I am sure this sort of experience is stressful for them," said Mick Channon, who said goodbye to eight of the lesser West Ilsley inmates. "But going off to the sales and ending up somewhere different would be much like a kid changing school. At first it will be all very strange, but then they settle into the new routine and form new relationships.
"It's in the rules of this game that you don't form an emotional bond with them. You respect them and take care of them and there are certain ones that you regret to see go more than others and we're lucky that in this country there are other outlets for the less good ones, jumping and the all-weather. And there are opportunities in, say, America, for others that there aren't here. But you can't vet homes when you sell at an auction. All you can do is keep your fingers crossed for them and wish them well."
Racing in brief: Rider still 'critical'
Sean Cleary remained in a critical condition with severe head injuries yesterday following a fall in which his mount clipped the heels of another runner in a race at Galway on Sunday. The 22-year-old Irish apprentice jockey is in intensive care in the neuro-surgical unit at the Beaumont Hospital, Dublin.
Wayward Lad has been put down at the age of 28. Trained by the Dickinson family, he won the King George VI Chase three times, and 28 races in all, before being retired in 1987. He spent the rest of his days in America, where he was humanely destroyed at the weekend.
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