Racing: Supermarket for yearlings awaits the high rollers

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The Independent Online

Saturday's Cambridgeshire is one of the betting highlights of the season, but the gambling in Newmarket this week is not confined to the race track. Starting tomorrow evening, the game's high rollers will go shopping for what they hope will turn out to be the Classic stars of 2004 at Europe's premier auction of top-level future talent, the Houghton Sale. Something like £30m will change hands over two days as agents, trainers and owners source that special colt or filly from the 160 or so on offer. A few investments will hit the jackpot. Most will not.

Saturday's Cambridgeshire is one of the betting highlights of the season, but the gambling in Newmarket this week is not confined to the race track. Starting tomorrow evening, the game's high rollers will go shopping for what they hope will turn out to be the Classic stars of 2004 at Europe's premier auction of top-level future talent, the Houghton Sale. Something like £30m will change hands over two days as agents, trainers and owners source that special colt or filly from the 160 or so on offer. A few investments will hit the jackpot. Most will not.

Yesterday at the Tattersalls sale ring complex a horseshoe's throw from Newmarket High Street, the sifting had already started. Handsome yearling colts and charming yearling fillies, all of impeccable breeding were being being led in and out of boxes for perusal, their coats glowing in the early autumn sunshine.

Prospective buyers can look and touch and have their fancies inspected by vets, but these are untried, unbroken young horses and come with none of those guarantees of fitness for purpose. If they can't run fast enough to keep themselves warm, tough.

The bloodstock world's veneer of glamour is particularly evident at the Houghton Sale where the bidding takes place in the elegant, high-domed Tattersalls arena and Sheikh Mohammed and John Magnier are eyeball to eyeball for the equine prizes glittering under the lights as they circle the ring to the auctioneer's practiced and persuasive patter. But cut to the chase and it is simply horsetrading; a lot of money is at stake, now and in the future, for a lot of people.

The vendors are commercial operators who do this for a living, whether by breeding to sell or by pinhooking, the arcane term for buying a foal to trade back as a yearling.

Yearling prices elsewhere in the world this year have been down, by as much as 30 per cent. The reasons have been various but the decline in global stock markets the most obvious; when money is tight luxury goods – which racehorses most assuredly are – are the first to go by the wayside. The élite bloodstock market has been rocketing to fantasy levels for seven years and a fall to earth is due. But even if reality does intrude, this week's business may yet not be catastrophic.

The consensus on the ground yesterday, from both sides of the fence, was that the quality of potential athlete on offer was consistently good. "When everyone agrees that the individuals match their pedigrees, that is usually a good sign," said Eddie O'Leary, who will be offering three colts from his Lynn Lodge Stud in Ireland.

"Forget the stratosphere. Those very high prices only happen if your horse is on the list of two certain people. Concentrate on the median price. That is what shows whether the market is OK and at Keeneland in September and in Ireland last week it was strong enough."

This week's catalogue contains sons and daughters of some of the best proven sires on the planet, like Sadler's Wells (of course), Danehill, Rainbow Quest, Grand Lodge, Darshaan, Machiavellian, Kingmambo, Storm Cat; and the first crops of top-class performers yet to prove themselves, of whom the most exciting is Daylami. There are half-brothers to Gossamer, Milan, Medicean, Petrushka, and Kayf Tara, and the first progeny of a couple of classy racing fillies, One So Wonderful and Delilah.

And though most high-class horses are home-breds, top-notchers can sometimes be bought. The star of the 2000 Houghton Sale was none other than dual Derby winner High Chaparral, who cost the Coolmore operation 270,000 guineas, and from last year's fixture came 1,000 Guineas favourite Russian Rhythm, a snip at 440,000 guineas for Cheveley Park Stud.

After the defeat of Hawk Wing at Ascot on Saturday, the prospects for High Chaparral in Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe received a timely boost when another of his Ballydoyle stablemates, Ballingarry, third in the Irish Derby, ran away with the Canadian International at Woodbine on Sunday night. In defeating Falcon Flight and Mark Johnston's charge Yavana's Pace, who tried to make all and finished lame, the Sadler's Wells colt gave Aidan O'Brien his first top-level winner outside Europe this year.

In the card's other Grade One contest, the EP Taylor Stakes, the Ed Dunlop-trained Fraulein defeated her Newmarket neighbour Alasha, from the Michael Stoute yard, to give Britain a one-two continuing a golden autumn for Kevin Darley after Bollin Eric's St Leger victory and Where Or When's defeat of Hawk Wing.

The first definitive shakedown of Arc entries will be known this afternoon and ahead of that the drums are beating loud from across the Channel for Sulamani, the favourite, and last year's runner-up Aquarelliste. "Sulamani could not be better," said his trainer Pascal Bary, "He has come out of his last serious work in fine shape. But it is going to be a long week."

Zonergem, a winner at Ascot on Sunday for Lady Herries, was yesterday cut to 6-1 favourite by William Hill for the Cambridgeshire with the news that he will be ridden by Richard Hughes on his first day back from a seven-day ban.

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