Racing: Van Nistelrooy eases the burden of a big price tag

If Van Nistelrooy wins the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket next May then – it is almost safe to say – his namesake is not a Dutchman. For to score on the Rowley Mile 10 months hence, the colt will have to buck a huge trend. At a cost of $6.4m, Van Nistelrooy, the horse, was the eighth most expensive auctioned yearling in thoroughbred history. And in winning a £8,600 maiden on his debut at the Curragh on Sunday he has already outperformed five of the seven above him on the leaderboard.

The honour of topping the trading at a prestige auction or breaking a sales price record has traditionally been a dubious one, akin to a kiss of death as far as future performance is concerned. It is the nature of horses that there will be more chumps than champs among their ranks and the annals of bloodstock sales are littered with expensive failures. But because there is no guarantee that the dearest horse will be the best runner, the major players buy in bulk. In a numbers game, quantity turns possibility into probability.

The first of the year's equine super markets, the 59th edition of the Keeneland July Sales in Kentucky, got under way in the small hours of this morning with the usual suspects – primarily Teams Ballydoyle and Godolphin – at the ringside. There is something hypnotic about watching rich men spend more in three minutes than most people fantasise about earning in a lifetime, especially on a product that comes straight off the factory floor with no guarantees of all that business about merchantable quality.

And whereas Van Nistelrooy did not break the first time he was used, there have been plenty of tears before bedtime over the years. The most spectacular failure was Snaafi Dancer, bought by Sheikh Mohammed at Keeneland 19 years ago for a then world record – by far – $10.2m. The colt, bless him, became a figure of fun, for even as skilled a practitioner as John Dunlop was unable to make the colt run fast enough to get out of his own way and he later proved impotent at stud, too.

The most expensive horse ever to go under the hammer was Seattle Dancer, who made $13.1m, again in the heady days of the early Eighties. Then as now, the high rollers were from Dubai and Co Tipperary, with Robert Sangster, not Michael Tabor, the most public face on the Coolmore side and Vincent, not Aidan, holding the reins at Ballydoyle. Seattle Dancer, in the colours of Sangster's sometime partner Stavros Niarchos, at least managed a Group Two win, in the Gallinule Stakes.

Classic-winning sale-toppers are few and far between on both sides of the Atlantic. Since the mighty Majestic Prince made $250,000 in Kentucky in 1967 and went on to take the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, only $2.9m purchase A P Indy (1992 Belmont) and $4m snip Fusaichi Pegasus (2000 Kentucky Derby) have won US Triple Crown races. And from Europe's most dazzling auction, the Houghton Sales in Newmarket, only Bosra Sham (530,000gns, 1996 1,000 Guineas) and Entrepreneur (600,000gns, 1997 2,000 Guineas) have won a Classic since subsequent St Leger hero Sayajjirao headed the 1947 sale at a then-unprecedented 28,000gns.

But shelling out large sums for immature thoroughbreds is not necessarily akin to crashing an uninsured Aston Martin and to highlight the embarrassing fate of most sales-toppers is more a curiosity than a condemnation of the judgement of the perceived experts. Although, statistically, home-bred horses still lead the way as élite performers, more bought champions are expensive than cheap and by investing in the upper echelons of the market those who can afford it tilt the scales in their favour.

Take some recent Ballydoyle inmates. Although Diaghilev (3.4m gns), Tasmanian Tiger ($6.8m) and Sorcerous (2m gns) have yet to prove themselves, balancing the books are High Chaparral (270,000gns), Sophisticat ($3.4m) and Landseer (260,000gns).

In the arena of the sale ring the spark from a clash of egos can light a bonfire of vanity, to the benefit of the vendor and auction house. But it takes only one top-class colt with a future as a marketable stallion to recoup all the investment on the duds, and one top-class stallion to rake in the profits and keep the business not only afloat but sailing merrily along. Two of the best North American sires of the last century, Mr Prospector ($220,000 in 1971) and Nureyev ($1.7m in 1978) were Keeneland sale-toppers in their day.

Catlin reaches Group standard

Chris Catlin, last season's champion apprentice, added a first Group success to his cv when winning the Scottish Classic on Mick Channon's Imperial Dancer at Ayr yesterday.

Imperial Dancer came from off the pace to cut down Sohaib, the only three-year-old in the Group Three contest, to win by a length, with Border Arrow three-quarters of a length further away in third and Swallow Flight last of the quartet.

Catlin said: "Imperial Dancer has improved for stepping up in distance and I always knew he was going to get there."

Channon said: "Imperial Dancer has always had a lot of pace but did not quicken like he can in the Eclipse [behind Hawk Wing] because of the gluey ground. He seemed to come through it all right today, and while he is not in any more Group Ones, we might think about the Champion Stakes.

"We will give him three weeks off and then bring him back fresh and he will come back like a lion.

"I am pleased for Chris. We are lucky to have him and Steve Drowne who are not only good jockeys but good lads too."

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Harry Redknapp. Mark Hughes and Ryan Shawcross
footballNews and updates as Queens Park Rangers host the Potters
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam