Racing: Market finds a Fantasy figure: Sentiment is a stranger in the ring at Newmarket as the bidders struggle to secure a brilliant filly: Paul Hayward sees the fastest juvenile of recent years change hands for 340,000gns at Tattersalls' December sale

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The Independent Online
AMONG the underbidders for Lot 1774 at the Tattersalls horse sales in Newmarket last night was an Essex-based publisher who is not accustomed to failing in the Fantasy market. David Sullivan, he of the Daily and Sunday Sport, nodded his coiffured head in an attempt to purchase Lyric Fantasy, the fastest two-year-old filly seen in half a century, but finally was unwilling to part with the 340,000gns required to do so.

The disposal of Lyric Fantasy by her owner, Lord Carnarvon, provided the dramatic peak to the first auctions held in Newmarket since Tattersalls announced they would be moving their premier sale to Ireland in protest at British VAT regime. It was a long way short of the record for a two-year- old filly (620,000gns for Scimitarra in 1986), but then these are more sober days in racing and breeding.

Lyric Fantasy's future is unclear. The bid that defeated Sullivan came from an Irish agent, Paul Shanahan, acting on behalf of 'a Kuwaiti consortium'. Unlike the nodding Sullivan, Shanahan made just one offer - the winning one - but he was much less assured when it came to the issue of where Lyric Fantasy will be based next season. 'She will definitely race next year but I honestly don't know who'll train her,' he said.

Richard Hannon, champion Flat trainer for the first time last season, would be justified in expecting this diminutive but ultra- swift filly to remain at his East Everleigh Stables for a second campaign of madcap sprinting.

All day, Lyric Fantasy's attendants had stood outside box 265, Paddock K, enduring Newmarket's Alaskan winds and hoping that nobody would come to view her. Wendy England, the filly's groom, was in the invidious position of having to operate as a saleswoman for a commodity she would much rather keep, and so for her, the visits of Japanese, German and other European potential buyers were particularly unwelcome.

'I just hope she comes home,' England said with a yearning that inevitably raised the thought: was it degrading for such a distinguished runner to have to traipse round a sales ring with a livestock number attatched to its bridle? Lord Carnarvon had a good antidote for such sentimental notions. 'Whoever you are,' the Queen's racing manager said, 'you have to sell sometimes to replenish the coffers. This is a business to me.'

Not that the owner of Highclere Castle is above all romantic inclinations. When it came to naming Lyric Fantasy in her yearling days, he phoned the information office of the Tate (the filly is by the stallion Tate Gallery) to ask for a list of paintings 'with feminine names,' and from the three he was offered chose the title of yesterday's Lot 1774.

For many here yesterday Lyric Fantasy was a brilliant filly with less than brilliant prospects either as a racehorse or a broodmare. Granted, she was the first two-year- old filly to beat older sprinters in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York, and had broken 60 seconds with a grass- blazing victory at Royal Ascot, but was Lyric Fantasy not too small and precocious to make a credible three-year-old? And was her pedigree good enough to attract the leading stud managers?

Lyric Fantasy's last race of 1992 ended her unbeaten record and deposited a cautionary note in many dealers' brains. It was the beginning of the end, they said. Her precocity was wearing off. England had another theory. 'She'd had a long season and had gone a bit in her coat,' she said. 'Anybody who knows will tell you that she was over the top that day,' Lord Carnarvon offered in support.

Shanahan clearly believed it, and so did the beaten Sullivan, who was left to thumb through his sales catalogue in the hope of finding something cheap.

Midnight Air, the top-rated two- year-old filly of 1991, fetched 270,000gns at yesterday's sale while Fair Salinia, the 1978 Oaks winner, was sold for 140,000gns.

(Photograph omitted)