In autumn Newmarket becomes an up-market horse fair in which breeders and auctioneers pursue their favourite pastime of separating Arab oil sheikhs from their cash, but this time the flocks of advisers and cheque-writers have retreated to the shadows. On Tuesday, the opening day of Europe's foremost yearling sale, the Maktoums' purchasing teams were told to buy not a single animal and have been placed under maximum restraint for the rest of the week.
It would be hard to overstate the anxiety this shift has generated, but in truth it no longer makes sense for the Maktoums to pursue a policy of creaming off the most expensive yearlings when that system has failed to produce a commensurate flow of top-class horses. There have been suggestions that Sheikh Mohammed was upset when Michael Watt, the chairman of the Tattersalls sales company, publicly talked down the value of Arazi, but that theory has now been discounted.
There are two reasons for the withdrawal: one is discontent with the low return from racing in this country, and the other - and more important explanation - is that the Maktoums have already secured enough fresh blood for 1993.
The family is evidently no longer willing to gush money into the British yearling markets (on disadvantageous VAT terms) when it can buy privately in America and breed its own stock, in the way that Khalid Abdullah has. The squad of Maktoum-owned mares is already large enough to ensure a plentiful supply.
For over a decade the world yearling markets have been hopelessly over-inflated with petro-dollars, and doubtless those shouting loudest in Newmarket will be those who have grown fattest from the saline drip of Arab investment.
Regular sales watchers thought it particularly significant that while most buyers were studying potential recruits on Tuesday morning, Maktoum Al Maktoum's stud manager, Michael Goodbody, was visiting stables in Germany with a view to sending horses there. Sheikh Maktoum, the head of the family, is said to have issued the instruction to rein back at this week's auctions.
Serious stuff. We could, unless conditions change dramatically, be heading for a full-scale retraction of foreign involvement in British racing, and one which returns us to the pre-Arab era of landed owner-breeders. In other words: division two, here we come.
In this context it was apposite yesterday that Sayyedati and Lyric Fantasy - first and second in the Cheveley Park Stakes - are not from the world of multi-million pound purchases. Lyric Fantasy cost 12,500gns as a yearling and Sayyedati (who is owned by a close friend of Sheikh Mohammed, Mohamed Obaida) is home-bred, a fact which will not be lost on the Maktoums at this turbulent time.
The only real surprise about this result was the fact that Sayyedati was allowed to start at 5-2. Admittedly Lyric Fantasy had beaten older sprinters in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York, but here she was attempting a six-furlong run for the first time and was thickening in her coat as if winter was already upon her. Nor did she relish being held up behind Sayyedati in a break from her normal style of racing.
So abundant are talented rookie fillies in Clive Brittain's yard (Sueboog, Ivanka and Aneesati, who makes her debut here on Saturday, are others) that Sayyedati may be sent in against the colts for the 2,000 Guineas back here in May.
Arazi, by the way, 'worked well' yesterday morning and will probably be supplemented for a race at Longchamp over the weekend.
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