The season is just reaching its climax in Europe for the cream of the Classic and older generations and the elite hierarchy among two-year-olds is still unravelling itself. But such is the tempo of the game that the search for the stars of the future is already under way and starts in earnest in Newmarket next week.
If the recent yearling auctions in Kentucky and Ireland are a guide, it will be very much a buyers' market in the Tattersalls arena and the ringside battles that riveted audiences and produced seven-figure bids are likely to be a thing of the past. Sometimes the successful high-rolling bidder gets what they paid for – George Washington, for instance, cost 1.15m guineas (£1.2m) – but more often does not.
If any reminder, though, was needed that where horses are concerned cost is one thing and value quite another, take a look at the Middle Park Stakes, the next Group One shakedown of the pecking order among juvenile colts. Among the favourites for next year's Classics are such as St Nicholas Abbey, with a price tag of 200,000gns, Cape Blanco at €330,000 (£302,000), Coordinated Cut 325,000gns, Steinbeck 250,000gns and Al Zir at a cool $1.6m (£1m). And among the five runners at Newmarket tomorrow is Arctic, bought for just 9,000gns a year ago this month.
The grey, spotted at Tattersalls' third-tier auction by his shrewd trainer Tracey Collins, is unbeaten in three runs, most lately a comprehensive routing of one of the Ballydoyle middle order in a Group Three contest on testing ground at the Curragh. Tomorrow he will put his fine record on the line against four rivals, including three products of the world's most powerful breeding empires, Awzaan (Sheikh Hamdan's Shadwell), Poet's Voice (Sheikh Mohammed's Darley) and Showcasing (Khaled Abdullah's Juddmonte), the likely favourite.
When Arctic was offered as an 18-month-old, his sire Shamardal, now recognised as one of the best of the first-season sires, was an unknown quantity and the best of his six winning siblings was merely a good class-handicapper, Shanty Star.
It was as much Arctic's place in the market as his potential as an athlete that attracted Collins, who took over the family training business on the Curragh after the death of her father Con two years ago. "We looked at everything in the sale," she said, "and he just caught our eye. He moved well and seemed to take everything in his stride. But he was also in our price range; we always buy a couple of cheaper ones for my mum with a view to selling them on."
Arctic raced once for mum, Barbara, before transferring to the colours of Australian banker Richard Pegum. The two-year-old has already earned more than £83,000 and his connections have hazarded £15,000 of that to supplement the bargain from the basement to tomorrow's six-furlong race. He needs to finish at least third to recoup that; Collins is hoping for more. "Although his last two wins have been on heavy, I'd say he'd be a better horse on better ground," she said. "And he's in good order; all went very well with his final piece of work. It is a Group One race and there are some serious horses in it, but it's great to be going there with one with a realistic chance."
Given Sheikh Mohammed's predilection for acquiring ready-made juvenile talent for his Godolphin team – the 2,000 Guineas favourite Kingsfort is the latest headhunt, from the Kevin Prendergast yard – it would be deeply ironic if he was to be tempted by Arctic in the event of a clear-cut victory tomorrow. The colt was actually bred by Darley but deemed surplus to requirements, as was his dam Shawanni, sold for 78,000gns two years ago when what has now transpired is her best offspring was a foal. She, too, proved well-bought; the full-brother to Arctic she was then carrying, now a yearling, made €70,000 (£64,000) at an Irish auction two days ago.
Nine elite fillies are due to line up for tomorrow's other top-level Group One event, the Cheveley Park Stakes, headed by Lady Of The Desert. The first prestige autumn fixture on the Rowley Mile gets under way today, featuring a cluster of lesser, but potentially informative, juvenile contests and the return to action of the exciting late-developing three-year-old Manifest.
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Caster Sugar (4.30 Goodwood) Has won three of her last five outings and has thus been creeping up the ratings, but is bred to stay middle distances and another step up in trip today could bring more progress.
Katehari (3.20 Goodwood) After taking her maiden in determined style, was backed on her handicap debut last time out but never recovered after a slow start.
One to watch
Exemplary (M Johnson) A clear and ready winner of the 10-furlong juvenile maiden at Bath earlier in the week.
Where the money's going
In Victor Chandler's Arc betting without hot favourite Sea The Stars, Youmzain was cut yesterday to 14-1 from an opening 20-1.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Arte Viva (8.45 Wolverhampton).