Bennett digs deep to build a dynasty
In an industry that takes its heartbeat from the pulse of the seasons, it is the off-with-the-old, on-with-the-new time of year. The star colts are leaving training yards to begin their second careers; Authorized, for instance, is now at Dalham Hall Stud, Dutch Art will arrive at Cheveley Park this week, Notnowcato is booked for Stanley House after Saturday's Champion Stakes, Dylan Thomas will be off to Coolmore after the Breeders' Cup.
And the search for the next generation of talent is now in full swing. Last week in the Tattersalls auction ring, owners, trainers, agents and speculators spent more than £70m on yearlings of royal blue blood in four days and another five days' bidding business opens tomorrow. The great and the good were all there; Sheikh Mohammed's shopping list was topped by a Gone West half-brother to Divine Proportions for a million, John Magnier's by a son of Galileo from the family of Personal Ensign for 750,000 guineas.
But although it is colts who generally provide the jackpot – Authorized was the third successive Derby winner found in the Newmarket arena – it was a filly who stole the limelight. A beautiful, impeccably bred daughter of Sadler's Wells made a cool 2.5m guineas, making her the most expensive horse of her age and sex ever to go under the hammer anywhere in the world.
Fillies are becoming the must-haves among serious new-money investors in the bloodstock world. For one thing, in the event of failure as racehorses, they have a far greater residual value than a colt. On Friday the Godolphin colourbearer Jalil proved incapable of winning a handicap at Lingfield and is now worth only a tiny fraction of his $9.7m yearling purchase price. But as a breeding prospect the Sadler's Wells filly would still command her price if she was turned out in a field for two years.
And fillies have the attraction of being the start of a long-term dream. Craig Bennett, who last year sold his shareholding in the Phones4U parent company for £73m, certainly hopes so. The world record-breaker, plus two others bought last week and a quartet secured 12 months ago, represent seedcorn for his latest venture, Merry Fox Stud.
Alongside him in the upper reaches of the sales leaderboard was another successful entrepreneur, Betfair founder Andrew Black; he, too, is stocking a nascent breeding operation, with a 480,000gns Kyllachy half-sister to Dutch Art selected as his future foundation mare.
As far as Bennett is concerned, his total outlay of more than seven million guineas is money well spent. "I can't imagine anything more exciting or satisfying than creating a dynasty of high class racehorses," he said. "But I wanted to wait until I could be properly involved. For a long time I was busy with work, but now I am in a position to be able to do it the way I want to do it. I believe that if you try something, you must try to be the best at it."
Bennett, 44, has a fascination with the racing and bloodstock worlds, but no expertise. So he has brought some of the top names in the industry onside, including London-based agent Charlie Gordon-Watson, who did his ringside bidding last week, and trainers Luca Cumani, Michael Jarvis and James Fanshawe.
He has employed good judgement and it seems he owns that other essential quality, luck, for he had already acquired a high profile on the racetrack through the exploits of Purple Moon. He paid 440,000 guineas, itself a record price for a Flat recruit to go jumping, a year ago and although the gelding flopped as a hurdler he progressed markedly back on the Flat, won the Ebor Handicap and is now a leading contender for next month's Melbourne Cup.
The Sadler's Wells filly, will become Purple Moon's stablemate at Cumani's Bedford House yard, and, as a sister to Aidan O'Brien-trained Fillies' Mile winner Listen, favourite for the 1,000 Guineas, has the genetic background to become a candidate for top honours.
Her family, also that of Irish 2,000 winner Saffron Walden, is one that has served Coolmore well; she was bred by Magnier's brothers Peter and David and another sister, Sequoyah, is dam of one of this year's best juvenile colts at Ballydoyle, Henrythenavigator.
And a pedigree page like hers is an inspiration to Cheshire-based Bennett. He and his family fly out to Australia tomorrow; their bloodstock adventure will be an even longer haul. "I want to have bloodlines that we've created and that we – and others – can enjoy 30 years down the line," he said. "I'd like to be back at the sales then watching people fight to buy my fillies' descendants."
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