You think this lot are bad – these pinstriped highwaymen, the racketeers of the 07.19 to Waterloo? Well, yes, it may be largely thanks to them that our money is tumbling, like autumn leaves, into the slow mulch of recession. But when it comes to cynicism, avarice and downright larceny, really you haven't seen a thing. The bloodstock market could still teach them all a thing or two.
The big yearling sale at Tattersalls this week is always an engaging professional experience. Racing is such a small world that every corner you turn, you bump into someone you know. And of course there is the breathless theatre of it all – the way the place falls hushed, drooling, whenever the bidding for some adolescent thoroughbred soars to the heights that goad every worm on the Turf to aim for the stars.
The majority of those doing business there are honourable people, with legitimate aspirations. But even they can find themselves embroiled in fathomless political or financial agendas.
Every breeder, naturally, must take into account the notorious schism between the Maktoum brothers and Coolmore Stud – the market's two biggest players, who will not touch yearlings by each other's stallions. You have half a chance of hitting the jackpot if you do send your mare to one, but no more than half a chance. And while those using a "neutral" stallion might dream of Sheikh Mohammed and John Magnier duking it out, they also invite the risk of being left out altogether.
Beyond these rudiments, however, anyone can become implicated, wittingly or otherwise, in the charades that sometimes make it impossible to know what is going on. Who is really selling? Who is really bidding? Many transactions seem to have hidden depths, and the ethics can become very murky.
A couple of years ago Jesse Jackson, the vineyard tycoon who owns Curlin, decided to make a stand against institutional amorality in the American bloodstock market. He took legal action against a number of people who were supposed to be helping him, accusing them of lining their own pockets. Whatever the merits of his case against them – agreements were reached outside the courtroom, with no admission of wrongdoing – Jackson was not exactly embraced as a knight in shining armour by everyone in the industry. Many, indeed, were candidly exasperated that he was rocking the boat. It would be nice to think that their gravy train will be first to come off the rails as recession looms.
Unbelievably, however, this week Tattersalls managed to match the averages and medians achieved 12 months ago. But then what sort of connection can the yearling market have with the world outside, if even its connection to the track is so venal?
Only the hopelessly naïve will believe that each yearling entering the ring will be objectively valued by the free market – or that it can then go on and make sense of its valuation, whatever it may be, simply by winning prize-money on the racecourse.
That is why it is so edifying to contemplate a race like the Deloitte Autumn Stakes at Ascot today – a race to bring you back to basics, to reiterate the abiding fascination of horses that have managed to keep the dream intact as far as the racecourse. For this is as promising a bunch of colts as has assembled on British soil this autumn, and if the owners of nine are woken from their reverie, the 10th will be perfectly entitled to go into the winter dreaming of the Derby itself.
Consider Sans Frontieres and Kite Wood: both are by Coolmore's young gun, Galileo, and cost 450,000 and 270,000 guineas respectively this time last year. Through everything that might have gone wrong since, they have retained the right to make themselves look cheaply bought.
Nobody could aim with confidence among so many moving targets, but the most tempting bet is Taameer (3.30). Though allowed to start at 20-1 against more experienced rivals on his debut – in a race at Newbury that dependably produces good horses – he won with more in hand than half a length, having idled in front.
Funnily enough, it often pays to mistrust a big home reputation with staying types. More significant than his odds that day, and lack of glamorous entries, is the fact that Marcus Tregoning had started Nayef in the same race, and brought him here, too.
This is much the most interesting race on the card, as the Willmott Dixon Bengough Memorial Stakes features so many ne'er-do-wells that you have to persevere with Sir Gerry (1.45), back at the scene of his one success since the Gimcrack.
The opener can go to Light The Fire (1.10), who is all speed, and drops in class and distance, while his trainer and jockey can follow up with INVENTOR (nap 2.20). Caught flat-footed at Kempton last time, he will appreciate a stronger gallop.
He is just a good, honest bet, mind you. And that won't ever be enough for some people.Crack Away Jack's reputation may be broken by Songe
It is rather pushing it to talk of a "new" jumps season when Tony McCoy has 74 winners under his belt already, but there is no mistaking the shift in focus. Ireland's last two Gold Cup winners, War Of Attrition and Kicking King, are entered in a race at Punchestown on Thursday, while today's card at Chepstow has always been treated by trainers as a cue to raise the tempo.
Crack Away Jack, for instance, reappears in the valuable handicap hurdle following a curiously purposeful ante-post gamble for the Smurfit Champion Hurdle. Though already a Festival winner – in the juveniles' handicap, on only his fourth start – he needs to make an impression here if he is not to become known as Crackpots' Jack.
For now, it might prove beyond him to give 10lb to Songe (2.0), whose Triumph Hurdle fourth sealed an excellent season for his young trainer, Charlie Longsdon.
Later on the card, meanwhile, it is hoped that Herecomesthetruth (next best 2.25) can promise his owners some entertainment pending the return of Denman – which is now not scheduled until February. So these are still very early days, after all.