Forget your local betting shop, the gambles start long before then. And today marks the start of the latest cycle in the business of finding a winner. This week and next, the cream of the commercial European yearling crop will be auctioned in Newmarket, in the elegant domed Tattersalls sale ring. The good news for vendors is that, based on trading in the States, Ireland and France, the market for such luxury goods seems to be holding steady. The tricky news for buyers is that, though the catalogue is smaller than usual, there will still be some 1,600 young colts and fillies from which to try to select next year's top two-year-olds or the Classic stars of 2013.
On paper, it seems easy. This afternoon, for example, a Galileo half-brother to Derby hero Pour Moi will go under the hammer. As will close relatives to Nathaniel, Fame And Glory and Equiano. Tomorrow features a half-brother to Canford Cliffs. All will attract keen attention and, at the top end of the price leader board, sometimes you do get what you pay for. This year's ill-fated Dubai Sheema Classic and Prince Of Wales's Stakes winner Rewilding, for instance, cost a cool half-million as a yearling.
It is not, though, necessary to spend a fortune to buy a champion, as was demonstrated by Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Danedream. She was let go by her breeders in Germany for a mere €9,000 (£7,800) as an unraced juvenile. Her well-related dam, a daughter of Danehill, had been bred with the highest of hopes by Coolmore associates, but failed to reach the track and was herself cast off cheaply. And her half-brother Valdan finished last in a Class 6 contest at Catterick last month.
But such are the vagaries of genetic inheritance in an industry built on dreams. "It's that sort of thing that keeps it all going," said Jimmy George, marketing manager at Tattersalls. "If it was all predictable and easy, we wouldn't all be here, hope in our hearts, year after year."
Twelve months ago, Europe's premier equine auction house turned over nearly £76m during the equivalent eight days' trading, with a top price of £1.26m (given for the filly now known as Was, resident at Ballydoyle and winner of her only race so far) and an average of £53,500. Such figures will be beyond the ken of most mere mortals, but the elite bloodstock business has always been conducted on a slightly different planet.
On a global scale it can be regarded as commodity investment and trading, with the bonus that the commodities can provide a great deal of fun, and emotions that are priceless. "I think everyone has been pleasantly surprised by the strength of the yearling market so far," said George, an observer of the scene with Tattersalls for 25 years. It's nowhere near the peaks of the past, of course, but in today's climate holding steady is a good enough sign.
"There are fewer yearlings to be had now – the drop in the market five or so years ago saw to that – and supply and demand are more in line. And there always will be a demand for high-end horses. The ups and downs of the global economy will determine how much people, even very rich people, are prepared to pay but never alters the fact that they still want to play."
Potential buyers will flock to Newmarket from all over the world this week. And as for the shop window of the local racetrack, two of last year's Tattersalls graduates, Power (bought for £52,000 last year) and Bronterre (£115,000) head the betting for Saturday's Dewhurst Stakes.
* Chris McGrath's nap
Mauritino (3.40 Ludlow)
A winner under both codes who looked ahead of the handicapper over hurdles when notching a double in the spring and, with the fast ground in his favour, can carry on in the same vein.
* Next best
Hunter Forward (4.30 Nottingham)
Had her rivals covered at this distance last time when she failed to see out 12 furlongs.
* One to watch
With better luck Flameoftheforest (Ed de Giles) might have won his last three races and his turn will surely come.
* Where the money's going
Braveheart Move was halved in price by Ladbrokes to 25-1 for Saturday's Cesarewitch.Reuse content