A few of the trappings in the Tattersalls auction ring in Newmarket are still steeped in the past – like the arcane use of the guinea as a unit of currency, or the hand-rung school bell that warns buyers that bidding is about to start – but it is the undiscovered country that is overwhelmingly the focus. Like that of travelling, much of racing's appeal is in the anticipation and, yesterday, dream followed dream round the high-domed floodlit arena.
Yearlings – bay, chestnut, grey, brown, the perceived cream of the commercial crop – circled for ten hours on the second of three days of selling, accompanied by the auctioneers' patter. Ah, he has a real good step to him, sir, eighty-two, eighty-two, eighty-five, I thought you had him, sir, take the two if it will help, now come on ladies and gentlemen, just look at that page, look at those winners. Some voices from the rostrum are mellifluous, some monotonous or abrasive, but all cajole.
At these elite levels, the cracks that have affected the wider economy are showing, but not as blatantly as they will at lower levels of the bloodstock markets, during the next and following weeks. At the top of the leaderboard yesterday dreams cost 650,000 guineas (£682,500), a Pivotal filly closely related to Pilsudski sold to Sheikh Hamdan, a Galileo half-brother to Nightime acquired by Sir Robert Ogden.
But for sheer theatre, none approached lot 405. This was the sole progeny of ill-starred, ill-fated George Washington, a horse whose brief life and grotesque death combined dreams and nightmare in equal measure. Sold for 1.15m guineas in this same ring five years ago he became, under the care of Aidan O'Brien, a champion two-year-old and champion miler. But his second career was an embarrassing anticlimax; he proved all but infertile as just one of his 56 mates conceived. Returned to training, he sustained a fatal injury at the Monmouth Park Breeders' Cup meeting.
The produce of his only successful tryst as a stallion, a filly out of the Rainbow Quest mare Flawlessly, went under the hammer last night. She was very much in the image of her sire – bright bay, white socks, a white stripe down her nose – but if her clear, bold gaze was any indication, without the quirks of aggressive personality that made him such a challenge to his trainer.
The rarest of the rare, but not an item to appeal to either the Maktoums (by a Coolmore sire, untouchable even when dead) or Coolmore (a filly; well-bred but not that well-bred) she made 320,000gns (£336,000), providing a very respectable profit for her vendor, Irish dealer Gerard Burke, who bought her for €280,000 (£210,000) eleven months ago.
The auction arena was packed shoulder to shoulder to witness her passing through. The tussle for possession was brief enough; from the opening bid of 100,000gns auctioneer John O'Kelly dealt only with a few protagonists, reduced to high-rolling London agent Charlie Gordon-Watson and one of his Irish colleagues, Ross Doyle, for the final call.
In the end, Doyle took the prize. The bay filly will be racing in future for one of Richard Hannon's luckiest owners, Julie Wood, whose most recent high-profile winners The Miniver Rose won the Park Hill Stakes and Lucky General netted £950,000 eleven days ago in a valuable race in Ireland.
The daughter of George Washington brings Wood's string with Hannon to 23 in number, an ownership success story that started with a horse who cost just 2,000 guineas. "I've always loved horses," said Buckinghamshire-based Wood, "and especially thoroughbreds, their athleticism and excitement. And with a horse like George Washington – and now one like Sea The Stars – you have the fairytale and charisma. This is a very special filly, a one-off, and it's lovely now to be part of history. Only time will tell if she's a racehorse; maybe next year will show she is, or maybe it will be a reality check.
"But her sire was a freak and maybe she will be, too. That's the beauty of this game, the fun of looking forward. You're always wishing your life away, but in the nicest possible way."
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Moonline Dancer (3.55 Newbury) Course and distance winner who will appreciate the return to sprinting after running out of petrol over a seventh furlong three weeks ago.
Tactician (2.45 Newbury) Racing Post Trophy entry who should go one better than his promising debut second at Doncaster.
One to watch
Excellent Thought (W Haggas) had much against her at Folkestone on Tuesday yet still was beaten less than a length into third place.
Where the money's going
Spanish Moon, stablemate of Breeders' Cup Turf favourite Conduit, has halved in price to 12-1 with Skybet for the Santa Anita contest. Sir Michael Stoute, trainer of the pair, is 8-1 for a one-two, which he achieved 13 years ago with Pilsudski and Singspiel.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Tinaar (3.20 Newbury).Reuse content