Looking for a nice little runner, sir? Low mileage, one careful owner? Then the Tattersalls equine auction ring in Newmarket has been the place to be this week. The emphasis in the elegant, domed arena has shifted from the theatre of dreams of the yearling sales, where every transaction represents bright-eyed hope, to the reality show of the end-of-season business of cutting losses or cashing in.
The annual fixture in the Suffolk town is the biggest used-horse mart in the world as stables large and small offload animals deemed surplus to requirements and, as usual, the world was there, with more than 33 nations represented on the buyers' sheet. At the top of the leader board those from the mainstream racing cultures abroad – North America, Australasia, the Gulf states, Hong Kong – took on domestic jump trainers for the shiny pick of the forecourt; at the other end the Greeks, Israelis and Serbs mopped up the bangers.
By close of play last night the auctioneers, working 10 hours a day, had, with their arcane currency of guineas instantly translated into more recognisable euros, dirhams and US and Australian dollars on an ever-flickering board behind their rostrum, turned over £18.5m. A favourable exchange rate and a good track record by graduates at home and abroad meant the market, even in these recessionary times, held steady.
Horse-trading differs little from any other sort; there are bargains to be had and profits to be made. Twelve months ago yesterday, for instance, a two-year-old Dubawi colt was cast off by Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum for a mere 26,000 guineas. This year he emerged for his new French connections as Makfi, winner of the 2,000 Guineas and conqueror of the mighty Goldikova at Deauville. In short, one of the best of his age over a mile, and something of an embarrassment to his former owner.
The other side of the coin, of course, makes less discomfiting reading. This week's business was topped by Hearts Of Fire, a high-class three-year-old who had Makfi behind him when running third at Royal Ascot. The colt had been spotted by his trainer Pat Eddery for £13,000 as a yearling, earned more than £300,000 for his syndicate of small-time owners, and was traded back for £577,500. Eddery's judgement and timing, so often spot on in his first career in the saddle, has not deserted him in his second.
Hearts Of Fire is off to the emerging racing player of Qatar, with the lucrative prizes at the Dubai Carnival in his sights in the spring. The ringside battle for possession was a microcosm of the global nature of the bloodstock business; as well as domestic interest (primarily from David Nicholls) there were bids from Australia, California, Hong Kong, Ireland and South Africa.
Other high-class, well-known performers to have found new homes over the past four days include upwardly mobile juvenile Formosina, who made the transfer from Jeremy Noseda to a stable in Saudi Arabia for £336,000, and recent Newmarket Group Two runner-up Cat Junior, who left Brian Meehan for the same desert climate at a cost of £231,000. Again, they have the rich pickings at Meydan as a target.
The development of the Dubai winter carnival has boosted the market for top-end models, increasingly at the expense of those trainers seeking jumping recruits. The best of those likely to make a top hurdler was judged by the market to be three-year-old Table Mountain, secured by Robbie Hennessy, whose best horse, the former champion hurdler Sublimity, came from a previous edition of the sale – for £210,000.
The throwouts from Ballydoyle are always eagerly awaited; the pick of this year's rummage sale was Don Carlos, a son of Galileo whose Classic aspirations this year were thwarted by injury. If the colt, who won a minor contest earlier this month on his comeback, does fulfil his potential it will be known almost exactly a year from now on the other side of the world. He was bought, for £215,000, as a prospect for next year's Melbourne Cup.
Irish racing lost one of its icons yesterday with the death, at the age of 91, of Paddy Mullins, best-known as the trainer of the top-class mare Dawn Run, the only horse to win both the Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Mullins, father of current trainers Willie, Tom and Tony, retired five years ago after 52 years with a licence. His first winner was Flash Parade at Punchestown in 1953 and as well as with jumpers he excelled on the Flat, winning a Champion Stakes with Hurry Harriet in 1973 and an Irish Oaks with Vintage Tipple 30 years later.
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Morache Music (4.35 Newmarket) Has produced creditable efforts in better company in his last couple of outings and will appreciate the drop in class and the easy underfoot conditions.
Calatrava Cape (4.10 Newmarket) Value for more than her winning margin over today's course and distance last month and can continue her upward curve.
One to watch
Fifth to a hot favourite on his seasonal debut at Aintree on Saturday after moving comfortably and jumping well for much of the race, Castlerock (J O'Neill) is the type to make his mark in handicaps.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Never Never Land (6.10 Wolverhampton)