There are millionaires in this business, and there are millionaires. Take Ben Leon Jr, for instance, with a family fortune made in the still-lucrative US healthcare business. The Florida-based 65-year-old is a recent recruit to the thoroughbred world and yesterday paid $4,200,000 [£2.7m] of his new money to acquire a much-coveted son of top sire A P Indy at the first session of the world's largest yearling auction, the Keeneland September extravaganza in Kentucky.
Leon already has horses on his Besilu Farm near Ocala; proud, smooth-stepping mounts of the Paso Fino breed descended from Spanish stock brought to the Americas with Christopher Columbus, and announced his entry to his new hobby in a style befitting their handsome flamboyance. Advised by the leading Stateside trainer Todd Pletcher, he did not join in the bidding until it had reached $3.5m and then carried on with insouciance until he secured the glittering prize.
The eight-month-old colt was the target of some of the industry's highest rollers, including the Coolmore team, and no wonder; his sire is world class, but more to the point his dam, the three-time Grade 1 winning Thunder Gulch mare Balance, is a half- sister to none other than unbeaten living legend Zenyatta.
Leon clearly enjoyed every minute of seeing off his auction ring rivals for the white-blazed bay as the price rose in six-figure increments. "If you want quality, you have to pay for it," he said. "Todd thought he was the best horse in the sale; he has the pedigree to be a superstar, he's got size and looks, he's got everything. And if the other guys bid $4.1m, or whatever, it was nothing for me to go another $100,000. The whole thing was just fun."
The price was the highest in the ring since a Kingmambo colt made $11.7 million four years ago. Subsequently known as Meydan City, he won just two small races for Godolphin and was last sighted beating one rival in a Dubai handicap in February last year, making another of Leon's observations – "I guess you get what you pay for" – seem dangerously naive.
Still, as a high-roller himself in his own arena (he traded in part of his company for $400m three years ago) he presumably knows something of the risks associated with speculation and is looking at any investment with his eyes open. "I want to be part of racing for a long time to come," he said, "and to walk away with a colt like this is thrilling."
The Maktoum family, normally the mainstay of the commercial bloodstock business, had been notable by their absence at previous sales this autumn, a matter of concern for the industry in these straitened times. Their agents were active again at the first Keeneland session – Sheikh Hamdan's team secured six yearlings for a total of $2.8 million – but their input is likely to be less extravagant than in times of plenty. The situation will be clearer by close of play on Monday, after the auctioneers in Kentucky have worked their way through a catalogue of 4,857 yearlings.
If a freshman like Leon is in the game for the long haul, he could do no better than to look to the world's oldest billionaire Walter Haefner, who founded his Moyglare Stud Farm in Co Kildare nearly half a century ago, for a model.
Haefner, whose wealth came from the automobile and computer industries, yesterday celebrated his 100th birthday at his home in Switzerland. On his doctor's advice he took up riding as exercise in his 40s, went to Ireland to buy a showjumper and, as a result of a delayed flight home, ended up buying the dairy farm near Maynooth that is now one of the world's leading thoroughbred nurseries.
The Moyglare Stud colours have been carried by a host of top-level winners worldwide, starting with Super Concorde, winner of the 1977 Prix Morny and Grand Criterium. They are still going strong and on Saturday at the Curragh, Melbourne Cup candidate Profound Beauty found only Sans Frontieres too good in her bid to add to the total in the Irish St Leger.
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Mama Lulu (1.40 Yarmouth) Met above-average types on last two outings and will be unlucky if she does a third time.
Falasteen (3.30 Haydock) Has an admirable attitude and did well to win last time on a course that did not entirely suit. The small penalty picked up still leaves him on a handy mark.
One to watch
Eyes On (P J McBride) lost second place close home on recent nursery debut over seven furlongs and was a long way clear of fourth. Testing six furlongs will suit.
Where the money's going
Ladbrokes report a 10-1 tie for Cambridgeshire favouritism as Ransom Note and Absinthe join Saturday's Goodwood winner Nationalism at the top of the market.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Meia Noite (2.40 Yarmouth)