Dreams have to start somewhere and yesterday that place was Newmarket, at the first session of Europe's premier auction of untried young racehorses. For 10 hours an unbroken succession of yearlings paraded before the great and the good of the industry in the elegant, high-domed arena that dominates the Suffolk town's skyline. For 10 hours the Tattersalls auctioneers laboured to extract top dollar – or rather top guinea, that being their firm's arcane denomination of choice – for the vendors of the cream of the commercial crop. The one the market judged best was a beautiful bay filly, sold for 1.2m guineas.
That translates as a cool £1,260,000. And her blood is so blue that even if she never sets foot on a track, she will hold her value. She shares her sire, the mighty Galileo, with New Approach and her dam Alluring Park is a half-sister to that 2008 Derby hero. Next year, she will race from Ballydoyle in the colours of the Coolmore partners.
Three of the last six Derby winners went through the Newmarket auction ring as yearlings; Authorized at 400,000gns, Sir Percy at 16,000gns and Motivator at 75,000gns. This year's headline graduate has been Harbinger, runaway winner of the King George at Ascot in July, who cost 180,000gns three years ago. The buyer then, on behalf of the Highclere syndicate in whose colours the colt raced, was agent John Warren, who was on diligent patrol for the talent of the future yesterday.
This week's catalogue is 689-strong and Warren has looked critically at every horse, as an individual and on paper. "You have to see them all," he said, "and I'll have spent three weeks or more going round the farms where they come from. You make a judgement but you never really know where the next great one will be. Hope starts here."
By late yesterday afternoon Warren had put in his shopping basket a colt by Galileo for 90,000gns, a filly by Pivotal for 110,000gns and a colt by Motivator (who was another of his picks) for 85,000gns, and he will be back for more today.
Looking at horses takes time and a toll on footwear. "The sales season brings long days and we walk a lot of miles," said Peter Doyle, star spotter-in-chief for the Richard Hannon stable. "We'll be at the sales from first daylight to well into the dark, seeing hundreds and hundreds at the bigger auctions. We look at them in their boxes, we see them walk. Then we see them again when they are away from the stable area, before they go into the ring. You want to see a horse's attitude in a stressful situation, and how it reacts."
Co Wicklow-based Doyle and Hannon have been working together for 20 years, with the Irishman's wife Anna and the next generation in the form of Hannon's son Richard Jnr and Doyle's son Ross as back-up. Five pairs of eyes are better than two and their reward may just be this year's trainers' title.
The Wiltshire operation's top-earning two-year-old this year, Zebedee, was bought for 70,000gns a year ago today. "In our price ranges we're going for the individual first, the paper second. And I know exactly the sort of horse, athletic and trainable, that Richard likes. I should do; the time we've been working together is longer than most marriages these days."
To an outsider the bloodstock industry can seem a fantasy world. But for those trying to make a living selling what is a luxury commodity, the market seems to be achieving a welcome equilibrium after a difficult few years. And in the upper reaches yesterday, it was business as usual for the usual suspects; a battle between Sheikh Hamdan (successful) and the Coolmore team put a price tag of 525,000gns for a handsome son of Nayef. The colt, conceived at a cost of £10,000, was a windfall for the breeding operation run by trainer Luca Cumani and his wife, Sara.
At the other end of the sport's glamour scale, small-time Irish trainer and jockey Eamon Tyrrell and Jason Behan were each hit yesterday with a swingeing three-year warning-off by the British authorities, having been found guilty of "stopping" Casela Park at Newcastle in August. The gelding finished sixth, beaten two lengths. The pair were not legally represented when their case was heard, but have now sought such advice and are likely to appeal.
* The 2,000 Guineas winner Makfi has been retired to stud. The colt, trained by Mikel Delzangles, also won the Prix Jacques le Marois, beating Goldikova.
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Oriental Cat (4.10 Nottingham) Drops in trip and class. Pedigree gives hope he will cope with the conditions.
Kack Handed (4.30 Towcester) Reverts to hurdles and should be good enough to cope with today's company.
One to watch
Spensley (J R Fanshawe) Can be rated far better than his two-length success last week at Kempton.
Where the money's going
My Arch is 9-1 from 12-1 with Paddy Power for Saturday week's Cesarewitch.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Audacious (3.40 Nottingham)