The Arqana Arc sale, staged every eve of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at the company’s Saint-Cloud base, used to be a major source of excitement with several candidates due to run the next day, sometimes even in the big race itself, going through in a real boutique auction, writes Tony Stafford.
It was the model for the much more recent pre-Royal Ascot auction where many of UK racing’s great and good, and many over here from overseas for the week, would be wined and if-not dined, certainly canape’d to their hearts’ content in Kensington Palace Gardens with nary a horse to be seen.
Friends of mine got a great result a few years ago selling a decent handicapper for an embarrassingly-large amount. I hope his new owners were as satisfied in the longer scheme of things as his original partners but I very much doubt they were.
Last October 3, with Covid in full force throughout Europe, a slimmed-down catalogue of 27 horses went virtually “sous le marteau” – I used the translation for hammer as the French for “gavel” is, boringly, gavel, what a let-down!
With absentees, reserves not attained and simply horses unsold or bought back, only 11 changed hands.
Most of those were three-year-olds and in the 43-49 kg mark, translating to 86-108 in UK ratings. The highest price was the €975,000 for Virginia Joy, a German-trained filly that has been exported from France to the USA, and won an optional allowance claiming race last month at Belmont Park for her new owner, Peter Brant.
One oddity and the only obvious jumps prospect was the once-raced (placed third) AQPS gelding Hercule Point, bought for €270,000 by Dan Skelton. I think we should look out for this son of the top French jumps sire, Network.
Two of those sold had in fact performed at ParisLongchamp that afternoon on the first stage of the Arc meeting. Step By Step, a colt, was third in the Qatar Prix Chaudenay. He went for €320,000 and has not been sighted since being bought by Narvick International.
Until yesterday the only other subsequent winner from the batch was King Pacha, €100k worth of three-year-old colt that has been strutting his stuff in Qatar. First time there in January he was second in the Qatar Derby and after a lesser runner-up spot, won a 100 grand race before two later fifth places.
But then there was yesterday, and what was expected to be the second leg of an Aidan O’Brien/Coolmore double 35 minutes after St Mark’s Basilica won the French 2,000 Guineas – forget all that Poule D’Essai stuff!
St Mark’s Basilica was allowed to start at 4-1 in his first run since claiming top 2020 European colt honours having won last year’s Dewhurst. That choice of Classic for his comeback run shows that a fair bit of planning goes into those Ballydoyle Spring pack-shufflings as St Mark’s Basilica is a son of the top French sire, Siyouni.
After this victory, leading French breeders will be unable to resist him when he goes to stud. A quick look through the list of Aidan’s 192 inmates in Horses In Training shows he is the only Siyouni in the yard. Of course he does have a family connection a few miles down the road at Coolmore stud, the home of Siyouni’s 2020 Arc winner, Sottsass.
It’s been rather long-winded but at last I’m there. Sottsass was trained by Jean-Claude Rouget and that most prolific of French trainers from his base in the west of France is always dangerous in the Classic races on home soil.
Yesterday he had a single runner pitted against Mother Earth and, while the O’Brien filly was anything but disgraced in finishing runner-up in another Classic so soon after Newmarket, she could not match Rouget’s outsider.
Coeursamba is a daughter of The Wow Signal, who raced only at two and won his first three races, including at Royal Ascot, for John Quinn but lost his unbeaten record in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere. He was the 7-4 favourite, but finished last of seven behind Gleneagles, the future 2,000 Guineas winner, and promptly retired to stud in France.
Coeursamba won only one of her six races at two, but did enough to earn a rating dead on 100. She dutifully took her place the next day in the Prix Marcel Boussac, and finished fifth to Tiger Tanaka, who was unplaced yesterday. Then last autumn she had one more run, third behind Lullaby Moon, the Redcar Gold Trophy winner, another also-ran. Lullaby Moon now runs in the ever-more-recognisable Amo Racing colours.
That was one of many private and public deals that have bolstered the strength of Amo’s celebrity football agent, Kia Joorabchian. A stream of juvenile first-time winners in his purple and white silks have been inevitably attracting attention and quickly propelling trainer George Boughey into the big time.
No doubt they will be going on a shopping spree this week when Arqana stage their breeze-up sale in Doncaster rather than Paris with the Covid recovery trailing behind the UK’s – touch wood and whistle, as Len Baily, brother of Spurs and England footballer Eddie used not only to say but perform with a modest trill.
I worked in Len and middle brother Charlie’s betting shop in Clarence Road, Lower Clapton, before leaving school and passed up an offer to take their partner Sid’s share when he retired – for free. I’m clinging on to that sort of memory – Len’s whistle – for dear life, still wondering whether I should have been on the other side of the argument for the past 58 years!
Coeursamba, at €400,000 the second most expensive of those Arqana Arc sale graduates, might have started 66-1 but could have been mistaken for the favourite as she quickly asserted over Mother Earth.
Mr Joorabchian doesn’t show many signs that he is finished with his acquisitions. Rossa Ryan, a young jockey who is showing that the best way to go from mid-range to top-level rider is to get on good horses, revealed in a recent interview that his boss has a team of 85, more than 50 of them two-year-olds.
As I said, we’ve seen a few of them and good luck to Kia, a welcome incoming force just as two of the biggest players ever in the UK, Prince Khalid Abdullah and Hamdan Al-Maktoum, have left the scene. As the O’Learys are finding with the Gigginstown House hordes, it’s not easy to rationalise overnight, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing the Frankel and Nashwan colours for years to come until the two bosses’ successors decide on which way they will go with their massive operations.
One disappointment in the “1,000” was the running of King’s Harlequin in the Sam Sangster colours; but that Camelot filly has already far-outweighed her original purchase price of €30k, by Tina Rau and Nicolas Clement as a yearling.
It might not have been what connections had been hoping for yesterday as King’s Harlequin raced too freely and gradually dropped away. Sam, though, is continuing to show signs that he is a chip off the old block and in time could be winning big races in the manner of his father, the late Robert Sangster.
At Windsor on Monday Sam watched on from home as the four-year-old filly Beauty Stone came from last to first off her mark of 69 to win a fillies’ handicap over an extended 11 furlongs by just over six lengths.
A daughter of Australia she had three runs for Charlie Appleby in the Godolphin blue without making any impact. She was a 475,000gns yearling buy but cost only 5,500gns when Sam picked her up when culled at the February horses-in-training sale at Newmarket last year.
She had a busy 2020 when racing resumed winning a small race at the fifth attempt for trainer Tom Ward, chosen as he had been a school-friend of Sam’s brother Max, the youngest of the Sangster siblings.
To show just how good a choice that was, Beauty Stone was completing a hat-trick and winning for the fourth time in all at Windsor. Fancied in the morning, trainer and owner were constantly on the phone with Sam quizzing Tom as to why a filly which had won its last two races could still be available at 20-1 even though she’d been backed.
Making a final contact as the filly was being saddled, Sam asked the trainer: “Does she look big?” to which Tom replied: “Looking at her now, maybe?” I wish I’d heard the story before rather than half an hour after the race, but with her nice pedigree, there’s no doubt that’s another Sangster steal. Sangster the Gangster is back! In a manner of speaking, of course .