“There are no two-furlong races”
It seems a simple concept: prepare a young two-year-old to run for his or her life over two furlongs, impress the judges sufficiently, then sit back and reap the dividend in the sales ring a few hours later, writes David Skelly.
Breeze-Up sales have been very fashionable for some time now and have developed a long way since they were regarded as the clearing house of last resort for those pinhooking traders unlucky enough not to offload their foal investment during the previous autumn’s yearling sales. One interesting development has been those same pinhookers selling one set of (foal invested) yearlings and replenishing their boxes with yet more yearlings considered suitable material for breezing from March to May just a few months later.
The above quote - "there are no two-furlong races" - is from the doyen of bloodstock agents, Bobby O’Ryan, who claims he is uninterested in the exploits of what might be labelled 'quarter horses' and will rely on his tried and tested criteria of physique, pedigree, demeanour, vendor and general observational conclusions; and not a little eye on value. It is inevitable that the horses that are clocked with good and exceptional times will be in greatest demand but, somewhat similar to the young four-year-old maiden winners in point-to-points, one has to judge if the two-year-old has been “fried” beforehand and this gallop will represent his own Derby, perhaps emulating the greatest breezer flop of all time, The Green Monkey, who never returned a cent of his $16m purchase price when bought by Coolmore at the Fasig-Tipton Calder sale in 2006.
What can we learn from these sales that may help the investor, owner or the punter?
In an effort to advance my understanding of this market I selected the first Breeze-Up sale that is traditionally held in early April and is now handled by Tattersalls Ireland, who took over from Brightwells in 2016, the latter having conducted the previous versions of the sale since 2000. The auction has grown immeasurably in the past two years and in 2017 £2.04m was traded, up 7% from the previous year’s total of £1.91m. The average for the sale is £30,472 (2016: £32,449).
As recently as 2013 only £147,300 changed hands at this sale for 20 lots so it is now recognised as a solid start to the Breeze Up season annually. The Wow Signal – from the first crop of sub-fertile Starspangledbanner - gave the sale a timely boost in 2014 when this £50,000 purchase won the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot just a few months later. This would be one of the established assumptions of breezers: that they are ready to run for their lives and a lively Royal Ascot contender can be acquired “oven ready”.
Does the reality match the hype?
I examined the records and results for the British and Irish 2016 season in full and the results, as ever, were illuminating.
102 lots were catalogued and of these 17 were withdrawn prior to sale. Only two of these withdrawals subsequently managed to win races although one – Peter Chapple-Hyam’s Fivetwoeight sold for €155,000 at Goresbridge and is a modest maiden winner rated 75. The only other two-year-old “withdrawal” winner was the €50,000 foal purchase, Magical Fire, who wasn’t re-entered for any sale and following a Fairyhouse maiden win for Michael O’Callaghan was second in the Group 2 Cherry Hinton Stakes at the Newmarket July meeting and is rated 102. Ironically, this is the highest rating achieved by the 102 catalogued lots entered for the sale and this filly subsequently disappointed in York’s Lowther Stakes.
Equally, a study of the 26 horses that failed to sell or were recorded as bought back by their consignor/vendor indicates that eight of them (many sold privately, afterwards) were winners of 12 races including the 101-rated Madam Dancealot who, following a pleasing debut second, was sold as a Queen Mary runner at Royal Ascot for £100,000 (finished ninth) and subsequently won a maiden and a Group 3, before changing hands again for £260,000 and being shipped to the United States. Her three appearances in America so far have been as an “also ran” in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last backend, and twice in Listed turf sprints this spring. The filly was originally listed as a buy-back for just £5,000 so someone has done well financially out of her in the meantime.
Lots that changed hands for cash amounting to £2m+ saw 17 winners (29%) of 23 races from 59 lots sold. They have been a fairly uninspiring bunch so far with Willie Muir’s Nuclear Power (98) and James Tate’s Kyllang Rock (91) about the best of them, on official ratings. Four of the top five lots have won – Eddie Lynam’s apallingly-named, Slumming Angel, who was the sale topper at £180,000 being the exception. And five of the top ten lots have won and four of the second decile have also scored but I have to admit I can see no discernible pattern emerging for future punting purposes with large losses accumulating at level-stakes betting and neither is there an angle on each horse’s first three starts.
The top five lots (average cost €127,600) have run 21 times as two-year-olds but four victories have yielded pretty miserable starting price returns of 2/13, 4/5, 9/4 and 11/10 and it suggests to me their auction prices were an influence on their early SP returns.
A notable feature of this sale was the purchase of four yearlings (average cost £57,000) by Tinnakill Stud’s Dermot Cantillon, former HRI board member and husband to the Chief Steward of The Irish Turf Club, Meta Osborne. Each of that quartet, acquired for some then un-named private Arab clients, managed to win on their first or second outing for Palmer, Cowell, Margarson and Crisford. This looked a very promising angle but, alas, Cantillon was not in evidence at the recent version of the sale.
The latest sale occurred just three weeks ago so can we apply any of the lessons from 2016 in an effort to return a betting profit?
Somewhat similar to Cantillon’s one-off spending spree mentioned above, Rabbah Bloodstock bought two winners in 2016 (from just two purchases) but also failed to feature as buyers in 2017. This year’s sale has an odd look to it with the Irish National Stud’s stallion, Worthadd, responsible for the top lot at £130,000 and this from what is probably a very modest crop indeed as he covered a small book in his first year at stud.
However, I am keen to provide some clues as to what may provide some punting interest in the year ahead and, with that, I make the following suggestions:
- Keep an eye on future current Breeze-Up sales and take note of any buying Mr Cantillon may do for some “private” clients. Although it is perfectly possibly no more than coincidence, I will be watching this closely myself. The average from the Tattersalls Ascot sale is well behind the Newmarket Craven and Guineas Breeze-Ups so it would be enlightening to discover if his clients have increased his spending power.
- As four of last year’s top five lots won races of some description, this year’s top-five qualifiers are: Lot 15 Worthadd/Malayan Mist colt, Lot 91 Street Cry/Force One colt, Lot 5 Panis/Kadiania (now named Kanizzi), Lot 89 Zoffany/Flamenco Red and Lot 57 Kodiac/Akuna Magic. At the time of writing, only one has been named or returned in training. I will update this section at future dates as the information comes to hand.
- Finally, perhaps the most interesting angle in this research is that just 2 two-year-olds sold last year that were by stallions located in the USA. There is an ongoing debate as to how well current American blood lines transfer to the British Isles and I am aware that a number of prominent pinhookers have cut back on their American imports in recent times as the track results have been a trifle disappointing. However, what catches my eye is that just two American-bred imports (by Lonhro and Elusive Quality) sold at this venue in 2016 and both Serengeti Sky and High Acclaim won on their second starts for Charlie Appleby and Roger Teal respectively. There are four such imports in the recent sale and these are Lot 91 by Street Cry, Lot 54 by Arch and Lots 18 and 74 by More Than Ready. Time may show that this North American import business will become fashionable once again but some study and attention is required to track these potential winners. Generally speaking, the Racing Post Bloodstock website is the best source for tracing updates.
I hope the above observations offer something of interest to the reader. I am also tracking profitability trends for both the mare owner and foal and yearling investor but this information will be presented once the Breeze-Up season terminates after Goresbridge in May.
David Skelly is a chartered accountant and Ballydoyle/Coolmore graduate who now dispenses pearls of wisdom to private bloodstock clients. Likes to look beyond the headline and the obvious to offer insights to professionals and punters alike. Can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and @djskelly1