Racing not fully utilising its biggest assets

The vibrant sales scene is a fascinating backdrop to action on the racecourse more »

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bloodstock Editor

The last few days have been spent watching the fearless Iva Milickova, a former jockey from the Czech Republic, become the first person to ride a handful of yearling fillies to have joined our yard from recent sales.

Every autumn there’s a fresh sense of wonder at seeing the yearlings progress from being sales graduates to horses in training – mostly at their readiness to accept what is being asked of them. Of course sales yearlings are already semi broken-in, having been lunged in a roller and walked out in hand throughout the weeks building up to their turn in the ring. They are streets ahead of the homebreds who come straight from the farm – though even they will be used to being led and having their feet picked up for the farrier, and again are far more advanced than other breeds at the same stage in life.

The speed with which thoroughbreds can run is matched by the speed with which they learn but even with such a willing and able pupil, having the right teacher is essential for future success. Trainers and jockeys receive the lion’s share of praise when a horse wins a big race but there are plenty of people who have contributed to that horse’s progression throughout its short life.

The contribution by breeders and stud workers to horseracing should not go unrecognised

That starts of course with the stud farm workers, the first to handle the foals, often within minutes of birth as the newborn attempts those first wobbly steps. Through weaning and sales prep, the young racehorses in the making learn to trust their human friends, a relationship which becomes ever more vital when they arrive at pre-training or training yards. How well a horse is presented at a sale makes a huge difference to its sales price, just as how well a horse has been handled in its formative months makes a difference to its behaviour and future wellbeing once in training.

The contribution by breeders and stud workers to horseracing should not go unrecognised, though it’s hard not to feel that it’s a sector largely overlooked by the administrative officers of the sport. It’s puzzling that for the last few years a conference called ‘Leaders In Racing’ has been staged to coincide with the start of Book 1 of Tattersalls’ October Yearling Sale. A more unsuitable date in the calendar is hard to imagine, when all those that make such an enormous financial contribution to the sport – the stallions masters and major owners and breeders from around the world – are gathered at Park Paddocks for the most influential sale in Europe. It’s unlikely that a similar clash would arise in Ireland, where horseracing and breeding are woven into the fabric of the nation, and those that run the sport are mostly involved at all levels, right from the breeding shed.

Significant global investment
While speeches were being given at Chelsea Football Club, more than £73 million was changing hands during Book 1 alone. When Books 2 and 3 were added to the tally, a total of £114,457,140 had been spent in the small country town of Newmarket, which drew investors from Qatar, Dubai, Australia, America, China, Hong Kong, Japan, India and beyond.

There was a similarly strong international band of buyers at the Orby Sale, but it isn’t just by chance that some of the world’s richest men and women pitch up at Tattersalls and Goffs to part with a portion of their wealth. Both sales companies go to considerable lengths to attract this clientele, with teams of representatives touring the world, to both established and emerging racing nations, to promote the merits of British and Irish bloodstock. The Great British Racing International appointment of the effervescent and experienced Carter Carnegie is a welcome one, and it is hoped that he is encouraged to strengthen relationships with the bloodstock industry to promote racing’s core product ­– the thoroughbred.

In a sense that job is made easier by the continued success of runners from these countries in all corners of the world. This month again, the Melbourne Cup field will feature many runners who started their careers in Europe but whose sought-after bloodlines ensured decent sums were paid by owners desperate to win the world’s most coveted staying race.

As well as mixing with international investors, whose very presence in the UK is invaluable when taking racing’s case to the government, feedback from the sport’s constant investors should also be sought. The travelling band of sales folk – breeders, consignors and pinhookers – have taken the hits in hard times, but have regrouped, restocked and reinvested. Yet another good reason why the biggest yearling sale in Europe should not be overshadowed.

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About Emma Berry

Bloodstock Editor

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