We’re living in changing times, dear reader, and it will pay to be aware of that transition the next time you click ‘Process Bet’.
Last week saw a return the good old bad old days of, frankly, preposterous bidding at the Tattersalls Book 1 Yearling sales. But the most newsworthy element of those two multi-million guinea bids (reported on geegeez here and here) was less the final sales price, and more the bidders pushing the price through the stratosphere.
This time last year, a subtle shift began. The top lot, a Galileo colt called Hydrogen, was snapped up by David Redvers on behalf of Pearl Bloodstock, one of the business names for Qatari horse racing interests. Hydrogen cost 2,500,000 guineas (£2,625,000, a guinea being £1.05), and has yet to race. The second top lot, a filly by Galileo, has also yet to race. That lot, where the hammer dropped at 1,500,000 guineas was sold to Mandore International, who buy on behalf of… the Qatari racing interests.
The next three lots were knocked down to various purchasers on behalf of Ballydoyle, for a combined 3,175,000 guineas.
Notice anything? That’s right. None of the top five lots last year were sold to the ‘traditional’ Arab powerhouses. Indeed, you’d have to scroll down to number seven in the top lots list to see the first recording of the name John Ferguson, Sheikh Mohammed’s main bloodstock buyer. That colt, New Year’s Night, this time not by Galileo (but out of a Galileo mare!), has yet to race too.
That sole entry in the top ten at the Tattersalls Book 1 sale marked a confirmation of the beginning of a changing of the guard at the top of the sales lists. In 2011, the only top ten acquisition by the Sheikhs was New Look, a half million guinea son of New Approach. Now gelded, he’s yet to race.
In 2010, three of the top ten were sold to Shadwell Estate, representing Sheikh Hamdan. In 2013, lower down the lists, the Sheikhs are still in business, and indeed Sheikh Hamdan signed a cheque for 1,100,000 guineas for the fourth top lot this year.
But the top bidders on the top lots were Ballydoyle… and Qatar.
Of course, inferring ownership patterns from a single sale – irrespective of whether it’s the pre-eminent global yearling sale – is microcosmic at best. And implying the demise of the Godolphin operation on that basis is plain daft. The boys in blue, despite an annus horribilis, have enjoyed great success with Dawn Approach of course, but also Farrh, Sajjhaa, and Hunter’s Light have all chipped in at Group 1 level.
What’s interesting to note is that none of those Group 1 winners this year were bought in a sales ring. Dawn Approach was privately bought (into, half is still owned by Jim Bolger), while the other trio are all home bred Darley beasts.
In other words, the established breeding factories at Darley are paying sufficient dividends that forays to the top bidding ranks need not break the bank. While Ballydoyle operate a trident attack, via all of the sales ring, their own studs and private purchases, the much younger Qatari ‘firm’ know they need to invest heavily if they’re to maintain a position at the top table of global horse racing.
The victory of Treve, a private purchase from Haras Du Quesnay, is by far the most fruitful of an aggressively acquisitive spending spree this year; but Toronado is a powerful supplement in vindicating that sizable splashing of cash.
Spending five million on a yearling smacks more of posturing than good business, and it seems clear that – in a year when Ballydoyle have done just ‘ok’ by their own standards, and Godolphin have been rocked by scandals – the Qatari princes are making grand gestures of intent, a move which is to be welcomed for the additional funding – and interest – it brings, to racing as a whole as well as the oft-maligned local flat product.
This time of year represents a changing of the guard in terms of code too. And, with the final Future Champions Day held on a Saturday – for now at least – behind us, we have just the last hoorah of Champions Day itself this Saturday before drawing down the main curtain on the level turf. Of course, there are still such as the Racing Post Trophy, a most important race, to come; but turf flat racing fans must then cast their net wider – to Australasia – for their fix.
In its stead comes the jumps stuff. More hardy, more intimate, and with a much, much better narrative flow, the winter game suffers little of the persecution complex that envelops its summer sister. Indeed, with the Cheltenham Festival more popular than ever, and with the ink dry on the first million pound Grand National, the sport has never been in better health.
Friday sees the covers lifted for the first time this season at Prestbury Park, for the Showcase meeting. Not Cheltenham’s finest by any means, but an important fixture for stables trying to get a handle on some of their more precocious seasonal aspirants. That it coincides with Ascot’s Champions Day is akin to the beeb showing Eastenders in the same time slot as ITV are broadcasting Corrie, but I guess that’s a fixture congestion issue for another day.
And, introducing itself with a moderate fanfare this week, is a new – and potentially very exciting – initiative from ARC, the company that owns most of the all weather tracks. This winter, as well as the historical narrative steering the jump racing action from here until March and April’s major festivals, the all weather season will have its own storyline for the first time.
ARC has promised two million quid – a million in qualifying pots, and another million for a big finals day – in prize money for a new All Weather Championships. Those who lampoon all weather racing do so based on ignorance and / or myopia in my opinion. You see, the sport in Britain has never been given the chance to grow in the same way it has elsewhere. Poor funding, bookmaker demand for cheap product, and a traditional skew towards the summer for the best horses, has handicapped all weather racing to, well, handicaps.
But with the emergence of a real financial incentive, at a time when the flat season has been extended at both ends – by the Dubai Carnival at the start of the year, and the big Oriental pots at the end – all weather racing in Britain now, finally, has a chance to bid for legitimacy.
I admit it. I loves me some sand racing. It is hugely consistent: no moved running rails, same pool of horses from week to week, clear and understood differences between tracks, very little change in going. Frankly, it’s one of the easiest sectors of racing to assess, and I can only put it down to snobbery that more people don’t embrace it. Now, at last, there is no excuse for such a cold shoulder to racing’s historically poor relation. And I can’t wait.
Another sign of the beginning of the National Hunt action is a proliferation of betting products designed to help you find winners. There are two I have been using for years, and will be using again this year.
The first is Trainer Track Stats. Longer suffering readers will know that I actually devised and created this product back in 2006. Since then, Gavin Priestley has picked up the mantle and, much more importantly, continued the tradition of providing consistent profit for followers. Indeed, in its seven years of publication, Trainer Track Stats has NEVER had a losing year. Seven winning years on the bounce.
And the last three years have been some of the most profitable since the product began. If you’ve never heard of it, or if you tried it and for some reason it didn’t work for you, do look again, as it’s pure gold. It goes on sale later today, and it’s a giveaway in my view. Honestly, I think it’s the most under-priced product sold each year. Such great value for less than thirty quid. (Note, there is a ‘done for you’ membership service too, which is optional).
Also on that page, about half way down the right hand side, you’ll see links to two completely free reports. Just click the links to be taken straight to the reports – no signup, no nothing. At the very least you should do that. But do also give serious thought to what is an excellent product (I would say that, having designed the concept, I suppose!!!).
Like I say, it’s one of only two National Hunt products that I personally use each year. I’ll tell you more about the other later in the week.
And finally today, well done to those of you who used racebets for their Cambridgeshire bets. You got paid out on the place part for fifth AND sixth places, and those positions were both filled by fancied runners, meaning plenty of you cashed in.
I’ve said it a lot of times recently, and I make no apology for that. If you’re not taking advantage of the best concessions and the best prices available, you simply don’t care about winning money at betting. You can’t, can you?!
Now then, finally finally, if you’re a registered user – and nearly two thousand of you now are – why aren’t you playing the geegeez tipping league?! There’s £200 in free bet prizes and, this month, there’s also the chance to win a Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe baseball cap and pin badge. Woo! 😉
To enter, just go to the Tipping League page, choose ‘Cards’ and then the meeting and race you’re interested in. (Do remember to check the rules tab too). Or, even easier, scan the race cards to find your fancies, then click the ‘Tip’ link next to the horse you like to be taken straight to the Tipping League.
BetVictor has been kind enough to sponsor the competition, and prizes are paid into your BetVictor account, so if you haven’t got one, do sign up. They offer excellent concessions (for instance, they’re already non-runner money back as a free bet on all Cheltenham races), and they’re not afraid to stand a bet either!
Best of luck!