All eyes on Deauville as European yearling season gets underway
Martin Stevens sets the scene on a sale which is always rich in intrigue
Firing the starting pistol on the European yearling season as it does, the Arqana August sale is always rich in intrigue. Breeders with lots to sell not just this week but right through to the last auctions in December will be poring over results to gauge the health of the market; who is buying; and which sires are in favour with agents.
This year, though, the action at Deauville is even more compelling due to a shake-up in the structure of Europe's most powerful spending force, a run of good results for graduates and what could potentially be a vintage crop of new stallions represented in the catalogue.
The intentions of Sheikh Mohammed are often debated – or, to put it more accurately, guessed at – and since the departure of chief executive John Ferguson we are now left to ponder not only whether or how many he will buy, but also who will do his bidding at the sales. Quite literally.
Vendors might take comfort from the fact Jono Mills, David Loder and Anthony Stroud signed for two lots at $995,000 and $500,000 at the bellwether Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Yearling Sale in New York this month - depending on levels of expectation of course.
Godolphin were out in force on the Arqana sales ground on the eve of selling on Friday, including new chief executive Joe Osborne, as were the usual faces from all of the racing powerhouses along with visitors from America, Australia and Asia.
Among the lots all would have admired is the half-sister to Wings Of Eagles, consigned to the sale by Haras de Montaigu, who bred this year's Derby hero and Irish Derby third and sold him to MV Magnier for €220,000 at this sale in 2015.
What gives the filly that little extra allure is the fact she hails from the first crop of brilliant miler Kingman, who has been strongly supported since taking up residence alongside Frankel at Banstead Manor Stud.
Kingman (ten lots in total in the catalogue) was one among what appears to be an exceptionally strong group of colts who retired to stud in 2015, along with Australia (ten), Charm Spirit (six), Olympic Glory (12), Ruler Of The World (two), Slade Power (one) and Toronado (seven) – not to mention Anodin (four), Sea The Moon (two) and War Command (six).
Sybille Gibson of Haras de Montaigu confirmed the Wings Of Eagles half-sister had been as popular in showings as you would expect, but also dropped a hint that the Frankel half-brother to useful middle-distance performer Chemical Charge – the very first lot in the ring when the sale starts at 5.30pm local time (4.30pm BST) on Saturday – would not lack suitors either. The victory of Eminent in the Prix Guillaume d'Ornano on Tuesday, also by Frankel out of a Kingmambo mare, will have helped his cause.
If Frankel has not quite convinced some racing fans that he is a premier league player in the breeding game – he may have supplied a glut of highly rated runners but that Group 1 winner in Europe still eludes him, despite Cracksman's best efforts – it is fair to say most independent buyers are sold on him and his name on a stable door still elicits a frisson of excitement.
There are ten lots from the stallion's third crop on offer, and nine by the dual world champion's own magnificent sire Galileo who will also set pulses racing when they enter the ring.
In another spot of Darley-related intrigue, there has also been a notable increase in the number of horses by that other perennial source of sales-topping yearlings, Dubawi, available at auction this year. There are four selling in Deauville on Saturday and Sunday, up from just one in 2016, two in 2015 and one again in 2014.
The surge is more noticeable at Tattersalls in October, where there are 30 by Dubawi catalogued for Book 1, compared with 21 last year, 13 in 2015 and the same number in 2014.
The lack of yearlings by Dubawi on the open market had been a consequence of Sheikh Mohammed and his advisers purchasing them directly from their nurseries; one such example was Frontiersman, the half-brother to Australia out of Ouija Board who would appear to hold a leading chance in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes on Saturday.
The apparent decline in those private purchases of young stock by Dubawi – coming, of course, at the same time as Darley has reduced its broodmare numbers with significant dispersals – will only intensify the conjecture over the extent of Sheikh Mohammed's participation at Arqana and for the rest of the sales season.
As selling gets under way in Deauville on Saturday, some of those crucial questions will be answered.
Five lots who could ignite Arqana
Lot 51 b f Galileo-Prudenzia (Dansili)
Listed winner Prudenzia has been a licence to print money for her owners, as her last four yearlings at this sale have all, unbelievably, made seven-figure prices including last year's €1.4 million top lot, also a filly by Galileo.
Consigned by Ecurie des Monceaux
Lot 57 b c Frankel-Rumored (Royal Academy)
Alluring not only because he is by the best horse of a generation, but also for the fact he is a half-brother to champion two-year-old and exciting first-season sire Dabirsim.
Consigned by Haras de Grandcamp
Lot 88 b c Galileo-Tonnara (Linamix)
By the perennial champion sire and a half-brother to not one but two Group 1 winners – Ectot and Most Improved. The last lot to go under the hammer on Saturday will keep the ring busy to the end of the sale.
Consigned by Ecurie des Monceaux
Lot 101 gr f Kingman-Ysoldina (Kendor)
A half-sister to this year's Derby winner Wings Of Eagles – just think of her future value as a broodmare – and by one of this year's most keenly anticipated first-crop yearling sires to boot.
Consigned by Haras de Montaigu
Lot 160 b c Dubawi-Giofra (Dansili)
Colts by Dubawi invariably fetch big sums. And when they are out of Group 1-winning mares, as this one is, those prices usually go through the roof: see the colts out of Fallen For You and Zee Zee Top who were the dearest yearlings at Book 1 last year at 2,600,000gns apiece.
Consigned by Haras de la Perelle