It's a rising tide anyway - but the storm drain has emptied too
Chris McGrath on the background to a 4,000,000gns shootout
If the 4,000,000gns paid for the daughter of Galileo and Dank at Tattersalls on Thursday represents a highwater mark in the rapprochement between Sheikh Mohammed and his longstanding adversaries at Coolmore, then it could validly be said to reflect some much deeper tides as well.
After all, the yearling market has been on a bull run through nearly every major sale this year, from Saratoga to Deauville, from Doncaster to Keeneland. For one that deals in luxury goods, the bloodstock trade can prove surprisingly resilient in times of wider recession, but its current performance – sustained by a striking diversity of international investment – suggests a restoration of economic confidence (at least among the global elite) to the levels of ten years ago, before the banking crisis.
So if the two superpowers of the European market are to continue contesting its choicest offerings – as they have, off and on, for four decades – then it stands to reason that it is going to cost them correspondingly more.
Even for Coolmore, with the greater imperative to make sense of the bottom line, raising the stakes can become self-justifying in the longer term: stallion fees have always depended on yearling values rather than prize-money.
But that is only half the story. Admittedly, it is the half on which both Godolphin and Coolmore would prefer to see everyone concentrating – when exactly the reverse is likely to apply. In a way, however, any discomfort they may feel just now has been earned by their own postures past. And the fact is that the bull market only laid the base of the price they forged in slugging things out for this filly.
They only found themselves doing that, of course, because the Sheikh has belatedly – after a boycott that coincided, with singularly unfortunate timing, with Galileo's emergence as an epoch-making influence – permitted his men to bid for yearlings by the Coolmore champion. In other words, there is a rising tide in the market; but a storm drain has emptied into it, too.
Rightly or wrongly, some such thaw was anticipated since John Ferguson's resignation from the Godolphin helm in June. The change in policy was well handled, by the Sheikh's team, in relatively low-key increments. For those in the industry, their investment at Keeneland in yearlings by a young Coolmore sire with a reputation to make (Australia) was far more telling than the headlines they made in grasping the Galileo nettle at the Orby sale.
But it is the session-toppers they exchanged this week – Coolmore headed Wednesday's business for a Dubawi colt – that remain bound to crash onto the beach of wider media and public attention. That's inevitable; and that's fine, too, so long as the rest of the industry can catch the rising tide – and so long as both sides can abide the ogling until the outside world moves on and finds something else to stare at.
It won't take long. True, people will never cease being amazed by the values placed on animals that have never even had a saddle on their backs. But by restoring their own focus to that challenge – devilish as it is, without taking extraneous political factors into consideration – Godolphin and Coolmore will soon find everyone mesmerised, once again, by the bounce of the ball; and not the fact that the biggest players are now prepared to share the same roulette table.