All the way from Diggers Rest to Donny for Starspangled filly
Audacious around-the-world sale plot for Australian-bred lot
From all over Britain and Ireland – and Normandy in the case of the pioneering Anna Sundstrom's Coulonces operation – vendors have brought their more physically forward young stock to Doncaster to impress those buyers who attend the Goffs UK Premier Yearling Sale year after year in search of future Royal Ascot two-year-old winners and standout sprinters.
The catalogue for this year's auction – which takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday, sessions starting at 10am – has an even more cosmopolitan tinge as all the way from the evocatively named town of Diggers Rest in Victoria, Australia, comes a daughter of Starspangledbanner (lot 385) bred and offered by Stockwell Thoroughbreds.
The chestnut filly carries an AUS suffix but was bred to northern hemisphere time when Starspangledbanner, a sufferer of subfertility but a capable conduit of class on the limited evidence we have seen, stood at Rosemont Stud in Victoria.
She is out of the Rock Of Gibraltar mare Alpine Belle, a half-sister to Group 1-placed Hasselhoof whose two foals to have run are both multiple winners. It is also the family of New Zealand champion two-year-old Lord Ted.
So why is the filly selling on the other side of the world to which she was born? And how on earth can such a venture be cost-effective?
Mike Becker, a doyen of the Victorian breeding scene who took over the lease at Stockwell – a property famed for standing multiple Australian champion sire Showdown – with son Brodie last year, takes up the tale.
“She's a filly we bred with a couple of friends,” he explains. “The mare was sent to Starspangledbanner to our time but that didn't happen – he had well documented fertility issues that seem to have been corrected – so for whatever reason we pushed on and she got in foal to northern time, and we ended up with an out-of-season foal with no particular plan in mind at the time.
“But she grew into a nice filly and, as we saw it, we had three options only. One was to keep her and race her but, because of her birthday, that was going to be a long-term and expensive proposal.
“The second option was selling her here in Australia, but the only sale we could have taken her to was at Magic Millions in June and we thought it would have cost a fair bit of money to ship her from Melbourne to the Gold Coast and, anyway, what interest would there have been in an out of season filly? Probably negligible.”
So Becker chose his third option, the decision made easier due to a member of his staff who made the audacious around-the-world consignment a more manageable proposition.
“We thought Doncaster was the right level of sale for her,” he continues. “And Amy Billinghurst, who is with the filly at the sale, is an English girl doing a year with us.
"Amy and her mother have got a property over at Cheltenham, so she travelled with the filly and took her to her place to look after. Amy is very experienced at prepping and showing horses, so we know we can rely on her to do a good job.
“That was the deciding factor. If we'd had to send her to another consignor it would have pushed the cost beyond all reason.”
Becker acknowledges that sending a filly from Diggers Rest to Doncaster “obviously increases the risk and cost”, but that the trip might have benefits other than the price she generates: “I thought on balance it was worth a try; you don't know where it might lead, what connections we might make,” he says. “We don't expect to break records with her but we thought she'd get a fair hearing at the sale.
“I'm wondering whether this is half a smart business decision or is it the ego getting in the way? I'll tell you that on Wednesday I guess!”
There is every reason to believe it is a smart business decision.
Starspangledbanner should be in demand with Premier Yearling Sale buyers, as he has proved with the likes of Anthem Alexander and The Wow Signal that he can pass on the qualities they so crave: precocity and class. Indeed, he supplied the top lot at the sale in 2014, the £230,000 colt Ultimate Star.
The filly has also thrived and grown in her time with the Billinghursts, with Amy reporting good feedback from early inspections on the sales grounds in the last few days.
And Becker can console himself with the fact there is another Australian-bred yearling by Starspangledbanner in the catalogue: the very first lot in the ring on Tuesday, a colt consigned by Stratford Place Stud from the operation's prolific Crime Of Passion family.
Even if that son of Starspangledbanner has taken away some of the novelty value of the Stockwell Thoroughbreds offering, at least his presence could be construed as a case of great minds thinking alike.