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Captain Al all the rage as National Yearling Sale begins with a bang

James Thomas reports from the Johannesburg auction house

Lot 113: the Captain Al colt bought by Jehan Malherbe for R4.75 million
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Bloodstock South Africa's three-day National Yearling Sale kicked off in Johannesburg on Tuesday with a session dominated by the progeny of the much-missed Captain Al. The sun-baked sales auditorium was a hive of activity right from the off, and by the final hammer fall the session had registered turnover of R64,755,000 (£3,758,055/€4,292,610) and 12 seven-figure lots.

There was a notable international presence at the sale, but Form Bloodstock's Jehan Malherbe ensured that the session-topper would be remaining on home soil having gone to R4.75 million (£274,790/€314,105) to secure the Captain Al colt out of the champion three-year-old filly Cherry On The Top on behalf of an undisclosed client. The colt - already named Captain Cherry - was offered by Mauritzfontein.

A flurry of offers rained down from around the octagonal sales ring as the rangy colt strode in front of the crowd, and as the big screen situated below the auctioneers rostrum rolled over to R4,750,000 a notable hush descended in the auditorium as the yearling's gobsmacked handler gazed upwards at the bid board.

"I'll keep asking," called the auctioneer hoping to elicit one last bid, but the opposition cried enough and Malherbe was the man left to receive the plaudits from a host of underbidders.

"The client saw the horse on the farm and fell in love with him, so we were always leaning towards him" said Malherbe, who added that the colt was set to be trained by leading South African handler Dean Kannemeyer.

"The dam was a champion, of course, and he was a very good-looking horse. They're not making them by the stallion anymore - he was a great sire and he's a big loss for our industry."

The colt is the second foal produced by Cherry On The Top, a daughter of Tiger Ridge who landed the 2013 renewal of the Group 1 South African Fillies' Classic.

"There's been big money for the good horses and very solid trade," said Malherbe. "The clearance rate is good, and that's the most important thing. You can always sell the big horses but it's the next level that we battle with, but they seem to be finding homes."

Fresh faces

Among the new faces at the National Sale was the Hong Kong Jockey Club's (HKJC) Mark Richards, who got involved early in the session when going to R3.3m (£190,955/€218,335) for a son of Captain Al offered by Klipdrif Stud.

"I'm very happy to have got him," said Richards, who landed the winning bid from his perch in the dining area that surrounds the sales ring.

"There were a few Captain Als here that were of interest to us but he was the one that I thought would be the best buy. This colt was never going to be cheap but he's a lovely model - he's very well balanced and he has a very good head on him - I went back to see him two or three times and he was rock solid.

"We bought two Captain Als at Cape Town back in January. Unfortunately he's no longer with us as I think he's the kind of sire whose progeny suit Hong Kong. He's already had winners out there previously - they sprint and go on firm ground, they're just uncomplicated horses."

The colt is out of the Listed-winning Western Winter mare Valor Red, who hails from the family of top-level performers Nania and Set Afire.

"I particularly like the cross this colt is bred on," said Richards. "It's produced plenty of stakes winners already and that just gives you a bit more encouragement."

Mark Richards: "they're not short of a good horse here"

Tuesday's acquisition was not the first time the HKJC have bought yearlings in South Africa, however, having also been active at the Cape Premier Yearling Sale.

"This is the first time we've been here," said Richards. "There's plenty of nice horses and if you're coming from other parts of the world there's great value for money here. The quality is definitely there - they're not short of a good horse here.

"The horses we bought at Cape Town are currently in quarantine in Mauritius - they're progressing nicely and are about halfway through their quarantine period. They'll then head on to Malcolm Bastard and join up with the yearlings we buy in Europe in the autumn."

Riverton's regal filly

The session's third-highest price was realised by a daughter of Captain Al offered by Duncan Barry's Riverton Stud. The filly - who is out of Fiesta Queen, a winning Parade Leader half-sister to Group 1 winner Fair Maiden - went the way of Kerry Jack Bloodstock for R2.9m.

"I thought I'd get close to half of that!" said the elated breeder. "I've never sold one for more than six hundred [thousand] before. I thought Captain Al would suit the mare physically. I might send her to his son Captain Of All - who I bred - next.

"I'm just selling three here this week so it doesn't matter what I get for the rest now!"

Barry also went on to explain how the filly had come to be named Cousin Liz.

"We have a guest house at the stud, and my parents were great royalists so there are a lot of pictures of the Queen about the place," he said.

"When my son was nine years old we had some guests staying and they asked him 'why are there so many pictures of the Queen of England here?' to which he replied: 'That's not the Queen, that's Cousin Liz!'."

Captain Al, who suffered a fatal bout of laminitis in July 2017, finished the first session as leading sire by aggregate and average, with nine lots sold for turnover of R13.815m and an average of R1.535m.

Shadwell step in

Arguably South African racing's most recognisable face, world renowned trainer Mike de Kock, is set to train the session's fifth-top lot, having gone to R2.4m for a Dynasty half-brother to Group 3 winner Zen Arcade on behalf of Sheikh Hamdan's Shadwell operation.

"I know the family well - I've trained quite a few of the names under the second and third dam," said de Kock, who trains around 50 horses for Shadwell.

"I like the fact that the dam was quite speedy, that's something I think works well with Dynasty. He's a nice scopey horse, I don't expect him to be early as he's got a nice Classic look about him."

Mike de Kock: "People have brought good horses here so they deserve to get good money for them"

Dynasty, a son of Fort Wood who stands at Highlands Stud under the Freeman Stallions banner, is the sire of champions such as Futura, Legislate, Irish Flame and Beach Beauty.

"It's been a strong market," added de Kock. "People have brought good horses here so they deserve to get good money for them."

Bester's bargain buy

Another agent to secure a son of Captain Al was James Bester, who parted with R1m for a colt named Captain Zee offered by Gaynor Rupert's Drakenstein Stud.

"He's the spitting image of his sire - Captain Al, who's now deceased - I've never seen anything more like the stallion," said Bester, who did his bidding from the preparade ring behind the sales ring.

"He's an awesome beast - from his head to his tail he looked like Captain Al. He had an amazing hind quarter, a great forearm and gaskin.

"I think the next big Captain Al becomes the next big stallion prospect. I had my eye on this colt and thought he'd make a fair bit more than that."

Bester's acquisition is out of the winning Elliodor mare Zeigler, whose six winners include the Listed-winning Red Disa and the Group 1-placed Tick Tock, both of whom are by Captain Al. 

"The mare has already throw two good horses by Captain Al - one of which almost won the Guineas - so this was my number one of the sale," he added. "He's been bought for Sabine Plattner, who has a private racing operation, and will be trained by Andre Nel."

Bester was among a host of buyers to pay tribute to the sale and the skill of the vendors offering yearlings, saying: "I love it here - this year's sale seems to have a nice vibe to it. To see John Ferguson and Mark Richards of the Hong Kong Jockey Club here is great. It's a great feather in the cap of the breeders."

The National Sale continues on Wednesday at 11.30 (10.30 GMT). You can follow the sale live here

There's plenty of nice horses and if you're coming from other parts of the world there's great value for money here

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