End-of-term report on the 2017 European breeze-up bull market
Quartiles show three key auctions posted gains at every level of trade
Strong and stable may be a mantra that has been repeated ad nauseam of late. After a sales season hallmarked by high demand and robust trade, however, it is one the breeze-up consignors may want to consider adopting for themselves next spring.
The format has not always been everyone's cup of tea, but the gang commonly referred to as "the breeze-up boys" have undoubtedly received a massive vote of confidence from buyers in 2017 - in terms of both the level of investment, and the type of horse they are aiming to source.
The sheer strength of the market at the Goffs UK Breeze-Up Sale and Tattersalls Craven Sale, as well as the €1.4 million top lot at Arqana, were obvious flashpoints. But now that the dust has settled on the breeze-up season - and with a number of graduates on course for Ascot next week - we are ideally placed to examine the fortunes of the six major European breeze-up auctions in detail.
Of course, individual sale statistics for turnover, average and median paint their own picture, but for the most complete view of the market we have split the results into four equal quartiles.
Tattersalls Ireland Ascot
The likes of The Wow Signal and, more recently, Group 3 winner Madam Dancealot have kept the Ascot sale in buyers' collective consciousness, and they were duly out in force again as the curtain came up on the 2017 breeze-up season.
There was one fewer six-figure lot in 2017 than 12 months previously, and the highest price achieved was down some £50,000. So it is no surprise to see a reversal in what had been the strongest area of the market at Ascot in 2016, with the top quartile taking an eight per cent drop.
Beyond that, however, results will have undoubtedly heartened the Tattersalls Ireland team in what was just the third renewal of this sale to be staged under their name. For what had been a mixed market 12 months earlier looked notably more robust this time round.
Both the upper-middle and lower-middle quartiles showed an 18 per cent increase; while the average for the bottom sector, having admittedly started from a low base, rocketed a whopping 82 per cent to £10,200.
For Goffs UK, the returns from their 2016 breeze-up must have been a bitter pill to swallow, with declines ranging from 33 per cent to 12 per cent across all four market quartiles. But it did not take long for the sale's graduates to set the record straight - most notably through Ardad and Prince Of Lir, joint-top lots at £170,000, and respectively winners of the Windsor Castle Stakes and Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot.
In view of such positive on-course results it seemed inconceivable that there would not be renewed demand in 2017. Even so, the Goffs UK team deserve plenty of credit for the sheer magnitude of the turnaround.
This time round there were significant increases across the board, with the lowest quartile making the biggest gains at 49 per cent, and the rest not far behind at between 40 and 42 per cent.
The strength and depth of trade was such that the sale not only put to bed the disappointments of 2016 but also surpassed the records set in every metric in 2015.
If the ultimate arbiter of a sale's success is racecourse results, there was never any doubt that the Goffs UK Breeze-Up would be back in its rightful place before too long.
There may have been a sense of deja vu about the Craven sale-topper, the Scat Daddy colt knocked down to David Redvers for 675,000gns being the second foal produced by Gender Dance to top the auction following Great White Eagle at 760,000gns in 2013.
But those who helped to drive the price to that point reflect the diversity of buyers sustaining the whole breeze-up season, with Cheveley Park's Chris Richardson, Nicolas de Watrigant, Justin Casse, Stephen Hillen and Kerri Radcliffe all making plays before Richard Knight had to give best to Redvers.
In total there were 57 six-figure lots at this year's Craven Sale, a new auction record and a quite staggering improvement on the perfectly respectable total of 33 in 2016. There were also 27 lots that fetched 200,000gns or above, ten more than in 2016, helping the upper quartile to a year-on-year gain of 38 per cent.
They say a rising tide lifts all ships, and the upper-middle and lower-middle quartiles duly proved stronger still, with gains of 58 per cent and 50 per cent respectively.
For the second successive year the bottom quartile was weakest, but a 17 per cent gain compares healthily with the 13 per cent drop in 2016.
A top price of 240,000gns, given by Stephen Hillen for a son of Kodiac, may not have been able to match that achieved in 2016 - but a total of 11 six-figure lots, up from eight, helped to shore up the top end of the market with an 11 per cent gain.
The upper-middle and lower-middle averages both showed declines in 2016, but both reversed that trend to post improved figures this time - making gains of 22 per cent gain and seven per cent respectively.
But while the bottom quartile had nudged four per cent forwards in 2016, this time it dropped by the same degree.
In 2016 Al Shaqab set a new record for this sale by paying €800,000 for the Frankel filly, Middle East. That mark was surpassed at the first opportunity, however, as Kerri Radcliffe, a major force throughout the 2017 breeze-ups, stepped up to the plate and delivered a €1.4 million beamer.
As only the second seven-figure breezer ever sold in Europe, Radcliffe's Street Sense colt from Mocklershill contributed to a 22 per cent climb in the upper quartile. That set Arqana on the way to becoming the third breeze-up sale in 2017 to post positive returns at every level of the market - something the auction house had also achieved in bringing this sale to its Deauville base last year.
The upper-middle and lower-middle sectors both continued their ascent, growing by 26 per cent and 13 per cent respectively, following on from gains of 28 per cent and 26 per cent in 2016. While the bottom of the market could not keep pace with these upper echelons, even the lowest quartile did muster a 2 per cent increase to €22,000.
This was also the fifth consecutive year that turnover, average and median prices at the Arqana Breeze-Up have risen. And if its latest crop can match the achievements of the class of 2016, there's no reason why the Deauville breeze-up shouldn't take yet another step forward next year.
Another buoyant market saw the Goresbridge breeze-up continue its own upward trajectory. Thirteen six-figure lots, up four on 2016, contributed to a growth in the upper quartile of 13 per cent, almost identical to that achieved last year.
It was the middle market that proved the strongest, however, the average for both its quartiles showing a 32 per cent increase - doubtless assisted by an improved clearance rate of 86 per cent. While the bottom sector dipped five per cent, the positives to be taken from the rest of the sale mean that Goresbridge will hardly view that as a disaster.
Given the very nature of the breeze-ups, with extremely immature thoroughbreds given under 30 seconds to deliver a performance that will have a direct impact on their market value, this year's results speak volumes for the skill of the men and women preparing these two-year-olds each winter.
But before the backslapping can begin in earnest, the 2017 breeze-up graduates need to prove that their appeal in the sales ring can be matched by their ability on the track. With Royal Ascot just days away, the breeze-up boys could not ask for a better shop window.