Ferguson exit leaves big shoes to fill on the global sales scene
Former chief executive has signed for 163 Book 1 yearlings since 2012
Having been one of the biggest spenders at public auction for nearly the last quarter of a century, the news that John Ferguson had resigned from his post as Godolphin chief executive on Tuesday is sure to have sent shockwaves around the bloodstock world. His various roles within the organisation had seen him spend 25 years being responsible for sourcing Sheikh Mohammed's racing and breeding stock, in which time he has presided over both massive outlay and significant cutbacks.
The announcement gives rise to questions over whether Godolphin's public spending habits will remain at the levels that Ferguson has overseen, with his presence at auctions around the world having contributed huge sums to annual sale returns.
Nowhere has Ferguson's presence had a greater impact than at the prestigious Book 1 of the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale, an auction at which he has become the perennial leading spender. In the previous five renewals alone Ferguson has spent a grand total of 58,000,000gns on 163 lots. The focus of his spending in that period has undeniably been the stock of Dubawi, the jewel in the crown of Sheikh Mohammed's stallion empire who stood the 2017 breeding season at a career-high covering fee of £250,000.
During the last five renewals of the auction Ferguson has spent 19,265,000gns - 33 per cent of his total Book 1 spend since 2012 - on 27 yearlings by Dubawi.
Topically, two of his recent seven-figure Dubawi purchases could be set to debut at Newmarket on Saturday, with Glorious Journey - one of the 2,600,000gns joint sale-toppers from the 2016 renewal of Book 1 - and Being There - the €1.4million Goffs Orby sale-topper out of Beauty Parlour, among the initial entries for the 6f novice stakes at 1.55pm.
At the 2016 renewal of Book 1 alone Ferguson parted with 13,910,000gns for 26 yearlings, while he also spent €2,680,000 on eight lots at the Goffs Orby Sale and $2,245,000 on five lots at the Keeneland September Sale. The result of those big spends now forms a significant part of Godolphin's 2017 squad of two-year-olds, along with their homebreds. But despite the sums involved, not all at the operation are happy with this year's intake. In the Racing Post published on Tuesday May 30 Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor told Steve Dennis: "This year we are behind by miles in regard to what we received for two-year-olds. I've never seen anything like it. They need plenty of time, and a lot of them will not run this year.
"It is a disaster. They are very, very backward. I can't train them, have no chance to run them. The system is not quite great this year. And two-year-olds are the future of any yard."
Of course, Ferguson's raids on public auctions have not been the full extent of his purchasing activities, as the former chief executive will have also been instrumental in many of the acquisitions that Godolphin have made privately. Those transactions have brought about some of Godolphin's biggest recent success stories, including stars of the current campaign such as runaway Lockinge Stakes winner Ribchester, Dubai Sheema Classic hero Jack Hobbs, and Greenham Stakes scorer and 2,000 Guineas runner-up Barney Roy.
While just last week it was announced that the promising three-year-old colt Harry Angel, second favourite for the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, had been acquired for an undisclosed, but presumably not insignificant, amount.
But the financial tide at Godolphin has not just flowed in one direction during Ferguson's tenure, as he was also an instrumental figure in the "pruning" exercise that saw Sheikh Mohammed's operation take active measures to reduce their worldwide numbers.
Since early-2016 Sheikh Mohammed's operation has sold a significant number of horses across a range of ages and sales, with the increased emphasis on rationalising numbers having seen Godolphin sell 169 horses at Tattersalls alone during 2016, for turnover of 9,673,200gns.
During last year's Keeneland September Yearling Sale Dan Pride, chief operating officer of Godolphin's US base in Kentucky, commented on the situation saying: "You've got to use your own selective criteria about what you want to put in training and what you're going to sell. By no means do we think we have the magic formula as to the ones we're selling are not going to be racehorses and the ones we're keeping are, but we just had to come up with a manageable amount we'd like to keep. The racetrack is going to be the ultimate arbiter of whether we were right or wrong."
Speculation is likely to be rife over how Godolphin will conduct their bloodstock business in future, both as a buyer and a seller, publicly and privately. But whatever direction they head in, if indeed there is any policy shift at all, the impact Ferguson has had on the fortunes of so many horses, breeders, vendors and auction houses, and of course, Godolphin, should not be underestimated.