Five things we learned from the yearling sales on the Gold Coast
The power of prize-money and Danehill sire line dominance - James Thomas reports
1. Mixing business and pleasure
Many sales take place all over the world each year, but few can claim to rival the carnival atmosphere created by Magic Millions. The saying goes that you should never mix business and pleasure, but Magic Millions have highlighted that it can be an exercise well worth undertaking.
With a star-studded polo match, the barrier draw for the Magic Millions raceday taking place on the beach at Surfer’s Paradise, and a range of events aimed exclusively at women in racing, you can only applaud the lengths to which Magic Millions have to to put on a show and engage as wide an audience as possible.
The sale returned a record level of turnover at A$135,038,500 (£83,134,919/€95,161,342), and while is impossible to say with any accuracy how much of that increase is down to the events that take place in the run up to the sale, one thing that is for certain is that they can only have broadened the appeal of Magic Millions.
There are those that will say a sale is strictly business, and for some that is undoubtedly the case. But it is worth recognising that for many people racing and thoroughbreds are their pleasure, and buying a horse is all part of the fun of being involved. If more of those within in the industry took responsibility for owners enjoyment they may find themselves in a better position.
Of course the fanfare before the auction is a welcome addition, but this is not just a case of all style and no substance, as all key market indicators point to the stock on offer more than matching up to the pre-sale hype.
2. Prize-money drives demand
The average - A$205,226 (£126,346/€144,622 - and median A$150,000 (£92,346/€105,704) - prices both continued on their upward trajectory despite a catalogue that had been expanded by nine per cent, and with a clearance rate of 88 per cent, those returns speak of a market with strength in depth and not just at the top end.
So what is driving demand? Getting people to the sale to have a good time is one thing, but getting them to part with their money is another matter altogether.
It does not take too much imagination to think that the real possibility of securing a share of prize money that could be described as gargantuan by the standards on offer in the Britain and Ireland is one of the biggest contributing factors.
For starters there is the Magic Millions Gold Coast raceday, which offers prize money of over A$10 million exclusively to graduates of the sale. But there is also a much more acceptable level of money on offer throughout the racing calendar all year than in Britain.
There has been no update on the levels of British prize money on the BHA website since a press release issued on January 14, 2015, when it was announced that over £130m would be offered in 2015. By way of comparison, A$525,956,559 (£323,802,406/€370,644,090) was offered in Australia during the 2014/15 season, a figure that increased eight per cent to A$568,865,514 (£350,219,080/€400,878,312) in 2015/16.
These sums are large enough, and spread far and wide enough, to make racehorse ownership a more commercially viable pastime.
Clearly not everyone profits from ownership, but the effect is that you do not have to be winning Group 1s to just about break even.
It is also noteworthy that the increased turnover has been generated from within the domestic Australian market rather than an increased reliance on foreign money, with 83 per cent, A$111,500,500, of turnover during last week's sale coming from Australian buyers compared to 73 per cent, A$85,258,500, during the previous year’s renewal.
Clearly we get plenty right with our domestic racing action, but if we can learn just one lesson from our antipodean counterparts it is that if we can bring the levels of risk and reward back onto a more reasonable footing, far more people will be in a position to invest.
It is to be hoped the government's intended levy reform can be the first step on the long road to back to making domestic ownership more affordable.
3. Danehill still dominates
His name may no longer feature on the leading sires’ list but the legacy of breed-shaping stallion Danehill shows no signs of abating in the southern hemisphere, and this was evidenced in a big way at the Gold Coast Yearling Sale.
Six of the top ten lots, including the A$1.3m Redoute’s Choice colt out of Ballet Blue, the A$1.2m Fastnet Rock filly out of Dazzling Gazelle and the A$1.1m Snitzel colt out of Sabanci, are all by sire sons of Danehill. The other joint sale-topping A$1.3m More Than Ready brother to Sebring and the A$900,000 Dundeel colt out of Miss Finland also feature Danehill in the third generation of their female line.
The son of Danzig had ten sons at stud in Australia alone in 2016, including Redoute’s Choice, Fastnet Rock and Exceed And Excel, all of whom were well represented during Book 1.
Where the next available outcross option comes from remains to be seen, but the southern hemisphere crown won’t be slipping from Danehill any time soon.
4. Arrowfield takes aim
Given Danehill’s absolute domination of the Australian breed it seems apt that Arrowfield Stud, the farm that Danehill first shuttled to back in 1990, has been the main beneficiary of the continued demand for the stock of his descendants.
John Messara’s operation stands Danehill’s most prolific sire son Redoute’s Choice, and his heir apparent Snitzel, who finished atop the leading sires’ lists by average and aggregate respectively. Snitzel also supplied four of the top ten lots during the four days of trade.
The stud also consigned three of the top ten lots during Book 1, including day one’s session-topping colt, a son of Dundeel, who finished the sale as leading freshman sire by average, and dual champion racemare Miss Finland, herself a daughter of Redoute’s Choice, who fetched A$900,000 from Boomer Bloodstock.
They were also responsible for day three’s session topper, the son of Redoute’s Choice and Ballet Blue who went to James Harron for A$1.3m.
Those transactions contributed to Arrowfield leading the vendors’ table for the second year running, with 38 lots sold for turnover of A$10,900,000 - eight per cent of the auction gross.
5. Invincible is just that
I Am Invincible’s stock has never been higher, and during the four days of Book 1 his 39 sons and daughters sold for a total of A$12,410,000 - the second highest aggregate in the sale - and at an average of A$318,205. An impressive return for a crop conceived at a fee of A$27,500.
This year’s yearlings are his first crop on the ground since Yarraman Park raised his fee from A$11,000, which he had spent the first four years of his stallion career on.
The results from the Magic Millions raceday give some clue as to the root of his meteoric rise, with his Gold Slipper-bound daughter Houtzen blitzing her rivals to land the A$2m Magic Millions 2YO Classic, along with two seconds and a third at the A$10m raceday.
One lot whose price may well have benefited from those on-course exploits was lot 99, a I Am Invincible filly offered by Segenhoe Stud. The filly was due to be offered during the opening session of Book 1 on Wednesday, but missed her date with the auctioneer because of a foot abscess. She eventually appeared in the sales ring before the final session of Book 1 got under way, just two hours after Houtzen had crossed the line with her hooded head in front. She was knocked down to Boomer Bloodstock for A$540,000.
Both his sale and racecourse results augur well for his upcoming crops, which were conceived after his fee had risen to A$55,000.
With his first son at stud in Europe, Brazen Beau - who stands at Dalham Hall at a fee of £10,000 - expecting his first crop to be on the ground this year, it seems I Am Invincible is a stallion we will be hearing a lot more about in the coming years.