Frankel fever and fresh faces get Cape Premier Sale off to bright start
James Thomas reports from Cape Town's flagship yearling auction
With rain and snow battering much of Britain and Ireland over the weekend the balmy late-summer days of yearling sale season must feel an awfully long way away.
But that is precisely where plenty have headed this weekend, 8,250 miles south to Cape Town to be exact, to attend the Cape Premier Yearling Sale that kicked off on Saturday evening without so much as a cloud in the sky.
The flagship event is a sale but not quite as we know it. Business and pleasure are joyfully mixed together to create a spectacle that is part black tie dinner party, part cabaret show, part theatre and part horse auction.
The sale is staged at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in the heart of the city, while the parade ring, the only outdoor area of the sales ground, is nestled directly beneath one of down town's main flyovers.
It is to be wondered if the drivers in the steady stream of traffic above or the workers in the towering office blocks nearby realise that the convention centre's cavernous main room contains around 250 of South Africa's best-bred yearlings and some of the biggest players in the bloodstock world.
The rostrum is surrounded by a sea of dining tables from where the buyers conduct their business, and is flanked by two huge screens showing the action, and occasionally a clip of Usain Bolt with the message 'let's celebrate' after a lot has breached the seven-figure barrier.
There were mixed forecasts for this year's sale, with perennial leading spender Markus Jooste having his racing empire frozen amid allegations of accounting irregularities at the company he was formerly chief executive of, Steinhoff International.
But at a launch event for the auction Cape Thoroughbred Sales chairman Chris van Niekerk told the crowd: "Even though Elvis left the building the music never stopped".
And thanks in no small part to a strong international representation and some notable new faces, the 2018 Cape Premier Yearling Sale got off to a fairly raucous beginning.
Frankel fever hits
International participation may have been the order of the day, but it was South African native John Freeman who had the most to celebrate come the close of Saturday's evening session, having secured the top lot, a colt by Frankel, for R4 million (£236,750/€268,420).
"He's a superb individual," said Freeman of the colt who is bred on the same Frankel-Kingmambo cross as Eminent. "His motion, his swing, he has great front leg extension, he's got it all. I think he's still very immature, we're selling horses here that are only 14 months old so they've hardly developed yet and you need a bit of imagination to see where they're going to go. I'm a very big fan of Frankel too."
Freeman went on to explain that the colt had been bought for owner Jack Mitchell, a client who has enjoyed a whole host of big race winners in recent times.
"He's been bought for one of my most successful clients," he said. "He only buys four or five horses a year but the three-year-olds he had racing last year won three Group 1s, including Lady In Black, Sand And Sea - a son of Twice Over - and recent Fillies Guineas winner Snowdance, so he's got a pretty good strike-rate.
"Jack's one of those guys that I've done business with for so long that there's never any pressure. He plays the game at the top."
The colt - one of three by Frankel in the sale - was offered by Klawervlei Stud, who acquired the colt's dam, Pale Moon Rising, from Coolmore.
"We buy a bunch of mares from Coolmore every year and put them in foal to international stallions and the idea is to help the South African broodmare band and its stock to improve," explained Klawervlei's managing director John Koster.
"We'll see how successful it's been in two or three years but it's just great to be able to get horses by Frankel into the country. There's also three mares with Frankel foals at foot being sold tomorrow evening. That's three very nice packages."
Earlier in the evening Patrick Bernard Shaw had gone to R1.5m for one of the other Frankels, a filly out of Mowaadah, an Alzao half-sister to Oratorio, also offered by Klawervlei.
"She'll go to Singapore," explained Shaw. "Obviously we'll keep her here to start with but if the quarantine protocol opens up we'll take her straight out to Singapore or Australia.
"She could be a broodmare anywhere in the world with that pedigree so if she doesn't make it as a racehorse we'll send her to stud in Australia."
Hong Kong enter the fray
Sitting just to the left of the rostrum was the Hong Kong Jockey Club's buying team of Nick Columb and Mark Richards, and the pair received a warm round of applause when entering into the South African market for the first time with the purchase of the Dynasty colt out of the Group 1-winning Dubawi mare Happy Archer offered by Drakenstein stud for R2.5m (£147,970/€167,760).
The Hong Kong Jockey Club, who were making their first visit to the sale, proceeded to land the very next lot through the ring, a colt by Silvano offered by Maine Chance Farms, for R1.1m.
"They're both big, strong, lovely horses," said the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Nick Columb.
"They're the right style of horse for our racing, which is speed. We're actually pinhookers, so these horses will go into the same system as the European yearlings we've bought previously and will be resold at three years of age in Hong Kong."
The arrival of the Hong Kong Jockey Club in South Africa has been a hot topic of discussion in the lead up to the sale, not least because the operation has made a bold move to unlock the country's strict quarantine laws that make exporting horses difficult and costly.
"This is a bit of an experiment for us, hopefully it all works well with the horses coming to Hong Kong via Mauritius," continued Columb. "It'd be preferable to have all the bars removed and we believe - and hope - that will happen.
"I think it's very good value here and we've loved our time in Cape Town, it's a very special place. Everyone is very hospitable and there are some very nice horses so we're happy to be here."
Hong Kong had previously been active in the Australian yearling market until that country's government suspended the movement of horses from between the two jurisdictions, mean that Hong Kong-based horses can no longer be sent to Australia to race unless they serve 180 days in quarantine in New Zealand.
Fast start for Skiffington
Amanda Skiffington was among the plethora of internationals in attendance, and the agent wasted no time in making her presence felt when she bought the very first lot, a filly by Querari, for R600,000 (£35,510/€40,260).
Later in the act Skiffington dipped back into the market to pick up a Silvano filly out of Little Fastnet, a Fastnet Rock half-sister to Requinto, at R3m.
"I thought she was the nicest filly in the sale, and being by a top stallion she was always going to be expensive," said sale regular Skiffington, who also revealed she had bought the filly on behalf of Andreas Jacobs, owner of Maine Chance Farm and Newsells Park Stud.
"I love this sale. It's a wonderful country and a wonderful sale and they deserve all the patronage they get."
A Frankel half-sister to the Silvano filly sold to Justin Casse for R4m at last year's renewal of the Cape Premier Yearling Sale.
Skiffington later added a Captain Al colt named Prince Of Persia to her haul, which took her total spend to R5m.
First-timer Ferguson make a splash
A high-profile European making his first visit to the sale was John Ferguson, who made the journey all the more worthwhile when landing Pinkerton, a son of leading South African sire Dynasty and the classy racemare One Fine Day offered by Drakenstein Stud, for R3m.
"He's a lovely horse who's out of a great mare and from a great farm," said Ferguson. "He looks like a great athlete so I'm delighted to have him. He's been bought for a group of owners that are new to South Africa.
"I've loved being here, it's a great country with some wonderful people, although I am sitting next to a local so I'd better say the right thing!"
The Drakenstein Stud-consigned colt is out of the Group 3-winning Trippi mare One Fine Day, who shares her page with the likes of four-time Group 1 winner and sire Campanologist.
Shadwell stock up on speed
It may be summer in Cape Town, but it was Winter In Ireland that held the attention of Angus Gold as Shadwell's man went to R1.5m to secure the daughter of What A Winter offered by Drakenstein Stud.
"She's a sharp filly by a very promising young stallion who I've loved ever since I saw him a few years ago when he first went to stud," said Gold. "We have a share in the stallion and obviously he's started well.
"If she can run a bit she has the pedigree to join the broodmare band at the stud. We have a couple of stallions here now, Soft Falling Rain and Rafeef, so we're building up a broodmare band with a few quick mares. Hopefully this filly can run as well as she looks."
Shadwell enjoyed a fruitful 2017 in South Africa, most notably with Group 1-winning brothers Rafeef - who now stands at Highlands Stud - and Mustaaqeem, who both landed a top-level event on the same day.
The Cape Premier Yearling Sale continues on Sunday.