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Frankel's weakest link looks stronger than some memories

Chris McGrath sifts the big stories from the Orby Sale

Lot 330: 1.6 million reasons to doubt whether this really will be Frankel's weakest crop to date
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The sale-topper took the breath away. But how surprising can that be, when the prowess of his sire is such that he can take away memory itself?

For the racetrack deeds of Frankel's first two crops – extended at Newmarket on Thursday by his latest star, Elarqam – appear to be causing a contagion of amnesia among many bloodstock agents.

You would do well now, certainly, to find one prepared to confess a share in a supercilious consensus when his stock first went under the hammer.

He had failed to stamp his stock, they said. Well, maybe so – at least until you saw them gallop. By that stage, it became excitingly apparent that he had stamped a lot of them with that trademark buoyancy of his. This current crop of yearlings was conceived, however, after Frankel's first foals had met a distinctly hesitant reception.

Of the 114 mares he covered in 2015, 37 were winners at Group level – highly impressive, on the face of it, until compared with the 38 Group/Grade 1 winners he had received in his debut season. The 130 enticed to persevere in 2016, meanwhile, were down to 32 Group winners.

Congratulations, then, to the Marlhill House Stud team for keeping the faith.

The only lot of the sale to surpass the Galileo filly who caused so much excitement on Tuesday – indeed, its only other seven-figure yearling – was likewise contested by representatives of Godolphin and Coolmore. This time it was the latter who gained the day, at €1.6 million, in a partnership including Zayat Stables who enter Ballydoyle for the first time with a spectacular colt.

Frankel: thanks for the memories
Zayat have done productive business with Coolmore on the other side of the pond, not least over American Pharoah. And its agent Justin Casse, who signed for this one, has long been among the more infectious enthusiasts for the progeny of Frankel.

It will be interesting to see what kind of bump in the road – if any – awaits Frankel, through his third and fourth crops. He is hardly the first stallion to suffer a (relative) slackening of mare quality, pending public examination of his initial runners; which examination, of course, he has meanwhile passed with flying colours.

But if this knockout Orby graduate is anything to go by, we will hardly notice the join before his sire's graphline surges back up via the 82 Group winners (out of no fewer than 195 partners altogether) he covered this year.

Welcome gestures only the start

As the cynical old axiom has it: never let the facts get in the way of a good story. In the wider world, after all, symbolism nowadays transcends many an inconvenient truth. Sure enough, perception alone – sheer, hold-the-front-page breadth of perception – makes it legitimate to say that the €1.2 million sale of a Galileo filly to Sheikh Mohammed on Tuesday really did "end" his boycott of Coolmore stallions.

The actual turning point, of course, had come a couple of weeks previously at Keeneland, where the Sheikh's team bought yearlings by three younger Coolmore sires whose fees absolutely depend on market success. Nor did Coolmore's status as underbidders represent a breakthrough: the same had been true of an Australia colt at Keeneland.

And it is not as though the Maktoums should see anything sinister, if they ever did, in Coolmore supporting breeders who use their stallions: along with nearly every other farm, that is no less than they have become accustomed to doing themselves.

Yet this filly was always going to be considered a poster girl for a change of policy too conspicuously proximate to the exit of John Ferguson for anyone to resist wondering whether there might be a connection. What a price had hitherto been paid, after all, for a boycott that began – with catastrophic timing, in hindsight – simultaneously with the game-changing emergence of Galileo.

The departure of John Ferguson (left) may or may not have something to do with Sheikh Mohammed's conciliatory approach to Coolmore
In fairness, Coolmore had themselves made significant gestures towards reconciliation in 2015, notably with a sale-topper by Dubawi at Tattersalls October, albeit from a family much cherished at Coolmore; as well as with a €1.5 million filly by Bernardini – and who wouldn't stretch a point for a piece of that physical paragon? – bought in partnership at Keeneland.

But what the market really wants to see now is evidence, beyond fleeting media sensations, that the day-to-day landscape has changed for good. That Coolmore might buy a yearling by Iffraaj or Hard Spun as readily as Godolphin might one by Zoffany or Declaration Of War; and that everyone can stop fretting about taking sides, and finally concentrate on what is already a devilish challenge in trying to measure potential solely from the intrinsic merits of each individual.

Fair to middling

Saratoga, Deauville, Doncaster and Keeneland had between them sustained a bull run in the yearling market almost unnerving in its pre-crash fervour. This time, the indices merely held solid; and while Goffs noted that last year's sale had been inflated to a degree by the Wildenstein dispersal, it was impossible not to register a resumption of a familiar angst in the middle market.

The median is always instructive in this regard, and at €65,000 failed for the third year running to match that of €70,000 set in 2014. So often the soft underbelly of a sale, this will be one of the key areas for analysis as Tattersalls works its way down through the grades from Book 1.

Getting fresh

Frankel's Juddmonte neighbour Kingman has made a strong start at the sales, which is no less than you would hope as the priciest among the freshmen. Of those starting from a lower base, however, several others have crossed over to the sunny side of the street with an auspicious swagger.

True, stock eligible for the Orby will by definition hardly be the common-or-garden variety. But here are a couple rookies, from opposite ends of the order book, whose performance this week built on foundations already laid at other sales.

His late sire Scat Daddy's reputation has spiralled ever higher since No Nay Never retired to Coolmore at €20,000, while his own precocity and speed have had a predictable allure. One of his very first colts under the hammer brought €400,000 in Deauville last month. Of 45 yearlings through the ring so far, 41 have now found a new home at an average of £83,615; including 19 shifted at the Orby for an average of €125,000.

A €400,000 yearling at Arqana in August was an early indication of No Nay Never's appeal

Sea The Moon's five Orby yearlings, meanwhile, changed hands for an average of €96,400 – punching a very consistent weight, all bar one fetching between €90,000 and €140,000. A German Derby winner by Sea The Stars out of a Monsun mare, he had already had a couple of standouts at Baden-Baden.

At £15,000, if people aren't careful they might end up giving proper Classic pedigrees a good commercial name. Better send for that man who warned you off Frankel, before it's too late.


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It will be interesting to see what kind of bump in the road – if any – awaits Frankel, through his third and fourth crops
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