From the unexpected to the unwelcome: the biggest bloodstock shocks in 2020
James Thomas reviews some of the most remarkable stories of the year
1. Coolmore snap up the services of a red-hot sire
Wootton Bassett has been on a steep upward curve ever since his small debut crop of runners hit the racecourse. During his nine-year spell at Haras d'Etreham, the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere-winning son of Iffraaj had climbed from a fee of just €4,000 to €40,000 in 2020.
That rise was well earned, having supplied a genuine champion in Almanzor, winner of the Irish Champion Stakes, Champion Stakes and Prix du Jockey Club, and with his yearling average having climbed to £82,854 in 2019.
Such results cemented Wootton Bassett's place not only as the headline act on the Etreham roster, but as one of the brightest rising stars of the European stallion scene.
However, Coolmore sent shockwaves around the industry in mid-August when the news broke that they had purchased Wootton Bassett and would be standing him alongside the likes of Galileo in Ireland.
No fee was disclosed for the private deal, but the sums rumoured to be involved were every bit as eye-watering as might be expected. However, barely a day has gone by since when the acquisition did not look a shrewd move on Coolmore's part as Wootton Bassett has supplied a slew of major winners and six-figure yearlings.
His stud record now boasts three top-level winners, with Prix de l'Abbaye scorer Wooded and Audarya, who struck in the Prix Jean Romanet and Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, joining Almanzor. This year also saw Wootton Bassett's most expensive yearling change hands when Charlie Gordon-Watson went to 600,000gns for the filly out of Green Diamond at Book 1.
Moreover, his varying achievements are underpinned by a complete outcross pedigree, something that can only have been a major draw for Coolmore, whose own broodmare band is chock full with Group 1-winning Galileo mares.
"He strikes us as a real Classic stallion, he gets a very good type and is a total outcross with his pedigree free of the major European forces like Sadler's Wells, Galileo, Montjeu, Danehill, Green Desert, Invincible Spirit, Danehill Dancer and Dubawi," said Coolmore's David O’Loughlin.
"We're thrilled he's coming to Coolmore and are very excited about what he might achieve when paired with our Galileo mares."
With three of his more expensively-bred crops to come, a career-high fee of €100,000 for 2021 and access to Coolmore's blue-blooded broodmare band, there is no telling how far Wootton Bassett can go.
2. Jonbon smashes the point-to-point price record
The point-to-point market has enjoyed a real boom period in recent years, driven in no small part by the success of graduates such as Envoi Allen, Samcro and Shishkin, to name but a few. Demand reached new heights at Goffs UK's boutique November Point-to-Point Sale, which was held at Yorton Farm, when JP McManus landed a successful bid of £570,000 for Jonbon.
Few, if any, National Hunt prospects have generated the kind of hype that Jonbon did in the run up to his sale, so it is fitting that he delivered by etching his name into the history books.
The four-year-old caught the attention on two fronts: first, being a brother to Douvan, and second, having won a Dromahane four-year-old maiden by 15 lengths for trainer Ellmarie Holden, a performance that saw him allotted the highest ever point-to-point rating.
Moreover, Jonbon already held another record of sorts, as he is understood to have been the most expensive store ever recruited to the pointing field, having cost Holden's father, Paul, and Michael Shefflin €140,000 at the Tattersalls Ireland Derby Sale.
"It's great for the yard, Ellmarie puts a lot of effort into it," said Paul Holden in the aftermath of the sale. "We took a punt on the horse when we bought him, he was an expensive store. On the day we bought him I suppose he was a cheap expensive horse - we didn’t think we’d get him. He's got serious ability. Watch this space."
It was later revealed that Nicky Henderson is the man charged with training McManus's record-breaking buy. Amazingly that price was matched at the same venue five weeks later, when Tom Malone and Gordon Elliott secured Borris House maiden winner Classic Getaway from Monbeg Stables' Donnchadh Doyle.
3. Mehmas on the march
Few will have been surprised by Mehmas claiming the champion first-season sire crown, given the son of Acclamation was a smart juvenile himself, had 146 two-year-olds to run for him and hails from Tally-Ho Stud, past masters at getting their stallions off to a fast start.
However, the sheer scale of his achievements have been simply jaw-dropping.
Mehmas gave an early indication of what was to come when his first and second winners came within 30 minutes of one another on June 2, the day after racing resumed in Britain after the Covid-19 lockdown. Bridge Dress Me struck at Capannelle shortly before Muker landed a 5f maiden at Newcastle, and there has been no let-up since.
On October 19 he became the most successful European first-season sire in history, with Good Listener's Windsor success giving Mehmas his 38th individual winner - a tally that bested Iffraaj's record set in 2010.
He now stands on a remarkable 56 first-crop winners, a figure bettered only by Tally-Ho studmate Kodiac, who set a new high mark for juvenile success when siring 61 victorious two-year-old sons and daughters in 2017.
But volume of winners alone is not the only impressive facet of Mehmas's burgeoning stallion career. Among his 56 winners, there are 12 stakes performers, including Middle Park hero Supremacy, who also won the Richmond Stakes, Minzaal, who landed the Gimcrack and ran third in the Middle Park, as well as the Listed scorers Acklam Express and Method.
His 55 European winners have come at an impressive clip of 54 per cent winners-to-runners, while 28 (32 per cent) of his British and Irish runners have gained a Racing Post Rating of 80 or higher. It will be fascinating to see how far his star can rise in 2021.
4. A major new spending force emerges at Arqana
When it comes to the most blue-chip bloodstock, we have become accustomed to a relatively small pool of buyers playing at the very top end. Godolphin are regulars at that level, as are Coolmore and their associates, while the likes of Sheikh Fahad's Qatar Racing and Hamdan Al Maktoum are not averse to spending big.
When the Dubawi half-sister to Sottsass and Sistercharlie was offered by Ecurie des Monceaux at the Arqana Select Sale, she looked to have Godolphin's name written all over her given no one is a bigger fan of the sire than Sheikh Mohammed.
Anthony Stroud, Godolphin's chief talent scout, duly went in hot pursuit of the regally-bred filly but when the gavel fell it was Oliver St Lawrence and Fawzi Nass who had struck the decisive €2.5 million bid.
Nass went on to explain the filly had been sourced on behalf of Shaikh Nasser Al Khalifa and KHK Racing, emerging forces among the ownership ranks with the former having raced the likes of Al Raya and Daahyeh and the latter behind the smart two-year-old Bahrain Pride.
St Lawrence was back in action at Book 1 of the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale and, having seen off Godolphin at Arqana, went to 2,700,000gns to deny Coolmore on the Kingman half-brother to Galileo Gold who topped day one.
"I genuinely didn't think I'd be buying him," said a visibly shocked St Lawrence. "I'm not quite sure how the ownership will be divided up, but he's been bought with Fawzi Nass for Bahraini interests."
Having spent big on some of the best credentialed yearlings offered in Europe in 2020, it will be interesting to see whether such high levels of Bahraini investment can be translated into racecourse success - and if there are more big purchases to come.
5. Covid-19 causes major owner to scale back interests
In August, leading owner-breeder Trevor Hemmings shocked the racing and breeding industry by announcing that, after 36 years, he would be reducing his string by around two-thirds on account of the impact the coronavirus crisis was having on his personal and business life.
"It has been a difficult decision but the reality is that I'm 85 years of age and a diabetic on insulin," said Hemmings. "Covid-19 has severely restricted my movements, as I'm classed as high risk. Attending race meetings, even with limited attendance, would not be possible.
"I have also had some tough business decisions to take as Covid-19 has impacted a number of my businesses. Having had to furlough staff I could not in all conscience continue to race the same number of horses."
Hemmings' Gleadhill House Stud dispersal was held at the Goffs UK September Sale in Doncaster, where all 56 offered lots sold for receipts totalling £1,136,200, including the £140,000 sales-topper Stoney Mountain, who was bought by Tom Malone.
Regrettably Hemmings was not the only major owner-breeder to scale back his interests, with Cheveley Park Stud's David and Patricia Thompson and Bill and Tim Gredley among the other high-profile participants to adjust their approach to the sport.
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