Keeneland proving a pinhooking goldmine for the great breeze-up bull run
Chris McGrath says other horsemen should be inspired to widen horizons
As everyone knows, topping a sale never brings any guarantees. Perhaps the Street Sense colt who landed one of the all-time knockout pinhooks in Deauville on Friday has already had his one moment in the sun. Whatever the future may hold, however, he unmistakably entwines many key threads of the here and now.
True, there are some people out there for whom no amount of ineptitude on the track will wholly dispel the kudos achieved in a thoroughbred’s first big public test, to the extent that they will sometimes stand a failed racehorse purely on account of his original price tag. It is almost as though the industry is determined to uphold the validity of its collective norms. Blame the trainers, blame sheer bad luck - but don’t blame the judgement of the sales ring.
This week, for instance, it emerged that Hydrogen - who beat a grand total of six of the 15 horses in two career starts - is being given a chance of redress at Ringwood Stud in County Limerick. Perhaps he will emulate Fairy King, the brother to Sadler’s Wells who broke down on his only start before siring winners of the Derby and Arc. After all, one of the main reasons Qatar Racing made Hydrogen the world’s most expensive yearling of 2012, paying 2,500,000gns at the Tattersalls October sale, was his close kinship to Authorized.
And even The Green Monkey, that byword for the follies perpetrated against a raised gavel, has sired a Triple Crown winner. Okay, so we’re talking about the fillies’ version - in Panama. It is instructive, even so, that he is promoted to breeders by virtue of a stride length measured, during his infamous $16 million bullet at Calder, at 25 and a half feet - “topping 45 miles per hour.”
If this kind of incorrigible fidelity to first impressions can survive The Green Monkey, it can presumably survive anything. In hindsight, however, the nadir he represented may actually have contributed to the extraordinary progress since made by the whole breeze-up business on this side of the ocean. For European consignors and buyers alike have shown exceptional discrimination in identifying those elements of the American model that could be profitably emulated - and those that could not.
Everyone understands that a horse drilled to break ten seconds in Florida, often before its second birthday, will never again run so fast in the rest of its life. But the astounding breeze-up “bull run” in Europe this spring registers increasing faith in the skills of the consignors, not just in terms of preparation but also of selection.
So far as the preparation is concerned, the consensus is that Messrs Holland, Browne, McCartan and company would be deadly with a trainer’s licence. It is in their selection, however, that everyone could learn from their recent endeavours: trainers, owners, breeders, everyone. For those pinhookers who have hit pay dirt did so by an indifference to the schism between transatlantic bloodlines - witlessly retrenched, on both sides, since the Americans understandably abandoned an experiment with synthetic tracks.
Sale after sale, spectacular pinhooks have been pulled off in Europe this spring by Keeneland yearlings. It started at Doncaster when Jim McCartan got £200,000 for a $5,000 son of More Than Ready, and Justin Rea’s first Keeneland buy, a $17,000 Lonhro colt, made £210,000. At the Tattersalls Craven Sale, McCartan’s 675,000gns top lot by Scat Daddy had cost $67,000 last September, while Star Bloodstock turned a monster yield when a $7,000 son of Violence breezed his way to 210,000gns.
But all these were put in the shade by McCartan and Willie Browne’s eight-month transformation of a $15,000 Street Sense colt to a €1.4 million record-breaker at Arqana. Aptly, in terms of condensing the trends of this giddy season, he was purchased by the renascent Kerri Radcliffe, whose spree for Phoenix Thoroughbreds has placed her among the leading breeze-up buyers in both America and Europe this year.
Spreading the word
Ed Prosser, Keeneland’s European representative, also welcomes the fact that the Street Sense colt will be trained by Radcliffe’s other half, Jeremy Noseda, himself a longstanding patron of Keeneland. But he hopes that others will also see the bigger picture now, to expand and sustain faith in American bloodlines as a platform for European performance.
“When I started working for Keeneland, five years ago, I was pleasantly surprised at quite how well the handful of American-bred horses running over here do,” he says. “And I think it’s something we might have been guilty of not promoting enough. A few of the owners and trainers who have fared well with their US-bred breeze-up purchases have started buying yearlings at Keeneland and I hope we might see a few more in September after this continued success.”
The Keeneland marathon plainly makes demands of pinhookers’ resources - in time, money and energy - but the raising of the stakes is such that even the darkest recesses of Week Two will surely see increasing numbers of European investors browsing studiously.
“We have over 4,000 yearlings in September and the breeze-up buyers work incredibly hard going through the catalogue,” Prosser says. “Some were there for most of the sale last year, and it was great that several who came for the first time have shared in the good results at the recent sales. We’re conscious that they will only come back if getting a good return on their investment, and to do that they will also need success on the track. Fortunately both have happened over the last few years.
“I think buyers like the fact there are so many yearlings to choose from at Keeneland, they find the consignors straightforward to deal with and the horses prove precocious enough to breeze and durable enough to keep racing year after year. A horse like Mshawish is a perfect example. Johnny Collins bought him for $10,000 as a yearling, resold him for €170,000 at Arqana and he was winning Grade 1s as a six-year-old.”
The proof of the pudding awaits on the racecourse, of course. But it can only be auspicious that the cutest of all European horsemen should be punting on a turn of the wheel in the cyclical exchange of outcross blood from one side of the Atlantic to the other. Street Sense himself, of course, won the Kentucky Derby even though his sire’s first two dams were Troy and Riverman. And, as his son may yet demonstrate, it remains ever a two-way street.