Reflections on roaring trade as breeze-up circuit nears last leg
Martin Stevens speaks to vendors and buyers ahead of Summer Sale
Roll up, roll up! Wednesday's opening session of the Arqana Summer Sale in Deauville marks the final time this season to buy a breeze-up horse who could be the next Le Brivido or Robin Of Navan – top-class runners sourced as two-year-olds at the French company's main auction of this type in May.
The success of horses like Le Brivido and Robin Of Navan, and a concentrated effort to better bring it to the attention of owners, trainers and agents, helped contribute to spectacular gains at this year's round of breeze-ups.
Turnover soared by around a half at Doncaster; the average rose by 30 per cent at the Tattersalls Craven Sale; and there were gains all round at Arqana, even on incredibly buoyant figures recorded in 2016.
It's a good time to be a breeze-up vendor and some of the big-hitters in the game reflected on a vintage season on Tuesday at Deauville, where they were also blessed with warm summer sunshine.
Brendan Holland, who sold The Grey Gatsby at Arqana under his Grove Stud banner, said: "It went well, better than we expected. It was due to a combination of factors but mostly a greater acceptance of our product, which in turn was a reflection on the many winners on the track from the breeze-ups and the efforts of the Breeze-up Consignors Association to make people aware of that.
"Breeze-up horses had been the subject of some unwarranted negative misconceptions and we've hopefully washed those away now. We've shown they run as often, more often in fact, than those yearlings who were not offered as two-year-olds."
Holland added that profits for pinhookers could spur a virtuous circle, with increased re-investment at the yearling sales and a knock-on improvement in trade for foals.
"I think most of the breeze-up vendors who have had success will be looking to sink their money back in yearlings," he said. "There's no putting money away for rainy days for most of us!"
Willie Browne, one of the doyens of the breeze-up scene whose Mocklershill Stables has sold the likes of Speciosa and Trip To Paris, said in hushed tones that breeze-up trade had been "unbelievably strong" this season.
"It continued right through, from start to end; it's almost hard to make sense of. But there was so much Middle Eastern money," he added.
"And there have been so many breeze-up winners. Every day you pick up the paper and see another load, so we must be doing something right.
"One thing to take out of the season was the popularity of the US pinhooks. They were very easy to sell. They were all the rage ten or so years ago and they'd been out in the cold for a while, but we can safely say they're back now."
The rise and rise of Scat Daddy's profile has helped the American resurgence, although Browne was pessimistic about his chances of pinhooking many from the late son of Johannesburg's final crop that comes on the market in the coming months.
"I'm not sure we'll be able to get many but we'll be there just in case – sometimes one or two will slip through the net," he said.
The boom in breeze-up trade made life harder for buyers, but agent Matt Coleman of Stroud Coleman Bloodstock suggested the higher prices paid for the products were often justified.
"The market was stronger than ever, and you feel that some of the good horses who made big prices at last year's sales would have made double this time around," he said.
"Owners and trainers want to buy breeze-up horses; they see the success they have and that means there's a hunger and demand for them. The breeze-up guys do an excellent job with the horses and people want a piece of the action."
He agreed that pinhookers' confidence would be an important component of the health of this autumn's yearling sales.
"Pinhookers provide a solid base to the market, often buying the mid-level horses, and it's actually got to the point that the best breeze-up horses were very expensive yearlings and 'normal' buyers wouldn't be able to afford them," he said.
"There may actually be better value in finding a good horse in the middle market at the yearling sales as, quite rightly, you'll need a lot of money for a good horse at the breeze-ups as to see a horse breeze is a massive advantage.
"The other advantage of the breeze-ups is the horses will be a lot more forward, which will be a particular advantage for those wanting a horse for Royal Ascot."
Around 30 Flat breeze-up horses after withdrawals will go under the hammer at Arqana this week, including four from Grove Stud. They kick off the sale and are followed later on Wednesday by jumps two- and three-year-old stores.
Then it is the turn of breeding-stock and horses in training on Thursday. It is the horses in training that often dominate trade at this sale, with last year's €400,000 top lot Dance Of Life bought by New Zealand-based agent Paul Moroney.
The Aga Khan Studs draft of 18 lots, a mixture of colts, geldings and fillies, is sure to be popular, considering the prowess of horses who formerly carried the famous emerald and red silks both in other breeders' broodmare bands and when sent over jumps.