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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

The evolving auction scene attests to British Turf's ageless appeal

Chris McGrath on a dramatic impact by Leicester City's owners at the London Sale

The sunlit scene in Kensington on Monday, a pregnant mare with foal at foot among few lots on site - and one of six purchases by the biggest spender of the evening
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Well that lad Charlie certainly had a few quid to spend, didn’t he? Every other lot, there he was again. "The bid is with you, Charlie," called Henry Beeby from the rostrum - somehow retaining that debonair mien of his, though trussed in Goffs jacket and tie as London reeled under temperatures unknown since 1976.

Oh, that summer! Remember Michael Holding, flinging a molten blood-dark orb towards the sweating craniums of English batsmen? Weren’t quite so keen on him then, were we? But now his many friends on the Turf wistfully recall Holding skimming over the baked grass with a fluidity rarely seen even in the most elegant of their thoroughbreds.

Not that many of the specimens offered at the London Sale on Monday were available to have their own physiques assessed. The majority of this boutique catalogue, with a unique selling point to preserve, had to fit all vetting and inspections into their ongoing preparations for Ascot.


On the face of it, the fact that both top lots were promptly scratched from their royal engagements - instead heading to Hong Kong - might suggest that the sale is succeeding despite its premise, rather than because of it. Seven of the 19 lots, moreover, failed to reach their reserve. But nobody could be deceived that the Ascot premium had been overestimated, so long as Charlie was in business.

The Goffs spotter was sited next to agents Alastair Donald and Ed Sackville, in the midst of an unfamiliar cluster of Asians. As a result, he found himself the medium for an aggregate spend of £2,050,000 for half the dozen lots to change hands.

Here was spectacular vindication for everything Beeby claims for the sale. It showed that for some investors, at least, "oven-ready" Ascot runners on the open market take the logic behind the breeze-up bull run to a highly practical extreme. And it also corroborated his insistence that Goffs is not the only brand to gain from the cachet of such a setting, on such a date.

Monday in the Orangery at Kensington Palace has become an overnight tradition, connecting seamlessly with those elements that make this both the most English week of the international Turf calendar, and the most cosmopolitan. You mean the jetset don't book themselves into Slough, or Bracknell? Who knew?

And the identity of Donald's clients - as Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and family, better known as owners of Leicester City - testifies to the resilience of the heritage and pageantry that define not just Royal Ascot, but the British Turf in general.


Yes, the sport is rightly unnerved by such dangerous fissures dividing individually congenial patrons from the Gulf. And yes, it should never be complacent in the lavish commitment tracing from a winner at Brighton, 40 years ago on Tuesday, to Ribchester and Barney Roy. But nor should it doubt its enduring kudos in complementing the cash of a shifting global plutocracy.

Even the most eye-watering investment in thoroughbreds pales next to the money required at the elite level in football. Leicester's Premier League romance, last year, took £80 million in wages and a £236 million squad. And these figures are dwarfed at Manchester City, say, or Paris Saint-Germain.

Suddenly £2m for five prefabricated Ascot runners and a foundation mare looks pretty good value. Likewise, the unprecedented sponsorship deals that have enabled Qataris both to share one priceless tradition at Goodwood; and, arguably, help redraw the Champions Day programme at Ascot later in the year. Indeed, Qipco are one of Goffs partners in the London Sale.

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Srivaddhanaprabha's wealth has reportedly risen from $1.6 billion in 2014 to $4.7 billion, Chinese affluence having sustained a boom in tourism to Thailand with incidental benefits to his King Power duty free business. And yet he remains a David against football's Goliaths.

None can know how his interest may develop from here. But we can suspect what made him interested in the first place - and so must not forget that only the horses, not the heritage, should ever be for sale.

Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha: hoping to extend his great run of fortune with Leicester onto the Turf


Monday in the Orangery at Kensington Palace has become an overnight tradition
E.W. Terms
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