Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Stranger Song

The Racing Post and the BHA seem both to be getting their teeth into the practices of the sales-ring.  It's not immediately obvious why the BHA has decided to go down this road because I find it almost impossible to believe that it will manage to achieve anything, or even that it will end up feeling that opening this can of worms was either time or money well spent.  It's easier to understand why the Racing Post has taken up the cause, although there's only so much mileage in supposedly investigative journalism unless it gets beyond the quicksand of mostly unnamed sources and unsubstantiated reports of misdeeds by anonymous perpetrators.  Maybe we shall get beyond this current stage.  I hope so, but I won't hold my breath.

I have filled most roles within racing at some stage or another.  I've been involved in sales as both buyer and vendor (the former role much more frequently than the latter) but I'm neither an expert nor a frequent participant in the bloodstock trading world.  So I'm very much sitting on the sidelines on this one.  It will be interesting to see what comes up.  But I can say that in my very few forays into vending I have never been approached with any propositions about a get-rich-quick-at-others'-expense scheme.  And I would hope that it goes without saying that any time that I have been a purchaser, either for myself or on someone else's behalf (for doing which role I have never charged a commission), that I have never made any attempts to instigate any such manoeuvre.

It's rare for me to sell a horse.  In recent years I have been the vendor of a couple of weanlings at Arqana's December Sale in Deauville, with the foals being prepared and sold on my behalf by Gwenael and Lucie Monneraye of Lamotteraye.  I attended neither sale (in fact, I had seen neither foal, which is a disgraceful thing for a breeder to say) but no reports of any approaches to cut any deals ever reached me.  (Remarkably, both foals, who were both subsequently resold, have ended up in England: the three-year-old Rock On Dandy is trained by Harry Dunlop, while the as-yet-unraced two-year-old is with Alan King).

The one time I have been a vendor of a horse of any significance was at Tattersalls' July Sale in 2003.  Three years previously I had bought a yearling filly, a great grand-daughter of the top-class filly and influential broodmare Sorbus, by Desert Sun ex Pirie by Green Dancer at Fairyhouse for 9,000 euros (which equated to many fewer pounds then than nowadays).  I named her A Fortunate Life, after A. B. Facey's wonderful memoirs (which you should read if you are unfortunate enough not to have done so yet).  That name proved optimistic.  Come the early summer of 2006 she was an unraced four-year-old, owned by me.  Her galloping, on the rare occasions when it happened, was not too bad, but she had very weak knees it was an uphill struggle to get her to a point where she would be simultaneously fit enough and sound enough to race.  I was inching closer and I hadn't given up the struggle, but I definitely wasn't there yet.

Outside events took over, however.  When I'd bought her, the catalogue had listed that Pirie had a colt foal by Danehill Dancer.  That's the nice thing about buying lesser female members of very good families: you always have your Premium Bond there in the background, once in a while able to give you a dividend.  This foal ended up being called Decado and going into training with David Wachman, owned by Mr and Mrs O'Flynn.  He must have been a nice yearling because he fetched 110,000 euros at Goffs' Orby Sale in 2004, but he was an even better racehorse. 

In November 2005 Decado, having finished fourth of 30 on debut at the Curragh the previous month, won an 18-runner two-year-olds' maiden race at Leopardstown.  In April 2006 he won the Loughbrown Stakes (Listed) at the Curragh first-up by four lengths.  On 1st May 2006 he won the Group Three Tetrarch Stakes at the Curragh by three and a half lengths.  On 27th May 2006 he finished third of 11 in the Group One Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh behind Araafa and the last-start 2,000 Guineas winner George Washington.  It was a no-brainer to give up the struggle to get A Fortunate Life ready to race after her half-brother (well, more than half-brother as both came from the Danzig sire-line) had just been placed in a Classic, and instead enter her in Tattersalls' July Sale.

I didn't sell her myself, deciding instead to hand over the responsibility to Chris Murray and Nicky Howarth (now Murray) of Whitwell Bloodstock.  I thought that, under the circumstances, she would be under-sold if sold for less than 30,000 guineas, so that was her reserve.  That was also the figure for which she sold.  The purchaser, unsurprisingly, was Old Carhue Stud, which property (in Cork I believe, although I could be wrong) had been bought by Mr and Mrs O'Flynn who were getting into breeding.  In advance they were obvious candidates to buy her.  I suspect that if I had put a higher reserve on her, then they would still have bought her, but at that higher price.  But I am happy with the reserve which I chose: that was a fair price for her at the time, fair to both vendor and purchaser.

And what shenanigans went on?  None whatsoever, as far as I am aware.  Chris and Nicky had told me beforehand that the Old Carhue Stud manager had come to inspect her, so it was no surprise that he was the successful bidder.  But there was no mention of any attempt to commence negotiations outside and in advance of the sales-ring.  There was a post-script.  Having received a good price for the filly, I felt that it might be the friendly and decent thing to send a case of wine each to Mr O'Flynn and the stud manager (whose name I can't remember).  So I did so, sending them to Old Carhue Stud with a note which I imagine said something like, "Good luck with A Fortunate Life.  Best wishes, John Berry".

I received no feedback from this gift.  A year or so later I happened to see the stud manager so, as much to satisfy my curiosity about whether the wine had ever arrived as anything else, I mentioned that I had sent some wine to the stud and asked if it had arrived.  He confirmed that it had done so.  Whether the case intended for Mr O'Flynn reached its intended recipient I have no way of knowing.  I did get the impression that the recipients of my largesse were considerably less impressed by my generosity than I was - but, if asked to provide evidence of pressure to provide 'luck money', then I'm sorry to have to disappoint.  I can be of no use to the prosecution on this one.

Incidentally, my frugal attempt to bestow luck on those who had bought my filly were not successful.  Intermittently I kept an eye on the Racing Post database to see if I could find any evidence of her breeding career getting off the ground.  For years I found no evidence whatsoever.  In fact, until today I had no evidence of her ever producing anything.  However, on looking her up today, I have found that she has bred a foal.  It's fair to assume that she was covered in the spring of 2007.  I now know that she produced her first foal on 24th February 2013, a colt by Lilbourne Lad.  That's perseverance for you: no foal from a 2007 covering, no foal from a 2008 covering, no foal from a 2009 covering, no foal from a 2010 covering, no foal from a 2011 covering - and still she was covered in 2012.

This colt, bred by Old Carhue Stud, was sold as a yearling at Goffs' Sportsman's Yearling Sale in October 2014 for 13,000 euros. He was then sold at the Goresbridge Breeze-up Sale the following May, bought by Peter and Ross Doyle for 20,000 euros, presumably to go to Sweden.  It's fair to assume that he is a winner, but there is only one run recorded for him on the Racing Post database: second in the Herbert Sachs Memorial Handicap over 1400m at Bro Park on 11th September 2016, owned by Stall Tjader, trained by Patrick Wahl and ridden by Shane Karlsson.

So that's good: this investigation into supposed sales-ring shenanigans is unlikely to achieve much, but it has been the catalyst for my discovering, to my pleasure, that A Fortunate Life (pictured here shortly after arrival in September 2003 with another Desert Sun filly from the same sale, Ngauruhoe, who has the star on her head, who tragically lost her life as a result of striking into herself in a hurdle race at Wetherby on 1st June 2006) did not just fade away into obscurity after I had sold her, but is now the dam of a respectable racehorse.  I am very pleased to have discovered that.

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