Marten’s Perspective: How Good A Judge Am I?

November 3rd, 2015 | Marten's Perspective

Judging by the prices at the recent Tattersalls Yearling Sales, the days when you could pick up a bargain are now long gone.

Many years ago I bought a yearling there by the then little-known sire Orchestra for just £1,000. I was attracted by the colt’s scope and potential, especially with a view to middle distances. Nobody else was interested in him because it was evident, from both his pedigree and physique, that he would require plenty of time. That did indeed prove to be the case, because he was subsequently sold as a four-year-old store to Willie Mullins, who was then at the start of his training career. Named Dante’s Inferno, he won a couple of bumpers before being sold to a patron of former trainer Sue Bradburne for about £50,000, for whom he won four times over fences.

This was a case of buying the right horse at the wrong sale, as the vast majority of the other yearlings at the sale were bred to be precocious two-year-olds.

There was never going to be a chance of finding a horse with similar credentials at the recent October Yearling Book Two Sales. I attended for a few hours over the first two days and was absolutely staggered at the prices the yearlings were fetching – and this was within a fortnight of the sky-high prices that were seen in the Book One sale.

I would never claim to be a great judge of a horse, but everyone is entitled to an opinion and a handful of yearlings particularly caught my eye. Interestingly, many of the ones I liked were at the lower end of the price range.

One example was Lot 589, a particularly strong son of Kyllachy out of a winning daughter of Choisir. It would be hard to imagine a more speedily-bred pedigree, but despite his obvious two-year-old potential he went to a bloodstock agent for a relatively inexpensive 26,000gns.

A sire whose progeny kept catching my eye through the week was Harbour Watch, who won each of his three races at two, including the Richmond Stakes, during his short career but never raced again.

I was in good company with Lot 576 because he was bought by top bloodstock agent Peter Doyle for 60,000gns. He is a half-brother to two winners, including July Stakes runner-up Lewisham, and is another colt with a very profound speed-bias to his pedigree. I suspect he may be finding his way to Richard Hannon’s yard.

A short time later another son of Harbour Watch walked into the ring. Lot 608 is a half-brother to two winners and was knocked down to Gill Richardson, who principally buys for Mick Channon, for 30,000gns.

One of the most outstanding lookers of the day was Lot 626, a bay colt by Dutch Art out of a winning daughter Bahamian Bounty. There was black type on the page in the second and third generations but I was still surprised when John Ferguson stepped up to 280,000gns to buy him. The presence of Simon Crisford, who was standing beside him, would suggest that this fine-looking colt will be in his yard next season.

A short while later my eye was taken by a chestnut son of Lope De Vega, the first foal of a daughter of Green Tune. This strong sort, who comes from the family of multiple winner Gabrial, went for a relatively modest 22,500gns to Grove Stud. I am not sure who will end up training him but he is one to note as a possible bargain buy.

The horse I would have been most keen to take home, had funds permitted, was Lot 636.

I am not a great fan of the progeny of Henrythenavigator, but this little power house looked like a real ‘goer’. His dam Bee Eater, a winner of four races and placed at Listed level, has produced two winners at stud and comes from the family of Marling, Marwell and the very useful Littlefeather. Eve Johnson Houghton, who is seriously underrated as a trainer, had the winning bid at 25,000gns and I expect her to do very well with him. He could prove one of the bargains of the sale.

Before this sale I knew very little about Sepoy, who retired to stud in 2012 and now has his first yearlings. The son of Elusive Quality was a champion two and three-year-old colt in Australia, winning 10 races at sprint trips and prize money of almost four million dollars. There was great demand for his progeny and Lot 692, a son of multiple-winner Cheyenne Star, went to John Ferguson for 110,000gns. He is another colt bred for pure speed.

If asked to nominate my pick from the first day it would have been Lot 723, a son of Pivotal and a half-brother to six winners out of a mare by Gone West. This was another pedigree all about speed and I was surprised that John Warren only had to go to a relatively modest 45,000gns. The broad grin on his face as the hammer went down said it all. Unless the colt had a fault that eluded me, this looked too cheap in the context of the sale.

Towards the end of the session another good-looking product of Harbour Watch appeared. Lot 767 was a chestnut daughter of the dam of Group-winner Salford Secret. She comes from the family of Dylan Thomas, Queen’s Logic and Homecoming Queen and looks well bought at 28,000gns given that her pedigree assures her of a future in the paddocks. Mick Channon believes Queen’s Logic would have been the best horse he ever trained but for injury and this is a family of the highest class.

The yearling to catch my eye from my few moments attending the second say was a daughter of Lawman out of a mare by Singspiel. Despite possessing one of the stoutest pedigrees in the catalogue she fetched 48,000gns to a final bid from Simon Crisford. She has a middle distance pedigree and could be worth keeping in mind as a long-term project.

A few lots later I was very taken by a daughter of Poet’s Voice out of an unraced daughter of Dansili. She attracted a lot of interest when she walked into the ring – I saw Clive Cox, James Tate and top Irish handler Edward Lynam pull her out for a closer look – and so it came as a surprise to see her go for a relatively modest 55,000gns to an agent unknown to me. This filly had something about her, although her pedigree suggests she may not be precocious.

It is anybody’s guess how these selected yearlings will progress in the next 12 months.

If, by chance, a couple of them do well then perhaps I may have the confidence to back my judgement next autumn. Once I ascertain their names, and where relevant their trainers, I will update you further.

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