In 1766, on the edge of a swamp in London known as the Five Fields — now Hyde Park Corner — the oldest bloodstock auctioneer in the world began to trade. Business was brisk, with the sales luring large numbers of buyers from far and wide and from very different backgrounds.
250 years later, Tattersalls — whose home, since the 1960s, has been a smart, landscaped, 50-acre plot in Newmarket, Suffolk — is the largest bloodstock auctioneer in Europe. And the crowd its famous October Yearling Sale attracts is more diverse than ever: some buyers at this year’s sales have flown half way round the world in search of racing’s next superstar.
One-year old thoroughbreds are being led past prospective buyers. The second day of the sale is clear and cold, with a bright blue sky and gusts of wind, typical of October in Eastern England. Some of those present from warmer climates are bundled up in heavy coats as they make their way into the impressive octagonal structure which forms the sales ring.
Back in the 18th Century, Tattersalls buyers faced a threat from pickpockets, as the Five Fields was a lucrative ground for prowling brigands and thieves. Today the main risk is overextending themselves financially. In 2013 a filly sold at this sale for 5 million guineas — a world record.
The young horses for sale have mostly been bred and raised in the UK and Ireland, places known for their rich pasture, cool climate and soft ground. Their careers could take them all over the world, where they will have to adapt to different temperatures and firmer terrain.
This transition appears to be no obstacle. Jimmy George, Tattersalls’ Marketing Director, says: “Hong Kong and Japanese buyers have always found Tattersalls a happy hunting ground. They have been coming to source horses here for over 50 years. In the last 10 to 15 years, European horses have been performing extremely well in these countries at the highest level, and that has not gone unnoticed. There is an increasing interest at this sale, particularly from Hong Kong buyers.”
One such buyer is Mark Richards, who is sourcing top-end yearlings on behalf of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Each year the club hosts a sale of mainly three-year-old horses who have been specially chosen to act over the shorter distances and faster ground of Hong Kong. “I am looking for milers, with strength and speed”, says Richards.
Japan represents a different sector of the market — as its increasingly strong breeding industry has seen it producing its own impressive racehorses. Tattersalls’ Overseas Representative for Japan, Naohiro Goda, explains, however: “Japanese owners and breeders need to introduce some very good European pedigree to improve the quality of their racing and breeding operations. They can find proper horses at Tattersalls”.
The latest inductee to the Japanese Racing Hall of Fame, Gentildonna, — a two-time winner of the Japan Cup and Japanese Horse of the Year in 2012 — is out of Donna Blini, who was bought at the Tattersalls December Sale.
Who better to breed from than one of superstar racehorse Frankel’s progeny? Last year saw Frankel’s first crop of yearlings pass through the ring, but their ability was unproven. This year his two-year-olds have had great success racing globally, so his second crop of yearlings is drawing a lot of attention.
As a crowd gathers, a gleaming chestnut Frankel colt is giving his handler a hard time, bucking in the parade ring. This horse looks nothing like his sire, which has been the case with many of Frankel’s progeny — but it does not seem to worry the buyers.
“Frankel is not one of those sires who puts his stamp on his offspring”, says Mark Richards. “But he seems to have instilled his speed in them, which is the main thing. There are no Frankels in Hong Kong yet, so this is our chance to get one.”
The bucking colt sells for a spectacular 1,300,000 guineas (US$1.68 million) before a packed sales ring.
The racehorse population is restricted in Hong Kong, with a permit system that allows a limited number of horses to be imported each year.
One successful import from Tattersalls was the Hong Kong Mile winning Gold Fun, who enjoyed a great career in the territory. Some Hong Kong buyers, meanwhile, choose to leave their Tattersalls-bought horses racing in the UK and Ireland, where they can keep as many horses in training as they wish.
“There are a lot of Hong Kong owned horses racing over here”, says Jimmy George. “One of the best recent examples is Red Cadeaux, who enjoyed success racing both here and overseas”.
Buying a racehorse is a speculative financial exercise, with no guarantee that the prize money the horse will win over its lifetime will even cover the cost of buying it. These two Hong Kong-owned horses were very reasonable purchases, however, and earned eye-watering amounts of cash during their careers.
Red Cadeaux sold for 55,000 guineas, at the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale, Book 3, in 2007, and went on to earn prize money of £4,998,408. Gold Fun, meanwhile, sold for 10,000 guineas, at the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale, Book 2, 2010 — a bargain, considering he collected prize money of £3,855,961.
The ailing pound has made this sale very attractive to foreign buyers, as Alex Mommersteeg, Marketing Executive, Tattersalls explains: “Currency fluctuations definitely have an effect — as buyers get more value for money. At the moment it is a foreign buyers’ market. The weaker pound had an immediate impact on our July sale. I think over the next few weeks it will definitely play to our advantage”.
Ultimately, the quality of the horses is what will persuade buyers, as Mark Richards summarizes. “My Hong Kong buyers are very well versed in where the best horses come from,” he says. “I would say it is a certainty that we will see more winners in Hong Kong coming out of this sale”.