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American Breds Shining At Breeze Ups
Tuesday, May 22, 2018 RSS Feeds

A retreating tide at the European breeze-ups this spring has left many a pinhooker stranded on the mudflats. It seems all the more significant, then, that one current should still be flowing so strongly towards profit.

At the premier British auction, the Tattersalls Craven Sale, the top lot has now been imported from the U.S. in eight of the last 10 years. This year, of course, it has helped that each and every member of Scat Daddy’s final crop should be a collector’s item. And there will probably never again be a home run to match the one pulled off at Arqana last year by Willie Browne and Jim McCartan, who turned a $15,000 Street Sense yearling into a €1.4-milllion 2-year-old. But it is hardly as though that example alone can account for the remarkable footprint of Kentucky-bred stock when that sale reconvenes in Deauville today: 30 out of a catalogue of 165, to be precise, or 18.2%.

Renewed European interest in American bloodstock has doubtless been stimulated by results on the track: the success of American raiders at Royal Ascot, for instance, or Coolmore horses by outcross sires like War Front (Danzig) and Scat Daddy (Johannesburg) himself. With the likes of No Nay Never (Scat Daddy) and War Command (War Front) now starting their own stud careers in Europe, we are perhaps witnessing a new cycle in the kind of transatlantic transfusion that has always, from time to time, revived the breed.

Whether what is happening at the breeze-ups anticipates a deeper integration remains to be seen. As it is, there does at least appear to be a warmer embrace at the 2-year-old sales either for American turf sires or “crossover” stallions.

Take More Than Ready (Southern Halo), long established as capable-as at the Breeders’ Cup last autumn-of siring both the Sprint winner on dirt and the Juvenile Filly Turf winner. Last September, one of his daughters was led out unsold at Keeneland at $45,000. At the Tattersalls Craven Sale, Greenhills Farm sold her to Godolphin for 500,000gns. Last year, moreover, McCartan received £200,000 at Doncaster for a More Than Ready colt he had picked up for just $5,000 at Keeneland. And the year before Johnny Collins of Brown Island Stables turned round another of the WinStar stallion’s sons from $17,000 to $300,000.

Little wonder, then, if the two More Than Ready colts selling in Deauville today should have been more ambitiously pinhooked, respectively as $90,000 and $160,000 yearlings.

More Than Ready is only one of five WinStar stallions represented in the catalogue. “I think there’s two things happening,” says David Hanley, the farm’s general manager. “I think the feeling against American-breds has eased a little, partly due to these American horses coming over and winning at Ascot, like Tepin (Bernstein), and all Wesley Ward’s horses. By comparison with the number of European-breds in those races, the winning percentage is quite amazing.”

“So that’s a factor. But I also think that over the last few years the 2-year-old sales in Europe have become much more reliant on the clock, like in America. So these pinhookers are buying [yearlings by] fast stallions, sires that get you speed like Speightstown, More Than Ready, Distorted Humor; Fed Biz is a fast horse. A lot of these horses they’re buying do also have turf on the page. But of course people are more inclined to buy something, and forget any bias, when they see a 2-year-old breeze fast.”

What is so striking is that breeze-up consignors appear to be serving as a kind of import agency. Demand has been established by a convenience in supply. The question now is whether end users will start seeking even better value by cutting out the middle man.

Collins has long specialised in turning round American yearlings to breeze in Europe. It was here in Deauville six years ago, for instance, that he offered a Medaglia d’Oro colt picked up at Keeneland the previous September for just €10,000. Mandore International gave him a nice profit at €170,000, but still secured a bargain as Mshawish proceeded to win Grade 1 races on both dirt and turf and is now standing at Taylor Made.

“I suppose for a while there was a bit of a stigma about some of those American-bred horses,” Collins says. “That they had soundness issues and whatnot. But we get these ones to within six weeks of a run. If they’re after sticking it that long, everyone knows they’ll be good for training.”

That, however, merely emphasises the standard logic of the breeze-up model. Another factor is the daunting quantity of stock to be sieved, above all at Keeneland’s marathon September Sale. “I stay 10, 11 days, definitely to Book 5,” Collins says. “It is exhausting, but you keep going on adrenaline until you get home and you crash. There’s a good few fellas doing it now, but you do have a great chance over there because of the sheer volume of horses. Your biggest job is just to get around and see enough of them. But there will be a patch here or a patch there, where you can nab a horse.”

Mags O’Toole-purchaser of Great White Eagle (Elusive Quality) for $120,000 at Keeneland before he set a European record (for the time) at 760,000gns in the Craven Sale of 2013-said she agrees that the legwork is key.

“It’s by far the hardest [sale to work], but everyone has a shot,” the agent says. “They’re great grounds and wonderful barns, but you literally cross into a different county to get to some of them! Yes, there are plenty of horses that cost $7,000 and you go look at them and think: ‘Actually you were robbed.’ And then it goes into the ring and makes £180,000 and you think: ‘How did that work!?’ But you’ll see others where you say: ‘Now why didn’t I see him?’ And then you see he was Hip 2914.”

So what kind of horses are going to fall through the cracks? Collins, who first experienced the Kentucky scene in freelance trackwork, points to different vetting criteria. “I know from working there it’s a hard surface to train on, so those horses have to be ultra-sound [to stay in the U.S.],” he explains. “So there’s probably little things they can’t forgive, that we could live with.”

“Training on a different surface, they hang everything on X-rays-even more than scopes,” agrees O’Toole. “If your mind is slightly set that this could be a Hong Kong horse, X-rays have to be pure snow. But we’ll take a chance on a horse with a flake, say; or in the knees, there’s changes, by Christmas he’ll be fine if you go easy. Only then he’s not a breeze-up horse, as you have to push on with them.”

But the ultimate sorting mechanism, for the time being anyway, is an accessible pedigree. For now Norman Williamson of Oak Tree Farm, who has been pinhooking from Keeneland for 15 years, is unconvinced how far European horsemen will broaden their horizons.

“Yes, when you’re into Books 3, 4 and 5, it takes a lot of sorting out,” he says. “But there are a huge amount of sires you can just pass through that won’t work out here. I’m not saying they wouldn’t work as racehorses-but they’d be no good for resale. If I’m standing out there with a sire nobody’s ever heard of, and maybe not a very good sire [overall], they’re going to say: ‘Well, we don’t want one of them. We want a Havana Gold (Ire) or a Kodiac (GB) or whatever.'”

“Over the past few years we’ve had a lot of people come back and be very successful with their pinhooks, but it’s not simple. If you wanted a Scat Daddy last year, you had to give 200 grand at least. And if he breezes slow, you’re not going to get paid. You’ve always got to think of who you’re going to sell him to. Only one in 200 will do the fastest breeze. If he doesn’t, who are you going to sell to? So you’d be a little wary of some of the sires, or of a dirt pedigree. You can’t bring home a lovely horse and then have to explain who his sire is.”

Conversely, of course, the European eye will pick out yearlings that hit a blind spot in the local market. “I have a lovely big War Front colt in Arqana, a half-brother to Pathfork (Distorted Humor),” Williamson says. “He didn’t reach his reserve in Book 1 [at $175,000] and I bought him privately afterwards. He’d have been sold in Europe. I still had to give a few quid for him, but he’s a proper horse by a sire that works here and with a proper pedigree.”

“In Book 1 or 2 at Tattersalls, you have to give 80 or 100 grand to pick up a nice horse. Whereas out there you can buy a horse for $50,000 and be lucky. You do have to put in the work, otherwise it won’t happen. There’s a lot of looking, in a lot of heat-but there is value to be had.”

Evidently European horsemen still need to open their minds to the versatility of what they perceive to be merely dirt pedigrees. For that to happen, however, they must renounce the kind of insularity and negativity that have caused them, in recent times, to be so prescriptive about turf or dirt blood.

“I sold a couple of Norfolk winners that came out of Keeneland,” Collins notes. “South Central was by a horse called Forest Camp out of a Forty Niner mare, and then there was Bapak Chinta (Speightstown) [out of a Maria’s Mon (Wavering Monarch) mare]. So while I’d be looking for a turf-bred, if I like the horse enough I’d take a chance. To be honest, I think most horses handle turf anyway. It’s their natural surface, they’re brought up and grazed on it.”

As Williamson observes, “the world has become a smaller place” anyway. A good horse can always go back to race on dirt in the U.S. once he has matured through a more lenient conditioning environment in Europe. Nor would he even have to demonstrate his ability as a racehorse: O’Toole notes that there were several Americans at the Craven Sale already eager to repatriate horses that might have been ridden in spurs and blinkers at a Florida breeze-up. She also sees an angle, for European investors, in the proliferation of synthetic tracks in Britain, France and Ireland relative to a decade ago.

On the other hand, she sees “no point us in bringing a Tapit back here, doesn’t matter how good he is.” In many cases, however, sweeping presumptions about the antipathy of different sire-lines to a specific surface are based in hopelessly inadequate samples. What has made international sires of horses like War Front and Scat Daddy is opportunity.

War Front’s success in Europe should guarantee particular interest in one member of Browne’s Mocklershill consignment: lot 126 is a three-parts brother to The Factor (War Front) by Data Link (War Front), who has joined his sire at Claiborne. He was unsold at $70,000 when sent to Keeneland last year. Yet as farm president Walker Hancock observes, the colt was entitled to straddle the domestic and international markets. 

“His dirt runners are what put War Front on the map,” says Hancock. “You had Departing, that we campaigned, and The Factor. Those two horses got him off to a really good start. He has this connotation as a turf sire but that’s not really true. I know there are a lot [of U.S. raiders] going over to Ascot again this year and if we continue to have success, they have no choice but to buy our horses. So these are very exciting times.”

Courtesy of the TDN


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