THREE years ago the Council of the British Thoroughbred Breeders' Association was asked to consider whether it would co-operate in the staging of a yearling sale in Hong Kong. As members of that august body are apt to do, they hummed and they haaed, set the matter down for further consideration at a later meeting, deferred that discussion, then hummed and haaed again. Eventually, as had been odds-on from the start, they opted not to get involved, citing a variety of reasons and omitting the real one - fear of the unknown.
But the spirit of adventure was not lacking in the Commercial Thoroughbred Breeder's Association of Australia, and tonight Happy Valley will host that long-awaited sale - not of yearlings, but of two-year-olds bred to southern hemisphere time. Within an hour or two we shall know whether the enterprising Australians or the dithering British got it right. We shall also know if there is a future for a concept that has been a long while in gestation.
On paper, the selection of horses looks promising, and care has obviously been taken to present individuals calculated to be suited to Hong Kong racing conditions. A bold venture of this kind deserves to succeed, but it remains to be seen whether the market will view it quite as positively as its promoters. The following thoughts on the horses scheduled for sale are based on a lifetime's study of pedigrees that remains obstinately fallible and on impressions gained from photographs published in the catalogue. Closer inspection of the individuals, particularly with reference to how they move, would doubtless reveal much more than I am able to deduce and I have been taken by surprise by the furore over the five 'rigs'.
1. ch c Kenmare - A Little Love (J O Tobin) Kenmare has proved much the best of Kalamoun's sons at stud, having collected a couple of sires' championships in France before making a strong impression again in Australia. Few of his stock are pretty, so it seems of no great concern that this one is of the plain sort. His dam was a bad runner by a bad sire, but she has plenty of good elements in her pedigree, and it is not altogether surprising that she has already managed to produce one top-notch performer in A Little Kiss, winner of the Queensland Oaks. Overall this colt's pedigree is not impressive, and it seems doubtful whether sire and dam were ideally matched. (Possible rig).
2. gr c Kenmare - Delightful Belle (Balmerino) Another son of Kenmare, he is a horse of a different colour, the only grey in the sale. Though not a thing of beauty - somewhat coarse, weak behind and seemingly a shade back at the knee - he is full brother to a filly who could run a bit and half-brother to three winners, one of them a proficient sprinter by Danehill. His dam, by international star Balmerino, was foaled in New Zealand and became a high-class sprinter/miler in Australia, two of her 10 wins coming in Group Two company. The family has known success in Hong Kong before - through Top Performance, a product of the dam's half-sister Chantilly Belle.
3. b c Marscay - Dream Appeal (Valid Appeal) A good-topped, strong-looking colt, slightly over at the knee (which is not necessarily a fault), he has excellent bone and has plenty to commend him on pedigree. His sire won the Golden Slipper and has headed the Australian sires' list, an achievement in which he emulated both his sire and his paternal grandsire. His American-foaled dam ran only once and showed nothing, but she has proved an excellent broodmare, her five winners including one filly successful at Group One level in South Africa and another in Group Three company in Australia. The latter was by Marscay, advertising the suitability of this mating, and that is a point driven home by the fine sprinting form of Kidman's Cove, by Marscay out of a daughter of Dream Appeal.
4. ch c Zeditave - Even True (True Statement) Quite a light-bodied, but passably well-made colt by a sire who earned over A$1.2 million while winning 14 races up to 1,600 metres, five of them at Group One level, and has seemingly made a respectable start at stud. Both the stallion's grandsires were top-class two-year-olds in England. There is speed on both sides of this pedigree, as his dam won 11 times (including seven in a row) up to 1,400 metres, and her own dam's half-sister Testimony notched 13 wins up to the same distance. Both raced to Group Three-winning standard. The family tends to produce the odd good winner, rather than a profusion of them, and this is the third produce of a mare who has yet to have a starter.
5. b c Snaadee - Fair Astrologer (Quack) Described as brown in the catalogue, but obviously bay, promises to develop into quite a good-looker. His sire's merits at stud are unknown, as he was still racing in England as a five-year-old in 1992, when he registered his career-best performance in the Group Three Temple Stakes over 1,000 metres; he was a moody character who could not be depended upon to do his best, but a good sprinter when he felt like it. The colt's dam was unraced and by a sire with a moderate record, but she has already bred a Grade One winner in America. Her own dam was a top-class performer (10 wins from 18 starts) in England, and her descendants have won stakes races all over.
6. b c Last Tycoon - Gun Lady (Thatching) This fellow is not one of the more robust-looking specimens in the catalogue, seeming somewhat weak in front. His sire was a gifted sprinter/miler of Group One calibre in Europe and America, and he swiftly made an impression at stud in both hemispheres, heading the table in Australia in 1993-94. This year his stock have been very quiet in Europe, but further successes Down Under and in Japan have come his way. A foal by him was sold at Newmarket last Saturday for 240,000 guineas, highest price for one of her sex in the sale. The colt's dam was a modest two-year-old winner and has already bred a stakes-winning juvenile in Australia, but there have been few top-class performers in the family in recent generations.
7. ch c Marscay - Heavenly Body (Grosvenor) The second son of Marscay on offer is by no means a striking individual, with a pair of hind legs that he could not have got from his mother, assuming she was aptly named. In fact he is a bit of a plain individual, but handsome is as handsome does at the track, where winners turn up in all shapes and sizes. His dam, by a top-class son of the outstanding sire Sir Tristram, won only a maiden and a minor handicap in her native New Zealand, but stepped up in class to land the Group One South Australian Oaks after she had crossed the Tasman. She comes from the family of excellent antipodean performers Uncle Remus, Cossack Warrior and Cossack Prince, and her son may well do best when raced beyond a mile.
8. b c Palace Music - Hyeres (Gay Mecene) The three sons of Palace Music are among the most interesting in the sale, and not just because their sire is responsible for Cigar, probably the best racehorse in the world in 1995. Sons of The Minstrel were apt to be shunned at stud after several early failures, so few people expected much of Palace Music (winner of England's Group One Champion Stakes), but he has done the business, particularly Down Under, where Naturalism (who cost A$30,000 and earned almost A$3.3 million) achieved real stardom.
This attractive, close-coupled colt, out of a mare by one of Vaguely Noble's best sire-sons, represents an excellent family. His dam's half-sister produced Erhaab, winner of the Derby in 1994.
9. b c Sunny's Halo - Key To The Gates (Key To The Mint) It seemed an odd idea to mate a mare of modest racing distinction, by a bad sire and from a worse family, with the highly bred and successful sire Halo, but the result was the Kentucky Derby winner Sunny's Halo, who has gone on to confound the 'experts' again by getting his share of high-class progeny at stud. His son here is quite a well-topped colt, if somewhat less admirable about the legs, and he has some fancy pedigree connections on his distaff side, though neither dam nor grand-dam managed to win a race. His dam is a half-sister to a minor stakes winner in the US; his grand-dam was full sister to French Classic winner Nishapour and half-sister to American Group One victor Nassipour, both of whom enjoyed their measure of success as sires.
10. ch c Salieri - Kilmarie (Bletchingly) Salieri's pedigree seemed all too obscure for the British market when he turned up in a yearling sale at Newmarket, and the bidding for him stopped at 8,000 guineas. Nevertheless he turned out to be a top-class runner up to 1,400 metres, and at the end of his second season he was sold again - for A$2 million! He has made his mark at stud in New South Wales, most conspicuously as the sire of the magnificent grey sprinter Schillaci. His son here is a well-made, strong-quartered sort from a good Australian sprinting background. The fifth foal of his dam, he will surely become her fifth winner; three of the four to date have scored in stakes company. (Rig) 11. b c Last Tycoon - Kiss Me Not (Kenmare) The second of the Last Tycoons owns a pedigree that features champion sires all over the place, but he is not as photogenic as such illustrious lineage might suggest, being somewhat deficient in the foreleg department. He is the first foal of an unraced - and presumably unsound - mare whose classiest close relation was her half-brother Blazing Saddles, a fast and precocious colt who subsequently became the sire of one (and only one) good sprinter in England, the admirable Mr Brooks. There was a fair amount of stamina in the family a couple of generations ago, but the accent more recently has been on sprinting, albeit not always to a high standard.
12. b c Marauding - Mystical Sunrise (Northfields) Another of the many good sons of Sir Tristram, Marauding won the Golden Slipper during a brief racing career, then became an instant hit at stud as Australia's leading first season sire in 1991-92. This colt looks plain almost to the point of coarseness about the head and neck, and one might wish for a better slope to his pasterns, but less appealing sights are to be seen in winner's circles every day of the week. He is the third foal of his dam, who won twice in the US herself and has already delivered one sprint winner. A half-sister to a Group One-winning two-year-old in Italy, she is a daughter of Northfields, whose record as a broodmare sire has exceeded expectations. (Possible rig).
13. ch c Palace Music - Neensie (Solitary Hail) The second Palace Music colt proclaims his descent from The Minstrel in his bright chestnut coat and distinctive markings, and in parts of his outline, too. If he does not show the same quality, or the same power behind the saddle, that is not too surprising; there was never a true facsimile of the old horse. He is the fifth foal of his dam, whose first four are all winners, among them a colt who won the Group One Rosehill Guineas in Sydney. Unraced herself, the mare is half-sister to Shaybisc, a filly who not only raced with great distinction at two and three, winning four Group races, but also has two Group winners among her seven successful progeny. (Rig).
14. b c Zoffany - Only A Rumour (Francis Bacon) Foaled on November 30, here is the latest foal in the book, more than three months younger than some of the others. He may perhaps be excused some lack of development on that score, though his comparatively weak appearance seems bound to inhibit him in the marketplace. His sire was a decent horse in England who developed into a star performer on grass in California, and he has acquired some respect at stud without hitting the heights. The dam won three races and has produced three winners from four foals to race, one of them a daughter of Zoffany who has notched three victories. The family is not exciting, but it throws up a top performer from time to time.
15. b c Danehill - Out Of Danger (Atilla) Danehill is just a respectable sire in Europe, but an exceptional sire, judged on his results, in Australia, where he headed the list in 1994-95. A sprinter himself, he has proved capable of getting precocious two-year-olds who train on and stay Classic distances in their second season. He even had the runner-up in the recent 3,200-metre Melbourne Cup. There is no rule saying that they have to be good-looking to win, and this colt, though out of a top-class performer and half-brother to a multiple Group One winner who earned nearly A$2 million, would not win a beauty contest. He is certainly plain, devoid of any striking physical characteristics, but that is not to say that he will not be able to run.
16. b c Palace Music - Parsimony (Beau Sovereign) There is a touch of quality about this colt, who seemingly has the potential to develop into quite an imposing individual. He is unlikely to be as precocious as His Prego half-sister Lusso, a Group Three winner as a two-year-old, but it is not hard to visualise him excelling later, like his Esperanto half-brother Laranto, who scored in Group Three company and was placed third at Group One level. The first five foals of the mare (herself a two-year-old winner and Group Three-placed) are all winners and this is number six. He should follow suit and promises to race to a high standard, judged on pedigree and conformation.
17. b c Bellotto - Pure Of Heart (Godswalk) Seemingly a neat and well-made colt, this chap is the 10th foal of his dam, who was conceived in Ireland to southern hemisphere time, imported in utero to Australia, and proceeded to become a top-notch performer there from 1,000 metres to 1,400 metres. In due course her sire also went Down Under, as first in the new wave of so-called 'shuttle stallions', and he compiled an impressive record there, far better than in Ireland. Pure Of Heart has bred five winners from seven to race, and she seems well matched with this colt's sire, who ran second in the 2,000 Guineas and third in the Derby, and has begun promisingly as a sire.
18. ch c Marauding - Severe (Keen) There is a lot to like about this fellow, who has size, substance and a deal of power behind the saddle; physically he impresses considerably more than the other product of his sire, lot 12. The second foal of a two-year-old winner at Moonee Valley whose sire is now based at England's National Stud, he also has a pedigree with considerable appeal. He is closely related to the excellent race-filly Burst (by Marauding out of his grand-dam), who won seven races - three in Group One as a two-year-old and earned over A$2 million. She did not win beyond 1,600 metres, but was placed in the Victorian Oaks at 2,400 metres. Grand-dam Sudden (by St Leger winner Boucher) was a Group One-placed two-year-old and full-sister to Artist Man, placed in the Queensland and West Australian Derbys.
19. Withdrawn 20. ch c Kenmare - Star Lead (Star Way) Here is a colt who shows a bit more quality than many by his sire, though he appears a little upright on his pasterns and lacks some strength behind the saddle. He is quite a sharp-looking sort, which might seem surprising in view of his female pedigree, where the emphasis is more on stamina than speed. Grand-dam Starzaan won the Group One AJC Oaks and was a daughter of the dour stayer Zamazaan; her half-brother Rocket Racer also appreciated long distances, winning a Group One Perth Cup. For all that, this colt's dam produced only one foal before him, and that was his full-brother, whose four wins have come between 1,200 metres and 1,400 metres.
21. b c Danehill - Stater (Kaoru Star) If the photographic evidence in the catalogue is to be believed, this is the most impressive physical specimen on parade; though one of the later foals and a possible rig, he seems to lack nothing in development, shows good, clean joints and conveys an impression of power. He comfortably outshines the other product of his sire, lot 15, and is out of a younger mare who is not only well-enough bred, but could run a bit herself and has produced one fine and durable performer in Deposition (15 wins in all, seven of them in succession) in addition to three lesser winners. It would not be altogether surprising if this turned out to be the sale-topper. (Possible rig).
22. ch c Bluebird - Subdue (Conquistador Cielo) Here is a leggy, rangy specimen, by a horse who is probably better appreciated in Australia, yet who has produced the best 1,200 metres sprinter in Europe this year, Lake Coniston. Although Bluebird himself excelled at 1,000 metres, many of his stock stay quite well, and this colt might turn out more than a miler if his dam's pedigree is any guide. Unraced herself, and by a horse who has proved disappointing at stud, she is a half-sister to the effective American grass horse Glow (a poor sire in Ireland) and out of a half-sister to the dam of Caerleon, winner of the French Derby and sire of Classic-calibre performers all over Europe. Nevertheless, the dam's first two foals are winners at sprint distances.
23. br c Salieri - Super Brenna (Super Concorde) The second of the Salieris seems quite a sharp sort, perhaps a little straight in his forelegs, but with the look of a runner about him. He is the third foal of his dam, who did not race, but who has already delivered a winner over 1,550 metres. The mare is half-sister to four winners of stakes races in America, two of whom showed a bit of form at Graded level, but this is not a family that has excelled in the highest class there in recent generations. But the most notable performances have been achieved further afield, by Corona Miss in Group Two company in Australia, and by her son Danzadanzer, winner of the Singapore Gold Cup.
24. ch g Rory's Jester - Tidal (New Regent) Winner of the Golden Slipper and a stud success since his first runners reached the racecourse, Rory's Jester is a major supplier of speed to the Australian bloodstock industry. This gelding is certainly no oil painting, 'common' being perhaps a more appropriate description than 'plain', but he comes from a family that habitually throws up sprint winners, and occasionally - like the dam's half-sister Angst - a runner of real distinction up to 1,600 metres.
25. b c Canny Lad - Time (Imperial Prince) Another mis-described as brown in the catalogue, this colt comes from only the second crop by a champion two-year-old and Golden Slipper winner. What is more, he seems quite a pleasing specimen, with no obvious physical defects. He has a nicely balanced pedigree, which seems to offer him options at a variety of distances, although his dam, her only winner to date and his dam's half-sister all did best at around 1,200 metres. Grand-dam Visit was a top performer at 1,600 metres and came from more of a staying background, a son of her half-sister Lesson having placed third in the Caulfield Cup.