In a sensible move to shore up the shaky image of the annual International Sale of unraced two-year-olds here, the Jockey Club recently purchased nine yearlings at leading European sales rings in Newmarket and Ireland. At their expense, the Jockey Club will now keep these yearlings for a year before they are brought to Hong Kong for sale at the 1998 International Sale held during International Races week here. It will provide a significantly stronger platform on which to base the annual sale. On results to date, the two held so far have not been successful. By buying a year early and competing with the Arabs and other major buyers at Goffs in Ireland and the Houghton sale, the Jockey Club has tapped firmly into the bloodstock-buying mainstream. Private buying through established agents does not provide the confidence that goes with a public purchase at a top quality European sale. Within a week of their purchases at Goffs, there was a much needed boost for the International Sale Griffins (ISGs) of last December when the David Hayes-trained Top Light scored impressively in a Class Four event at Sha Tin. His work since suggests there are more wins in store for the Australian-bred son of Last Tycoon who was purchased for $1.3 million. This was followed up 10 days later by an even more stylish performance when debutant Universal Marquee looked to be heading for bigger prizes after romping away with the opener at Sha Tin. Universal Marquee, bought personally by owner Keith K. F. Hsu, is by the former top Australian galloper Tierce out of a good mare, Zedegal, and could easily end up as the most astute buy from last December. He cost only $600,000 and officially got exactly half of that back on Sunday. And then last Saturday at Happy Valley, sprinter Silver Collector became the early star of last year's sale when he notched his second success. He was the only ISG purchase to win last season and his performance in beating Solid Contact and raging favourite Songs Of Innocence - later reported officially lame - showed that he has significantly trained on. There was also success earlier this season for Telecom Prince, a $1 million ISG purchase, who ran unplaced four times last season and the son of Marscay may soon make the money back for owner Bobby C.C. King. So, too, should the relatively inexpensive Running Cue, who has already won and placed. The son of Epsom Derby winner Quest For Fame is well on the way to recovering the $800,000 it cost owner Lau Kai-sing to buy him. But overall, the ISGs are finding it hard to make their mark and a number of owners must be fretting. In their first season, of the 28 sold last December who ran, only Silver Collector was a winner. By far the biggest flop has been the $3 million sales-topper Cheers Up, whose last run ended ingloriously. Blinkered for the first time in Class Four, he trailed in last and hopes of ever recouping the purchase price must rank below zero. Last year's sale realised $30 million although one lot, bought for $900,000, was ultimately returned to the Jockey Club and the owner is seeking his replacement elsewhere. By the end of last season, well under $1 million had been recouped overall through Silver Collector's win and a couple of minor places elsewhere and it has to be considered very doubtful that the overall sales figure will ever be met by winning returns from the 28 horses still in training. Much will depend on how obviously useful horses like Universal Marquee and Top Light develop and there will be much interest aroused when the Afleet colt Yellow River, who trialled well again at Sha Tin on Tuesday, makes his racecourse debut. He was purchased by trainer Andy T.W. Leung, a strong supporter of the sale, for $2.7 million and the horse went well in a Happy Valley trial late last month. He has had setbacks in training but the enforced layoff shortly after purchase may ultimately benefit Yellow River, who looks a much stronger and brighter prospect now. Hornet has run a few placings and should win a race but others have been found sadly wanting, both this season and last. They will ultimately tip the balance the wrong way when it comes to eventually totting up the profit and loss account. The first Select Sale, beset with controversy over rigs and doubtful statements, was ultimately only a qualified success. By far, Danzighill has been the best from that one and has virtually won back the $2.7 million purchase price as well as establishing himself as a top quality performer. But sales-topper Saint Tak, who cost $3 million, has won back less than a quarter of his price-tag and is already looking something of a spent force. The biggest immediate worry from the Jockey Club's viewpoint must be the sale next month. This follows exactly the same lines as last December but a lot of prospective buyers may well be that extra bit wary if they have been following the fate of those who went before them. Likewise, some trainers are already stating that they will advise owners against buying and can point to the figures as they stand today to support their position. Ultimately, however, the sale can establish itself as a value-for-money alternative for Hong Kong owners and can become a venue for other Far Eastern buyers. But that may only come after the progressive move made by the Jockey Club in buying at Goffs and the Houghton sale bears fruit.