Friday, 28 October 2016

2016 Season: Week 25 - Brightwells Sale

The final weekend of the 2016 racing season in the UK came upon us suddenly, and yet at long last.  The previous weekend was always going to be mine and Smarty's last weekend of racing due to us travelling down to Wales for the annual Brightwells Standardbred Sale on the Monday.  Due to its close proximity to my parents' farm, we always make the 330-mile journey the day before so that we can spend what little free time we have with them.  Therefore for us, and many others, the season was already over.

Nonetheless, the show went on without us at the season finale at Corbiewood, where William Greenhorn was confirmed as both Scottish Harness Racing Club and British Harness Racing Club leading driver for 2016 for the first time in his career.  The owner and trainer titles were fought out at the last meeting, with Claire Fletcher securing the leading owner title as Indie Hanover and Porcelain Seelster scored in their respective races.  William 'Rocker' Laidler took the trainer's title in the absence of his wife, Alexis, the reigning champion, who was serving a ban for much of the season but who is now back to the day job having 'done the time'.

Killarney Howard made it four on the run in Bannockburn for the O'Neil family and young driver Hugh O'Neil Jnr Jnr, who missed out on SHRC Young Driver of the Year due to confusion over the age limit.  The title passes to Lauren Moran, who had a fantastic season with both Laydford Lad and Vyrnwy Smoke and is most deserving of the title.  Sunnyside Clinton picked a good time to record his first win off the back of his second-placed finish the week before, as owner Bill Howard and family had made the long journey from Lancashire (England) to Scotland to see the horse race.

In Wales, after a quick snoop around the barns at the Royal Welsh Showground where some of the horses were arriving in the dark for the sale the following day, I headed into town to meet with some of my fellow STAGBI directors for an impromptu meeting (seeing as we were all in the same place).  Smarty headed home with my parents and I can only imagine the conversations he must have had with my dad about his picks for the following day.  It was apparent that my dad was a man on a mission! (That must be where I get it from...)

On Monday morning I headed to the Showground for 09:00 to meet with STAGBI Administrator and fellow director Gwenan Thomas so that we could microchip scan all of the lots which had arrived prior to the sale starting.  This is a procedure which STAGBI introduced in 2015 following an incident at York Harness Raceway earlier in the 2015 season.  A two year old filly had qualified and following the race the stewards had located a microchip which did not match the microchip number on the horse's passport.  I stepped in to assist and subsequently attempted to identify the horse using the mark up drawing in the passport.  Unfortunately the horse did not match its drawing.  It transpired that when the filly was sold privately, the wrong horse was given with the right passport (the buyer wanted the horse which should have matched the passport, but she had been mixed up with another filly in the field).  This situation could not have been avoided by STAGBI introducing the chip scanning at the two Standardbred sales (York and Brightwells) as it was a private sale and the chip was scanned at the earliest possible date when the horse ran in its first qualifier.  Nonetheless, we decided that in order to reduce the risk of this happening at the sales at least, we would introduce microchip scanning as a matter of course.  Interestingly, at the time Brightwells advised that they did not scan for microchips across any of their equine sales.

All lots presented on the day were scanned with the correct chips present, meaning that every horse was what it should be (according to the entry form received and its accompanying passport).  I was finished up scanning at 10:45, so headed to the trade stands to stock up on rugs for the winter.  Smarty and I ended up with three turnout rugs (for Rita, Tracey and my little old lady, Smokey) and three stable rugs (for Stevie, Ace and Amy).  Stevie and Ace will be trained next year and had both managed to destroy their stable rugs this summer, and Amy is currently over at Corbiewood being broken in by Mark and Karen Kennedy and was delivered with an ill-fitting sweat rug because Smarty doesn't really get the difference between rugs (they're either water proof, or they're not) or their sizes (him and his father still firmly believe all of our horses are 15.1hh and will fit into 5'9'' rugs.  Not the case.).

I settled down in my usual spot to watch the sale, which is at the far end of the ring facing the auctioneer.  From here I was able to see most of the crowd and would hopefully be able to spot the bidders, having made a mental note of who was sat behind me in case they got stuck in as well.  It was also a good spot from which to take photos of the horses in the ring, although as the day went on I got distracted and stopped taking photos unfortunately.

The first lot my dad had his eye on was Frisco Frisk (f, 2012, Rogue Hall-Life Isjusta Dream-Life Sign), a mare who has raced at 2, 3 and 4 at the highest level, with 7 lifetime wins including the Little Welsh Dragoness 3YO at Tregaron and a heat of the Barney Joyce 3YO at Portmarnock in 2015.  I had told him to go for this one with the intention to put her to the stallion next year.  With her being by Rogue Hall, sire of Littlemill Rogue (25-9-10-5 at 2, 3 & 4), Coalford Silk (winner at Musselburgh this year and runner up in The Famous Musselburgh Pace) and Coalford Tetrick (champion 2YO, 3YO and 4YO track record holder at Portmarnock this season), and out of Life Isjusta Dream, dam of Frisco Havago (21-11-5-2 at 2 & 3), Frisco Dancer (2YO & 3YO Breeders Crown Champion), Frisco Fiddler (winner of the VDM 2012 & BHRC National Pacing Futurity) and Frisco Blue Moon (York 2YO Futurity Gold Division & York Rising Starzzz 2YO winner), she really wasn't a mare to let pass by with her breeding potential.  My old man didn't disappoint me!  He went for her, and he got her.
Frisco Frisk winning at Tir Prince in 2016
After the initial excitement had worn off, I sat and waited to see if my dad would buy a yearling filly, as was the plan.  He disappeared once again to stand in his 'bidding spot', leaving my mother and I sat wondering during the course of the bidding as to whether or not he was still 'in'.  The filly he'd picked out as his favourite was Rhyds Sapphire (f, 2015, Hasty Hall-CPR-Life Sign), the fourteenth foal from superstar broodmare CPR, dam of Rhyds Destiny, Rhyds Desire, Rhyds Design and Rhyds Topaz, as well as CPs Village Jigsaw, dam herself of Rhyds Ponder, Rhyds Solution and Rhyds Mystique.
Rhyds Sapphire at the sale
My dad has wanted a Rhyds filly for quite some time, and looking back I wish at times he'd gone further on some of the ones he had bid on (including but not restricted to Rhyds Topaz).  This time he meant business and as the hammer fell, we weren't sure if he was the buyer.  Until Mrs Wright turned around and gave him a hug (knowing how long he has admired her horses).  It was at this point that I abandoned marking my catalogue and taking photos to go and confirm the second purchase.  I actually shook my dad's hand.  He went into the sale knowing what he wanted, and he got exactly that.  Proud daughter moment!

A couple of weeks ago we had discussed over the phone what rugs I had left behind when Star and I moved to Scotland.  My dad's previous filly, Fresh Ayr, was only a little thing and had a 5'6'' turnout rug and a 5'6'' stable rug which were still intact and washed, ready to go.  These will probably fit Sapphire, or 'Saffie', but Frisk was far, far bigger so I had to return to the trade stands to purchase some more rugs (after confirming with her trainer, Alan Haythornthwaite, roughly what size she was).

I missed the tail end of the sale because I'd headed back up to the barns to fit the rugs on Frisk and check out the two new additions to the family.  Frisk tolerated the rug-fittings but subsequently put her bum against the stall door and made faces at everyone who dared look in at her.  I guess it was a long day of people poking and prodding and studying her, off the back of a fairly long and tough season (she went 1.59 on her last start of the season when beaten by Coalford Chief by the smallest of margins at Tir Prince).  Saffie on the other hand had calmed down considerably from her antics the evening before and was quite enjoying the attention she was getting from both my mum and me.  My mum, although not overly-horsey, likes to pet horses and Saffie was more than obliging.  Long may it continue.

Thankfully Gwenan sent me the full sales results on our journey back home, as well as publishing them on the STAGBI Facebook page.  For those interested in seeing them, here they are:

Lot HORSE Amount (£) Purchaser (n/s = not sold; n/f = not forward)
12 ART CONNECTION (USA) 800 Highbrooks Stud
13 DUCKWORK (USA) n/f n/f
15 ARTRIBUTE (USA) n/s n/s
17 AYR TYCOON n/s n/s
18 IMADREAMER n/s n/s
19 LANESIDE LACEY 400 J Manning
20 LANESIDE LOTUS 1600 S Lloyd
21 HASTY CHARM 1000 D Blease
22 HOLMES WILDFIRE 320 S Harbour
23 RHYDS JIFFY 1500 D McKenzie
24 RHYDS DILEMMA n/f n/f
26 BRYWINS ONE OFF 220 M Goggin
28 R U SERIOUS n/f n/s
31 AYR FELLA 700 R Lloyd & L Samuels
32 GOLD NESS 950 N Pryce
33 FRISCO FRISK 14000 R Thomas
35 CHINATOWN SAMUEL 2000 J A Moorhouse
36 AYR JUBILEE 950 G Dowse
46 BLACKFIELD LANDA 1200 L Cassells
47 CAENWOOD UNIQUE 2000 J Connors
48 RHYDS ROCK N ROLL 7700 R Cooper
50 OAKWOOD PLAYBOY 30000 Wye Stud
52 AYR MAJORETTE 12500 J Foody
53 GO COMPAYR 1400 M Wadhams
54 MATTICULOUS 32000 BKB Syndicate
55 CRACK A SMILE 21000 C Fletcher
56 RHYDS SHOOFLY 19000 Meadowbranch Stud
57 RHYDS RUMMY 14000 V Elvin
58 RHYDS SAPPHIRE 14000 R Thomas
59 BRYWINS MOCHA 1000 A Bryson
62 CHINATOWN KIKI 3700 V Elvin
63 CHINATOWN FURY 1000 G Evans
65 OAKWOOD IDEAL n/s n/s
66 OAKWOOD SPUR 3600 G Allan
67 OAKWOOD DELIGHT 4300 M Wadhams
69 RHYDS PRO AFFAIR 9500 N Stafford
71 NO LIMITS II 6500 N Stafford
72 MANHATTAN SWEETART 1250 S Collinson
73 BRYWINS BEACHVAMP 1600 K Ellis & P Bradder
77 MAHOGANY ELSA 650 Wellfield Stud
81 CAENWOOD EVE n/s n/s
82 BRYWINS DUCKDOWN 800 D Hitchcock

And now for the statistics nerds, here goes:

There were 59 horses entered for the sale; of these 51 were forward on the day of the sale.  Of these 51, 44 were sold through the ring (86% sale rate).

The total sale value was £254,490, a record amount.  The average sale value was £5,783.86 (£254,490/44).

The total yearling sale value was £226,250 for 33 lots sold.  The average sale value was £7,541.67 (£226,250/33).  This is a marked increase on the 2015 sale, which is in line with the increased yearling average at York sale three weeks ago.  This follows on from an increase from 2014 to 2015, which I believe once again is due to the raised profile of the juvenile and stakes races in the UK and Ireland, with the VDM prize money increasing in 2017 to €15,000.  The status of the BHRC Sire Stakes, British & Irish Breeders Crown, Irish Sire Stakes and North Wales stakes races at Tir Prince, along with the individual track stakes races and Dragon Series at Tregaron all plays a part as well.

Times are changing.  Smarty and I noted after York sale that the 'working man', the type of owner/trainer/driver who in the past could buy a chancy yearling at the lower end of the price range but still decently bred, is now pushed out of the market as the lower end increases in line with the middle and top end.  The sale at York was only an indicator of what was to come at Builth.  The alternative, if the market has become unaffordable, is to breed.  However, this isn't always an option either.  Well bred mares can be, and are, still expensive.  Stud fees, keep, scanning costs etc. are all additional costs.  Then there's the initial wait.  Once a mare is breeding regularly year on year though you can create a conveyor belt of horses to train for the future.  Some people don't like breeding and rearing horses; some don't have suitable facilities for this.  Another alternative to this is the formation of syndicates; pooling money to purchase better quality stock.  This works for some, but not others.  Particularly if one or more of the syndicate wishes to train the horse themselves.  Very muddy waters and not for everyone.

Prize money for stakes races is increasing; this is bringing new buyers into the sport and driving the cost of well bred horses up.  The kind of money changing hands in the last couple of years is enough to make many people's eyes water.  Smarty and I both know we cannot compete financially in this type of market - we have other commitments at this stage in our lives and we couldn't justify it.  Fortunately, we identified this upturn in the market before it took off too much, and invested in quality American and British broodmares in order to try to produce our own champions.  We both come from backgrounds of breeding horses before we met, and personally I favour the time from foaling to breaking over actually racing (although only just, as I love racing my own horses).  Having our first homebred filly racing at the highest level this year in the 2YO fillies races was a real thrill, and although her dam was our most expensive purchase (coming directly from Harrisburg), she is nonetheless an investment who could produce us a few more winners in the future.

We both left the sale to make the 6 hour journey back to Scotland feeling strangely upbeat.  It was encouraging to see a healthy market.  It was nice to see breeders receiving good prices for well bred, exceptionally turned out stock.  It was also nice to see people we know and call friends buying quality horses with hopes to race them next year.  There is a real buzz around now.  Things are on the up.

Over and out,

#1 Groom (with her hands firmly stuck in her pockets on sale day)

P.S. hello to all my American readers.  Thanks to Heather [Vitale] and Allan [Schott] both plugging my blog on their respective sites, my US views have rocketed and now massively outstrip my British views (obviously the ratio of people in both countries is very different).  Notwithstanding that, I'm glad you guys are giving this blog a go and (hopefully) enjoying it.  It's a long winter ahead over here in the UK before racing commences again in April 2017, so I'll be trying my best to keep things interesting.  If there's anything you would like to read, or find out, about racing over here (and/or the people involved in the sport) then feel free to comment and let me know!  I'm always open to new ideas!!

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