Dispersal of Joel’s stock causes worldwide frenzy

Jim Joel: had more flair for the business than his father

Dispersal of Joel's stock causes worldwide frenzy
By Tony Morris 1:23PM 16 SEP 2016

IN SEPTEMBER 1980 I wrote an article in The Sporting Life about Light Cavalry, who had won the St Leger the previous weekend. To my astonishment, on the day after that piece appeared, I received a letter from the colt's 85-year-old owner-breeder Jim Joel in which he thanked me for featuring his latest Classic winner and told me how lucky he felt he had been to have revived the family of Absurdity, a mare who had produced a 1,000 Guineas and Oaks winner for his father before World War I.

That dual Classic heroine was Jest, later the dam of 1921 Derby winner Humorist, who was found dead in his box only 18 days after his courageous triumph at Epsom. That lamentable event was followed by a long spell in the doldrums for the Absurdity family, which produced nothing else of note for Jack Joel before his death in September 1940.

Jim certainly did have one stroke of luck, as when he inherited Childwick Bury Stud in Hertfordshire, Amuse, a granddaughter of Absurdity, was carrying the Donatello filly Picture Play, who would win the 1,000 Guineas of 1944. But he was too modest in ascribing what followed from Picture Play to luck.

He revitalised the family to remarkable effect, while also nurturing other families successfully. A breeder with rather more flair for the business than his father, he always patronised the best stallions, aiming to produce a top-class middle-distance performer. It was as well that he had inherited £5 million along with the Childwick Bury estate.

Jim's colours – black, scarlet cap – were carried to a host of notable victories, but there were several near-misses at Classic level until Royal Palace, a great grandson of Picture Play, took the 2,000 Guineas and Derby in 1967. Light Cavalry and his year-younger 1,000 Guineas-winning half-sister Fairy Footsteps were four generations removed from Picture Play.

At the age of 87 Jim had lost none of his enthusiasm for the game and was still looking forward. Bloodstock agent Tote Cherry-Downes, about to depart for the 1982 Keeneland September Sales, could hardly believe his ears when the old man told him: "Buy me a nice yearling filly. I'd like to introduce some new blood into the stud."

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The commission was duly fulfilled by the purchase for $65,000 of a daughter of Princely Native from a somewhat unfashionable female background.

Regal Beauty, as she would be called, certainly represented new blood, very different from the typical Childwick Bury mare, but she was a big, well-made sort. Jim had sufficient faith in her – even after her two futile efforts as a three-year-old for the Warren Place stable – to book her to Derby winner and successful sire Shirley Heights in her first stud season.

It was with the utmost regret that Jim decided he must give up breeding in 1986. Much of his best fun had always been in planning the matings for the broodmare band, but his 91-year-old eyes were failing and poring over pedigree charts had now become impossible.

He was not going to bow out of racing just yet. The yearlings would go to Warren Place as usual and the foals would follow suit next year. He would enjoy learning how the matings which produced those crops turned out. But the mares and the fillies in training would have to go. And they would go where so many other notable studs had been dispersed – to Tattersalls' Park Paddocks in Newmarket.

Somerville Tattersall had been running the company for only six years when, in September 1904, he knocked down a yearling filly by Melton in Doncaster's Glasgow Paddocks for the respectable sum of 310gns. The buyer was Harry Barnato, who named her Absurdity and won a couple of minor races – at Brighton and Hurst Park – with her as a three-year-old. After three unplaced runs at four, the filly was passed on to Barnato's kinsman Jack Joel as a foundation mare for his Childwick Bury Stud. Almost 80 years later descendants of Absurdity, nurtured on the same property, were going to figure conspicuously at a Tatts sale marking the end of the era.

News of the impending Joel dispersal caused immediate excitement around the world, and as the December catalogue was also going to feature a significant reduction of Robert Sangster's bloodstock holdings, many predicted business on an unprecedented scale for the auctioneers. Sure enough, the statistics for turnover, average and median in the mare and filly department would all show records.

ASs widely anticipated, the top mare and the top filly were the half-sisters Fairy Footsteps and Magic Slipper. Each a seventh-generation descendant of Absurdity, the former was a daughter of Mill Reef, carrying to Teenoso, and the latter a three-year-old by the outstanding speed sire of the time, Habitat. Fairy Footsteps realised 720,000gns and was sent to the US, while Magic Slipper (700,000gns) joined Sheikh Hamdan's broodmare band.

Flying Fairy, a three-year-old daughter of Bustino out of Fairy Footsteps, created little excitement, probably because of her poor form on the racecourse. She fetched only 90,000gns, but a dozen years later earned recognition as the dam of multiple Group 1-winning miler Desert Prince.

Among the Joel mares, second-best to Fairy Footsteps was six-year-old Lady Moon, another who traced to Absurdity in the seventh generation. By Mill Reef and in foal to Kris, she realised 600,000gns from Sheikh Mohammed. In due course she could claim distinction as dam of Group 3 winners Shining Steel and Moon Cactus, and granddam of Group 1 celebrities Moonshell and Doyen, successful in the Oaks and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

The sale of 17-year-old Glass Slipper – dam of Fairy Footsteps and Light Cavalry – brought an embarrassing moment for Ken Watt, who had retired from the rostrum several years earlier, but stepped up again at the special request of Jim Joel, an old friend. Disappointed at the slow bidding for the mare, Watt attempted to induce a spark to the proceedings by booming: "What's the foal inside her worth?" He was alone in having failed to notice that the mare was not pregnant. Still, he did obtain a successful bid of 250,000gns, a record for a barren mare.

There was another mare in the draft who had failed to conceive – the aforementioned Regal Beauty, a five-year-old with neither racing form nor illustrious lineage to recommend her. It came as no surprise that the big spenders looked away when she undertook her few laps of the ring. By far the cheapest of the Joel offerings, she was knocked down to Michael Poland for only 5,200gns.

That deal opened another chapter in the long history of what might be termed the romance of the ring. Although she had failed to get in foal to Commanche Run that spring, she had delivered a colt as an outcome of the previous year's liaison with Shirley Heights. Retained to race in the Joel colours, he was High Estate, the unbeaten European champion two-year-old of 1988.

Regal Beauty's influence was extended after Jim Joel's death at the age of 97 in 1992. A second notable son, King's Theatre, earned Group 1 honours in the Racing Post Trophy and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. High Estate would become the sire of 1998 Derby hero High-Rise.

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