Turnover booms at Tatts as sire power grows

Record-breaker Immortal Verse at Tattersalls in December 2013

Turnover booms at Tatts as sire power grows
By Tony Morris 1:43PM 16 SEP 2016

AFTER 31 years at the helm, Ken Watt retired as Tattersalls chairman at the end of 1982, passing that responsibility to his cousin Michael, who had himself been a partner in the firm since 1957. As was to be expected, the transition proved seamless, but even as the handover was taking place it was commemorated by a landmark event – the first seven-figure transaction at a European auction.

The occasion was all the more remarkable for the fact that it was totally unexpected. Lot 1275 at the 1982 December Sales was a three-year-old filly whose only appearance on a racecourse had brought her sixth place in a field of 11 for a juvenile event at Doncaster. While that run had been mildly encouraging, there had been no follow-up; Bruce Hobbs had been unable to keep her sound in her second season.

Tenea, who was a daughter of star miler Reform, had let her family down. Her dam Stilvi had been one of the best sprinters of her generation, and she had become a notable broodmare, delivering Group 1-winning colts Tachypous (Middle Park Stakes), Tromos (Dewhurst Stakes) and Tyrnavos (Irish Derby) and Group 2-winning filly Tolmi (Coronation Stakes). Here was the dam's only flop.

Of course, those relationships could make her seem a valuable broodmare prospect; in a strong market she might make as much as 250,000gns, in the opinion of auctioneer Richard Mildmay-White, who was to wield the gavel for her sale. But her breeders and vendors, the Cambanis family, were content to set a modest reserve of 50,000gns and let her go at that, if interest was lacking.

In fact, Mildmay-White obtained a bid at the reserve price immediately and before long he was conducting a duel between trainer Tom Jones and Texan newspaper proprietor Joe Allbritton that took the bidding beyond the previous year's filly record of 420,000gns.

When Jones turned away, British Bloodstock Agency director Sir Philip Payne-Gallwey promptly joined issue with Allbritton and the price continued to soar. Payne-Gallwey made the historic one million bid, and Mildmay-White had a dilemma. What should the next bid be? He'd not been prepared for that.
When Allbritton nodded again, he took that as a 10,000gns advance. A further 10,000 from Payne-Gallwey settled the issue. Tenea had been acquired for the partnership of Robert Sangster and Stavros Niarchos.

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The market for breeding stock had arrived at a new level, prompting the question: "How long will it be before we see a seven-figure yearling?" In fact that was to come at the earliest opportunity, in the Highflyer Premier sale in September 1983. And that was especially memorable for me, as events in one sensational session caused me to rewrite my report of the proceedings twice.

A Troy colt bought by Dick Hern on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed for 1,120,000gns was my first supposed headline maker, but no sooner had I penned my story about him than a son of General Assembly went all the way to 1,400,000gns, purchased for Khalid Abdullah.

I was on the phone, dictating my revised version, when a colleague brought me word that an epic bidding duel over a colt by Hello Gorgeous involving representatives of Sheikh Mohammed and Robert Sangster was threatening the new record. I resumed my seat in the ring just as the hammer descended, in Sangster's favour, at 1,550,000gns. Cue second rewrite.

The three most highly priced yearlings in Tattersalls history turned out to be duds. Trojan Prince, the Troy colt, won only a three-year-old maiden and was gelded before his only start at four. The others remained maidens, the sale-topper – named Hero Worship – even running ignominiously as a gelding within 12 months of his purchase. It was perhaps not surprising that his record endured for five years – until a brother to Sadler's Wells was knocked down for 2,400,000gns in a deal which saw rather less than that actually change hands. Named Classic Music, he never reached the racecourse.

If Tenea, a three-year-old filly with no form, could make a million in 1982, it seemed obvious that her record would be surpassed when the December Sales could offer one with top-class performance to back up a first-rate pedigree. That day arrived in 1988, when Ravinella, a dual Classic winner that season in the 1,000 Guineas and Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, was submitted by the Societe Aland.

The daughter of Mr Prospector duly realised 1,400,000gns, but she was to be upstaged a day later by a broodmare from the same consignment. Reine Mathilde, a seven-year-old daughter of Vaguely Noble carrying a foal by Kris, was knocked down for 1,600,000gns to Billy McDonald, acting on behalf of Barronstown and Swettenham Studs in partnership.

THE trade in foals at the December Sales reached a new peak in 1984, registering huge gains on the previous year and featuring a first-crop daughter of Derby hero Golden Fleece at 490,000gns whose price almost doubled the old record in that category. It would be eight years before that mark was erased in a private deal over a Royal Academy half-sister to dual Derby winner Generous, bought in Japanese currency and computed at a little under 540,000gns.

That was one of the few highlights at Tattersalls in 1992, when global economies were in recession, the Maktoums failed to put in an appearance at the yearling sales, and the spectre of Value Added Tax threatened the company's future. Before the year was out, the firm announced that its principal yearling sale in 1993 would be switched from Newmarket to Fairyhouse. This was far from a propitious time for Edmond Mahony to succeed Michael Watt as Tatts chairman.

As it turned out, the VAT issue was resolved to the degree that the 1993 sales schedule could go ahead as originally planned, and the market began to rally, albeit with yearlings still valued at the level of a decade earlier. It was going to take time before the industry could be termed prosperous again.

Bloodstock is a complex business affected, directly or indirectly, by any number of factors. Steady growth, year on year, is not something that can be relied upon, and in Mahony's term of office there have been downs as well as ups. The banking crisis that caused global economic recession hit hard, as did the industry's self-inflicted wound of over-production.

But there have also been significant positive developments, most obviously the resurgence of stallion power in Europe and the enthusiastic involvement of new investors from the Middle East. Tattersalls turnover in 1993 was just under 62,000,000gns, a figure dwarfed by the 262,000,000gns in 2015's trading.

Mahony has overseen extraordinary progress that has brought the record for a horse in training to 4,500,000gns (Just The Judge in 2014), for a broodmare to 4,700,000gns (Immortal Verse in 2013), for a foal to 2,500,000gns (Padua's Pride in 1997) and for a yearling to 5,000,000gns (Al Naamah in 2013).

The firm has come a long way since Richard Tattersall opened for business at Hyde Park Corner in 1766, laying the foundations for an enterprise that has helped to shape the development of thoroughbred racing and breeding around the world for 250 years. Few institutions can claim to have had such an enduring impact.

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