Ask just about anybody in England about the Tattersalls Houghton sale, and they'll tell you that the catalogue for Europe's flagship yearling auction is one of the best in years. But ask them if that will translate into a boost in prices, and they'll reply, "Probably not." The general consensus is that the business trends in will be similar to those seen at America's most elite yearling sales, with setbacks of 20% or more.
"This year, it's the common belief that the catalogue is stronger (at Tattersalls) than it was at the big sales in America," said Egon Weinfield of Meon Valley Stud. "And good horses will still sell well. But I don't think one could forecast with any confidence that we are going to see a miracle, where everything that is happening in the rest of the world isn't going to affect us here. At Deauville, in France, the select part of that sale was down. And we're all braced for the fact that this is not going to be an easy sale either. People have lost a lot of money in the investments they have in shares (stocks), which has in turn affected their pensions and everything else. It is a gloomy economy. And I suppose the fact that there could be a conflict in the Middle East in the next six months doesn't help the enthusiasm. There is a lack of confidence. "
The Houghton sale will be conducted Wednesday and Thursday in Newmarket. It will be one session shorter than 2001, when a sale record of 160,000 guineas ($244,800) was established for median price. The gross revenue of 28,563,000 guineas ($43,701,390) declined by 13.4% from the previous year, and the average price of 219,715 guineas ($341,217) fell by 6.1% after reaching an all-time high of $233,886 ($334,950) guineas in 2001.
This year's catalogue contains 193 horses, up slightly from last year's sale record low of 190. According to a recent Tattersalls press release, the 2002 group includes full or half-brothers and sisters to 37 classic/group I winners and 142 group/listed winners.
"This is an exceptional catalogue---in particular the fillies--and that's not just the perspective of the sales company," said Jimmy George, a Tattersalls director who works in marketing. "We've had a lot of people say to us that it's outstanding. So, you've got to hope that the quality can perhaps help carry it (the sale) through at a slightly higher level than perhaps some of the counterpart sales."
Representatives of the Maktoum family of Dubai and Coolmore Stud were out in force at the Tattersalls sale grounds on Monday. John Ferguson, the bloodstock manager for Sheikh Mohammed, was checking out yearlings at the Watership Down Stud consignment of Lord and Lady Lloyd Webber, and Coolmore agent Demi O'Byrne was looking over the horses consigned by Ted Voute. The Maktoums did not attend any of the yearling auctions in America this year, but some family members are expected at Tattersalls. And that "will get the momentum (of the bidding) up a bit," said Voute, who has the largest Houghton consignment, with 25 yearlings catalogued.
Another positive sign, according to Voute, is there appears to be a high level of interest from prospective buyers.
"Yesterday (Sunday), we had 29 separate people looking, which was very good for a first day (of showing)," he said. "There are a lot of professional people around, and we're seeing faces that we didn't expect to see until Tuesday or Wednesday when the agents have done all their work. And the vetting has started already; they've examined five or six of mine. The early vettings and the number of lookers might lead you to believe that prices could easily be the same (as last year) or higher, but I don't think that's going to happen. I don't see how it's going to change from any other select sale in the world; it has to be down 20%."
The strength of the market could be tested early. Hip No. 5, a Sadler's Wells colt out of the unraced Groom Dancer mare Groom Order is generating positive buzz. A robust bay that looks older than his age, he is a half-brother to group I winner Beckett (by Fairy King) and a half-brother to stakes Groom Order (by Groom Dancer). His consignor is Mr. and Mrs. Roy Strudwick's Ballygallon Stud of Ireland.
Another popular yearling is a Sadler's Wells filly that is a half-sister to group I winners Taipan (by Last Tycoon), Ali-Royal (by Royal Academy), and Sleepytime (by Royal Academy). Produced from stakes winner Alidiva, she descends from an old Claiborne Farm family and is consigned by Anthony and Mary-Anne Penfold's Bugley Stud for Charlie Wacker's Greenbay Stables. Representatives of the Maktoums and Coolmore have inspector her multiple times.
Other fillies in the auction with impressive pedigrees include a Danehill filly, who is a half-sister to champions Sagamix and Sagacity; a Seeking the Gold filly that is the first foal out of group II winner Fairy Queen; and a Sadler's Wells filly that is the first foal out of the winner Aspen Leaves, a full sister to Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Timber Country that was produced from the top broodmare Fall Aspen.