Some European buyers don’t think American horses have much to offer, in terms of their pedigrees, for shoppers from countries where grass racing dominates. But Rick Nichols, the vice president and general manager of Sheikh Hamdan’s Shadwell Farm in Kentucky, and his boss disagree with that assessment.
“We don’t see it that way at all,” Nichols said.
Sheikh Hamdan, a member of Dubai’s ruling family, was the Keeneland September yearling sale’s biggest spender through the fourth session Sept. 15. He had paid $7,290,000 for 18 horses, including an $800,000 Bernardini -- Private Status colt. Most of them will be sent to Europe to race. Sheikh Hamdan also was the immediate underbidder on a $2.05 million Distorted Humor colt that was sold during the auction’s second session.
“Our strategy is the same as always; we approach every sale the way we’ve done the last 25 years,” Nichols said. “We don’t go in there thinking, ‘OK, we want to buy five Dynaformers and X number of this other horse.’ We just want to find a nice horse with a nice pedigree. We’re primarily looking for horses to run in his stable in Europe, but we still try to pick up a couple of good American-type horses as well.”
And many of the horses that Sheikh Hamdan has bought, according to Nichols, have bloodlines with potential that isn’t limited to dirt.
“Geoffrey Russell (Keeneland’s director of sales) made a comment the other day that’s very good,” Nichols said. “He said the two most influential horses in our lifetime – Northern Dancer and Danzig – ran almost exclusively on the dirt and look what they did in Europe (with their offspring). And look how many other dirt horses have gone on and proven themselves (as sires of grass runners). I think there is a big stigma about A.P. Indy. He ran on the dirt and didn’t do any good in Europe (with his progeny), so all Europeans have got that in their minds. But a lot of these dirt horses – Pulpit (by A.P. Indy) for one -- (will have offspring that will) run on the grass. We’re going to try our Invasors (by a Horse of the Year) on the grass; we’re going to try our Jazils (by a Belmont Stakes, gr. I, winner) on the grass over there (in Europe). Who knows? We don’t know if they’re going to run (on turf) or not. Somebody has got to prove them. There are a good 30 sires that are in the first two books of this sale that are either proven for Europe or have got good possibilities.”
In Nichols’ opinion, Sheikh Hamdan is getting plenty of bangs for his bucks in addition to quality turf racing prospects.
“At the start of the day, I’ll put down what I think the horses (we want) are going to bring,” Nichols said. “I haven’t figured it out for today (Sept. 15) yet, but the first three days (of the sale), we were under budget, but just by a little bit. There are some horses that brought a little bit more than we thought and some brought less. We’re getting very good value. I think the horses here are just as good as and maybe a little better than they’ve always been.”
Sheikh Hamdan is attending the Keeneland September sale for the first time in several years. He missed recent editions of the auction because the Islamic holy month of fasting, Ramadan, fell during the sale. This year Ramadan ended Sept. 9 and the auction started Sept. 12
“He doesn’t leave Dubai during Ramadan; he’s a very religious man,” Nichols said.
Sheikh Hamdan is glad to be back at the September sale, according to Nichols.
“He’s having a longer stay (than usual), so he’s very relaxed and he’s really enjoying himself,” Nichols said. “Sheikh Hamdan is a very nice person. He’s very laid-back and easygoing. He’s happy. He goes around and he enjoys seeing the horses and seeing all the enthusiasm at the sale. If he didn’t enjoy it, he wouldn’t be here.”
Rick Nichols said Sheikh Hamdan has an endurance riding team and two of his horses and one his riders are competing on the United Arab Emirates squad in the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, which start in Lexington later this month.