Seven sons of the wildly successful and popular stallion Danehill top a list of 37 horses that will be offered Friday night at the fifth annual Hong Kong International Sale.
For the fourth consecutive year, the sale will be conducted by the Keeneland Association. It is the only auction Keeneland conducts outside its base in Lexington, Ky. The sale, followed by a gala, is a black-tie affair at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, the site of the handover of the former British colony to the Republic of China in 1997.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club purchased all the horses for the auction at sales in the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and turned them over to consignors for preparation. There are 36 juveniles (2-year-olds) and one 3-year-old in the group being sold.
The sale is open only to members of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Successful bidders with an import permit are allowed to keep the horses with trainers in Hong Kong. Horses purchased by bidders without an import license are required to immediately move them out of the former British colony.
"The purpose of this sale is as a PR exercise for owners here who don't necessarily have the chances, or the opportunity to go to the bigger sales," said Dominic Li, International Races and Sale Manager for the HKJC. "It gives them a chance at experiencing that sort of an auction atmosphere. We're also sort of setting up standard in terms of unraced stock coming into Hong Kong."
All facets of racing are rigidly controlled by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the non-profit corporation, which turns over as much as 11% of the government's tax revenue every year and also donates millions of dollars to charities.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club licenses owners, trainers, jockeys and controls the number of horses that can be registered for racing. The HKJC operates the Happy Valley and Sha Tin racecourses, running racing programs twice a week that generate huge pari-mutuel handles. Sha Tin will be the site of the four group 1 Hong Kong International Races on Sunday.
According to Li, there is about a 20 percent turnover in the horse population in Hong Kong each year. Part of changeover is mandated: horses that are below 27 on the performance rating system must be retired at the end of the season.
Since there are no breeding farms in land-poor Hong Kong, owners apply for import licenses -- regularly waiting from three to five years, bloodstock agent Dan O'Donnell said -- that allow them to purchase unraced or established runners, in auctions or through private sales.
"We have our system," Li said. "Some people would say it's a little stifling. We're not control freaks, but we do have to regulate."
Horses sired by Danzig and his sons are highly sought after in Hong Kong, where all the racing is conducted on the turf. Danehill has become the most important of the sons of Danzig and is the highest grossing sire in Hong Kong racing history, both in terms of sales receipts and prize-money won.
As a result, Hong Kong owners, who are limited to three horses, want Danehills. Of the 1,150 horses registered this week for racing in Hong Kong, 69, or six percent, are by Danehill.
Last year, the Hong Kong International sale had record gross receipts of HK$56,350,000, which is $7.2 million in U.S. dollars. The sales topper, at a record HK$4.5 million (US$577,663) was Floral Dynamite, a son of Danehill. Floral Dynamite has developed into a solid runner and was a leading contender for the HK$1 million bonus awarded to the top graduate of the previous year's sale. The Duke, another son of Danehill, was also among the leaders in the earnings standings for the bonus.
With Danehill no longer being sent to the Southern Hemisphere as a shuttle stallion, this year's group of his sons will be among the last being available in the Hong Kong International Sale. While nearly all of the horses that race in Hong Kong are geldings, four of the Danehills in the sale are colts, who may go on to replace their sire as stallions in the Southern Hemisphere. The group includes two private purchases from Australia that brought $337,440 and $281,200 in U.S. funds.
Since the horses are expected to be ready to begin racing in maiden-level races, the catalogue was pared earlier in the month.
"We've withdrawn six horses from this sale because we've deemed them to be truly more backward than is appropriate for the sale," Li said. "There's nothing wrong with them They have been a little lame. They've come back. We've examined them through and through. They're just a little bit backward and showing signs of immaturity. There is no point in us putting them through the sale, then going into the yards and the trainer sitting on them for three months. They're taking up a spot and they're not necessarily going to benefit. So we'll ship these things out, we'll let them mature and we'll bring them back next year and they'll be sold as 3-year-olds."