‘Selective’ has become an unfortunate buzzword at recent bloodstock sales, leading to rising apprehension and tough decision-making by breeders and consignors alike

They may have reason to be slightly more confident at the upcoming Goffs Arkle Sale, following graduates’ dominance in four-year-old maidens in 2024, and the sector’s undeniable reliance on that market.

Twenty-nine of this year’s four-year-old maiden winners were graduates of the Arkle Sale - more than double the total of any other store sale. Buyers should take note that nine of these were sold at Part 2 of the sale, which posted an average price of €19,725 and top price of €55,000 in 2023.

Monbeg Stables was the leading buyer at last year’s sale, with their 31 purchases totalling over €1.6million, for an average price of €52,452. Paul Holden sat third in the buyers’ table with a total spend of €570,000 for six horses, while Sam Curling entered the top 10 with a spend of €312,000 for nine lots.

Champion value buys

Despite those sizeable spends, there is plenty of value to be found, as the Crawford brothers can attest to. They bought Jasmin De Vaux at Goffs from Glen Stables for €28,000 and the son of Tirwanako went on to win a four-year-old maiden at Loughanmore on his sole start for Stuart Crawford.

He subsequently joined Willie Mullins for Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, for whom he debuted impressively at Naas, before landing the Grade 1 Cheltenham Champion Bumper.

Munir and Souede’s emerald silks are also carried by Crawford’s exciting four-year-old Yeshil, who finished second on debut in the valuable Goffs Defender Bumper at the Punchestown Festival. The son of Diamond Boy had been bought by Highflyer Bloodstock from Kilbarry Lodge Stud for €40,000 last summer.

Horse first

On how he finds value at the sales, Stuart Crawford said: “I would always be prepared to take a chance on an unproven sire. When I go to a sale, I look at the horse first and the pedigree second. The bottom line is you need some sort of an athlete, because it doesn’t matter what the pedigree is, if they’re not athletic, you’re going to struggle.”

One factor that often determines a horse’s price is size, but it’s not something Crawford is too concerned about. “If he comes at the right price, I’d definitely look at a smaller horse,” the trainer says. “I’ve had plenty of good horses that have been a handier size. If you want to get into the bigger resale prices, with a smaller horse, you probably have to take him a step further than just winning a point-to-point or a bumper.”

That’s how Crawford managed to make such an impressive return on four-year-old bumper winner Marlacoo, he explains. “I bought him for €1,250 at another sale. He wasn’t over-big when I bought him, but over the course of the past year, he improved physically. He didn’t suddenly transform.” The Wings Of Eagles gelding realised £85,000 when reoffered last month.

Fame without fortune

However, there is always a risk that others won’t see past a horse’s size, as the in-form Patrick Turley learnt. He paired up with Mark O’Hare to buy Belfast Banter for €28,000 at Goffs, but after finishing second in a four-year-old maiden at Oldcastle, the son of Jeremy resold for just €£30,000.

He went on to vindicate Turley’s judgement when winning the Grade 3 County Hurdle and a Grade 1 at Aintree for Peter Fahey, and more recently landed the Grade 1 AP Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase for Cyril Murphy. Turley described Belfast Banter as “small and stocky,” before saying, “That wasn’t good business, but he turned out to be a very good horse. I’d definitely buy him again.”

Easy polish a Diamond

A talented Kingsfield graduate who did make a tidy profit is Gavin Cromwell and Derek Kierans’ Leinster National victor Hartur d’Arc, who Turley resold for £125,000. On how he managed to secure the bay for such the bargain price of €12,000, Turley muses, “Diamond Boy probably wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea back then.”

“He was maybe a bit small at the time but he grew into a grand horse and was very athletic.” It’s therefore understandable that Turley nominates Diamond Boy as an under-rated sire, especially considering he sold the same sire’s Cobbler’s Boy at the Goffs UK Aintree Sale for £115,000.

In general, Turley’s criteria at the sales appears similar to Crawfords. “I’m not too bothered by pedigree,” he explains. “I like a nice bonny horse, he has to have a good way about him. It doesn’t really worry me what they stand up like, as long as they’re athletic and have a good way about them.”

Pedigree focus

Aidan Fitzgerald of Cobajay Stables uses a different approach, but has been no less successful at sourcing top talent at Goffs. “It’s always a great sale for fillies,” says the Borris-based handler. “There are 160 fillies in it next week and 90% of what I buy are fillies. One thing they always have at Goffs is good pedigrees.”

You only need to look back to this year’s Aintree Grand National meeting to see Fitzgerald knows what he’s talking about. There, Diva Luna made it two from two for Ben Pauling in the Grade 2 mares’ bumper, having won a listed contest on her stable debut.

Cobajay’s €50,000 Arkle buy had finished second in a four-year-old mares maiden on debut for Fitzgerald, before being sold privately. Other talented fillies sourced by Fitzgerald at Goffs include dual blacktype winner and Cheltenham Festival second Magical Zoe, who he bought for just €9,000, and Grade 3 winner Daylight Katie, who he purchased for €10,000. One of Cobajay’s top graduates was top chaser The Big Dog, who cost him €20,000.

Under-rated sires

When quizzed on under-rated sires, Fitzgerald is quick to reply, “I think Jukebox Jury is very, very good and Sea Moon is a stallion I think is a bit under-rated, for the amount of runners he’s had. He’s throwing lovely stock.”

As for sires with their first three-year-olds, he notes, “The fillies by Success Days made a fortune last week. You’d imagine anything to do with Jeremy would be good - he was an unbelievable stallion and a big loss.”

Beyond the statistics

A Fitzgerald’s favoured sire Jukebox Jury topped the first store sale of 2024 at Goffs UK, where the aggregate, average and median all fell. Figures don’t tell the full story though, according to Patrick Turley.

“The statistics might have looked bad, but being there on the ground, I thought it held up fairly strong. I was happy with the two I bought, but I got blown out of the water on a few others. I expected a lot more value there than there was.”

Aidan Fitzgerald anticipates a turn in demand at the upcoming store sales. “I’d say a lot of lads have been sitting on their hands at the first two sales, so I’d say trade will be very strong at the Arkle and Derby Sales, because the best horses are at those sales.”

He doesn’t, however, rule out that it might not quite match up to last year, admitting, “There is maybe an element of us all buying a few too many for the last couple of years and it’s then hard to get them all out.”

Reality bites

Stuart Crawford also predicts solid trade this summer, though not all consignors may agree on that description, he says, “I think some of this year’s three-year-old were just expensive foals and people aren’t always prepared to move them on. If people aren’t prepared to sell at what the market values them, what are they going to do with them?”

The trainer is well aware of the risk. “Of the horses who will go through the sale, how many will make it to the track and how many will be winners?

“That figure is dwindling all the time. It’s a small percentage of the market. Anyone like myself is hoping one or two will really do well and cover the failures.”

That said, looking back through the talented horses sourced by just the above trio, there is plenty to be positive about, especially considering their prices. As Aidan Fitzgerald puts it: “There’s a horse in the Arkle Sale for everybody.”