We are scarcely a week into 2023 but Tattersalls, the venerable Newmarket bloodstock sales company, has already supplied a strong contender for the racing world’s Understatement of the Year, after it emerged over the weekend that 17 yearlings which were knocked down for an average of 650,000 guineas (£68.3k) at the showpiece October sale last year have not – as yet – been paid for, and may need to be resold. “Obviously,” a spokesperson for the firm commented in a brief statement, “this is a regrettable situation.”
It is, in all, just under £11m-worth of “regrettable” at Tattersalls alone, after an individual who was described at the time as a “mystery buyer” went on a major spending spree at the world’s most prestigious yearling auctions last year. Richard Knight, a Newmarket-based bloodstock agent who was bidding on the mystery buyer’s behalf, also signed for five lots worth a total of €1.98m (£1.74m) at Arqana’s Deauville sale in August; three more that added up to €2.92m at Goffs’ Orby sale, including the €2.6m top lot; and six at Keeneland in September, worth $4.875m. Exchange rates were, as you may recall, somewhat volatile last autumn, but however you choose to add it up, the overall spend comes to around £20m.
Knight, who has been approached for comment, is believed to have had all the necessary paperwork and guarantees in place before signing for any purchases.
Tattersalls, meanwhile, is to date the only one of the four major auctioneers involved to break cover about non-payment for the yearlings, and it is still possible that the “buyer” – who has been named by the Racing Post as Saleh al-Homaizi, who had a share in the 2007 Derby winner, Authorized – has paid, or will eventually pay, for some or all of them.
The auctioneer, though, have the biggest sum outstanding by some way, as the biggest houses pay the breeders who sell their yearlings almost immediately, and then take their commission when the buyer settles up, normally within 28 days. Big players in the bloodstock game may also have significant sums lodged with Tatts, to show that they mean business, but if that was the case here, the buyer did not have anything like enough in the bank to cover all their high-ticket spree.
Tattersalls emailed all clients who had bought yearlings at the Book 1 or Book 2 sale last year on Friday evening, to alert them to the possibility that the 17 horses signed for by Knight could soon be re-offered. As someone clicked “send”, the firm will have been well aware that it would take between 30 seconds and a minute for the story to leak on to social media.
That may, in turn, persuade the “buyer” that the time to settle up has arrived. If it does not, however, the how, when and where of the reselling process, for yearlings that are now two-year-olds, will be a fascinating departure from the norm for a business that tends to stick rigidly to its cycles and seasons.
Breeze-Up sales, which give buyers the opportunity to watch pre-trained two-year-olds in fast work on the gallops before deciding whether to put in a bid, are a popular source of (almost) ready-to-race juveniles every spring. The Craven Breeze-Up at Tatts in mid-April is the most prestigious of its type and will lure plenty of Flat racing’s heavy-hitters to town.
The most choicely bred colts and fillies in every generation, however, are generally sold the previous autumn, on looks and pedigree alone and very much before they have been asked to publicly put one hoof in front of the others at high speed.
The 17 individuals that Tattersalls currently has on its hands include a Frankel colt with several Group One winners on the distaff side of his pedigree, who was initially knocked down for 2m guineas (£2.05m), and a filly by Lope De Vega who was “sold” for 1.8m guineas (£1.89m). These are simply not the types that generally appear even at the Craven Breeze-Up, where the median price in 2022 was 90,000 guineas (£94,500) and just one of the 114 lots sold went for more than half a million.
Waiting until the Breeze-Up would also keep the 17 horses on Tattersalls’ books for another three months, and raise the interesting issue of whether they would risk breezes in an attempt to maximise the price. Alternatively, they could decide to draw a line and move on by selling as soon as possible.
However, the whole sorry saga plays out – and there is no news as yet, remember, of the stock that Knight signed for elsewhere – the only certainty is that “regrettable” will be far too short a word for all concerned.