The buzz of the ringside remains alluring in a sport that only kings can afford
Published 05/12/2012 | 06:00
Our ancient mythology contains many wonderful stories that tell of a Celtic dreamland where fantasy replaces reality.
A land where no one grows old and where men happily wander, hunting by day and feasting by night in the company of merry maidens.
While some would say that such dreams are nothing more than tales imagined by long-dead druids hallucinating on magic mushrooms, they are in fact very much still with us.
Just visit Goff's bloodstock sales as I did one day in October and you are immediately transported into a world where anything is possible.
The autumn round of horse sales are our dreamtime and while the groomed and polished yearlings parade around the ring, the auctioneer's voice rings out the verdict on dreams fulfilled or shattered and fortunes made and lost.
I know quite a bit about such dreams as, for 20 years or more, I laboured to find this land where great riches awaited.
I was perhaps unlucky in that, at the age of 25, at Tattersalls Newmarket December sales, I purchased a filly out of training for the then substantial sum of 4,000 guineas and subsequently sold her first foal for 15,000 guineas as a yearling.
While that represented a great profit, the unlucky part was that I thought I had found the road to making my fortune. I was aware enough to know that luck plays a large part in such success but, for the next 20 years, I toiled at the business of running a stud farm. This included spending hours at the wheel of my jeep transporting mares to and from stud, rearing foals, preparing for sales and travelling far and wide, buying and selling in Ireland, England and France and all the while pursuing that elusive dream.
There is no doubt that in a good trade, the cradle of racing can be a very seductive place and a glance around the sales rings in Kill or Newmarket is enough to deceive the innocent and unwary. Arab millionaires rub shoulders with industrial magnates, lords, maharajas and glamorous stars from the world of film, fashion and sport – along with jockeys, grooms, touts and spongers. Their money supports the many racehorse trainers, bloodstock agents and stud farm owners whose livelihoods depend on keeping the illusion alive that the yearlings they are promoting are the champions of the future.
The auctioneering firms of Goffs and Tattersalls do a wonderful job in creating an atmosphere of glamour and excitement where the trainers and agents are your best friends, and will wine and dine you so long as you keep writing the cheques.
The stakes are high and once an individual finds that owning a string of racehorses is beyond his means, he suddenly also finds that his friends are gone and the parties, the champagne and the social whirl are reserved for the next generation of the nouveau riche.
It is ridiculous really to think that any horse that has never had a saddle on its back or set foot on a racecourse can be worth the price of a good farm or house. Yet, in the sales ring, the old saying that an ounce of breeding is worth a tonne of feeding gets proven over and over again. Pedigree is everything and even confirmation faults can be sometimes overlooked (or disguised) and while there are many honest people breeding and training thoroughbred racehorses, there are also rogues whose antics make cattle dealers look like members of the Children of Mary.
Racing is known as the sport of kings for few others can afford it. Most racehorses fail to show a profit and only approximately 4pc cover their costs. Each year, though, a tiny proportion do make fortunes for their owners and win one or more of the classics and go on to have successful stud careers.
It is this occasional fulfilment of the dream that keeps the entire industry afloat. Having said all that, I do miss it. The buzz of the sales ring and the anticipation of huge rewards keep many at it, year after year. Indeed, some do succeed spectacularly while others fall by the wayside.
I didn't make or lose much overall while involved but I suppose I was wise to exit and concentrate on less exciting but more dependable means of making one's living. Every so often, though, I am sorely tempted to return to the fray and once again try to buy that dream.