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The Sceptical story - sold for the price of a second-hand car but favourite for a Royal Ascot sprint

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Sceptical and Joey Sheridan prove a cut above the rest in the Woodland Stakes at Naas earlier this month – the horse will be ridden by Frankie Dettori today. Photo: Patrick McCann/Racing Post

Sceptical and Joey Sheridan prove a cut above the rest in the Woodland Stakes at Naas earlier this month – the horse will be ridden by Frankie Dettori today. Photo: Patrick McCann/Racing Post

Racing Post

Sceptical and Joey Sheridan prove a cut above the rest in the Woodland Stakes at Naas earlier this month – the horse will be ridden by Frankie Dettori today. Photo: Patrick McCann/Racing Post

James McAuley must have been a tad suspicious that he had purchased one of Del Boy Trotter's notorious rejects when he paid just £2,800 for Lot No 205 at last year's Goffs UK August Sale in Doncaster.

The fact that his purchase was already named Sceptical probably added to that given that the  Exceed And Excel gelding had never made it to the race track and was cast aside by the mighty Godolphin.

That was not McAuley's first rodeo, though, and those type of buys are old hat for him with his brother Stephen forensically analysing notes and stewards' reports to take calculated risks. Some don't pay off, but they struck gold with Sceptical.

The reason for the cut-price sale was his breathing as Sceptical graded three out of five on the vet's scope but wind issues are not the same problem they once were and trying to rectify the gurgling noise was well worth the outlay.

The Dubliner had already sold the moderate Prizewinner for £11,000 that day and was playing with profit but little did he know that he had just picked up a potential superstar among the five horses which he brought back to his Hilltop Racing base in Naul.

Apparent

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Denis Hogan: The trainer is unable to make the trip given the 14-day quarantine rule and McAuley will supervise. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Denis Hogan: The trainer is unable to make the trip given the 14-day quarantine rule and McAuley will supervise. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Denis Hogan: The trainer is unable to make the trip given the 14-day quarantine rule and McAuley will supervise. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

That quickly became apparent on the gallops and little time would be wasted in getting him to Denis Hogan, with whom McAuley's orange colours have prospered since joining forces two years ago after he handed in his own licence to focus on pre-training.

"He was only here for a week or 10 days hacking away and he was that green that he was running all over the place. I just gave him a kick in the belly and he took off and hammered the two horses he was out with," McAuley says.

"He was in a different league to them. I just thought, 'Jesus, what is after happening there?' He did it a couple of more times and I was on to Denis and said, 'Listen, this lad is too good for anything I have up here, he may go down to you and see where he's at'."

McAuley and Hogan, based near Cloughjordan in North Tipperary, are kindred spirits in terms of acquiring talent but it got to the stage where they were beginning to cost each other money in the sales ring as they eyed similar types so it made more sense to work together.

It sparked a fruitful relationship with the pair combining to notch 25 winners in recent seasons with inexpensive purchases like Amanaat, Hathiq and Kerosin among their triumphs, although Sceptical has parachuted the duo into a different stratosphere.

His racecourse debut at Dundalk on October 30 was little more than a fact-finding mission but he thundered home in third at 25/1 despite missing the break before bolting up three weeks later.

"He was able to get by with his wind but it was very bad. The vet had to look at him after the race, he wasn't getting enough oxygen in and was half tied up, as winds go it was very bad but he was still good enough to go and win his maiden," McAuley says.

The decision was then made to cut and clean the stone the following Tuesday with two different procedures undertaken and he hasn't made a sound since, aside from the noise on the track as a bargain-basement buy turned into Ireland's highest-rated sprinter.

Two further hack jobs at Dundalk earlier this year left him rated 114 before he franked his all-weather form on his turf debut with a comprehensive Listed Woodlands Stakes win under Joey Sheridan causing tongues to wag even further as Irish racing resumed at Naas.

Royal Ascot was now on their radar but McAuley, who fronts Hill Top Racing for his uncle Jim Gough, reveals that several suitors had tried to coax Sceptical from their ranks with obscene amounts of money put on the table. €700,000 was offered to Gough, a businessman and hotelier, but it was quickly rejected as the 77-year-old is living the dream with Sceptical the red-hot favourite in today's Group One Diamond Jubilee Stakes at the Royal meeting.

"Jim is the money man. He doesn't often get the credit but he gets the pleasure," McAuley says. "Every conversation involves Sceptical now at the minute and he turned down huge offers before Naas.

"Everybody needs money but if Jim got it, he'd end up giving it to us to go to the sales and invest it. He's prepared to roll the dice, he won't get pleasure like this out of anything else, money can't buy it."

Temporary

With regular rider Sheridan unable to partner the four-year-old due to a temporary ban on 7lb and 5lb claimers across the water, a call came on behalf of Frankie Dettori the day after his Naas win and the pieces were in place.

Sceptical, which travelled over on Wednesday, was afforded extra rest with the Diamond Jubilee making more sense than Tuesday's King's Stand but Tipperary trainer/jockey Hogan is unable to make the trip given the 14-day quarantine rule.

McAuley, who mixes his equine passion with his afternoon work in the Viking Lodge Hotel on Merchants Quay, has no such worries and the 38-year-old's strong Dublin accent will be unmistakeable should Sceptical continue his extraordinary story at the Berkshire track.

"It's a bit nerve-racking but I've been in worse positions trying to organise trips to Ballinrobe so I'll take it," McAuley jokes. "We just don't know how good he is yet and that's the most exciting part."

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