I Should Have Bought That Horse!

12th Dec 2012

Breednet - Tara Madgwick - Tuesday, 11 December 2012

How many times do we see a passed in horse come out and win a big race, making many of us think - I should have bought that horse!

They say ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder', but sometimes at a yearling sale the beauty that wins races can be hard to spot.

At any given sale there are always a number of horses that for whatever reason are passed in and returned to their vendor, leaving the rest of us to wonder why they have left the ring unwanted and unsold.

For some of the passed in horses it's a matter of their vendor being unwilling to meet the market and for others it's a total lack of interest from buyers in what they have to offer.

A look at passed in horses from the Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale in recent years reveals many familiar names that have left the ring unsold and gone on to win their share of races with high profile performers Fastnet Rock, Alverta and Faint Perfume three of the best examples.

Consigned for sale by Coolmore to the 2003 Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale, Fastnet Rock was the third foal of former brilliant juvenile Piccadilly Circus and was by the all-conquering champion sire Danehill (USA).

On paper, he looked a potential sale-topper as was his full brother (Theatre of Dreams), who sold for $850,000 in 2002 and was the fifth highest priced colt of that year.

In the flesh, it was a different matter.

A big, ungainly yearling with a massive head, Fastnet Rock (pictured winning at Flemington) had few admirers at the sale and seemed to have little talent apart from a massive appetite that saw him devour each and every feed that came his way at an alarming rate.

Respected bloodstock agent James Bester looks at hundreds of yearlings every year and has a particular insight into Fastnet Rock having purchased his mother Piccadilly Circus as a yearling.

"It's a family I know very well and I've had close contact with all of them,” Bester said.

"The first two foals from Piccadilly Circus were magnificent types, but the first, Cirque de Soleil, was stakes-placed before going in the wind and the second Theatre of Dreams was chronically unsound, although won his only two starts before being given away as a riding horse.

"Fastnet Rock was different to them. He had that element of coarseness about him and a head which most people would regard as ugly.”

Passed in shy of his comparatively modest $300,000 reserve, Fastnet Rock returned home to Coolmore and the rest is history.

It's one of the great ironies of racing and breeding that this undesirable youngster grew into a multiple Group I winner, who is now the reigning champion Australian sire and the most expensive stallion on the star studded Coolmore roster.

"Most people at that sale only ever looked at his head and judged him on that,” Bester recalled.

"As a yearling it was far too big for his body, but it wasn't a completely bad head. It starts off alright at the top, but about half way down there is a bump in the middle and that's where it falls to the side of ugliness and horses in his pedigree such as Marauding, Nijinsky and Royal Academy have all been known to throw the odd rough head and somehow those elements have come together in him.”

On visits to Coolmore prior to the sale, Bester would watch the colt walking exercise early in the morning with a group of about 15 other youngsters.

"He has the most amazing action. That real Danehill walk with a thrusting overstep,” Bester said.

"Every few turns around the arena he would lap the other horses and I said to Basil, who looks after the yearlings, ‘he's got a purposeful walk' and Basil said ‘he'd keep going all day, would walk through a brick wall.'”

"I look back at my notes and I described him as magnificent… yes he had the ugly head and his hocks weren't flash either… that's the Sir Tristram in him… but there was a lot to like.

"Lee Freedman liked him at the time too, thought he was the best Danehill colt at the sale, but neither of us had a client so he passed in. I don't think there was anyone on him at all. If someone had bid $300,000 that day, he would have been sold.”

Paul Messara is now one of the most successful young trainers in the country following a hugely rewarding tour of the UK this year with top class mare Ortensia, but the mare who put him on the map and gave him his first Group I win in the 2010 STC Coolmore Classic was Alverta.

If Fastnet Rock was an ‘ugly duckling' that grew into a swan for Coolmore, then Alverta was something very similar for Arrowfield.

By champion sire Flying Spur from the blue-blooded import Grilse (USA), Alverta was consigned by Arrowfield to the 2005 Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale where she passed in well short of her $100,000 reserve.

Given the three previous foals from Grilse had sold for $925,000, $200,000 and $150,000, a $100,000 reserve seemed a reasonable ask, but buyers wanted no part of the backward chestnut filly.

Sam Fairgray of Arrowfield Stud recalls Alverta as a yearling.

"She was quite offset in her knees and was a lighter style of filly that had a lot of maturing to do,” Fairgray revealed.

"We had a very strong draft that year including horses like Miss Finland and Mentality, who were big well grown horses and she suffered in comparison.

"She was offered later in the sale and I don't think there was a bid on her at all.”

Returned to the farm into the care of Paul Messara, Alverta blossomed with time and maturity to win eight races and $1.1 million in prizemoney and just this spring produced her first foal for Arrowfield, a colt by Charge Forward.

"She's turned out to be such a special horse for Paul (Messara). She gave him his first stakes win, his first Group I win and when he took her overseas for the Golden Jubilee, he gained valuable experience that he has used to advantage this year with Ortensia,” Fairgray added.

Dato Tan Chin Nam is one of the best known racehorse owners in Australia due to his high profile association with Bart Cummings which has yielded much success over many years, but his reputation as a breeder has burgeoned in recent times, most notably through the deeds of champion filly Faint Perfume.

In 2007, Dato Tan Chin Nam purchased Southern Highlands thoroughbred nursery Think Big Stud and one of the first yearlings consigned for sale under the new farm banner was a filly from the first crop of Shamardal (USA).

Bred in partnership with Wynyarra Stud, the first foal of young Zabeel mare Zona did not make the main catalogue of Easter, but she did find a slot in Easter Session II where she passed in just short of her $44,000 reserve.

Dato Tan Chin Nam's bloodstock adviser Duncan Ramage remembers the filly well.

"She was a neat, athletic brown filly by a sire that nobody really had on their radar and being the first time Think Big were selling yearlings, I believe there were a number of buyers asking themselves ‘why would a rich bloke be selling these horses?',” Ramage recalled.

"The perception was that maybe we weren't genuine sellers, but now here we are a few years down the track and we've sold stakes-winners Sidera and Liveandletdie from those first few small drafts as well as a number of metropolitan winners, so now hopefully those people who were doubters, will be coming to look at our drafts first in future.”

Faint Perfume went on to win five races and $1.4 million in prizemoney with highlight wins in the Group I VRC Oaks and STC Vinery Stud Stakes.

Like Alverta, she too is a mother for the first time this spring producing a colt by Street Cry (IRE) at Think Big Stud in September.

If there is a moral to this story it can only be the one that we've all heard before… never judge a book by its cover or in the case of Fastnet Rock, a horse by its head!

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