Talking Horses: Breeze-up sales hint at financial impact of shutdown


A handful of vendors made a return on their investments as Britain’s breeze-up sales finally got under way at Tattersalls on Thursday, more than two months later than normal with only a handful of socially-distanced bidders in the auction ring.

The significant numbers were much reduced across the board, as the market for race-ready two-year-olds adapted to the loss of nearly three months of the season. Fears remain that many of 2020’s speedily bred juveniles will never find an owner.

Unlike yearling and foal sales in the autumn, breeze-ups give owners a chance to see, and time, potential purchases as they exercise at speed over two or three furlongs before being auctioned a day or two later. The emphasis is on their readiness for the track, and some Breeze-Up juveniles will normally make their racecourse debuts just a few weeks after taking their turn in the ring.

Both the high-profile Craven Breeze-Up – which would normally be held over two days in mid-April – and the less prestigious Ascot sale, postponed from early April, were squeezed into a single day at Tattersalls on Thursday. In all, 61 juveniles were sold during the Craven session, down from 85 in 2019, while the total value of the sale (7.5m guineas or £7.8m), the average price (104,000 guineas) and median price (65,000 guineas) were down on their 2019 levels by 27%, 14% and 30% respectively.

At the Ascot sale, 47 horses changed hands with a top price of 92,000 guineas (£97,000), a median of just 15,000 guineas (£15,750) and one juvenile, a colt by Elzaam, selling for just 800 guineas (£840).

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For Willie Browne, whose Mocklershill Stud in Ireland has been a major consignor at the breeze-ups for more than 20 years, it was a mixed afternoon. A filly by Hard Spun was sold for 375,000 guineas (£393,000), one of the best prices all day, and a colt by Australia made 135,000 guineas. Two more colts, by The Gurkha and Starspangledbanner, made just 80,000 and 75,000 guineas respectively, well below what might have been expected in a more buoyant market.

“The breeze has never been more important than it is now,” Browne said on Thursday evening. “A good breeze is huge. So late in the year, people want to know that they’re buying a good horse.

“At the top [of the market] you can still get good money, but I’m still worried about the middle to the bottom, I’ve found it very weak. So it’s patchy, but the good horses are still making plenty of money.

“The only one I didn’t sell was an Exceed And Excel [unsold at 28,000 guineas] which was disappointing, but being realistic she didn’t breeze well enough. The first-season sires that have started very well, it’s very easy to sell their progeny, but we’re nearly into July so it’s very late for a breeze-up.

“April is the time for selling breezes, not late summer, but in a situation where everything is pretty grim it probably hasn’t been too bad. It’s just going to be very hard to find races for those horses with nearly half the season gone.”

As for the juveniles in the crop of 2020 that never find an owner, what is likely to become of them? “I don’t know is the answer,” Browne says, “and there’s quite a lot of those out there.”

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