Goffs Open To Official Times But Mixed Response From Breeze-Up Fraternity

Brendan Holland: 'Publishing times will be to the detriment of this industry.' | Tattersalls 


Henry Beeby has opened the door to Goffs embracing the publication of official times and other data at its newly slated breeze-up sale at Naas racecourse next year but admitted that such a move was unlikely to be met with universal approval from the breeze-up fraternity. 

No consignor would be more staunchly against the re-introduction of official times at the breeze-up sales in Europe than Brendan Holland. The Grove Stud operator says official times would create an increased reliance on the clock and would ultimately drive down clearance rates at the breeze-up sales. 

“I am and always have been against the publication of official times,” Holland explained. “There is a large cohort of people who buy breeze-up horses based on their intuition, experience from buying off certain vendors and ability to interpret a horse's breeze, action and pedigree without the benefit of times or regardless of a horse's time. If times were made public, a lot of those guys' hands would become tied. 

“A lot of the people that these guys are buying for don't attend the sales in person. If they are looking on and see that their agent has bought them something that has come 101st on the sheet, what's the chance they turn around and ask, 'any chance you can buy me one of the top 50 instead?'”

He added, “It would make things very difficult for those people. The publication of official times is one of the main reasons why the clearance rate is significantly lower in America compared to Europe. Everyone acknowledges that you need to breeze well to sell well. But breezing well and breezing fast is not necessarily the same thing. 

“If you look at the top 20 times from Donny, there was a significant variation between how each horse sold. The whole thing is much more nuanced than just breezing fast and, if we make the times public, that then becomes the winning post and it will be to the detriment of this industry.”

Of the horses who clocked in the top 20 on the unofficial times sheet at the Goffs Breeze-Up Sale, 17 made six figures, with nine of those selling for £200,000 or more. Only three of the top 20 horses on times failed to break the six-figure mark. For context, there were 28 horses who cleared six figures at Doncaster. 

Unlike Holland, experienced breeze-up practitioners Mickey Cleere and Joanna Morgan-whose daughter Katie McGivern sold the  £420,000 top lot filly by Havana Grey (GB) at Doncaster-say that they would welcome the publication of times. 

But one man who doesn't rely on a stopwatch is Highflyer's Anthony Bromley. Along with Alan King, it was Bromley who signed for the brilliant stayer Trueshan (Fr) (Planteur {Ire}) for just 31,000gns at the Tattersalls Guineas Breeze-Up Sale in 2018 after the horse posted one of the slowest times. Derby runner-up Libertarian (GB) is just another example of a high-class horse to have graduated from the breeze-up sales after posting an inauspicious time. 

While Bromley conceded that the crux of a breeze-up sale is how fast a horse breezes, he defied anyone to determine the best horse from each sale on the clock alone, pointing to the unseasonal weather at the Craven and Donny sales as just another example of a different piece to be added to the jigsaw puzzle that is selecting horses. 

Tessa Greatrex and Anthony Bromley on the hunt at Doncaster | Sarah Farnsworth

Bromley said, “What fun we all had at the Craven when we had biblical weather conditions and some of the lasers that were tasked with timing the breeze fell over. I found it immensely amusing. The buyers must be some sort of geniuses to have worked out what the fastest horses at the Craven were because, for four hours, we had a headwind, a tailwind, a furious crosswind about halfway through the breeze where the cameraman couldn't even hold the camera and, to top it all off, there were hailstones. If you are telling me that the fastest time clocked at the Craven is actually the fastest horse, I'd think it's very hard to work that out. There could have been 20 others that, if the conditions had been different, would have clocked fastest on any given day.”

He added, “I look at the times-literally to cross off the ones who have clocked. There is no point in me wasting time, effort and vettings on those horses because they do make six figures. If I haven't got six figures to spend, which I don't, I don't waste my time looking at them. I am not decrying times because they are relevant but there are so many other factors involved when buying from the breeze-up sales. But outside of that top 25 per cent, I thought there was a lot of value to be had at the Craven and at Doncaster. My overview of the sales the past two weeks has been feast or famine. We've had the post-Covid honeymoon period-over jumps and on the Flat-but we are now entering a period of correction. The top 25 per cent is absolutely flying. It has never been healthier, but the rest of it, it's a tough gig. There were a lot of horses who didn't make 10 grand at Donny and we know it costs more than that to get a yearling prepared for the breeze-ups. It's worrying.”

Despite the shakiness to the middle market at the Craven and at Doncaster, Beeby says he is convinced that there is a strong demand for another breeze-up sale in Ireland [to go with Tattersalls Ireland] and that the response to his Naas project from many of the top consignors has been positive. 

That sale will take place in June 2025 and is likely to be a select offering of back-end types. One thing that is not set in stone, however, is whether or not official times and data will be published but Beeby says he is open to such an idea.

He explained, “It could work. At this stage, I certainly wouldn't dismiss the use of technology in some form or another but we would bow to what the consignors want. If we don't have the key consignors on board and they think it's a bad idea, then it's a waste of time. Various knowledgeable, experienced and respected breeze-up people wouldn't disagree with technology being readily available but, quite how that manifests, it remains to be seen. But I wouldn't dismiss it. Doing something slightly different could be something worth looking at.”

Doing something different is exactly what Cleere plans for next year. Despite selling an Ardad (Ire) filly at Doncaster for £100,000, Cleere pointed to the rising costs and lack of a middle market as increasingly difficult hurdles to navigate. 

He explained, “To be honest, the fun has gone out of the whole breeze-up game for me. It's less enjoyable, for sure. The costs are so high and you can be left fairly wounded after a sale. I was talking to another breeze-up consignor this morning and he agreed that a lot of good horses are going to get missed with the way it's gone. I'd be all for the publication of times. The more information out there, the more ways you can sell a horse. 

“But it's gone very hard. Costs have gone up and there doesn't seem to be a middle market there. I'm going to have to reevaluate things strongly for next year. It's okay if you get into the top bracket but, for some stupid reason that you don't, you miss out. The falls are becoming increasingly hard to avoid. It takes very little for a horse not to breeze like you thought he might but the buyers are becoming less forgiving. I'll definitely have fewer horses to breeze next year.”

Morgan agrees. While her daughter recorded her best day in a sale ring by netting £420,000 for her Havana Grey filly to Anthony Stroud, Morgan acknowledged that the lack of a middle market is becoming increasingly worrying.

She said, “I was disappointed by the lack of northern trainers at Donny. Years ago at Donny, you'd have all the northern trainers there. There was none of that sort of activity this year. It was very cut throat. Even go back to the Craven, alright there were big figures there, but a lot of lads lost money there as well. It's become very hard to sell horses at the middle market.”

Holland summarised that the breeze-up sphere, which has produced top-notchers like Vandeek (GB), Native Trail (GB) and Eldar Eldarov (GB) in the past couple of years alone, is becoming a victim of its own success with the high concentration of valuable yearlings bought to go down that route. 

He said, “The breeze-up game is in many ways becoming a victim of its own success. The consignors who have been successful in the past number of years are having to spend more money on yearlings, so they are becoming more exposed to risk. As a consequence of more money being spent on yearlings to go breezing, it is only natural that there is going to be more success in the sector. 

“The one thing I took away from the Craven and from Doncaster was that it was as competitive as ever at the top end. People have seen what quality horses you can buy at the breeze-ups–it is a realistic ambition to go and buy a Royal Ascot or Classic winner from these sales.”

Holland added, “However, when you get into the middle and the bottom, that reflects the economic state of the country. The domestic market–for National Hunt and Flat–has been healthier in the past. I don't see a collapse in the market but I'd have a certain realism. 

“We'd an 80% clearance rate at Doncaster which, at one stage during the sale, looked as though it would be a miracle to achieve [due to the amount of horses being bought back by the vendors]. But the fact that 50 of the sales at Doncaster were private sales reflected the lack of competition in the sales ring.”

Bromley shared that, oftentimes, the stiffest competition he faced for a horse at the Craven or at Doncaster was from the vendor rather than a fellow agent. Beeby concluded that 50 private sales at the Goffs Breeze-Up Sale tells its own story about the middle market but insisted that no stone was left unturned in attracting buyers.

He said, “When you look back on any sale, the first thing you think about is, 'who did we miss?' Of course we'd have liked more people there. We were pleased with the sale. By the same token, we recognise that 50 private sales tells a bit of a story. It was hard work at certain levels of the market. Yes, the top was very strong but we had as broad a buying bench than we have seen at any breeze-up so far. We worked very hard in the Middle East, Scandinavia and Italy with direct market visits there and they paid dividends.”

Beeby added, “All sales rely on the vendors but the professionalism of the consignors at the breeze-up sales is a joy to behold. They are an amazing bunch of people who do it. The commitment and the nerve that they have to flip those horses is extraordinary. The good ones make a lot of money but there are plenty who slip through the cracks and the consignors dust themselves off and go again. I am always in awe of them. They have made the breeze-up market what it is.”


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