On The Trail of the Next Breeze-Up Star

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Native Trail offered as a 2-year-old at the Craven Breeze-Up Sale last season | Tattersalls

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NEWMARKET, UK–His photo, needless to say, adorns the front of the catalogue. But those seeking another one at the first European breeze-up auction of the year will scarcely require that prompt when the horse himself will be surfacing halfway through the sale, just up the road on the Rowley Mile, as an unbeaten champion juvenile and favourite for the G1 Qipco 2,000 Guineas. Native Trail (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB}) was found here last year as Lot 56 in the Tattersalls Craven Breeze-Up Sale. On Wednesday afternoon, before the second of two post-racing sessions at Park Paddocks, Charlie Appleby will saddle the dual Group 1 winner at long odds-on for the G3 Bet 365 Craven S., the historic Classic trial that shares its name with this sale.

Whatever he can do at three, Native Trail has already catapulted his stud value way beyond the 210,000gns paid by Godolphin to secure him from the Oak Tree consignment of Norman Williamson. In turn, however, he had already been brilliantly found by Williamson and colleague Mags O'Toole for just 67,000gns from Kildaragh Stud in the same ring the previous October. That was less than a third of the average transaction in Book 1 that year. Certainly, Williamson and O'Toole were expecting him to make a lot more as a yearling. They didn't even get him vetted. But you never know in this game, and Williamson followed the colt into the ring–just in case.

And, sure enough, suddenly the horse was stalling at 50,000gns, 55,000gns. It looked like he might slip through the cracks. Williamson had already made a bid before he spotted Roderic Kavanagh, whose father Peter had perceived the colt's potential at an even earlier stage, pinhooking him (through Sam Sangster) as a foal for €50,000 at the Arqana December Sale, where he had been offered by breeders Haras d'Haspel.

Williamson, after breezing three colts here on Monday morning, reiterated his gratitude to the vendors. “I saw Roderic standing in front of me and I went over and said, 'Is this horse okay?'” he recalled. “And when he said, '100%, in every way,' I bid again–and next thing I knew, I had bought him. You do need that bit of luck. But then I suppose that's why we go through all the sales, why we walk round and work so hard. I bought one horse out of Book 1, and that was him. It just shows that everyone has a chance.”

But they do say that you make your own luck. And, quite apart from showing the necessary diligence in a prohibitive catalogue for pinhookers, Williamson had already been prepared to see past the obvious. This was not a model that would necessarily have appealed to everyone, for this particular job, whatever his price.

“I suppose he was very big and looked like he might take time,” Williamson said. “But I thought he had a great hip on him–and that he wouldn't. I suppose the other thing that swayed me was the pedigree. [Juddmonte family of Distant Music (Distant View), Calyx (GB) (Kingman {GB}) etc.]. But looking at him, you'd have to say he didn't look like a breezer; he didn't look a fast, sharp horse–which he probably isn't. But he's a very, very good one.”

While he acknowledges that Native Trail's success since can only be good for Oak Tree, Williamson stresses that the colt has also contributed to a wider awareness.

“It does a lot for the business but it does a lot for breeze-ups, too–and that's the 'brand' we're all trying to sell,” he said.    “We're not selling two-furlong horses. We're trying to sell racehorses. It's gone more and more professional, all the vendors are doing a fantastic job, and the results are amazing.”

Other graduates from last year's sale duly include Asymmetric (Ire) (Showcasing {GB}), brought here by Greenhills Farm and subsequently winner of the G2 Richmond S.; and Go Bears Go (Ire) (Kodi Bear {Ire}), sold by Aguair Bloodstock before winning the G2 Railway S. Both were knocked down for 150,000gns (respectively in the names of Stephen Hillen Bloodstock and A.C. Elliott, Agent/Amo Racing).

But then the standard of breeze-up stock has been progressing for several years now–along, it must be said, with its value. For the vogue to be sustainable, however, it's been essential for the horses to show that they are not merely precocious. A lot of people claim that the stopwatch is only one factor in their investment, but that's not always apparent in their spending. It's worth stressing, then, that Native Trail himself would have caught the eye of any horseman doing things the old-fashioned way.

“He changed his legs a lot,” Williamson recalled. “But the best part of his breeze was when he passed the line. When others are slowing down, he met the rising ground like he'd have gone on to the clock tower. He wasn't stopping. And it was the same in the [G1] Dewhurst, and the same in the Curragh. When he gets to that last furlong, he's starting to motor. He was still probably in top 30, I supposed, time-wise. But a lot of judges saw beyond the clock, and of course you have people reading the gallop-out, too. Anyway, thankfully there's no point going back through the top 10 times now. He was the best horse here, and he's proved it.”

Happily, Williamson feels that the European market has matured in such a way as to resist the exorbitant value sometimes placed on the “bullet” breeze at 2-year-old sales in the U.S., where times are official.

“Here there's people reading two furlongs, there's people reading the second furlong, there's people reading the gallop-out,” he explained. “So you've three or four chances of selling your horse. Whereas in America you have that one time, and that's it. But then racing on dirt is different. They're flat out from the start and it's the horse that goes the fastest for the longest. Here they have to settle. If you see a horse at the breezes here jumping off and running away, well, bar he's a sprinter, he's going to be no good. They need to start off half-relaxed and to keep quickening. So you have to train them that way, to end up with a good horse.”

The breadth of the available spectrum explains why Alan King and Anthony Bromley of Highflyer, for instance, have long enjoyed dredging the breeze-ups for staying pedigrees, most notably finding star stayer Trueshan (Fr) (Planteur {Ire}) at the Guineas Sale here in 2018 for just 31,000gns. Before that, Federico Barberini bought subsequent G1 Ascot Gold Cup winner Trip To Paris (Ire) (Champs Elysees (GB) for 20,000gns at the equivalent auction; while Williamson himself once sold another smart stayer, Nearly Caught (Ire) (New Approach {Ire}), to Hughie Morrison.

“He was a beautiful ride and I was thinking that I'd love to keep him as a bumper horse,” Williamson recalled. “But I'd have had to wait two years to run him, so when Hughie showed an interest I said, 'Listen, take the horse home for two weeks and see what you think.' And a couple of weeks later he rang me, said he liked him, and we did a deal, for not a lot of money. And the horse went on to be a Group 2 winner and was placed in the [G1 Prix du] Cadran. But everyone had walked past the door, because he'd be 'too slow'. So it's fantastic that everyone has a chance, if they're prepared to go beyond the clocks.”

That said, this particular sale obviously showcases elite prospects and there was corresponding tension as they showed their wares on the Rowley Mile. While spectators could enjoy the spring sunshine, there was a challenging headwind and due credit should go to those youngsters that saw out the climb towards that distant horizon with enthusiasm.

Williamson was delighted with all three of his charges, stabled in boxes adjacent to the one that housed Native Trail last year.

He sounds especially excited by the War Front colt offered as Lot 39. Out of a graded stakes-placed Giant's Causeway mare, he's another to be sieved out of a Book 1–this time at Keeneland. Perhaps it will prove worth reminding ourselves that Williamson fished another son of the same stallion from the front of the same sale in 2017, and he became GI Preakness S. winner War Of Will before joining his sire at Claiborne. Just like with Native Trail, that was a case of putting in your groundwork: he was a half-brother to Pathfork (Distorted Humor), who'd done so well in Europe, and Williamson was quick to do a deal once he had failed to meet expectations in the ring.

“But I can't take any credit for this one,” Williamson said. “My brother-in-law Tim Hyde [Jr.] rang me said that there was this beautiful War Front that wasn't sold, he sent me a video and I said, 'Jesus yes, see if you can get him.' He breezed beautiful, and I heard he did a very good time. He's a big horse, 16.1, but I wasn't worried about the [drying] ground, he's got such a lot of ability I knew he'd handle it. I do think a lot of him.”

But the pair selling on Wednesday also stepped right up to the plate. “The Camelot [126] is going be a mile-and-a-quarter horse,” Williamson said. “He's a really good-looking horse, a great mover, with a lot of strength. The Oasis Dream [128] is another beautiful, great-moving horse, he was good on the clock too. He's out of a sister to Mecca's Angel (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}), so he needs to be quite sharp–but he looks it.”

Despite an exotic preliminary leg in Dubai this year, this auction marks the start of the regular European breeze-up calendar. And for all the remarkable resilience of the bloodstock market during and after the pandemic, it's plainly a relief to get back onto an even keel. This sector, after all, was not only the first to be broadsided by Covid, in 2020, but was also first to test the water last year.

“Absolutely,” Williamson said. “For the last two years you've had sales moving, you've been at home with horses ready to roll, and the next thing it's another two weeks; or horses going to France had to go to Doncaster; all that kind of thing. So it has been a bit of a nightmare. Going into the yearling sales last year was very uncertain, and the market was remarkable. It was very hard to buy, horses were making triple what you thought they were worth.

“Remember the breeze-up vendors are now buying better-class horses, better pedigrees, and they're really putting their necks on the line. If you go out there and your horse doesn't do respectably–if it doesn't face the headwind, or it ducks across the track–it's over, bar you love him so much that you put him into training. But it's all telling in the results on the track.”

Native Trail, moreover, is also a poster boy for a bonus scheme introduced by Tattersalls last year. He received £125,000 (split 4:1 between buyer and vendor) as the first 2021 Craven Breeze-Up graduate to win any of the 15 European Group 1 prizes open to 2-year-olds. The same sum will also be offered, again, to the first to win any of the juvenile prizes at Royal Ascot this summer. Along with the standard bonus of £15,000 for winners of qualifying Bonus Scheme races, many of these “breezers” are going to benefit from a following wind.

Whether our industry can remain immune to fresh turbulence in the wider world remains to be seen. But there's certainly a helpful slipstream from Native Trail.

“Listen, it's what we do it for,” Williamson concluded. “You obviously have to make a living: you have to make the money that pays for everything else. But at the end of the day, it's fantastic to have gone to Book 1 and found a champion.”

The first session begins at 5.30 p.m. on Tuesday. By then, who knows, this sale may have enjoyed yet another boost. Cachet (Ire) is disputing favouritism in the G3 Lanwades Stud Nell Gwyn S. after her Group 1 podium on the same track last autumn, and then going down by just a length at the Breeders' Cup. This time last year, she was in town as an Aclaim (Ire) filly from Hyde Park Stud, listed as Lot 68. She was bought by Highclere Agency for 60,000gns.

One way or another, the breeze-up Trail remains hot.

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