Steve Moran

There is always a sense of the surreal, at any yearling sale, from the observer’s point of view.

I will finish up with a share or two in a horse because I’m not very good at saying ‘no’ and I’ve learned that racehorse trainers are like children. The only word which means no is no.

It’s a touch surreal and, of course, serendipitous (my favourite word as regular readers will be aware) as nobody really knows what they’re buying. I find it remarkable that there can be enough differing opinions to ensure that dozens of horses will sell for pretty good money.

This sense of surreal is, perhaps, especially so in New Zealand given the delightful setting of the Karaka sales complex; the great Kiwi hospitality and the fact that the visiting trainers from Australia are ‘sort of’ on holiday. Well, they’re certainly on tour.

Everyone’s pretty chilled, bar a few nervous vendors.

Rival trainers enjoy a drink and a chat. Rival farm principals do likewise. It’s certainly a good time for a bit of chit-chat and, from my point of view, picking up the odd snippet of news. This, despite the seriousness of the task at hand. Livelihoods and futures are at stake in this ultimate racing game of picking a winner.

You cannot, of course, see ‘under the bonnet’ and many will be ‘better sold than bought”. Some will buy a very good horse for reasonable money, many more will be underbidders on same. Some will take a risk, at the higher end, and find that right stallion prospect.

For some, of course, it’s a rare chance to arrive home nearer to the time they’d normally leave home to start work. No names of course.

Decide, delegate and disappear which is apparently now the training regime of the great Irishman Willie Mullins. Delegation, of course, does not come easily to most racehorse trainers but the trip to Karaka leaves them no choice.

Late night or not, the work gets done and the inspection completed. The quest for a Melbourne Cup winner is among the priorities for some and visitors Nigel Blackiston and Jason Warren secured a couple of ‘likely’ types yesterday.

A very late finish is not for the wiser heads of course. Other than staying up late to watch the Australian Open Tennis final on the eve of day one of the sales.

That was enough for Colin Little, pleased to have won with Navagio (Zacinto) at Flemington the day before, who was content to sip a pinot noir (New Zealand of course) and applaud the old boys Federer and Nadal.

The three-year-old daughter of Zacinto (Dansili) was purchased by Little for NZ$40,000 from the 2015 New Zealand Bloodstock Select Yearling Sale and is raced by former VRC chairman Rod Fitzroy and his wife Paige.

New Zealand was, of course, also the source of Little’s best horse – the 2007 Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2040m) winner El Segundo (Pins). “Paid $140,000 for him which seemed like a fortune at the time,Little recalled. It worked out OK with the horse winning almost $4,000,000.

There’s a twist at every turn and Dean Hawthorne, the man who broke in El Segundo and who now looks after Jonathan Munz’s bloodstock interests, is lamenting the loss of Ferlax (Pentire) who had to be euthanised the weekend before the sales. You can bet his offspring will be stars.

Little is not moving as freely as the yearlings he inspects. He’s recovering from rupturing a tendon above his knee, an injury he apparently (foolishly) sustained trying to clamber under a fence at Flemington when Navagio ran there on Oaks day last year. I’ve suffered a similar mishap – ruptured patella tendon. Surgeon told me it’s the sort of injury a basketballer like Michael Jordan might sustain so I’m happy to run with that.

Tony Noonan’s not moving too freely either, recovering from a hip replacement. Sporting a beard which he says is Sean Connery like. Hmmm.

“It’s a great week. Really, I’d be happy to stay here (at Karaka), parked in a caravan at the back of the complex, said the man who secured his outstanding multiple Group Two winner Show No Emotion (Masterclass) at the Ready To Run Sales in New Zealand for NZ$35,000.

Now there’s a thought for New Zealand Bloodstock. A trailer park on site. The late nights might get even later.

Noonan’s Mornington neighbour Shane Nichols is in good spirits with the impending return of his Myer Classic (registered as Empire Rose Stakes) (Gr 1, 1600m) winner I Am A Star (I Am Invincible). “She’s going well and will run first-up in the Rubiton (Stakes). Craig Williams to ride. Steven King, to his great credit, rang me and said he wouldn’t be fit enough to do her justice,” he said.

Nigel Blackiston trained a double at Geelong on Sunday before watching Camino Rocoso (Shocking), the half-brother to his former star Littorio (Bellotto), win the Henley Park Maiden (1600m) at the Karaka Millions meeting at Ellerslie. “Looks a nice horse, Blackiston said. “How did you miss him?” I ask. “Wasn’t offered, he replied.

Yesterday he didn’t miss Lot 406 at NZ$140,000, the Dawn Approach (New Approach) colt from the same family as top European stayer Fame And Glory (Montjeu). Surely Cup bound.

Likewise, Lot 366 who made NZ$440,000. By Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m) third Jakkalberry (Storming Home) from Refused The Dance (Defensive Play), dam of Melbourne Cup winner Efficient (Zabeel). Secured by Jason Warren who has abandoned thoughts of seeking a licence to train in Singapore. “I thought about Singapore but I’m staying home. And I’ll take this horse home and given him plenty of time. He’s a lovely horse,” Warren said.

Camino Rocoso, ridden by Hugh Bowman, looks the horse to follow – and another potential Derby winner for Murray Baker – from the twilight meeting. Already gelded, perhaps too he could eventually get to a Melbourne Cup.

He is by the Melbourne Cup winner Shocking (Street Cry) who also won the 2010 Maybe Diva Stakes (Gr 2, 1600m) which was won, the following year, by Blackiston’s Littorio at his first run for 16 months.

The Ellerslie meeting, featuring a civilised six races and the Auckland’s course’s wonderful mounting yard, was a superb meeting but alas modestly attended (it was a holiday, long weekend) and preceded by an industry crisis meeting.

It did, at least, prove a positive precursor to the sales ahead with the Karaka Million (RL, 1200m), winner being Melody Belle (Commands) a NZ$57,500 purchase by David Ellis from last year’s Premier Yearling Sale on behalf of Fortuna Bloodstock while Volpe Veloce (Foxwedge) was a NZ$240,000 Karaka yearling purchase from the Lyndhurst Farm draft, a successful pinhook for Lyndhurst having been bought for $120,000 at the Magic Millions National Weanling Sale from the Newgate Farm draft.

New Zealand Bloodstock did manage to get the Prime Minister Bill English to open the sales as many of his predecessors have done. This drew some criticism from the general media who, as is the case in most countries, are unaware of the industry’s economic benefit and status as a major employer (12,000 plus jobs, I think, when last recorded).

Of course, you could argue that Australian governments had no real sense of the significance of the racing industry until the 2007 crisis of Equine Influenza. Perhaps Sunday’s meeting will convey a sense of urgency to Mr English and his colleagues. Neither nation, either side of the Tasman, can afford not to hammer this point.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel here,” said New Zealand Bloodstock managing director Andrew Seabrook, “It’s fair to say our racing is not thriving but it’s heartening to see a positive response from the ‘powers that be’ to Sunday’s meeting and to have the Prime Minister here on Monday.

“We’re happy with the sales result. We’re basically bang on last year’s record sale. The clash with Chinese New Year possibly hurt us but the increased input from Dubai offset that. We were thrilled to have so many Australian buyers active and we are, of course, delighted that your (Australian racing) remains so strong which ensures that level of interest we have from Australian buyers.”