Flashback: Redvers reveals secrets to picking winners at the Sales

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Wed 4 Oct 2023

This feature was first published in early October, 2021

It’s day one of the Tattersalls Book 1 Yearling Sale and the early-morning rain has given away to a yellow ball in the sky. The sun not only shines on the righteous, it seems, but also the best-bred young horses in the world.

Between now and Thursday, almost 500 thoroughbreds born with a big head start in life – a mum or dad who was a champion, sometimes both - will be up for auction at Europe’s premier yearling sale in Newmarket.

The sport’s most powerful players from around the globe are drawn like moths to a flame to view them. Why wouldn’t they? This Sale has a rich pedigree of its own and St Mark’s Basilica, Palace Pier and Hurricane Lane – three of the sport’s leading lights this season – have been sold here in recent years

There’s no reason to doubt more superstars are staring us in the eye, even if they will not turn two until next year and at this stage they are more proficient at whinneying than running at 45mph.

Everything is on a plate, as long as you have a thick wallet or an understanding bank manager to support your instinct.

Book 1 is not just for the elite. Anyone can attend and admire the theatre and drama unfolding before them, with Books 2, 3 and 4 to follow in the weeks ahead. There is something for every budget.

The smell of the horses is intoxicating, the talking speed of the auctioneers bewildering and the money changing hands between buyers who seem mostly invisible is dizzying. You don’t need to swap your house for a horse to be here, although it will probably help if you cannot resist the urge to waive your arms and shout “over here”.

The very first lot, a son of Kingman, is bought by Sheikh Mohammed for more than half a million pounds and the pattern is set. The lads looking after the horse, representing consigners Chasemore Farms, fist pump once outside. Their job in the horse’s journey is complete and, clearly, the reward is felt ample.

By the close of play, 120 horses had been sold for more than £25 million at an average of 210,000gns each. Ten had been sold for at least 475,000gns with Cheveley Park paying 825,000gns for the top lot; a daughter of No Nay Never. Many businesses have been brought to their knees by the coronavirus pandemic but the bloodstock industry, at least at the top end of the market, is clearly as buoyant as ever.

"She was the one we really wanted," said Patricia Thompson, the octogenerian owner of Cheveley Park. "She is a beautiful filly and she was first on the short list. We were looking for a filly for the broodmare band, we will get her broken in and make some plans."

Inevitably, not all those who walk around the ring are popular. Or popular enough. Some do not reach their reserve and are led away unsold.

Why? What are the bloodstock experts looking for? What has Horse A got that Horse B hasn’t got, when, to the layman, they look and move in the same way and might even have the same sire?

I spot David Redvers and reckon that if he doesn’t know the golden rules, then nobody will. After all, he’s been coming to Tattersalls since the late 1980s, and set up a bloodstock agency in 1995 when he also founded Tweenhills in Gloucestershire.

He is Racing and Bloodstock Manager for Sheikh Fahad Al Thani and his brothers’ Qatar Racing operation and stands their stallions Zoustar, Charm Spirit, Havana Gold, Hot Streak and Lightning Spear. His reputation had already been firmly established even before the purchase of Roaring Lion for a bargain $160,000 in 2016. The colt was subsequently crowned World Champion three-year-old in 2018.

I ask him to divulge the dos and do nots when buying yearlings. “We’ll be here 45 minutes and we still wouldn’t have touched the side of it,” he says with a smile, but he is still good enough to share some of his knowledge and experience.

“You start with the pedigree. When you get into mares who have had produced ten runners and had two winners, then I lose interest. The paper is telling you the chances of success are down at 20 per cent at best

“The key thing I look for [after studying the pedigree] is the build of a horse. Is it balanced? Has it got the right muscle structure? Does it look like an athlete? Does it move like an athlete? If you watched Usain Bolt walking down the street, he’d sort of glide along the ground and you’d know exactly who he was. It’s the same with horses, from an early age.

“Movement is a really key thing, plus presence and swagger. I remember discussing buying Roaring Lion with Sheikh Fahad as he came in the ring. I said “can you hear his feet on the floor?” He was so light on his feet, so athletic, it seemed a no-brainer [to buy him].

“Then there’s outlook. Ask any trainer what causes a horses to lose races more than anything else and the answer is whether they want to do it. I like a nice, willing outlook – a horse that wants to perform for you. I can’t stand yearlings who are looking behind them, not wanting to go forward. If they are doggy at this stage, there’s a fair chance they are going to be doggy all their life.”

I feel I’ve acquired a couple of useful tips – avoid noisy walkers, especially those looking over their shoulders – but then Redvers suggests there’s a special instinctive ingredient which can take years to hone. “When you’ve been doing it a long time, it becomes almost a subliminal thing,” he says. “You almost don’t think about what you are looking at – you just know what you like when you see it.

“When I was young and started working with James Delahooke [the renowned bloodstock agent], I said ‘what do you look at first?’ He looked at me as if I was a half-wit. I probably was, and probably still am. You look at the whole thing.

“It’s also a personal thing. If we all fancied the same girl, there would not be many children in the world. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, yes, it can definitely be love at first sight.

“For example, there’s an absolutely lovely filly I’ve seen here. I’ll be moving every part of the jigsaw to make sure I can buy her. When you get strong subliminal messages it becomes as plain as the nose on your face that you need to try and buy. Those ones are rarely wrong but remember that horses are living creatures and that anything can go wrong. They can get injured, get colic. There are reasons why they might not make a racehorse, but you have to try and stack the cards in your favour.”

The stock of Galileo have starred at Book 1 for much of the past two decades but his death this summer means there is a void. Dubawi remains near the top of the tree but younger stallions such as Frankel, Sea The Stars and Kingman are all flourishing. The trio, all stars on the track, will be represented by 97 of their progeny at Book 1.

Redvers said: “We’ve got some tremendous stallions in Europe, particularly in Great Britain. There are some really exciting young stallions coming through in the UK and that’s what the future of the industry revolves around. If you’ve got a good stallion, you get the good mares.

“Proably the most exciting thing about the British breeding industry is that people around the world want a piece of the action. It’s like the Tower of Babel out there; you’ve never seen so many different nationalities and that carries on all the way through to the December Sales.”

Four-time Group One winner Roaring Lion, who carried all before him in 2018, promised to be a super stallion for years to come, a flagbearer for Qatar Racing.

But his story ended tragically when he died of colic in 2019. He had just one crop and his offspring at Book 1 this week will be a one-off.

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride for us,” Redvers admitted. “He was such an enigmatic horse, so good looking, so genuine, and had such an amazing turn of foot. He just got better and better and developed a huge fan base.

“I remember when we had paraded him at Tweenhills, when he had just been retired to stud. A chap form Dorking got on the train just to be in his presence. He went home deliriously happy just to have touched him.

“It’s great to see some very smart yearlings walking around here [Tattersalls] by him. It’s quite obvious who they are by; you can spot them a mile off. We hope they find good homes and that they can run. And that if there's a successor, we buy him.”

Qatar Racing have about 30 Roaring Lion homebreds who will race from next year and beyond. “There is playfulness there but none there showing any negative traits,” Redvers said. “They are proper, robust horses with a good brain, so he’s thrown that on. But all this is chat before they get on a racecourse. What we need to see is whether they’ve got his devastating turn of foot – then we will be happy.”

Those who buy a horse at Book 1 over the coming days will be thinking exactly the same.

The Sales Season at Tattersalls

Book 1 continues on Wednesday and Thursday. The Sale begins at 11am each day but arrive earlier if you can and watch Lots being inspected.

October 11-13 - Book 2

October 14-15 - Book 3

October 16 - Book 4

October 25-28 - Autumn Horses In Training

November 22 - Decemeber Yearling Sale

November 24-27 - December Foal Sale

November 29 - December 2 - December Mare Sale

Click here for more details from Tattersalls or to watch the Sale live online.

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