Sheikh MohammedSheikh Mohammed (bbc)You know the $40 million Sheikh Mohammed didn’t spend on yearlings in Book 1 of Keeneland September this year? He’s put it back in the marketplace now, and then some. Having spent upwards of $200 million buying every top stallion prospect he could find on both sides of the Atlantic, he is now buying a few mares to go to them. John Ferguson signed for eight broodmares or broodmare prospects in Kentucky for a total of $33.5 million, and he’s followed up in the first two days of Tattersalls December Sale of Mares, etc, with nine more purchases.

That makes it 17 fillies or mares for a total of around $74 million, which is an average of somewhere in the neighborhood of $4,353,000 per item. Tattersalls finished off their first two days grossing over 60-million guineas (about $130 million), including a blockbuster session yesterday that shattered last year’s single-day European mixed sale gross. Ferguson bought nine horses which constituted 30 percent of the first two days’ gross. Sheikh Mohammed may have single-handedly caused the Keeneland September Book 1 gross to fall by 20 percent, but his 17 purchases, all by themselves, have comprised over 10 percent of the combined $700-million mixed sale market in Kentucky, Ireland and Britain.

We used to go to the November sales and ask ourselves, as mare after mare went through for impossible prices, “don’t they remember what happened in September?” This week we were asking ourselves, “don’t they remember what happened last week?”

To which the answer must be—it would appear not. It wasn’t just at last week’s Tattersalls December Yearling and Foal sales, either; for most of the last three weeks, lower-end commercial horses have been experiencing a brutal clearance rate, often 60 percent or lower of the horses offered. Even during the record-shattering last two days, the clearance rate was 69 percent (compared to 81 percent last year), so there are plenty not getting sold even here, in the strongest of markets, where the two-day gross was up 23 percent from last year’s European record and the average up a staggering 39 percent.

We talk about “the market” because these horse sales all have the auction format in common, but everybody knows there are actually several main tiers to the market, and recent results make it abundantly clear that what we might call the “lower-commercial” tier of the marketplace is being hit hard by the effects of overproduction.

Two-hundred-and-fifty more horses were catalogued for the foal sale than a year ago, yet the number sold and the gross were very close to the corresponding numbers from last year. This strongly suggests there is a finite number of horses the market can absorb.

There is one worrying aspect of Sheikh Mohammed’s nearly $300-million spending spree on breeding stock this year, though, and that is the creation of a huge gap in what used to be the top tier of the market. Up until this year, the top one or two percent of the market saw a linear progression to the very top, but this year, Darley’s stallion and now broodmare acquisitions (the stallions privately and the broodmares at auction) have resulted in the top one-tenth of one percent of sales now belonging almost exclusively to Darley and Coolmore—when Coolmore decides to take Darley on.

No fewer than five mares during Tattersalls’ first two days sold for 3-million guineas (about $6,450,000) or more; four went to Darley, the other to London Thoroughbred Services’ James Wigan, who last year signed for the then-record filly or mare, Magical Romance. It is unbelievably strong at the very top, but the very top is now such a rarefied atmosphere that very serious players after very serious stallion and broodmare prospects are being frustrated at almost every turn.

Extract by Bill Oppenheim TDN 5.12.07