Yearling Sales Of Thoroughbred Horses
( Originally Published 1898 )
YEARLING SALES—A particularly interesting feature of the season to genuine lovers of the thoroughbred horse is the sales of yearlings which take place periodically. On the mornings and evenings of the days on which the New-market July Meetings are held Messrs. Tattersall are busy. The mornings of the Doncaster week are devoted to the same occupation, but at this time of year, approaching mid-September, the days are beginning to " draw in," and after racing the sales aie not carried on, intending purchasers, or the curious who would like to purchase if they could, devoting themselves to an inspection of the lots that are still to be put up. Little groups of owners, trainers, their friends and acquaintances, go from box to box, reading the statement of pedigree that is fastened to the door—unless, indeed, they have read it before and have it in their minds,and critically examining the youngsters, who are not seldom upset by their strange quarters and unaccustomed relays of visitors, though some of them stand it calmly enough. Now is the time when one may hear much shrewd and instructive comment, together with a vast deal of nonsense and affected knowledge. How greatly the opinions of experts differ is dwelt on elsewhere, in the pages devoted to " Trainers." By reason of an evil practice much followed by breeders for sale, the yearlings are frequently so over-loaded with fat that it requires a particularly experienced eye to detect their real merits and shape, and only the expert can tell whether they are likely to grow out of suggested defects, and progress in the right way. A few leading points, however, will be evident. One looks to see that their feet are well shaped and that they stand truly, not turning in their toes or showing other malformation. Evidence of good bone is sought, and the slope of the shoulders is specially noted. It is a great source of probable trouble if a horse is too upright in front. Many good judges are particularly careful to examine the eye, which is believed to indicate much, though others scornfully observe that " horses do not gallop with their heads," and disregard this. The way in which the head is put on, and certain formations of throat and jowl are very generally supposed to indicate danger of " roaring," however, and animals so made are to be carefully avoided ; though their breeders, who are usually at hand in person, or are else well represented, are slow to admit the evidence of such failings, and probably ready to name and describe other animals of precisely similar structure, and very likely nearly related to these young ones, who are said to have emphatically upset all such theories and done great things when in training. One is careful to note whether the yearling is well ribbed up, and, if he be not, to refrain from paying too much heed to the theory that slackness here may very probably be a sign of speed—many breeders have a pretty invention. Good second thighs may be traceable even at this early age, undeveloped as they necessarily are ; and particular attention must be paid to the hocks, to see that they are not coarse or curby, that there is good length from hip to hock, and that the hocks are not sickle or cow-shaped for one thing, and are well under the horse not too far away from him for another. A powerful broad back is also desirable. If the breeder notes his prospective customer standing by the yearling's shoulder and looking at his hack, he will perhaps tell him that he " might play billiards on it." He will scarcely want to do so, but he will desire to be assured that there is strength. Size is a further requisite, and in this respect an animal may be too big or too small. A little horse is apt to be deficient in length of stride, though here action comes in ; and those who saw the Derby of 1886 will not easily forget how the little Bard for a few exciting moments fairly held his own with his in all ways greater rival, the far striding Ormonde. On the other hand, it requires specially strong legs and sound joints to carry an exceptionally large frame. Many yearlings, however, come triumphantly out of the ordeal of examination, have fascinating pedigrees to support their title to consideration, claim close relationship are often own brothers and sisters to animals that have done great things and are nevertheless presently found to be worthless for racing purposes. Those who give three or four thousand guineas for such an animal are usually rather slow to understand, or at any rate to approve, the appositeness of the adjective in that common phrase, " the glorious uncertainty of the Turf." In the so-called " Figure System," which is supposed to show how Derby winners are to be bred by mathematics, I have no confidence.
The Queen's yearlings, which used to be sold at Bushey Park, appear no more, the Royal stud having been abolished ; but at the Ascot Meeting a number of lots come up, and at various other times and places yearlings are offered; though at the Newmarket December sales, which have of late years grown to considerable importance, few yearlings are to be found, the catalogues being chiefly made up of horses in training, mares and foals. In the sales of blood stock from December 1896 to October 1897, tabulated in Ruffs Guide to the Turf, no fewer than 110 animals sold for ten guineas or less ; some only fetched three or four, and if the figures had been extended to include a minimum of eleven guineas, the number would have been considerably increased. Some of these may or may not be cheap; for if a seller may be well out of a worthless animal at five guineas, a buyer may make an excellent bargain when he gives eleven hundred times as much. This, 5,500 guineas precisely, was, as already mentioned, the sum paid by the late Baron Hirsch for La Flęche (St. Simon—Quiver), who won Ł34,585 in stakes, and was then sold for Ł14,600 guineas. La Flęche was obviously a very cheap animal indeed ; and it may be added that her total of winnings as just quoted was substantially increased by the amounts she gained by running second for the Derby and other races where she was just beaten. It is a set phrase with a certain school of critics that "no yearling is worth more than a thousand " ; but that always remains an open question at the time of purchase. That large sums are often paid for worthless animals, and that at the best there must always be a grave risk about the transaction, are other matters. Perhaps, on the whole, purchasers of high-priced yearlings have had an exceptional amount of bad fortune ; not a few horses of whom high hopes were formed on apparently sound premisses have never been seen in public again after leaving the sale ring. But buyers must take their chance ; and, indeed, year after year many are found quite ready to do so. No one can guess what a yearling will fetch, because no one knows what reasons a certain person or persons may have for desiring to possess it; and there are not a few rich men who, if they take a fancy to a thing, are not deterred by monetaryconsiderations from obtaining it ; but at th e same time, it is strange to note how often the expert foretells approximately the prices for which lots will be knocked down, except, indeed, when something very specially tempting is brought into the ring; and then, if 2,000 guineas are bid, it is often very possible that twice that amount will have to be given to obtain the apparent treasure. The largest sum ever paid for a yearling was the 4,000 guineas given for Childwick (St. Simon—Plaisanterie) in 1891. He was not a failure, for he won three races, amounting in value to rather over a third of his cost price. Whether he proves valuable at the stud still remains to he seen. WEIGHT FOR HORSE RACING
WEIGHT—The usual record of a race states that a horse has won by a short head, a head—a very narrow distinction —a neck, half a length, three-quarters of a length or more as the case may be. This is the common formula ; but the critical expert is accustomed to say, " he won with 3 lbs. in hand," "it was a 7 lbs. beating," or to use some such phrase which deals with weight and not with distance. The reason of this is plain. A horse may win by a neck and have 3 lbs. in hand or 3 stones, because jockeys do not want to win their races by a much larger margin than is necessary, though it may be incidentally added that the very best riders have thrown away not a few races by attempting to draw things too fine—a stumble, a peck, some trivial accident, and a victory that had seemed inevitable is turned into a defeat. Weight, as the phrase runs, "brings horses together," hence the origin of handicapping, and of the system of penalties and allowances which is adopted to make chances more equal. It is impossible to give figures setting distance against weight, saying for instance that a length means 5 lbs., for the reason that races are run over distances varying from five furlongs to three miles on rare occasions even more than three,and the farther a horse goes the more the weight tells. If the finish of a mile race is ridden out, and the winner beats the second by a good length, the chances are that with 5 lbs. less on the latter the two would have as nearly as possible run a dead-heat, and in considering the relative capacity of the pair, the handicapper would probably make that allowance. Authorities differ. After a race, when the question arises what beating the second has received, the estimate of good judges not seldom varies to the extent of several pounds ; but in such cases it will often be found on investigation that prejudice has a good deal to do with the opinions expressed. Success in a race usually entails a penalty, and in many weight-for-age con-tests, "maidens," that is to say horses that have never won, have allowances of from 3 lbs. to as much as seven times that figure. As a rule, 5 lbs. or 7 lbs. is the maiden allowance; in almost every weight-for-age race mares and geldings are allowed 3 lbs The fact that a man's clothes weigh 3 lbs. or 4 lbs. more or less makes very little perceptible difference to him even when taking brisk exercise ; and when the strength of a horse is considered, when, furthermore, one remembers that the racehorse is full of muscle and " condition," in the plenitude of health and strength, it seems strange that so slight an additional burden should really have any considerable effect upon him. That it has such effect is, however, daily demonstrated. The matter is still further complicated when one observes what heavy weights some good horses carry to victory on the one hand, and how frequently the tables are turned by a small penalty or allowance on the other. Foxhall, Plaisanterie, and La Flęche, all as three-year-olds, won the Cambridgeshire with 9 st., 8 st. t2 lbs., and 8 st. 10 lbs., the last-named in a canter, with her ears pricked ; Isonomy and Carlton won the Manchester Handicap with 9 st. 12 lbs. These are instances of brilliant successes under severe burdens ; and to grasp the opposite side of the question a glance at Turf. records will show how many moderate horses have been helped first past the post in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Ascot by the 7 lbs. maiden allowance. During the first three years of a horse's Turf career he is supposed to be constantly growing in capacity, and to adjust these ever-varying differences a scale of weight for age has been constructed.