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Buying for value at Easter

8 min read
In the headlights of 22 million-dollar lots this week at Riverside, there were plenty of horses waiting for buyers in the middle- to lower-end of proceedings, and trainer Mark Newnham got one of them.

Cover image courtesy of Inglis

Sydney trainer Mark Newnham was ringside on Wednesday, dabbling in bloodstock here and there, keeping his hand in the game. By the close of trade at the 2021 Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale, he had bought into six horses, but only one was in his name.

The colt was Lot 404, by So You Think (NZ) from the Flying Spur mare Lustre Lady. He was a full brother to the nifty Nakeeta Jane, winner of the G1 Surround S. and G2 Light Fingers S., and third in the 2019 G1 Randwick Guineas behind The Autumn Sun.

“I’ve had three out of this family, and he is certainly the best,” the trainer said. “I’ve seen this horse since he was a foal, so I’d had an eye on him for quite a long time. He’s a really nice type of So You Think, who throws a good type generally. But I find the ones that are medium-sized, and a little bit more athletic, tend to be the better ones.”

Lot 404 - So You Think (NZ) x Lustre Lady (colt) as a foal

Newnham parted with $310,000 for Lot 404. The colt was the second So You Think on the trainer’s hit-list this year. In January, he went to $140,000 for a filly from Casino Prince mare Wahng Wah.

“They’re a nice horse to train, and So You Think is having a great year,” Newnham said. “And the attachment to Nakeeta Jane was an influence when it came to this colt, because it helps to train horses when you know a little bit about the family.”

Family ties

Lot 404 was the eighth foal from the seasoned broodmare Lustre Lady. She had a 21-start race career after humble beginnings in 2006, selling as an Arrowfield yearling for $100,000 to Mark Towell’s GT Park.

Her second foal, Cyrus Rocks (Bernardini {USA}), was the first that Newnham trained, followed by Layton Abbey (High Chaparral {Ire}) through 2018/19 and, finally, Nakeeta Jane.

“Nakeeta Jane was a very good-bodied filly, but her legs were a bit less than desirable,” Newnham said. “She had a few conformational issues which held her back from going to a sale. But this colt (Lot 404) was physically really good-bodied, nice clean legs, clean on x-rays and clean on scope, so for me he was an easy horse to buy.”

Nakeeta Jane was just such a foal as to earn the nickname ‘Plain Jane’. She didn’t make it to a sale ring and, as an accomplished and mature Group-winning racehorse, she sold privately to Coolmore Stud for a handsome seven-figure sum in September 2019.

She missed to Justify (USA) at first and, served by the stallion again last season, she is currently in-foal to the Triple Crown winning sire at Jerry’s Plains.

Swings and roundabouts

Newnham didn’t lose his head about the sale of Lot 404 at Riverside this week. He wasn’t emotionally attached to the colt, despite a long history with the family.

“He was an easy horse to buy as long as he made the right price,” the trainer said. “I think I bought him well compared to some other So You Thinks at the Sale. Lot 16, for example, he sold for $370,000, and both were nice, athletic styles of So You Think. But this colt (Lot 404) had a good mind. I like to watch them in the pre-parade and there were a couple of horses that weren’t handling it that well, but he didn’t bat an eyelid, which is a good sign.”

"This colt (Lot 404) had a good mind. I like to watch them in the pre-parade and there were a couple of horses that weren’t handling it that well, but he didn’t bat an eyelid, which is a good sign." - Mark Newnham

Newnham said the sale experience is the first pressure-point for young horses. If they handle it well, it bodes nicely for a career on the track. With this in mind, he was ringside late on Wednesday when the colt entered the auditorium on account of Alison and David Hush’s Davali Thoroughbreds.

“I had one bid,” Newnham said. “It was stalling on $300,000 and I bid $310,000. I had waited and waited, and I placed one bid and he was mine.”

Lot 404 - So You Think (NZ) x Lustre Lady (colt)

Over the years, the trainer has got better with his sale-ring tactics. He first emerged as a buyer in 2016, and has since been heavily involved. Newnham paid $1.1 million for a Snitzel filly at the 2018 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale, a daughter of G3 Epona S. winner Intimate Moment (NZ) (Dubawi {Ire}).

“I set a price these days, and I may go one extra bid, but that’s all,” he said. “And I do that because there’s always lots of horses. I missed a few early in this week’s Sale, and if I had got a couple of those, I may not have bought this colt. If I had bought Lot 16, I wouldn’t have bought him at all because I couldn’t find owners for two So You Think horses.”

A buyer’s market

Lot 404 was a good buy for Newnham, from a middle point of the market in which trainers regularly shop. This week, against the dazzling lights of 22 million-dollar lots at Riverside, there was active chatter about the middle- to lower-end of the market.

“I thought there were enough nice horses in that area, as long as you weren’t looking for early 2-year-old types, which tends to be the focus for a lot of people,” Newnham said. “I tend to focus on horses that will train on, and now that we have a whole load of new races in Sydney that we didn’t have two or three years ago, and that are worth a lot of money, it’s a better percentage play than trying to compete with buying 2-year-old colts.”

“We have a whole load of new races in Sydney that we didn’t have two or three years ago, and that are worth a lot of money, it’s a better percentage play than trying to compete with buying 2-year-old colts.” - Mark Newnham

Grandstand races like The Everest, Golden Eagle and million-dollar The Hunter and The Gong have changed the yearling market for trainers like Newnham, and there was strong word on-complex this week that bargains were out there.

Inglis’s Sebastian Hutch acknowledged as such.

“There are people who walked out of here feeling like they have stolen horses,” he said at the close of Day 1.

Newnham said Lot 404 was a good example of a horse well-placed and well-priced in the Easter market, one that he was on-selling to owners for a racing career through three, four and five years of age. And he said there were plenty of those to be found at Riverside.

“That figure of $300,000 isn’t cheap, but it’s affordable for people buying racehorses,” he said.

Of the 406 lots that made it through the ring this week, 122 sold in the $200,000 to $300,000 price bracket, or a total of 30 per cent of the catalogue (excluding horses withdrawn).

Fair game

The vendor perspective is a little different, and Alison Hush from the Central Coast-based Davali Thoroughbreds, which prepared Lot 404, said as much.

“Horses over $400,000 were really strong,” she said, “but after that, it was just making the money. The people that normally buy in this middle to lower market think Easter is just too dear, and often they stay away thinking it’s the elite Sale and they won’t be able to afford it.”

Hush believed it was a fair Sale but, along with many small vendors, she was hoping for more buyers that had missed out at the year’s earlier sales.

“In this middle market, there really wasn’t a lot of overs this week,” she said.

Alison Hush | Image courtesy of Davali Thoroughbreds

Davali Thoroughbreds has looked after Lustre Lady for years, who goes to them seasonally for GT Park. Hush knew that Newnham was interested in Lot 404, but the Coolmore team had also stopped by more than once.

“It’s easy to get carried away about inspections,” she said. “But you just don’t know what they value the horse at. So we put our values on them when we take them to a sale, and of course that’s not necessarily what we get for them.”

For Hush, the colt’s $310,000 pricetag was less than they were expecting, but she’s been in the game a long time and accepts that’s how it plays. She said Mark Towell was realistic, but it was forgivable if he expected more.

“As we all do, we get our little rose-coloured glasses on, and Mark was hoping for a little bit more. But he was happy to take that, and he was over the moon when the horse went to Mark Newnham because he will get every opportunity there.

"And at the end of the day, no matter what a horse makes, you probably always think it could have made a bit more. But if that’s where the market values the horse, that’s where we sell it.”

Mark Newnham
Davali Thoroughbreds
So You Think
2021 Inglis Easter Yearling Sale