Working at the yearling sales

  • Anne-Lise Riis Jensen is the assistant manager at The National Stud, racing’s headquarters in Newmarket. This is an extract from her diary

    One of the most exciting and social aspects of my job is working at the yearling sales. The lead up to the sales themselves is demanding but rewarding as the raw products – yearlings in a paddocks – are turned into polished animals which the buyers will view as potential racehorses.

    The most prestigious sale in Europe is probably the Houghton Sales, held at Tattersalls in Newmarket in October. As the stud is quieter over the summer I tend to take “busman’s holidays” and attend the sales elsewhere – Keenland in the USA, The Magic Million in Australia or Deauville in France. It is a great way to build up an eye for horses, learn about what is attractive in a pedigree and get to know who the key players are.

    When we are selling from The National Stud, my job is to oversee our sales team at Tattersalls. Everyone must have the right kit and the horses need to be happy and relaxed. Our sales office is the hub of the sales action. As we prepare a number of animals, act as a base for two large shipping companies and run a quarantine centre there are a lot of horses to keep track of. It is vital that the correct paperwork is with each lot. At this time of year my mobile phone and stud radio are really vital!

    The routine at the sales is more or less the same whether in Europe, America, Australia or New Zealand. Exercise from 5am while the boxes are mucked out, groom, breakfast, then be ready to show to buyers from eight o’clock.

    The sales themselves can start in the morning, afternoon or evening, depending on the venue and whether the sales are running alongside a race meeting. The longest sales days are probably at Tattersalls in December when we work through until nine or 10 o’clock at night and it is usually freezing!

    There is a skill to presenting horses well. A good handler must get the best from the horse, it has to look alert and alive but not wound up.

    The excitement of the sales and being brought in and out for inspections can exhaust youngstock. Others can play up. Unshod youngsters can also get footsore if they are shown often on gravel.

    The handler needs to be able to get his horse to stand up well, whether it is fresh or weary, then walk out well for the buyer to assess. It is also important that the handler does not detract from the picture presented by the horse.

    You need to be neat and tidy, polite and helpful but speak only when spoken to. Everyone who asks to see your horse should be treated courteously – even if they are the umpteenth person, it’s raining, you are wet and for some reason nobody has come to relieve you to get a meal. You must be professional and do the best for your horse, the owner and the stud you represent.

    Big buyers have runners who scout for them, if they see a likely purchase they will bring the boss, agent or buyer to your box.

    With possibly 1,000 animals to consider there is only a short time for your yearling to make a good impression. Your yearling will be looked at stood up square, then walked so that the buyer can assess length of stride and action. (Yearlings for the flat are not shown trotted up).

    An inspection can take anything between 2 and 15mins. Some buyers ask questions, others do not. The one thing that they all have in common is that they avoid a problem horse, and if the horse you show behaves badly you have failed to do your job well.

    For many people working on studs attending the sales can be part of theannual routine. However, big operations or agents consigning a large number of animals, take on seasonal staff. Some people specialise in sales work to fill this need. It can be an exciting lifestyle, moving from Northern to Southern Hemisphere and following the work. An elite band of sales people work at all the top sales and are familiar faces to the leading players in the industry. Board, lodgings and uniforms are supplied, the pay is fair and sometimes the cost of international flights is included.

    It is also usual to get “headcollar money” of one pound in every thousand that your horse sells for as a tip. Buyers occasionally give tips too, though it can be rather disillusioning to discover – as I did – that 10,000 lira is rather less than it sounds! There is also the incredible excitement of taking a top priced animal through the ring and hearing the bidding go through the roof.

    We have prepared some very high value horses here, but to me the essence of the job is not the big price but doing the preparation, showing potential purchasers the horse then seeing it sell better than expected.

    My most memorable sale was a yearling I prepared by Reprimand out of Constant Companion, foaled and reared at The National Stud. It was one of my first sales and the ring was silent with just the sound of the horse and me walking round the ring as the bids went up. He sold for 35,000gns to a friend of Frankie Dettori.

    .Anyone can attend the sales at Tattersalls and get a taste of the atmosphere. Information on the sales, and updates on prices, plus live action from the ring can be seen on the Tattersalls web site. Just be careful not to wave your hands about if you go!

    Until next time.


    For more informations visit www.nationalstud.co.uk

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