Competition & Events

    Meet the world’s most expensive horses

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    In certain disciplines, such as show jumping, dressage and racing, the best horses in the business can fetch eye-watering amounts of money. Dressage legend Totilas, for example, was purchased by Paul Schockemohle for an estimated $21 million back in 2010. Considering how the black stallion’s career went downhill afterwards, perhaps it didn’t turn out to be the wisest of investments.

    So what made such an experienced horseman as Paul Schockemohle shell out so much money for such a horse? Totilas had already attained legendary status, breaking records everywhere he competed, so inevitably the price tag was high, plus, of course, he was intended for breeding.

    In racing, the asking price for a horse can be anything up to US$70 million — Coolmore Stud allegedly paid this in 2000 for the stallion Fusaichi Pegasus, one of the fastest Kentucky Derby winners in history.

    But which equines have recently gone under the hammer for large sums (during private sales, the price tends to remain private) and what was the buyer looking for?

    Show jumping

    Greek show jumper Athina Onassis (heiress to the family’s shipping fortune) purchased MHS Going Global, ridden at the Rio Olympics by Ireland’s Greg Broderick, for a reputed £10.2 million. As a 10-year-old, he should have plenty of mileage left in him, while there is room for improvement on his 53rd Rio Olympic placing.

    Palloubet d’Halong was sold for a reputed record of €11 million in 2013 to the wealthy Qatar equestrian team. The chestnut gelding had pulled off some eye-catching CSI5* results with his original rider, Janika Sprunger, but he hasn’t been seen in action under the Qatar flag since the Valkenswaard CSI2* last May.

    Dressage

    In August 2014, SPH Dante, by Welfenadel, broke all records at Performance Sales International (PSI) in Ankum, Germany, when sold to Russia for €2.8 million. Prospective buyers were pitted against each other because of the precocious talent of the seven-year-old, whose expertise in the arena belied his years.

    Last May, a striking black stallion called Ferrari sold for €1.5 million at the PSI auction. The four-year-old by Foundation was snapped up by Patrice Mourruau of Dressage Grand Ducal. The buyer, who is a banker, was impressed by the striking Oldenburg’s movement, as well as the fact that he had already claimed the red rosette in the stallion division at Rastede’s Oldenburg Regional Young Horse Championships.

    A seven-year-old mare called Donna, by Uptown, sold for £120,000 at Brightwells auction in 2015. The sale for the mare, who has proven competition prowess, set a new UK auction record.

    Eventing

    Cornascriebe Glenpatrick, who competed at the young horse world championships at Le Lion d’Angers as a six-year-old, set a record at Ireland’s Goresbridge Go For Gold Sale when sold for €160,000. He was purchased by Ellie Guy Eventing for Somerset rider Millie Dumas to aim at Tokyo.

    Racing

    With family connections counting for a lot in racing, a colt by the highly regarded former Thoroughbred racehorse Dubawi, whose offspring are already winners on the turf, sold for 2.6 million guineas at last year’s three-day Tattersalls October yearling sale. The colt, bred at the Meon Valley Stud, is out of Prix de l’Opera winner Zee Zee Top and is a brother to the Group 1 winner Izzi Top.

    But the Dubawi colt was topped across the Pond by Unrivaled Belle. She was sold at Keeneland in Kentucky as 2016 drew to a close, changing hands for US$3.8 million to make her the most expensive Thoroughbred sold at auction anywhere in the world last year. The former Grade 1 winner was purchased by Whisper Hill Farm for use as a broodmare. She was sold in foal to leading sire Tapit.

    Image: Totilas at Hickstead by Judy Sharrock via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

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    Calm before the Cheltenham storm

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    One of the enduring appeals of racing is the rhythmic, seasonal repetitiveness of the programme.

    It doesn’t matter how long you can be away, be abroad, be distracted; you will one day return to consciousness by checking the date and realising the proximity of the next major meeting. “Ah, must be less than a fortnight til the Ebor. Ah, was it the Tingle Creek last week or next?”

    Our lives are governed by the reassuring continuity of the calendar. Only two periods stand out as being forlorn: the period just after Goodwood, before York appears on the horizon, is a Flat flat spot, but the biggest gap by far is the mid- to late-February abyss that currently grips us.

    We have Ascot on Saturday but thereafter it takes a purist of scarcely believable purity to get excited by Kempton and the pursuant fortnight that drags its way to the Cheltenham Festival.

    Can anything be done about it? Probably not is the rather unhelpful answer, as even the most sporting of connections start to get a little jittery about running their decent horses over testing ground when the biggest prizes of all lie tantalisingly in reach just around the corner.

    Perhaps we just have to take a pull, check ourselves and spend a couple of weeks putting our houses in order, literally and figuratively, before the wrecking ball of mid-March arrives.

    The prize-money pyramid

    A few days ago, the highly regarded York executive understandably and proudly trumpeted the increased investment in prize money at the Ebor meeting. The Juddmonte is worth a dizzying million quid, I think I spotted. York were cock-a-hoop and why wouldn’t they be? Securing such heady investment is quite the badge of honour.

    However, back in the real world, I was left to despair at racing’s warped finance structure and disconnection with reality. If the past few months have revealed anything, it must be that ratcheting up prize money at the top of the sport is utterly meaningless. It neither attracts better horses than the best that already head there if their campaigns are so suited, nor does it boost field size, which — rightly or wrongly — underscores the bread-and-butter appeal for the betting public.

    Down at the bottom end, on the other hand, smaller trainers and less celebrated jockeys scratch around to make ends meet, scarcely aware of the riches well out of their reach.

    There are many in racing who seem committed to redistributing prize money and they should be supported. York are well within their rights to celebrate their own success, but racing should seriously consider the direction it is travelling in.

    Incomparable, for now

    The past weekend didn’t really show us anything we didn’t already know. The Alary bubble has burst, sadly, whereas over at Seven Barrows the excitement about Altior (who won’t have to face Min this year, sadly) clicks up another notch. His facile win in Newbury’s novice chase triggered the almost inevitable comparisons with another Henderson horse — Sprinter Sacre.

    Regular readers of this blog will know I like to allow dreams to take flight, most notably when a few quid are down. Even so, I can’t help but scoff at comparisons at this stage of their career. Why are we so intent at making these parallels? Sprinter Sacre wasn’t simply a stunning two-mile chaser, he was much, much more and his fragility, his injuries and his comeback story took him to a higher plain that others can’t occupy no matter how exceptional they are, or may become.

    Let’s enjoy Altior and his zealous jumping. But let’s not (quite yet) mention him in the same breath as a horse that tugged at the heart strings for so many years.

    Dirtier the better

    Given the relatively uncompetitive stuff at Ascot this weekend, and my new found aversion to getting involved in the Grand National market while the Weights jamboree is in full swing, I’m happy to stock up on my Festival portfolio this week and will add Empire of Dirt to the mix in the Ryanair.

    His eye-catching second in the Irish Gold Cup at the weekend left me with the impression that he could well be the one to step back in trip and take advantage of the Prestbury Park undulations. He’s still just about a double figure price but I can’t imagine that will last for too much longer. Get down and dirty before it is too late!

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    Hartpury joins CIC3* Grand Slam

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    British eventing number-one Oliver Townend has hailed the CIC3* Grand Slam a “strong motivator” for the coming season.

    After the success of last year’s inaugural competition, Shearwater Insurance and Tri-Star Eventing have announced the return of the Shearwater Insurance Tri-Star Grand Slam and, this year, the series has a new jewel in its crown — Hartpury.

    This unique competition offers a winner-takes-all prize-fund of £50,000 for any rider who can win three of the five CIC three-star events included in it. Belton International, Burnham Market International, Houghton International and Burgham International all make a return in 2017. They are joined for the first time by NAF Five-Star Hartpury International, whose director Philip Cheetham said: “We are thrilled to have come on board this year. It is a unique and challenging competition, offering a really fantastic prize-pot for the rider who can prove their consistency throughout the season. As the last venue in the series, we imagine it could make our event an even more nail-biting moment in the calendar.”

    Townend, who won two legs of the series last year, said: “It is great to have another big-money competition available to compete in. Eventing is a challenging sport and I am grateful to the sponsors for supporting this series and recognising the dedication and work that goes into performing at these competitions. It will certainly be a strong motivator for the upcoming season.”

    Image: Oliver Townend won the first competition of the inaugural Tri-Star Grand Slam, Burnham Market, in 2016. Picture by Smudge 9000 via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

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    A sport psychologist’s top confidence tips to improve your riding

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    Looking to improve your riding? Connfidence is often key to success. Jo Davies, a sports psychologist, shares with Julie Harding her top strategies for remaining positive in the saddle.

    1. Be aware of your confidence sources and write them down

    Analyse what helps you to feel confident — it may be a friend coming along to help at a competition, walking a cross-country course twice, using imagery, etc. Unless you know what these sources are it will be very hard to feel confident.

    2. Write down your strengths

    What is it that enables you to successfully complete a task? Focus both on yourself as a rider and on your partnership with your horse. For example, if you are thinking of hacking along a new route where there are big open spaces, what would make you feel confident about riding in that environment? It may be past experiences or skills you have acquired that mean you have the resources to deal with the horse becoming strong and excitable.

    3. Achieve balance

    Imagine an old fashioned set of weighing scales. On one side, place the demands of the task (both the goals and your interpretation of what you have to do) and on the other side put the resources that mean you are up to the demands of the task, which will be your strategies, skill sets and experiences. Ideally, you want the scales to balance.

    4. Be realistic

    Getting these imaginary scales to balance means that you need to set realistic and personally controllable goals. To do this, you need to identify the outcome you would like to achieve, such as a clear show jumping round, and then break down the process in which you attempt to achieve it — for example, focusing on keeping a good rhythm and using the corners through your round. Planning these smaller processes makes us feel more confident because they are elements over which we can have control.

    5. Find your buzzwords

    When you set process goals, such as keeping a good rhythm in the show jumping, using corners and not looking down, that becomes a lot to remember. Instead turn each goal into a short, memorable word, so in this scenario it would be ‘rhythm’, ‘corners’, ‘up’. Such language helps you to stay in the moment and when we are in the present, we are inevitably more confident.

    6. Reflect on the language you use

    Do you tend to say to yourself, ‘I must jump a double clear round’? This instantly turns your goal into a threat and puts you under intense pressure.

    If you tend to say ‘don’t look down into the ditch’ or ‘don’t fall off’, your brain ignores the word ‘don’t’ and immediately thinks of the worst case scenario, such as looking down or falling off.

    Internal dialogue can often be unhelpful. Imagine if you said your thoughts aloud — they would sound pretty harsh. Instead, think about how a coach might talk to you or think, ‘how would I communicate this advice to someone else’. The interpretation will inevitably be more helpful.

    7. Keep a helpful perspective on things

    Some riders can get caught up in the minutiae of the task. So ask yourself: is it the end of the world if I don’t achieve a clear show jumping round? Sometimes I ask riders to picture their worse case scenario — maybe their horse getting bouncy and sharp meaning that they don’t do well at a competition.

    I get them to rate that on a scale of 0-100%, 100% being the worst that could happen, and then we discuss what could be even worse, such as losing a loved one or having their precious possessions stolen. That helps to put perspective on their worst case equine scenario.

    8. Accept that it is normal not to be confident 100% of the time

    Even professional riders aren’t. You will always have helpful and unhelpful thoughts, so use your mind as a filter. To offset your negative thoughts, review your good experiences.

    9. Picture what you want

    Try to influence your subconscious brain by imagining what you want to happen, but make the image realistic. So if, for example, you are planning to hack your horse in a big, open space where he might get excited, bring that into the image but also how you will react. Maybe you will be taking deep breaths and rubbing his withers to keep him calm.

    In imaginings, the environment and the horse’s behaviour don’t have to be perfect, but you can turn it into a positive if you deal with what you encounter in a proactive way.

    10. Reflect on how you review your performance

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    Do you tend to pick out the negative, such as thinking of the one fence you had down and not the 11 you left up? Instead, try to review in a balanced way — so the positives and the negatives of that show jumping round.

    By using this method, you will identify strategies to use next time and you will also recognise what may need to be improved through work with your trainer.

    For more information about Jo Davies, log on to www.jdpsychology.co.uk

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    Why racing blips are not tragedies

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    This time last week, I reflected on a genuine tragedy — the devastating loss of Many Clouds.

    This week, we face up to the news that two more of Willie Mullins’ stable stars, namely Min and Faugheen, are out of the Festival.

    Frustrating as this is, not least for punters but much more so for connections, it is a long way short of a tragedy and I have been irritated of late by those who have resorted to hyperbole to describe the turn of events.

    Faugheen is a champion hurdler and Min is an undoubtedly talented novice chaser, but the perils of National Hunt racing dictate that appointments will be missed, even the most important on course appointments of the season.

    I feel sorry for Willie Mullins, of whom I have written a great deal and seldom disguised my admiration, but his strokes of bad luck are blips rather than terminal distress.

    Let’s not allow ourselves to wail and rage about events that are every bit as much part of the fabric of our sport as anything else. Faugheen and Min will be back, and hopefully on a track near you soon. Tragically, Many Clouds will not.

    Champion hurdle lacks the wow factorSay non to regressive French thinking

    An awful lot of comment has appeared since the French authorities announced at the weekend that female jockeys would get a weight allowance in some races.

    I’ve little desire to tire you with extended thoughts, principally because the likelihood of it being implemented this side of The Pond anytime soon is slim to none.

    It is, however, a regressive step. The standard of female jockeys is improving at a proportionately faster rate than their male equivalents, in my non-scientific opinion. Trajectories are closing and yet this artificial crutch fails to grasp that change.

    It’s a daft idea and one we should be pleased is gaining next to no traction here in Blighty.

    Beware silly season

    We are about to enter silly season. Silly season is, of course, the month-long period of tediously dull Cheltenham Festival preview evenings when panellists vie with each other for who can show off that they’ve done the most homework in front of a dedicated audience, who remember that once upon a time an unmemorable panellist tipped a forgotten Festival winner at a big price.

    They return in their droves to pubs, halls and cavernous arenas in the hope of hearing a secret snippet. They leave with over a hundred tips and realise they could have got it all on social media during a break in Corrie.

    My advice? If you’ve not signed up, don’t worry about it unless you fancy meeting your pals there for a pint. And if you have signed up, take a pillow.

    Will to win at Newbury

    This weekend, we’re off to Newbury, which is rapidly throwing off its cloak of being one of my least inspiring race day experiences and surging up the league table in my affections.

    The team in Berkshire are in great form, with fresh ideas, classy new developments and an eye most certainly on a very bright racing future.

    This weekend’s Betfair Hurdle allows those of us who were smitten with WILLIAM H BONNEY a fortnight ago at Cheltenham to go in again at 8/1 or thereabouts. He may still have more to come and conditions should be absolutely ideal.

    Image: Faugheen, by Tim Anthony via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0

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    The new Olympic format — will it work?

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    BY coming up with a formula designed to boost global participation in horse sports at future Olympic Games, has the FEI, the international governing body for equestrian disciplines, shot itself in the foot where safety is concerned — particularly with regard to eventing, that most risky of all horse sports?

    “More nations” is the mantra of the International Olympic Committee and the FEI couldn’t ignore this call, always dreading equestrianism’s axing from the globe’s greatest sporting show. But it faced a problem: the number of riders allowed across the three disciplines would still have to remain at 200.

    Eventing’s concerns

    Of course, it would be commendably inclusive to see many new nations fielding eventing teams at Tokyo in 2020, but the reality is less straightforward. Emerging nations tend to lack the competition infrastructure to practice their sport (if it exists at all), nor do they have the horsepower, experienced trainers, funding — the list is long.

    Eventing is a complex sport in which the stars hone their skills over decades rather than mere months and years. By electing to favour inclusion, a two-tier sport is created where the ‘also rans’ are in danger not only of being outclassed by the opposition (which is inevitable), but also by the solid cross-country fences — even though the Games has now been turned into an official three-star affair. A fatality in eventing in Tokyo is unthinkable, but should one occur it would likely guarantee the sport’s immediate exclusion.

    And what about horse welfare? Will a team member under enormous pressure on the cross-country (now proposed at a more intense 126m per jumping effort) push an excessively tired or a faltering horse on to the finish line knowing their score must count, or will they take risks at fences that they wouldn’t take if there was a fourth team member waiting in the startbox?

    How substitutes might work has yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure — this won’t be eventing as we know it.

    Jumping’s battles

    The three-man team in show jumping was supported overwhelmingly by national federations in a vote at last year’s FEI General Assembly — but unanimously slated by the world’s leading riders. Indeed, many federations voted against their riders’ wishes.

    The International Jumping Riders Club is incensed, reporting that not only are competitors not being listened to, but “non-active federations are favoured at the expense of those who work tirelessly for the sport”.

    Olympic show jumping is made exciting and nail-biting thanks to the skills of the best competitors and their outstanding horses. Introduce the less experienced for the sake of inclusion and you risk accidents, welfare issues, ugly pictures on camera and a mundane contest, particularly with the course designer facing pressure to dumb down his tracks.

    Dressage: like watching paint dry?

    The sport least affected by the changes will be dressage, but everything is relative. Come 2020, there will be a number of brilliant protagonists left watching from the comfort of their homes to make space for a broader range of competitors.

    How will this ‘rejuvenated’ dressage be received by TV viewers and the paying public in the stands when a clutch of riders lacking the panache of Charlotte Dujardin, Isabell Werth or Helen Langehanenberg bumble their way through a test?

    Presumably, there will be much gnashing of teeth, changing of channels or the TV set will be emphatically switched to off. Worse, the audiences in the stands will vote with their feet and leave in droves, although perhaps not in Tokyo — the Japanese are too polite to do this.

    There is an indescribable magic in the performances of the sport’s stars. Surely it isn’t right that many of them will now not be able to secure a plane ticket to Tokyo?

    Horse sports face monumental change to cling on to their Olympic slots. Perhaps those changes could have been better constructed.

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