Horse & Hound

Sales File Q&A
By Edward Prosser – January 2005

Having bought the likes of Dancing Brave, Rainbow Quest, Ela-Mana-Mou, Lear Fan, Young Generation and Kalaglow as yearlings, James Delahooke boasts as a good a record as any current bloodstock agent. After 30 years as an agent, he reflects on a troubled round of bloodstock sales in 2004 and looks forward to this year.

What was your assessment of last year’s sales?
The overproduction that had been building steadily over the last ten to 15 years finally broke the dam. I looked back at my 1977 catalogues and there were almost twice as many yearlings offered at the main European sales in 2004. There are many good owners but not twice as many as in 1977, there’s no reason there should be. The numbers completely overwhelmed the available money to buy them and it became like a postcode lottery – there were certain days at sales which were quite strong because particular people were in town but other occasions when equally nice horses couldn’t find a buyer because there was nobody around. It made life easier for me as a buyer but it’s not healthy for the trade as a whole

Which were the strongest and weakest sales?
I didn’t go to Doncaster and Deauville, which were the strongest European sales but thereafter it quickly became apparent that there were too many horses on the ground for people to buy. It used to be the Houghton was best, then the Goffs Cartier Million followed by Tattersalls October. But the quality at Goffs was extremely disappointing because all the Irish pinhookers wanted to sell for sterling not euros. The American market was unaffected, racing there is vast and commercial, the owners get a much better deal with prize money. Their market is going forward while our’s is going sideways at present.

What about the sales format?
Tattersalls were trying to sell too many horses in too short a space of time – there’s a limit to how many horses we can cope with day after day. It was physically impossible because of the Park Paddocks layout to give that number a proper assessment, the breeders and pinhookers got hurt. I’ve always tried to look at every horse but it’s becoming impossible. If you’re mad enough, you could be at a sale just about every day from September 1 until Christmas. If Tattersalls are going to be a week after Goffs, they need a bigger gap in between. The two companies have to work together because if they don’t nobody benefits.

How do you see it going in 2005?
There are still massive numbers of yearlings and in utero foals, so the same problems will exist. I hope some people will find it hard to get their horses into a sale – it needs to happen to bring them to their senses. Sales companies need to limit numbers because they are taking money under false pretenses, we can’t see these horses and those people don’t get a fair crack of the whip. There’s got to be more culling to get back to stability. Breeders are great optimists and I think it might take a couple more years of pain before the penny drops. Our export market is strong but it’s sad that when someone has a good horse he has to sell to balance the books. The accountants keep telling people to sell the colts and race the fillies as yearlings. But I have one client who has bred some very good horses worth a lot now. He sold them as yearlings for what seemed quite good money at the time but had he raced them he would be much better off.

How have things changed in your time?
I became an agent in 1975 and there are barely any people still selling now who were then. There were no consignors, breeders sold their own horses, but small people selling their own home-breds are now at a disadvantage. It’s similar with agents, other than the teams acting for David Robinson and Lady Beaverbook, everyone was doing their own thing. Now the majority are bought by bloodstock agents. The sales companies also used to be very rude and autocratic but are now more user friendly.

Were the British and American codes of conduct needed?
The good guys will carry on doing a good job, the fact it’s written on a bit of paper won’t make any difference. There possibly was more of a need in America, where some things were happening that shouldn’t have been and hopefully this will stamp them out. But bloodstock has always been conducted with a great degree of trust and integrity, deals for millions are done on a handshake and the game is as straight as a die unlike many other businesses.

Any remaining ambitions?
I’d dearly like to buy a Derby winner, I’ve been second and third a few times in the race. That and a date with Maria Sharapova and I could retire a happy man!