A - Z of New Zealand greats - Yearling sales

Tim Barton
23 July 2020

One of the most memorable occasions in New Zealand racing this century occurred away from the race track.

Instead, the drama played out in the sales ring at Karaka.

The NZ national yearling sale has been enthralling participants and spectators – and providing tales of triumph and disaster - since 1927, when the inaugural sale at Trentham produced an aggregate of 25,085 guineas, at an average of 363 guineas.

A year later, Phar Lap, the sale’s most famous graduate, was bought for 160 guineas.

But rarely, if ever, has the sale produced a spectacle to match the evening Cambridge Stud’s Zabeel-Diamond Lover colt, later named Don Eduardo, made $3.6 million in 2000.

It was a staggering price and the theatre matched the outcome.

It produced a bidding war that mirrored the intensity of a Federer-Nadal baseline duel, as two international bloodstock heavyweights vied for supremacy.

Robbie Waterhouse was bidding on behalf of UAE businessman Nasser Lootah, with Tik Tik Trinidad representing wealthy Filipino Eduardo Cojuangco, who owned Gooree Park Stud in Australia.

Both bidders were standing near the top of the auditorium, but on opposite sides, and auctioneer Simon Vivian was looking to his left and then his right, as Trinidad and Waterhouse swapped bids.

The colt was in the ring for almost six minutes before being sold for more than twice as much as any other yearling had made in New Zealand.  The previous record for a yearling in New Zealand had been $1.6 million and the Australian record at the time was A$1.5 million.

No youngster sold at Karaka since has come close to reaching even $3 million and it was another 13 years before Don Eduardo’s price was topped in Australia. The half-brother to unbeaten mare Black Caviar made A$5 million at the 2013 Sydney Easter sale, and a Fastnet Rock colt made A$4 million at the same sale.

However, Don Eduardo is still the third most expensive yearling sold in Australasia – without taking currency fluctuations into account - and no other Karaka entry has made more than $2.2 million.

The price for Don Eduardo far exceeded expectations and Trinidad and Waterhouse had knocked out all the other contenders when the bidding reached $1.6 million. Most of the bids from that point were in $50,000 increments and, between them, Trinidad and Waterhouse answered Vivian’s call more than 20 times.

But at $3.6m, Waterhouse sat down and accept defeat. “I can’t believe that we went to more than double the previous record price and still missed the horse,” he said in the aftermath. “Gai [Waterhouse, champion trainer and Robbie’s wife] said she had never seen a better yearling.”

Adding to the drama for Trinidad was that he lost his phone connection to Cojuangco as the bidding reached $3 million and had to redial, though he remained calm. “When I’m excited, I’m sharp,” he said. “And I knew roughly what our limit was.”

In any event, Trinidad was back in contact in time to gain approval for the winning bid. “It was our last bid, but I wasn’t too surprised by the price,” Trinidad said. “I thought he [the horse] would go for two to three million.

“You didn’t have to be a good judge to see that he was an outstanding horse. I was gobsmacked when I first saw him. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

Don Eduardo, who was trained by Lee Freedman, did better than most sale toppers by winning five races as a three-year-old, including the Group I AJC Derby and the Group II Autumn Stakes at Caulfield.

He did not win as a four-year-old but was placed in the Australian Cup and Underwood Stakes and retired to stud, in New Zealand, with earnings of A$1.7m.

Don Eduardo spent 10 seasons at Haunui Farm before returning to Gooree Park, where he is in semi-retirement but still available to broodmare owners.

He has had limited impact as a sire, leaving 12 stakeswinners, including the dual Group I winner Booming.

But he proved to be a much better buy then the two Australian colts who made higher prices as a yearling. Black Caviar’s half-brother had to be put down as a two-year-old, after suffering from laminitis, a tale of misfortune that is thought to have been triggered by a spider bite.

The $4 million Fastnet Rock-River Dove colt, who was named Emaratee, had two starts, for two seconds, before suffering a fatal heart attack as a four-year-old. Ironically, he was part-owned by Emirates Park owner Nasser Lootah, who had been the under-bidder on Don Eduardo.

The national sale was shifted from Trentham to a new complex at Karaka, near Auckland, in 1988 and New Zealand’s first million-dollar yearling came the following year, when the Sir Tristram-Surround colt from Cambridge Stud was sold to Japan for $1.2 million.

Another significant change came when Peter and Philip Vela bought the Karaka complex and bloodstock business from Wrightson Bloodstock in January 1997 and renamed the business New Zealand Bloodstock.

The national sale and associated Karaka Million race night at Ellerslie is now a feature event on the NZ sporting calendar.

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