Author: Howard Wright

WHAT PRICE A piece of sporting history? Of course, it all depends on what anyone is prepared to pay, but the answer last week for a few of the items put up for auction at a specialist memorabilia sale in London was slightly less than some of the experts had anticipated. Graham Budd, who runs his own auction business in north London, has been conducting a sale of sporting memorabilia every November for many years, gradually building up the range of sports involved but always beginning with horse racing. Normally, it is standing room only at the world famous Sotheby’s sale room in Mayfair’s New Bond Street for the event, with interested bystanders taking up as much space as those seriously intent on bidding. This year, though, as we have said repeatedly about nearly every aspect of life, has been nowhere near normal, and Budd’s auction, spread over three days last week, was no exception.

However, just as the great European bloodstock auction houses of Tattersalls, Goffs and Arqana have found, modern technology has been harnessed to keep sales going. Not only can the auctions themselves be filmed live, but bids can be made online, to augment the usual activity by telephone. Praise be for wi-fi and computers, which brought the Budd auction alive through audio and preserved its continuity, while also providing opportunities for those who seemed to have taken the opportunity of lockdown to clear out their attics and store cupboards. One of those who appeared to have taken the chance to rationalise was Lester Piggott, but more of that shortly. Of the 211 horse racing lots catalogued, two of the more interesting came just beyond halfway but, unlike when horses are led up for public sale, they were advertised without the name of a vendor. However, these two lots were clearly connected, as they were the Godolphin silks worn by Frankie Dettori on Sakhee when winning the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 2001 and on Dubawi when winning the Irish 2000 Guineas in 2005.

The Sakhee silks were signed by Dettori, and according to the auctioneer’s details, each was ‘sold with a letter of provenance from the consignor’. So, unlike some of those horseshoes that come up for sale and are reckoned to have been worn on a particular day by the winner of a big race, with so many on the market that the horse must have had eight or more feet, these were the genuine article. Each represented a magnificent part of Godolphin history. Sakhee, who was second to Sinndar in the 2000 Derby, when owned by Sheikh Hamdan and trained by John Dunlop, proved a revelation the following year, when transferred to Godolphin and Saeed bin Suroor. He opened the season with a smooth success in a Listed race at Newbury before winning the Juddmonte International and Arc de Triomphe, and going down by a nose to Tiznow in the Breeder’s Cup Classic, to be judged the European champion of the year. 

Reverting to Sheikh Hamdan’s colours, things did not quite fall into place for Sakhee the following year, when after winning his Dubai World Cup prep race, he was well beaten into third place behind Godolphin’s Street Cry and was retired after one more run, when second at long odds on in a Deauville Group Three race, running a stone below his best. Sakhee spent his stallion career at Sheikh Hamdan’s Nunnery Stud, and his best offspring were the globetrotter Presvis and the July Cup winner Sakhee’s Secret. While Sakhee can be judged only an average success at stud, last week’s other Godolphin silks bearer, Dubawi, has been a runaway sensation for Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley operation. At the last count, 20 of his progeny were rated 120 or above, a phenomenal achievement that continues to bear fruit, with his latest star, Ghaiyyath, the highest rated of all on 130 and due to be crowned 2020 world champion in a few weeks’ time. Dubawi’s standing was reaffirmed last week, when Darley announced their stallion stud fees for 2021 and he retained his peak sum of £250,000.

For £248,500 less, it was possible to buy the silks his jockey wore in the Irish 2000 Guineas. Both sets brought an auctioneer’s estimate of £2,000 to £3,000. Sakhee’s sold for £1,600 and Dubawi’s for £1,500. As with the vendors, buyers at the Graham Budd Auction remain anonymous, so there is no knowing, publicly at least, where the Godolphin silks will appear next. The same goes for a veritable treasure trove of 60 items that Lester Piggott decided he no longer wanted to give house room to. Seeking publicity for the sale, the auctioneer had no hesitation in ascribing the collection to Piggott himself. One lot had belonged to his grandfather Ernie Piggott, the jockey’s trophy for winning the 1919 Grand National on Poethlyn, which made exactly the lower mark of the auctioneer’s estimate of £8,000. Another was the trophy presented to his father Keith Piggott on winning the 1963 Grand National with Ayala, which failed to make the bottom end of the estimate of between £8,000 and £10,000, at £7,500, which may have Ayala’s jockey, Abu Dhabi supremo Pat Buckley, polishing his own trophy in anticipation. The rest of the Lester Piggott collection was extremely personal. It ranged from winning race and commemorative trophies to seasonal and lifetime awards, with one or two apparent fripperies thrown in. Unlike his grandfather’s and father’s trophies, the top end of his awards sold better than expected.

Two of his nine Derby trophies came on the market, the second and third, both with estimates of £5,000 to £7,000. The 1957 trophy won on Crepello fetched £20,000, while the 1960 trophy won by St Paddy made £17,000. The Lester connection was the premium, as it was with a couple of lots that far outstayed their estimate. A maroon silk jockey cap, presented to Piggott when he rode in an international competition involving eight top riders, including Willie Shoemaker, Steve Cauthen, Willie Carson and Pat Eddery, at Sandown in 1982, had an estimate of £100 to £150. It made £850. And the trophy Piggott collected for winning the Devizes Donkey Derby in 1955, which had an estimate of £80 to £120, went for £550, prompting auctioneer Budd to exclaim: “That must be a world record for a Donkey Derby trophy!” Someone somewhere will be proudly displaying the twin handled silver cup, standing 12cm high, on their mantlepiece. I hope they get as much pleasure from the acquisition as will the Yorkshireman who successfully bid for two pottery mugs commemorating the centenary of the St Leger in 1876. The successful commission bidder had been searching the pair for some time. I just hope they are safely stowed in the auctioneer’s strong room when I come out of lockdown and head off to collect them.