Author: John Berry
GODOLPHIN looks set to have its first runner in a Magic Millions 2yo Classic at the weekend after Exhilarates secured herself a place in the field by scoring at the Gold Coast on Saturday. The daughter of Snitzel and 2012 Blue Diamond Stakes heroine Samaready won cosily by nearly two lengths, taking a race which was won by the subsequent Magic Millions Classic winner in the past two seasons, Sunlight having taken it last year and Houtzen in 2017. If Exhilarates, who cost $600,000 at last year’s Magic Millions Gold Coast January Yearling Sale, can take this hugely competitive feature race, it will be yet another box ticked for the buoyant royal blue team.
The Magic Millions can be regarded as the great survivor. Rewind to the mid ‘80s, and all was good with the international economy (or so it seems when viewed through the rose tinted glasses which we call hindsight). The movie ‘Wall Street’ summed it up: money was plentiful and, to borrow the famous phrase of Michael Douglas’ character Gordon Gecko, greed was good. It is a sobering thought that the world record price for a yearling is still the $13,100,000 paid for Seattle Dancer in 1985, despite the fact that most things cost roughly four times as much nowadays as they did at that time. Similarly startling is the fact that Sadler’s Wells’ first season stud fee in 1985 (125,000 Irish guineas) was a figure remarkably similar to Frankel’s first season fee in 2013 (£125,000).
And Sadler’s Wells hadn’t even been the best 3yo in his own stable in 1984. (That honour, of course, was held by El Gran Senor, who retired to stud in Kentucky at a fee of $200,000, which equated to roughly £159,000). In these heady times, the idea of a million dollar race was as intoxicating as the notion of landing a man on the moon had been in the 1960s. Arlington Park in Chicago had put on the world’s first million dollar race in 1981, when John Henry had landed the inaugural Arlington Million under Willie Shoemaker. (There was a certain irony in the fact that, at a time when the stallion business was starting to drive racing’s economy, the first million dollar race was won by a 6yo gelding who had been sold for $1,100 as a yearling.
The irony was subsequently redoubled when John Henry won the race again in 1984 as a 9yo gelding. He was voted Horse of the Year in each of those years, in 1981 gaining the honour unanimously, a feat which was not achieved for another 34 years until American Pharoah was the unanimous choice for the main Eclipse Award in 2015). As the ‘80s progressed, two sales companies decided to put on a million dollar race, in each case the plan underpinned by the fact that it would be restricted to graduates of its yearling sale, with the sale and the race each boosting the finances of the other. In Ireland Goffs created the Cartier Million, its million pound race boosted by the sponsorship of Cartier.
The Cartier Million really was a big thing at the time (as was the Goffs Yearling Sale from which its runners had all graduated, the sale, a black tie affair, having much more glamour than one tends to find at Thoroughbred auctions) and it seemed initially to be a big success. Tommy Stack won the inaugural Cartier Million in 1988 with the Stephen Craineridden Corwyn Bay and Dermot Weld took it the second year when The Caretaker (subsequently the dam of Godophin’s 1999 St Leger winner Mutafaweq) scored under Mick Kinane. However, in the wider world boom was turning to bust, and the project soon died a death. The mirror image Down Under of Goffs’ Cartier Million was the Magic Millions race and sale in Queensland.
The late Carl Waugh, who owned a stud near Toowoomba, used to muse that it was a shame that Queensland did not have a sale to match the more prestigious auctions down south. So many of us muse that something should be done about something, but very rarely do we take action. Carl Waugh took action, though. In the early ‘80s he started running a yearling sale in the Brisbane Showgrounds, with a race attached for its graduates. The race, the Golden Nugget, was held at the Gold Coast, with a prep race at Toowoomba. After a few years, the sale was moved to the Gold Coast and the race was renamed the Magic Millions Classic, with the massive prize fund which its name implies. The inaugural Magic Millions Classic, run on 10 January 1987, was won by a wonderful horse: Snippets, who had been sold as a yearling for $22,000 12 months previously.
He was trained locally by Sally Rodgers, and this was just the fairytale beginning which the race needed. Snippets went on to win a Group One race later that season (having been transferred to the stable of the late Max Lees, who trained at Newcastle in New South Wales) and two more the following term, and then to become a very successful stallion, firstly at Trans Media Park and then at Arrowfield. He still features prominently in many good horses’ pedigrees to this day, most notably as the maternal grandsire of Australia’s reigning Champion Sire Snitzel. The quality of the yearlings being offered at the Magic Millions Sale continued to rise, and the race kept being won by good horses. However, as the boom of the ‘80s became the recession of the ‘90s, the Magic Millions company experienced the same trouble that had befallen Goffs’ Cartier Million project.
It too looked like coming to an end but, happily, Gerry Harvey bought the company out of receivership in 1998, soon had it going again and has subsequently turned it into everything that Carl Waugh had dreamed it might be, and more besides. Under the stewardship of Gerry Harvey (a very successful businessman who made his fortune with the Harvey Norman chain of electrical retailers, and whose flair for promotion matches his financial acumen) and his wife Katie Paige-Norman, the Magic Millions has flourished. It is now the bloodstock sales company not only of Queensland but also of Western Australia and South Australia, and in 2016 it achieved what even a few years previously would have seemed impossible, becoming Australia’s biggest auction house by virtue of achieving turnover for the year of $281,663,950.
It retains that position, and in 2018 its turnover was $366,452,150, with $157,950,000 of that being spent in Book One of its flagship Gold Coast January Yearling Sale, where the average last year was $225,878. The Magic Millions raceday now features not only the original Magic Millions 2yo Classic, but a whole card of valuable races for its graduates of all ages. Current stars who graduated from the sale include Winx and Redzel, while many of the most popular stallions in the country came out of it too, including Zoustar, Pierro, Sebring, Vancouver, Spirit Of Boom, Capitalist and Dissident. In the 17 years 2000 to 2016, ten Golden Slippers were won by graduates of a Magic Millions Gold Coast sale, while the January Yearling Sale has also produced the Melbourne Cup winners Subzero and Shocking.
Underpinning the success of the sale, over and above the quality of the horses on offer, is that it is fun. The Harveys have put their heart and soul into making the sale what it is, and Harvey seems to make their colossal achievement look easy, as he explains: “It’s just a matter of promotion. You can have tradition, and there are good things about that, but you have to mix it with technology, innovation and promotion. It’s theatre. You’re selling theatre. When people come to the Magic Millions, we’re putting on a show for them. They bring the family, they all go to the sales and to the races, and they say, ‘This is terrific! What a difference!’ “We’re out there selling the dream. We get people excited and, of course, they want to buy a horse. We create theatre, and we do it better than anyone in the world.” Visitors to the Gold Coast this week will surely agree. And if Exhilarates can win the big race on Saturday, then Godolphin will again be topping the bill on one of the very biggest stages.