Robin Oakley

The turf | 13 December 2008

Quality check

The clatter of hooves in the stable yard, the smell of the work riders’ bacon butties drifting in the air. Warmly wrapped trainers and bloodstock agents scratching at their catalogues. Horses breezing in pairs down the Kempton straight in the misty early morning. When CNN sent me out last Friday to see what effect the recession was having on horse-racing I have rarely had such a concatenation of work and pleasure.

With some people it is boot sales. Others trot regularly along to Crufts or watch the Antiques Road Show every weekend. In my case, I fear, I am becoming addicted to horse auctions. Which has led to more than a little debate with the normally indulgent Mrs Oakley. We had, for example, discussed improving our lifestyle by trading down from the four-storey Château Oakley in a leafy London square. Can’t be done. Tumbling house prices. What about realising some of those savings which have so far been kept out of the clutches of the Tote and Messrs Hills and Coral? Sorry, the markets are so low it would be crazy. Oh, blow it then, let’s go for a good holiday. Now? With the pound in shreds against almost any currency you care to name…

The financial gremlins really have got us by the short and curlies in every way. Which brings me back to horse sales. The breeders and consignors’ faces at Kempton were almost uniformly glum, though not perhaps as glum as the faces of those trainers who had dived in and bought on spec at early summer sales in Deauville and Doncaster and still haven’t got an owner for their yearlings.

One friend on Friday night picked up for £10,000 a horse which had been through the ring a few months earlier for £30,000, the seller virtually in tears.

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