Royal Ascot: Horse sale of the century comes with royal approval

Story highlights

  • Auction in grounds of Kensington Palace
  • Buy and race a horse at Ascot the next day
  • Mare of Frankel set to go up for sale
  • Five-star treatment for prospective buyers

(CNN)It's the equine sale of the century, where the rich and famous gather to spend over $1 million a time on horses and rub shoulders with royalty in the grounds of the home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The Goffs London Sale has become the unofficial curtain raiser to Royal Ascot, as well as a who's who of the horse-racing world and prospective horse owners.
Last year, 33 countries were represented at the sale and winning bidders have the unique chance to see their new purchase run in their own colors at the ensuing Royal Ascot.
    Henry Beeby is the chief executive of Goffs and will be the auctioneer-in-chief on Monday night at the orangery at Kensington Palace, situated in the heart of London.
    "This is a sale like no other," he explains.
    "It's unique in that we have horses with 19 entries into Royal Ascot, so you can have a horse run in your colors as soon as 24 hours later in some cases.
    "Also, it's not in the countryside but in the heart of London, in the grounds of a Royal Palace. Previously, we've had Princess of Michael of Kent here and she's been invited again so it's a chance to mix with royalty. It really is the most glamorous bloodstock sale in the world."
    Now in its fourth year, none of the lots have yet spawned a winner in the immediate days afterward at Ascot, although Beeby is hopeful "this year's the year."
    Bidding for success in Lexington, Kentucky
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      Bidding for success in Lexington, Kentucky


    Bidding for success in Lexington, Kentucky 06:12

    Frankel connection

    The inaugural event gained global notoriety as the place where the first foal from Frankel, a British thoroughbred horse that went undefeated during a 14-race career, was sold.
    The foal in question raised $1.25 million and there is again a Frankel theme to the fourth Goffs London sale with a mare in foal to the stallion set to be among the star lots on the night.
    The top prize to date for any purchase has been $1.66 million in both years one and three -- the star purchase a year ago being Jet Setting, which was purchased by the China Horse Club.
    Mick Flanagan is the European Racing and Bloodstock Manager for the CHC, which is made up of a number of wealthy Chinese businessmen.
    Last year, his primary focus was to buy a mare for breeding purposes, although the prospect of racing at Royal Ascot also appealed to his employers.
    "They love the idea of seeing their yellow and red colors -- that's part of the excitement," he said. "We would have loved a win on the day last year but you can't control that."
    Now in foal to a stallion called Le Havre, and a year on the CHC are planning on selling rather than buying.
    Up for sale from them is Lockheed, runner-up in the German Guineas, a winner at Goodwood and seen by Beeby as one of the auction's star lots.
    Having been purchased for the sole purpose of winning a Group 1 race, its owners have opted to part company. But Flanagan explained the horse, "is still a very good one and its new owners will have a lot of fun."
    Home to the sport of kings
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      Home to the sport of kings


    Home to the sport of kings 07:05

    Five-star treatment

    Part of the purpose of the Goffs London Sale, with its novel approach, is to appeal to new owners from around the globe. The Irish bloodstock firm is perpetually looking to widen the net.
    A case in point came last year from a prospective Japanese owner, who was running late for the auction. He arrived only in time for the last lot, bidding blind the sum of $200,000 to see his horse race at Ascot the next day.
    As one of the Goffs team explained: "It was basically so he could take his family to Ascot, get photos, show off to his mates and be in the winners' enclosure with the Queen."
    Quite which new owners will step up to the plate on Monday is another matter for the glamor event, whose sponsors include Rolls Royce, Selfridges, Claridge's Hotel, the private jet company VistaJet and winemaker Chateau Louebe.
    And prospective owners very much get the five-star treatment, whether being lured to the sale on a private jet, wined and dined at Claridge's or given a private tour of Selfridges on the morning of the auction.
    And Beeby has no idea quite how the sale will go this time around.
    "There's an adrenalin rush as you get closer to the sale," he added. "You've no idea what the top prize will be and that doesn't necessarily decide if the sale's been well received or not.
    "There were a few doubting Thomases when we started this, but now we're the unofficial curtain raiser to Royal Ascot. It's become a really aspirational event.
    "We've yet to have a winner at the ensuing Royal Ascot but that's what we're striving towards. We always love to see the horses we've sold fare well but you're only as good as your last sale."