How have the most expensive showjumpers fared?

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Ahead of Jonbon’s hurdles debut at Newbury, John Ingles looks at how the most expensive showjumpers have fared under the rules

The 155,000 guineas paid in Doncaster in 1994 for the Triumph Hurdle winner Mysilv does not seem very much compared to the kind of buzz that regularly changes hands to top jumper prospects these days, but back then it made her the most expensive jumper ever sold at auction.

Mysilv had won six of her seven starts over obstacles for David Nicholson and the Million In Mind Syndicate, and she continued to give her new group of owners, Elite Racing Club, plenty of excitement as well. She won five more races in the care of her new coach Charlie Egerton, including the Tote Gold Trophy and the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock.

She also finished in second place in the 1996 Stayers’ Hurdle (only two days after competing in the Champion Hurdle) and on her last start later that year, she also finished second in the French Champion Hurdle.

“You know what they say when Denman looks you in the eye” – Daryl Jacob on Diamond Harry’s Hennessy

Over the course of ten years, however, the value of the top jump prospects rose sharply, so when another Million In Mind horse passed through the Doncaster Ring in 2004, it required a bid of 530,000 guineas for JP McManus to secure Garde Champetre.

He had completed his novice hedge season for Paul Nicholls by winning the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, where he beat Monet’s Garden and Inglis Drever among others. McManus originally sent Garde Champetre to Jonjo O’Neill, for whom he performed at the next two Cheltenham festivals, though his only success in those two seasons came in a novice hunt at Carlisle. But Garde Champetre ultimately proved a Cheltenham Festival winner – twice – even though his owner probably had the Gold Cups in mind instead of cross-country chases when he signed the check for him.

The switch to Enda Bolger won Garde Champetre ten cross-country hunts, including a La Touche Cup in Punchestown in addition to his two victories at the festival.

Both Mysilv and Garde Champetre at least had form in the book when they changed hands for record sums. But much has changed since then in the way top-jump prospects are bought and sold. Today, the most expensive jumpers who change hands tend to do so at boutique sales, untested under the rules and often as winners of their only starts in Irish points.

Such was the profile of JP McManus’ latest record purchase, Jonbon, a four-year-old whose sale for £ 570,000 at Goffs UK November Sale last year made him the most expensive pointer sold at public auction. Jonbon won his point at Dromahane shortly before with 15 lengths, but his pedigree was also a big selling point as a full brother to Douvan, who won his first 13 starts after joining Willie Mullins from France, including Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Arkle in Cheltenham, and became an excellent chaser.

Jonbon did not disappoint when he landed the odds on his debut for McManus and Nicky Henderson in a bumper at Newbury last March, and he will have to take another important step in his career when he made his hurdle debut on the same track on Friday. Only time will tell how much longer he goes to live up to his price tag. But even though he never wins another race, Jonbon has achieved more for his new owner than the horse that previously held the record as the most expensive pointer.

“When I was a kid, he was the first horse I really connected with” – Ladbrokes Trophy recalls

It was Flemenshill who was bought to join Colin Tizzard’s stable for £ 480,000 at Cheltenham in January 2017. Unfortunately, Flemenshill suffered a heart attack during training at home that summer before ever running after his new connections.

When you consider that the recent Cheltenham Gold Cup was ‘only’ worth around £ 260,000 for the winner, it’s pretty clear that the chances of any of the most expensive jumpers ever earning in prize money are what they cost at the auction, at best are poor. Since most are geldings, there is also no possibility for them on breeding to get the investment back.

But for wealthy owners who are able to buy the best leads, break-even or monetizing their hobby is not necessarily a priority. Flemenshill’s late owner Alan Potts undoubtedly summed up the philosophy of many of the other leading owners of jumpers when he said that racing was “how we spend our money, not how we earn it.”

Flemenshill’s fate is a reminder that all horses, regardless of value, are prone to illness or injury, but there are also success stories among the most expensive jumpers.

Perhaps the best example at the moment is the Cheveley Park Stud’s Allen send who had setbacks in Cheltenham and Punchestown, but otherwise remains undefeated in the dozens of races he has completed. In fact, another win would likely bring him close to his earnings equivalent to the £ 400,000 paid to him after he also won his only start in points.

Cheveley Park’s second winner of Champion Bumper Ferny Hollow cost £ 300,000 while their Ladbrokes Trophy entry Ontheropes had been a purchase of £ 240,000.

Their most expensive acquisition to date, however, is Classic getaway, which was purchased for exactly the same amount as Jonbon just a month later. Like Jonbon, Classic Getaway has won a bumper on its only start since his sale, winning by 15 lengths at Tipperary in May for Willie Mullins.

But Jonbon and Classic Getaway are only the most expensive purchases from the point-to-point range. The difference of being the most expensive jumper to change hands goes to Paired.

At £ 220,000, he was by no means a cheap buy out of the track himself, but started just a single start for Nicky Henderson, finishing second in a rookie hurdle at Newbury before owners Mike Grech and Stuart Parkin spread their strings at Doncaster in May 2019.

The successful bid of £ 620,000 came from Darren Yates, who was subsequently quoted as saying ‘it’s not really a record I enjoy holding, but I’m very happy with the horse. For me, he has the Gold Cup written over him. ‘ However, these Gold Cup hopes have not lasted long.

Two and a half years later, Interconnected has now been beaten with short odds in all four of its starts for Dan Skelton, and is now alongside Phil Kirby after finishing second on his most recent start in a three-run novice on his chasing debut at. Uttoxeter in May.

Further evidence that buying big money does not always live up to their owners’ hopes comes from the case of St James’s Square. Maiden obstacles were clearly not on the agenda when MV Magnier paid $ 2.4 million for the son of the War Front out of a Class 1 winner at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2018.

That made him the most expensive batch of all the sales. But after finishing the field at Flat on his only start for Aidan O’Brien, he has not fared better in three attempts over obstacles this year for Ballydoyle vet John Halley.

At least until Irish pointers start switching hands to seven-figure amounts instead of six, it almost certainly makes St James’s Square the most expensive horse that has run over jumps.

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