Ahead of Jonbon's hurdling debut at Newbury, John Ingles looks at how the most expensive jumps horses have fared under Rules
The 155,000 guineas paid at Doncaster in 1994 for the Triumph Hurdle winner Mysilv doesn’t seem very much compared with the sort of sums which regularly change hands for top jumping 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 hurdles for David Nicholson and the Million In Mind syndicate and she went on to give her new group of owners, the Elite Racing Club, plenty of thrills too. She won five more races in the care of her new trainer Charlie Egerton, including the Tote Gold Trophy and the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock.
She also finished second in the 1996 Stayers’ Hurdle (just two days after contesting the Champion Hurdle) and on her final start later that year was also runner-up in the French Champion Hurdle.
In the space of ten years, though, the value of top jumping prospects rocketed, so that when another Million In Mind horse went through the Doncaster ring in 2004, it took a bid of 530,000 guineas for J. P. McManus to secure Garde Champetre.
He’d completed his novice hurdle season for Paul Nicholls by winning the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, beating Monet’s Garden and Inglis Drever among others. McManus initially sent Garde Champetre to Jonjo O’Neill for whom he made appearances at the next two Cheltenham Festivals, though his only success in those two seasons came in a novice chase at Carlisle. But Garde Champetre ultimately did prove a Cheltenham Festival winner – twice – though presumably his owner had Gold Cups rather than cross-country chases in mind when signing the cheque for him.
Switched to Enda Bolger, Garde Champetre went on to win ten cross-country chases, including a La Touche Cup at Punchestown in addition to his two wins at the Festival.
At least both Mysilv and Garde Champetre had form in the book when changing hands for record-breaking sums. But a lot has changed since then in the way top jumping prospects are bought and sold. Nowadays, the most expensive jumpers which change hands tend to do so at boutique sales, untried under Rules and often as the winners of their only starts in Irish points.
Such was the profile of J. P. 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 beforehand by 15 lengths, but his pedigree was also a major selling point as a full brother to Douvan who won his first 13 starts after joining Willie Mullins from France, including the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Arkle at Cheltenham, and became an outstanding chaser.
Jonbon didn’t disappoint when landing the odds on his debut for McManus and Nicky Henderson in a bumper at Newbury last March and is due to take another important step in his career when making his hurdling debut at the same course on Friday. Only time will tell how much further he goes towards living up to his price-tag. But even if he never wins another race, Jonbon has achieved more for his new owner than the horse who previously held the record as the most expensive pointer.
That was Flemenshill who was bought to join Colin Tizzard’s stable for £480,000 at Cheltenham in January 2017. Sadly, Flemenshill suffered a heart attack during exercise at home that summer before he had ever run for his new connections.
When you consider that the latest Cheltenham Gold Cup was worth ‘only’ around £260,000 to the winner, it’s pretty clear that the chances of any of the most expensive jumpers ever earning in prize money what they cost at auction are slim at best. Given that most are geldings, there’s no opportunity for them at stud to recoup the investment either.
But for wealthy owners in a position to buy the top prospects, breaking even or making a profit from their hobby isn’t necessarily a priority. Flemenshill’s late owner Alan Potts no doubt summed up the philosophy of many of the other leading owners of jumpers when he said that racing was ‘how we spend the 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 success stories too among the most expensive jumpers.
Perhaps the best example at present is Cheveley Park Stud’s Envoi Allen who had setbacks at Cheltenham and Punchestown but otherwise remains unbeaten in the dozen races he’s completed. In fact, another win would probably take him close to his earnings matching the £400,000 paid for him after he too won his only start in points.
Their most expensive acquisition to date, though, is Classic Getaway, who was bought for exactly the same amount as Jonbon just a month later. Like Jonbon, Classic Getaway has won a bumper on his 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 ranks. The distinction of being the most expensive jumper to change hands goes to Interconnected.
At £220,000 he was by no means a cheap purchase out of the pointing field himself but made only one start for Nicky Henderson, finishing second in a novice hurdle at Newbury, before owners Mike Grech and Stuart Parkin dispersed their string at Doncaster in May 2019.
The successful bid, at £620,000, came from Darren Yates, who was quoted afterwards as saying ‘it’s not really a record I enjoy holding, but I’m very happy with the horse. For me, he’s got Gold Cup written all over him.’ Those Gold Cup hopes haven’t lasted long, though.
Two and a half years later, Interconnected has now been beaten at short odds in all four of his starts for Dan Skelton, and is now with Phil Kirby after finishing second on his most recent start in a three-runner novice on his chasing debut at Uttoxeter in May.
Further proof that big-money purchases don’t always live up to their owners’ aspirations comes from the case of St James’s Square. Maiden hurdles clearly weren’t on the agenda when M. V. Magnier paid $2.4m for the son of War Front out of a Grade 1 winner at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2018.
That made him the most expensive lot of the entire sale. But after finishing down the field on the Flat on his only start for Aidan O’Brien, he’s fared no better in three attempts over hurdles this year for Ballydoyle vet John Halley.
At least until Irish pointers start changing hands for seven-figure sums rather than six, that almost certainly makes St James’s Square the most expensive horse to have run over jumps.