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‘Charged’: How Yulong secured a foothold in a dynasty

It was no surprise to see big-spending Yulong buy the most anticipated filly of the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale. What was more surprising was the lengths they had to go to get her.

Lot 399, the $2.6 million filly by Zoustar out of Solar Charged, broke records on the Gold Coast. (Photo by Magic Millions)

Yearling sales are cacophonous things. Chaotic, loud, often dusty and smelly. People yell and horses squeal, buck, wheel and turn as the wind gets up and the auction bids pile in, hailed with the sporadic barking of the bid spotters.

The only time when anything approaching peace descends is when a star lot walks into the ring. Lot 399, the Zoustar filly from Widden Stud, was that star lot. She entered the ring as a sister to triple Group One winner Sunlight and to a colt which fetched the highest price, $3 million, in Australia last year. She exited as the most expensive yearling ever sold through the Gold Coast ring, purchased by Yulong Investments for $2.6 million.

Twenty minutes prior to her sale, auctioneer Clint Donovan is readying to assume his duties with a sense of relish in his voice that there might be a bit of history in the offing. With a voice like his, Donovan was either going to be an auctioneer or a singer. He is world class at the former and given the chance, usually at a karaoke bar, is happy to show his aptitude for the latter. That sense of the entertainer is perfect for a moment like this and is why he finds himself selling such a high-profile lot.

Donovan knows this filly’s family all too well. Of course, she had a famed pedigree, but his connection extends to having been the man at the dias when her dam Solar Charged sold to David Redvers in 2014. He was at the rostrum again in 2020 when Sunlight sold for a record price of $4.2 million at the 2020 Magic Millions Broodmare Sale.

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Clint Donovan oversees the record sale on Wednesday. (Photo by Magic Millions)

Sunlight holds off Zousain in the G1 Coolmore Stud Stakes of 2018. (Photo by Brett Holburt)

It tells you a bit about the mentality of the auctioneer that these are the thoughts running through his mind as he prepares to sell up to 10 yearlings, including the Zoustar filly, in his spell in charge of the ring.

Meanwhile at Widden’s barn nearby, final preparations are being made for the filly known as Lot 399. But it is clear from the crowd and cameras gathered around that this is not a typical preparation.

Widden principal Antony Thompson stomps about like an expectant father ahead of a daughter’s wedding. He musters staff and makes sure the final details are in place. Thompson’s own family has nurtured the spectacular country and some of Australia’s best thoroughbreds in the Widden Valley for over 150 years and it is times like this that the weight of such history clearly sits on Thompson’s shoulders. There is an overwhelming sense that he will be a much relieved man when it is over. 

The entire Widden team are there to see Lot 399 leave her stall. She is led out by Liam Attwood, who also was the man charged with leading her $3 million brother through the ring at Inglis’ Easter Yearling Sale last year.

By the time she reaches the pre-parade ring, the Widden staff, universal in their dark blue outfits with the words ‘Valley of Champions’ emblazoned across their backs, line the horse rail, getting their final glimpses before the filly becomes someone else’s.

Liam Attwood leads Lot 399, the $2.6 million filly, through the ring. (Photo by Magic Millions)

But, who is the question?

We are nearly 400 lots into the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale, and Tom Magnier, Coolmore’s Australia chief and the most renowned buyer of premier yearlings in Australia, has yet to put pen to paper.

In a market which has bulged in the middle but arguably thinned out at the top to this point of the sale, Magnier has kept his powder and his pen ink dry and expectation is that the Irish-backed outfit, who own both her $4.2 million sister and $3 million brother, will be the ones to win the day. 

Every time the Coolmore ‘lads’ gather together at their customary position at the side of the Gold Coast ring, expectations rise but to this point, Magnier’s hand has not.

With a bang of the hammer to herald her arrival, Donovan and the much anticipated yearling have the attention of the entire complex. Silence is a very unusual thing in an auction ring. It either indicates something has gone wrong, or something major is about to happen. This hush is the good type for Magic Millions.

“She is very likely to be the best filly to be offered in a sale ring in Australia this year,” is Donovan’s opening salvo.  

“She is royalty and she is quality personified.”

Bidding begins at $1 million and rapidly heads north. Magnier has a phone pressed to his ear, a sure sign that for this filly, he is very much at the table.

But it is clear the action is elsewhere. Tony McEvoy, who trained Sunlight, is in the thick of it, as are Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott. Yulong start out with their customary online bids, but as the intensity picks up and bidding sails past $2 million, that strategy is abandoned for the more traditional hand in the air.

Yuesheng Zhang after purchasing the record-breaking Zoustar filly. (Photo by Magic Millions)

Yuesheng Zhang’s massive and growing company have been setting broodmare auctions alight across the world for much of the past three years and so, given this filly’s residual value, it made perfect sense for them to be at the pointy end of this contest.

Given they paid $10.6 million for Group 1 winning mare Alcohol Free only a few months ago, the $2.6 million impost for getting a foothold into one of Australia’s best families seemed well within their means. It didn’t matter that it was a record number for the sale and the equal highest-price ever paid for a yearling filly in Australia. 

Zhang hurried off almost as soon as the docket was signed, leaving his Chief Operating Officer Sam Fairgray to answer the media.

Fairgray’s manner, as it often is, sits somewhere between honoured and apologetic for taking the spotlight.

“To have access to a filly like that, it doesn’t come along very often and it’s great to be able to secure her,” he says.

“Mr Zhang is delighted. We’ve bought some really nice pedigree mares and to be able to get a really nice yearling like this is exciting.

“Mr Zhang wants to keep building the quality so it is exciting times for Yulong and the industry with the investment in it.

“Quality, you can’t beat and she had all of that and whatever she does on the track will be a bonus with the residual she’s got there and with her sister’s breeding. The family doesn’t need to prove anything.”

Yulong Chief Operating Officer, Sam Fairgray, speaks to the media. (Photo by Magic Millions)

For Thompson, and his Widden team, it’s a monumental moment. Solar Charged, purchased at this sale ring for $650,000 as a broodmare nine years ago, has proven an extraordinarily successful investment for both Widden and Redvers, and the perfect combination for their stallion, Zoustar.

“We’re really excited to have Sisstar, the full sister, at home,’ Thompson said.

“She has a lovely I Am Invincible filly and is back in foal to ‘Vinnie’ and Solar Charged is in foal to another Zoustar colt. We get to enjoy the family as well – a tightly held family and Yulong can now say they’ve certainly got one of the best of that family.”

Selling off members of elite families is a commercial reality and as things stand, there has never been a better time to sell an elite yearling filly in Australia, especially with Yulong’s seemingly inexhaustible budget.   

“It makes a lot of sense. They’re building an incredible broodmare band and invested heavily in the best mares. It’s a very smart, strategic play from them to buy this filly. As Clint (Donovan) said when he sold her so well, ‘she’ll probably only get sold once’ and that’s probably what they were thinking,” Thompson said.

“Buy now and have her in her paddock as a broodmare.”

As Donovan leaves the ring, he too feels a part of the moment. Selling future stars and record lots plays out well in the post-sale banter between auctioneers and is a feather in the cap. Fellow auctioneer Steve Davis might have sold superstar Winx through this sale a decade ago, but Donovan holds bragging rights when it comes to cash in the bank.

Meanwhile, soon after, Magnier pulled his pen out of the pocket for the first time this week, seeing off Godolphin to pay $1.6 million for a colt by champion stallion I Am Invincible. 

On any other day, a battle between the two 21st century global powerhouses for a colt of that quality and pedigree would be the headline. But it wasn’t any other day.

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