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Bevan's Final Blog from Kentucky

Keeneland Sales
Keeneland Sales

It is hard to believe that 30 weeks has passed by so quickly as I have now concluded this year's Sunline Scholarship. And I can honestly say I that I have had the time of my life.

It started in the cold in England, got a little warmer in Ireland and finished with a scorching time in America, the last stop, both literally and figuratively.

I headed to Kentucky not knowing what to expect, more so than my two previous stops. I wasn't as familiar with the breeding stateside and the largest percentage of their racing is on dirt. Since my last blog following the Saratoga Sale I have really settled into Kentucky life and my admiration for American breeding and racing has grown.

Taylor Made Farm was a fantastic base for me and I cannot thank them enough for everything they provided and the opportunities they gave to me.

It is a great time to be a racing fan in America with so many great horses racing and Taylor Made has a strong connection to the rock star of the racetrack – California Chrome.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner as a three-year-old has had a five-year-old season for the ages. Undefeated in six starts this year, 'Chrome' has not only swept by every challenger in America, he also dominated in the UAE, winning the Group 1 Dubai World Cup. Since my last update he demolished a good field in the Group 1 Awesome Again Stakes, if you haven't seen the race you need to. Watch it to see just how superior he is.

Chrome now heads to one of the world's most prestigious races – the Group 1 Breeders' Cup Classic. He is far from a lay down misere though. He will have to face Juddmonte Farm's three-year-old Arrogate, the impressive winner of the Group 1 Travers in a race record time. Add to the mix the champion mare Beholder and horses the caliber of Dortmund, who has developed into Chrome's nemesis this year after their titanic duel in the San Diego Handicap.

California Chrome

California Chrome
There is another horse in America that is capturing the public's imagination and that is Songbird – an undefeated daughter of Medaglia d'Oro. She is a perfect 11 from 11 including seven Group 1 wins. The closest any horse has ever got to her at the finish of a race is 3 ¾ lengths and she has an average winning margin of over five lengths.

As you can tell I have become a big fan of the racing in America. It took some time to adapt to watching dirt racing but I am well and truly hooked now.

The last month of my time on the scholarship was dominated by Keeneland's September Yearling Sale. It was two and a half weeks of fast-paced selling with 13 sessions and 4479 yearlings catalogued. America is known for supersizing everything, horses sales included.

With 498 horses originally catalogued (including outs), Taylor Made were the biggest consignors at the Sale. Needless to say it was a busy time for everyone involved with the farm.

Having so many horses to sell it takes a lot of organisation from Taylor Made and I was amazed at how smooth the operation ran.

We started off with four teams for Book 1 which had three days of selling. In each team there were four 'quads' which were basically rows of boxes with assigned workers. There was a quad leader to organise the row, designated show people to show the horses and grooms to get the horses ready and hand off to the show people.

That was one of the biggest surprises to me - instead of bringing a horse out and showing it yourself, you would hand it off to a 'show person' who was waiting at a show area and paraded every single horse for one buyer. There was also one 'cards person' per buyer. As you can imagine the number of staff was becoming nearly as large as the number of horses and ran exceptionally smoothly.

My role for the majority of the Sale was to be a show person. It involved a lot of walking with my pedometer telling me I walked an average of about 23kms a day – a couple more kilometers than a half marathon each day!

As we worked through the books the four teams merged into three. One team would ship and prepare horses for the next book, one team would show and sell the first day of each book's horses and the third would show and sell the second day's horses. This was repeated for books two through to six.

Essentially the days went; ship, show, sell. Repeat.

Taylor Made ended the sale as the leading consignor, selling 282 yearlings for a total of $32,899,300 at an average of $116,664. Just look at the gross for one consignor! Overall at the Sale there was $272,890,500 turned over. And this isn't even the biggest sale of the year – the November Breeding Stock Sale at Keeneland has a whooping 4,762 horses catalogued.

That one sale has more horses than we breed in New Zealand in a year, which really gives perspective on the scale of the industry in America.

I left Lexington, Kentucky feeling a bit nostalgic; I had so much fun there. It is a great setting for the thoroughbred industry with the famous 'blue grass' pasture, historic farms and a country feeling about it despite being so close to a vibrant city.

It was also one of the friendliest places I have ever been, I often got into conversations with strangers just because of my accent. The people I met in America are some of the best I have ever met. I have said it everywhere I have been; that the people have been the best part of my trip - and this rang true again.

As I look back on my entire experience I can honestly say I have had the time of my life. I have got up close and personal with some giants of world racing such as Galileo, Frankel, Dubawi, Fastnet Rock, American Pharoah, Uncle Mo and so many more I would bore you with the entire list.

The only thing that surpasses the horse flesh is the contacts, friends and the fun in every country. I have to take the chance to thank everyone who I have met along the way, who have helped me, worked with me, had a beer with me and put up with my terrible singing.

The biggest thanks of all has to go the Sunline Trust who made this possible, this is a great concept that has been a trip of a lifetime. I also want to thank Michael, Nicola and Shannon from the NZTBA for their organisation in making this happen, you guys do a fantastic job. I would recommend anyone that has even had a thought about applying for the course to do so, you will not regret it.

After a month in England I will be back in New Zealand at the beginning of November and I am looking forward to the future that lies ahead. I am sure many of you will see me around the traps in New Zealand and at sales on both sides of the Tasman. If anyone wants to have a chat over a beer about my time on the scholarship I will be happy to chew your ear off, whether I know you or not.

And to all my loyal readers, thank you for reading my blogs, I hope I kept you entertained.

For the last time, I am Bevan Smith - goodbye.