It is the sale for horse racing royalty, aptly held in the gardens of Kensington Palace, home to an array of royals including Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge.
Billionaires rub shoulders with bloodstock agents, trainers and jockeys all jostling to find the perfect racehorse from the 22 lots at the Goffs London Sale.
At stake is the potential to buy a runner for Royal Ascot later in the week, and it lures buyers from 33 countries ranging from China to the United States and Australia to India.
The auctioneer’s voice rattles along breathlessly, urging those with seemingly bottomless pockets to dig deeper. The till for the evening eventually hits $4 million in sales.
It is a place where any sudden move can prove costly. One guest apparently indicates a bid of nearly $1 million for Maven, the offspring of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, before realizing the error of their ways and waving it off.
“Someone call security,” jokes one of the two auctioneers Nick Nugent.
For the other auctioneer, Henry Beeby, who also doubles up as the chief executive for Goffs, it is about whipping up the crowd to spend big.
“We hope for a lively atmosphere and lively trading,” he tells CNN before taking to the stage.
“You never know what will happen but, when you get into an auction and two people have the wherewithal to do it, anything can happen. It helps if the sun is shining as, on a wet, damp day people aren’t in the same frame of mind.”
In the midst of an otherwise dismal London summer, the sun peaks through pockets of clouds and reflects off the Orangery of Kensington Palace, home for the first four years of Goffs London sale, before relocating to the lawns last year because of renovations.
The garden party atmosphere amid some of London’s most expensive real estate gives it a unique aura. Select VIP guests are even flown in by private jet and offered behind-closed-doors tours of the nearby luxury department store Selfridges on the morning of the event.
“The Goffs London sale is different to any other sale,” says Beeby. The prospect of buying a horse with an entry at Royal Ascot the following day adds to the allure.
A few years ago, one potential buyer from Japan was running late for the auction and only arrived for the final lot, which he effectively bought blind for $200,000.
But it is a fraction of the price paid for some four-legged offerings.
It was at Goffs’ first London sale that the first offspring of the legendary thoroughbred Frankel – unbeaten in 14 career races – was put up for sale. It sold for $1.25m, although the record at Goffs is the $1.66m paid for Jett Setting, which was bought by the China Horse Club.
The biggest seller at this year’s sale is Mohican Heights, the two-year-old son of Australia, for which trainer David Simcock bid $654,315 on behalf of one of his clients.
Others past the half-a-million-dollar mark include Pure Zen ($629,149), bought by bloodstock agent Federico Barberini, and Le Don Vie ($578,817) by Aziz “Ozzie” Their, the Australian businessman who owned the 2014 Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist.
In all, 10 of the 22 lots sell on, with Beeby admitting he would have hoped to sell more. But the wider aim is to get more buyers and interested parties into horse racing.
And there’s evidence it works. The Phoenix Ladies Syndicate — a female-only collective aimed at increasing the participation of women in racing across the United Arab Emirates — paid £430,00 (about $545,000) for a horse called Forever in Dreams. Four days later the grey filly — a 20-1 shot — came second in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.
Because of its philanthropic goals, Goffs is widely supported around the industry, including by former jockey and two-time Derby winner Joseph O’Brien, who turned trainer to guide Rekindling to 2017 Melbourne Cup glory.
“This absolutely gets everyone in the mood for Ascot, which is like the Olympics of our sport,” O’Brien told CNN.
“There’s a number of high-class horses for sale, and a lot of my clients and other people’s clients are here. We’re in the market to buy horses all the time, it just depends on how much they make and what the owners let them go for.”
Sometimes bidding doesn’t reach the reserve price — the $900,000-plus offered for Maven, for example, resulted in no sale.
“Kevin Blake works with me and helps me go through the catalogues and future prospects then we identify the horses of note,” added O’Brien.
“You make an evaluation on every horse in the race and, if we think it’s good value, we’ll take a chance. But this is a boutique event so it often increases their value.”
‘No buzz to match it’
It is, in essence, a sale for those for whom money is no object.
Indian billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla has his wealth estimated at about $9 billion, according to Forbes, predominantly through his biotech Serum Institute of India business. But even for him, the secret is not to fall for what he calls “auction fever,” an affliction he has repeatedly seen in his five years attending Goffs, fueled by the atmosphere and occasion.
The drinks – from fine rose to Pimm’s – flow freely and are served by attentive male waiters, most akin to models in their looks, while a band jollies along in the background.
“The atmosphere is magnificent and the hospitality is excellent,” said Poonawalla, the son of a race horse breeder.
“We do our homework every year. I’m a professional breeder so I don’t get quite so much auction fever. I’m a bit more professional and calm, that’s the trick.”
This time, the Indian leaves without making a purchase,
As for Beeby, the buzz is all about the next sale.
“I worked at my first sale in 1978 and went full time in 1982 and onto the auction stand in 1985,” he said.
“I’ve sold thousands of horses around the world at all levels. Of course, each time here you get nerves but, if I didn’t, I’m not doing my job properly.
“I enjoy it and it’s what I live for. And there’s no buzz that matches it.
“Of course you remember the big wins but also the horse you sold for $15,000 when you expected 10. It’s about exceeding expectations.”
In the luxury stakes alone, Goffs London sale does just that.