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Racing’s Bargain Buys – Cheap Horses that Won Big! (part 2)

A horse’s price tag at the sales doesn’t always correlate to how well they do on the track, as the names in this list prove. After the success of part 1 back in April, I just had to get back into it with another 15 “Cheap Horses that Won Big”.

With a shade over £8.5 million in earnings between them, and a lot more stories to tell, let’s get straight into the list, and where better to start than with ANOTHER Grand National winner:

Aurora’s Encore –

The 2013 Grand National winner Aurora’s Encore was purchased for a measly 9,500 guineas at the Doncaster sales in 2005. Purchased by Harvey Smith, husband of trainer Sue Smith, he entered training at their yard at High Eldwick, West Yorkshire. Despite only winning two hurdle races and six steeplechases from 47 starts, Aurora’s Encore was a very useful handicapper, accumulating £725,737 in earnings. His major victory was the 2013 Aintree Grand National, which he won decisively by 9L. He did also win the Listed John Smith’s Handicap Hurdle and finished a creditable 2nd in the Scottish National in 2012. Ridden in the early parts of his career by Tjade Collier and the latter parts by Ryan Mania, he was retired in January 2014 following his run in the Great Yorkshire Chase, where he sustained a fracture to his right foreleg.

Now aged 20, his career can be looked back on with fondness, becoming the first Yorkshire-trained winner of the Grand National since 1960.

Coole Cody –

After 3 runs in point-to-point races, and a win in the latter at Kildorrery in February 2016, Tom Malone purchased Coole Cody for just £5,200 at the Ascot July Sales. Sent straight into training with Michael Blake at his yard in Staverton, he finished 10th of 18 in a maiden hurdle at Uttoxeter in his first run over fences. Following this, he strung together some respectable efforts in class 3 and 4 events, including four wins. 2018-19 didn’t quite go to plan, with Coole Cody failing to find his best form, before being transferred to Evan Williams’s yard in early 2020. Since then, he has returned to his brilliant best, winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup Handicap Chase and Racing Post Gold Cup Handicap Chase, respectively. So far in his career, he has accumulated £301,894 in earnings and has been piloted mostly by Adam Wedge during his time with Evan Williams.

Still only 11, Coole Cody has plenty of racing left in him yet. If all goes to plan, and he maintains his current level of form, there’s no reason he can’t put together another big win this winter.

Liberty Beach –

Perhaps best known for winning the Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood, Liberty Beach has turned out to be one of the biggest bargains of the past few years. Picked up for just £16,000 at the Ascot Yearling Sales in September 2018, she’s been a revelation for trainer John Quinn. Out of the high-class Cable Bay, it’s perhaps something of a surprise she was acquired so cheaply, but John knew what he was looking at. Five wins from her first seven races, which included a 4th in the Queen Mary, 2x Listed wins, and also the Molecomb, she'd already made back her purchase price and then some. Since then, with a further Group 2 and Listed win, alongside some respectable placed efforts, she has accumulated £294,059 in earnings. Despite finishing the 2021 season with some slightly disappointing efforts, there’s no denying her quality.

Although it looks as if she has now been retired, she achieved some incredible wins, especially for a horse that cost just £16,000 as a yearling!

Monbeg Dude –

A name that will be familiar to NH fans, Monbeg Dude was another cheap purchase that achieved big things. Picked up by the Oydunow syndicate (comprising Mike Tindall and fellow rugby star James Simpson-Daniel amongst others) in 2010 for just £12,000, he was sent into training with Michael Scudamore. He took a while to make an impact on the track, with his first win under rules coming almost a year after his debut, in a class 4 handicap at Lingfield. The following season, though, he made a name for himself, winning the Grade 3 Henrietta Knight Chase and Welsh National. He went on to win another Grade 3, as well as have two further runs in the Grand National, finishing 7th and 3rd respectively, after which he was retired due to a leg injury. He ran 24 times, winning only four, but accumulating £261,997 in earnings. Not bad for a £12,000 purchase!

He was partnered by many jockeys, but his best form was under Tom Scudamore and Paul Carberry. Now aged 17, he enjoys a quiet life with his owners, Mike Tindall and Zara Phillips, at Gatcombe Park.

Pineau De Re –

Something that is becoming a trend in this list, Pineau De Re is another bargain buy that won the Grand National. Purchased for just €20,000 at the Goffs France Sale in July 2005, he was sent into training with Philip Fenton at his yard in County Tipperary, Ireland. However, the start of his career was far from normal... He ran 5 times in NH Flat races, finishing 2nd on debut, and recording his only success at Fairyhouse in February 2008, before missing the next two seasons and returning as a Novice hurdler. Again, he failed to set the world alight, putting in some average performances throughout the 2010/11 seasons, before being sent chasing. During this time, he won just two of his eight races, one of which was a 23L romp in the Ulster National. In June 2013, he was transferred to Dr Richard Newland’s stable, where he performed best. He won/placed at class 2/Listed level frequently, also winning the 2014 Grand National under Leighton Aspell, before finishing 12th in it a year later.

Pineau De Re was retired in April 2016, having accumulated £677,271 in earnings throughout his 48-race career. Now 19, he retrained as an eventer and is on loan to/ridden by Lizzie Doolittle.

Iris’s Gift –

Owner Robert Lester paid just £5,000 for Iris’s Gift, an admirable grey racehorse, from former jockey Reg Crank in the year 2000. A gangly horse, he was a long-term jumps prospect and was sent into training with Jonjo O’Neill. What followed was something his owner could’ve only dreamed of… Wins in his first three bumpers, followed by a 5th in the Champion Bumper and 2nd in a Grade 2 NH race at Aintree, people believed he could be something special. A further 5 wins on the spin took him to the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, where he was narrowly touched off by French great Baracouda, but he got revenge on that rival in the same race a year later. Other big wins included the Sefton Novices' Hurdle, Liverpool Hurdle, and World Hurdle. Despite disappointing efforts in the Betfair Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup at the end of his career, he ended with a record of 14 wins and five places from 25 starts, accumulating £339,503 in earnings along the way.

Ridden to success mostly by champion jockeys Barry Geraghty and AP McCoy, he was retired at the end of the 2006 season. Iris’s Gift passed away in 2019, aged 22, at the home of his breeder Reg Crank where he spent his retirement.

Takeover Target –

The biggest earner in this part of the list, Takeover Target was a hugely successful Aussie raider who earned a shade over $6 million in prize money. Joe Janiak, a former taxi driver, was the owner-trainer of the horse and picked him up for just 1,250 Australian dollars. Despite not making his racecourse debut until the age of four due to injury, he soon made up for lost time, winning seven in a row following his debut, a run which included the Listed Pacesetter Stakes and Group 1 Salinger Stakes. Another injury saw him take a further six months off the track, and six subsequent runs, before getting his head back in front in the Group 3 Summer Stakes. 13 further wins followed from December 2005 to July 2009, on the biggest stage all over the world. Group 1 wins in the Doomben 10000, International Sprint, and Sprinters Stakes, alongside at Royal Ascot in the King’s Stand Stakes saw him win numerous awards. Australian Champion Sprinter (2006) and World’s Highest Rated Turf Sprinter (2006) were perhaps the most notable, alongside earning an IFHA rating of 121.

Ridden by jockey Jay Ford on all but two occasions, he ended his career in 2009 with a record of 21 wins and 10 places from 41 runs. In 2015, he suffered a serious leg injury in his paddock, which led to him being euthanised, aged 15.

Brave Inca –

Trained by Colm Murphy in Killenagh, Wexford, Brave Inca was a 10-time Grade 1 winning hurdler. Sold initially as a foal for just 1,600 guineas and as a yearling for £6,000, he became something of a revelation. Despite a slow start over hurdles in 2002, the switch to bumpers the following season sparked improvement, winning two by large margins, and then continuing the run of form to win five in a row over hurdles. This included the Grade 1 Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown. From here on out, Brave Inca excelled, winning several top-class races. Wins in the Champion Hurdle, Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Irish Champion Hurdle x2, and Punchestown Champion Hurdle perhaps stand out above the rest, whilst also being named Anglo-Irish Jump Horse of the Year in 2006. He accumulated £971,332 in earnings throughout his career, winning 15 of his 35 starts, and placing in 12. He was ridden mostly by Barry Cash at the start of his career, and then by champion jockeys A P McCoy and Ruby Walsh in the latter.

Brave Inca was retired in 2009 following a poor run in the Champion Hurdle and has since successfully retrained as a show-horse. Now aged 24, he’s showing no signs of slowing down!

Sceptical –

Despite once being among the blue-blooded stock at the mighty Godolphin, he showed minimal promise at home and was sold at auction for just £2,800. Purchased by James McAuley for himself, Brother Stephen, and Uncle Jim, he was sent into training with Denis Hogan in County Tipperary, Ireland, who completes the group. Despite missing the break, Sceptical came home a respectable 3rd on debut at Dundalk, before winning his next four races in a row. This run included a maiden and two handicaps at Dundalk on the all-weather, followed by a 3L success in a Listed race at Naas. During this time, he recouped his bargain purchase price 15 times over. A 3rd place finish in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Ascot followed, before finishing 2nd in the July Cup.

Sceptical was fatally injured at home on the gallops during his prep for the Rathasker Stud Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh in August 2020. He had accumulated £124,848 in earnings from just seven runs before his passing, becoming a superstar sprinter who was perhaps one of racing's biggest bargains ever!

Mrs Danvers –

Trained by Jonathan Portman at his base in Lambourn, Mrs Danvers was a £1,000 purchase who turned into something of a superstar! This bargain-basement filly was unwanted at the sales but completed an unbeaten two-year-old season, achieving a peak OR of 104, and claiming the Racehorse Owners Special Achievement Trophy for 2016. She won well on debut at 33/1, before winning the Super Sprint two races later, and rounding out with a 1.5L win in the Group 3 Cornwallis at Newmarket, ahead of Clem Fandango, Afandem, and Battaash. She returned in the Group 3 Prix Sigy at Chantilly a year later, where she finished 6th, but sustained an injury that would limit her to just one run that season. Mrs Danvers returned in a Listed race at Bath in April 2018, but finished down the field and was subsequently retired to start a new life as a broodmare.

She won five of her seven runs during her brief career, accumulating £196,235 in earnings, a whopping 196x on her purchase price! Despite her career being cut short, her story was really special, with her value reaching £500,000 after her Cornwallis victory.

Katchit –

Initially trained as a flat horse, Katchit was a moderate performer, winning on his 14th attempt in a minor handicap at Salisbury. Trained by Mick Channon, he was purchased for just 15,500 guineas at the Tattersalls sales in October 2004. After his handicap win in June 2006, he was bought by Alan King for £30,000, and trained as a jumps horse, which is where his career took off… literally! Eight wins from his first nine runs over hurdles included the Grade 1 Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham and Grade 2 Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham twice. His biggest win, however, was perhaps his Champion Hurdle victory at the Cheltenham Festival in March 2008. Katchit never won again after this performance due to injury, but finished a creditable 6th in the same race a year later, as well as 3rd in the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle in 2010.

Ridden by Robert Thornton throughout his jumps career on all but two occasions, he accumulated just shy of £600,000 in earnings, ending with a record of 10 wins and nine placed efforts from 24 runs. Katchit passed away at Banbury Castle in January 2013, aged 10, after unsuccessful surgery for colic.

Red Rum –

A name that is familiar to even those not associated with racing, Red Rum was a Champion steeplechaser trained by Ginger McCain. Trained at his small stables in Southport, behind the showroom of his used-car store, Red Rum achieved an unmatched historic treble of Grand National victories. Winning in 1973, 1974, and 1977, with two 2nd places in 1975-76, Red Rum has one of the most remarkable stories ever. After starting in low-value sprint races, dead-heating over 5f on debut, and winning twice over 7f as a 3-year-old, he was passed from yard to yard before finding his footing with Ginger McCain. Purchased for just 6,000 guineas at the Doncaster sales in 1972, he was found to be suffering from a debilitating, incurable bone disease in his hoof. But that didn't stop him! Trained on the sands of Southport, galloping through seawater proved highly beneficial for his hooves. From here, he strung together a 100-race career, which included 3 National victories from 5 attempts, and a win in the Scottish National in 1974. Red Rum accumulated £146,409 in the process and became something of a national celebrity.

A life-sized statue of Red Rum can be found at Aintree Racecourse, with a Grade 3 steeplechase (Red Rum Handicap Chase) named after him as well. He passed away on 18th October 1995, aged 30.

Jet Setting –

Trained initially by Richard Hannon Jr, Jet Setting was purchased for €7,000 from the Goffs sales in November 2013. Acquired by Woodstock, she joined Hannon’s stable in East Everleigh, Wiltshire, but failed to make much of an impact. Two 2nd place finishes in maiden races were perhaps her best results before being sold to Adrian Keatley for 12,000 guineas. She contested one further race as a 2-year-old, finishing 3rd in the Listed Prix Herod in France. It was her 3-year-old season, however, where she made a name for herself. A comfortable win in a Cork maiden set her up nicely for a 3L win in the Leopardstown 1000 Guineas Trial, before finishing well held in the Qipco 1000 Guineas at Newmarket. Later that month, though, she caused a huge upset when winning the Irish 1000 Guineas. Jet Setting continued to run with credit in a further four races, winning the Grade 3 Concorde Stakes, and having been picked up for peanuts, was sold after her Guineas triumph to the China Horse Club for £1.3 million. She was retired 5 months later, having accumulated £200,121 in earnings to become a broodmare.

Partnered mostly by Shane Foley during her career in Ireland, Jet Setting was a revelation. In the 2016 edition of the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, she was given a rating of 120, making her the 34th best racehorse in the world, and third-best 3-year-old filly. She was only covered once producing Al Barez, a talented racer for Tom Clover, who has made a name for himself as a very useful handicapper this year.

Attraction –

Becoming the first horse to win both the 1000 Guineas and Irish 1000 Guineas, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Attraction was an expensive purchase. Bred by her owner, the Duke of Roxburghe, at his stud near Kelso, Scotland, she was sent into training with Mark Johnston. After being born with crooked forelegs, which was apparent from her run style, the owner thought he would be unable to sell her so raced her under his colours. I bet he's glad he did! Throughout her 15-race career, during which she was partnered mostly by Kevin Darley, she won 10 times at the highest level, including the Queen Mary Stakes, 1000 Guineas, Irish 1000 Guineas, Coronation Stakes, and Matron Stakes. Despite her irregular action, she became a very impressive racehorse, winning both the European and British Champion Two-Year-Old Filly awards in 2003, and being ranked the third best filly in the world at 3. At the time of her retirement in 2005, she had accumulated a whopping £899,597 in earnings.

The part where this story gets more interesting, though, is when tracing back her family history. Her female family cannot be traced back to one of the originally accepted Thoroughbred foundation mares, making it even more impressive that she achieved what she did. The family from which she ascends was considered half-bred until it was admitted to the General Stud Book in 1969.

Since retiring to her owners’ stud, she has produced a few offspring, most notably Elarqam (with Frankel) and Maydanny (with Dubawi).

Supasundae –

By perhaps the most sought-after sire in the world, Galileo, Supasundae was picked up for a measly £5,000 in November 2013 by Tim Fitzgerald. Despite being purchased as a yearling for £195,000 two years prior, she was let go for a paltry sum, and what a deal it turned out to be! After winning on debut in a bumper at Wetherby, she transferred to Andrew Balding, where she won a Listed bumper at Ascot. Following this race, she transferred again, this time to Henry De Bromhead in Ireland. She put in some respectable performances over hurdles, winning a maiden, but ultimately failed to shine, and transferred again after just six races to Mrs John Harrington, where she would remain. Of the 23 races she contested for the yard, she won five, including the Irish Champion Hurdle, Punchestown Champion Hurdle, and Aintree Hurdle. Partnered by jockey Robbie Power for all but three of her runs for Mrs John Harrington, she also put in respectable runner-up performances on several occasions, including the Liverpool Hurdle, Stayers' Hurdle, Ryanair Hurdle, and Hatton's Grace Hurdle.

From 31 runs under rules, she achieved a peak OR of 164 and accumulated some £769,661 in earnings. She was retired at the end of the 2020 season, aged 10.

And that’s a wrap; Part 2 of Racing’s Bargain Buys is complete! If there are any horses across this two-parter that you think I have missed, let me know! Also, keep your eyes peeled for another series of posts like this, soon.

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