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Story by Bren O’Brien from tdnuasnz.com.au

Luke Murrell said he and fellow director Jamie Lovett were cognisant of the uncertainty economic times, but as a rule, their clients were happy to support them to continue to find value in the local bloodstock market, while trying to source elite prospects abroad as well as conducting their existing racing interests.

On Sunday, Australian Bloodstock was involved in the purchase of four horses across the Inglis Easter Round 2 and Scone Yearling Sales, colts by Extreme Choice and Super One, and fillies by Territories (Ire) and Press Statement.

Murrell said Lot 43, the Extreme Choice colt offered by Newgate Farm through Easter Round 2, was the most expensive at $55,000 and was a favourite of Lovett’s. He is out of Listed winner Spellbinder (NZ) (O’Reilly {NZ}).

“Any horse that makes Easter is a decent quality horse, so the Extreme Choice that Jamie bought, he was quite fond of. For me, the Super One colt was the one I really wanted to get having viewed all the lots. He’s a sire that is getting his winners and he was a good horse,” he told TDN AusNZ.

“I’ve seen a lot of these Super Ones at the trials look very good and I just wonder if they might be only that six months away from really emerging onto the scene.”

Lot 312 of the Scone Yearling Sale, the Super One colt offered by Davali Thoroughbreds is out of I Want You (NZ) (Howbaddoyouwantit {USA}), making him a half-brother to stakes-placed Looking Ahead (Consolidator {USA}).

“I thought it was a realistic market and I enjoy those sales a lot more,” he said. “We are always active at the yearling sales and we are always trying to find that value and that Sale was one where we could get that.”

 
Pair ready to make mark at Grafton

It also shapes as an interesting week on the racetrack for Australian Bloodstock, which has two of its stalwarts contesting Thursday’s Listed Grafton Cup in Sixties Groove (Ire) (Sixties Icon {GB}) and Big Duke (Ire) (Raven’s Pass {USA}) for trainer Kris Lees.

Both are Group 2-winning stayers in their prime and both come through runs in the Listed Mayors Cup and Listed McKell Cup at their past two runs.

2019 G2 Brisbane Cup winner Sixties Groove finished a close-up second in the McKell Cup at Rosehill last time out and the market has him favourite to relish the step to 2350 metres and record his second stakes win.

“He’s been one of those horses that has been really good for us, but he had a little issue about eight or nine months ago, and it was one of those ones where you were holding your breath to see if he was coming back,” Murrell said.

“He has been pretty much luckless his past couple of runs. It looks his right race and there is probably a bit of a tail to the race. He’s got a tricky barrier to overcome. He’s the pick of our two.

“Grafton is always a tough carnival to win at. It’s been a little on-pace and the track might be a bit firm, so those things worry me a little bit.” – Luke Murrell

“Grafton is always a tough carnival to win at. It’s been a little on-pace and the track might be a bit firm, so those things worry me a little bit. But he’s going really well and if you said 12 months ago, he’d be in this race, I’d be declaring him. I think he’s going good enough to win.”

Big Duke was talented enough to run fourth in a G1 Melbourne Cup back in 2017 and while he hasn’t won a race since April of that year, Murrell thinks that the rising 9-year-old can give a good account of himself on Thursday.

“He’s one of my favourites but he is coming off a tendon injury,” he said. “He was sensational first-up, and I know that into the next run, they said he had improved out of sight in his fitness. Off an extended break, we so often see horses run flat second-up and so that wasn’t unexpected. This run will really tell us what level he comes back at.

“The old Big Duke probably beats Sixties Groove and I don’t think he is quite there, but I’ll be really disappointed if he doesn’t run top four.”

 
Finding the next Cup winner

Both horses were purchased out of the Northern Hemisphere, an approach Australian Bloodstock built its reputation on, highlighted by the success of the 2014 Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist (Ger) (Monsun {Ger}).

Murrell and Lovett have been busy looking for their next imported spring prospect and while it has been a tricky market, they have recently secured the David Simcock-trained 4-year-old Almania (Ire) (Australia {GB}).

A winner over the highly-rated Mike Moroney-trained import Buffalo River (USA) (Noble Mission {GB}) back in 2018, Almania has been placed in a Listed Noel Murless S. at Ascot and was also placed in a recent race over 2800 metres at Royal Ascot.

“We’ve got really high hopes for him, and I feel he could be a legitimate winning chance in both the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups,” he said.

“We’ve got really high hopes for him, and I feel he could be a legitimate winning chance in both the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups.” – Luke Murrell

Murrell said the disruption to the European, English and Irish racing seasons had made it hard to do their usual business this year.

“The market over there, believe it or not, has got stronger. That might sound ridiculous, but that’s the demographics of the owners over there. They are such wealthy people and they stopped their racing, so they have been marking time waiting to get to the races,” he said.

“Typically, everyone wants to run at Ascot and they start to talk turkey for trading, but because the calendar has been compressed, and they haven’t seen a lot of those horses run, no one wants to talk too much business.”

 
Cautions approach with broodmares

Murrell said that while Australian Bloodstock was still keen to buy at the yearling sales, including the upcoming Magic Millions National Sale, it would be more cautious than in previous years when looking at possible broodmare acquisitions.

“The last couple of years we have spent significant amounts on breeding stock. I will be up there looking again, but perhaps with the COVID-situation, there might be a number of mares that might have got sold, that aren’t. There’s a bit of homework to do,” he said.

“Having a look at what’s there, we probably won’t do a whole lot of breeding stock this year. We are always on the lookout and we’ll be active in the yearling market, if they are well-priced for a good product.”

Last year, Australian Bloodstock purchased six mares through the National Broodmare Sale for a combined $1.0275 million.

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