Auctioneer Steve Davis getting to know some of the guests seeking shelter at the Magic Millions Perth complex.
There is no such thing as a straight forward thoroughbred sale: certainly not in the last 12 months.
However, the 2021 Perth Magic Millions Yearling Sale – scheduled for Monday 15th and Tuesday 16th February – has been struck by a double whammy due to Western Australia’s COVID lockdown and devastating bushfires.
With the government enforced lockdown affecting the most populous areas of the state and remaining in place until at least Friday, Western Australia has also been faced with massive bushfires which broke out on Monday in the Swan Valley Shire and surrounding districts.
By Wednesday, over 70 homes had been destroyed, along with many properties across an 80 kilometre fire front.
Although busily preparing for next week’s onslaught of 300 yearlings for its annual showpiece, Magic Millions has in the meantime quite literally thrown open the doors for some unexpected ‘guests’.
“We knew that quite a few horses were placed at the state equestrian centre but, by Monday night they were getting threatened by the fire, so we offered to house them at our Swan Valley complex,” Magic Millions’ Western Australia Manager, David Houston, explains. “We initially thought we were getting around 30 to 40 horses but it turned out to be 304! We’ve got 312 boxes here at Swan Valley so we were wondering at one stage whether we’d have to tie them up to the fenceposts.
“Honestly, it was bloody madness on Monday night – in fact, it went throughout the night, horses coming in from everywhere … single horse floats, transports with up to 10 horses on them. We ended up with horses, llamas, goats … all sorts of livestock. It was non-stop. Even on Wednesday we’ve boxed a 30 year old horse.
“Quite a few have departed since, but there’s still over 200 on the complex.
“It’s really all hands on deck … my crew has been flat out and we also have the auctioneering A-Team of Steve Davis and Grant Burns helping out. It was always going to be a busy couple of weeks, but this has knocked it right out of the ball park.
“In the meantime, we’re still liaising closely with vendors and potential buyers and keeping them right up to speed with what’s happening.”
While Houston has his fingers crossed that the famous winds of the ‘Fremantle Doctor’ won’t hamper the efforts of the firefighters too greatly and that the fire will head towards “open country where it will be easier to combat”, the lockdown is destined to impact the sales greatly.
“It’s really quite distressing for the folks at Pinjarra which are staging the Magic Millions race day this Saturday, which includes the $250,000 Magic Millions WA 2YO Classic and $200,000 Magic Millions WA 3YO Trophy,” Houston points out. “They were anticipating a crowd of 5,000 for the meeting but now it appears that there will be no spectators. It was shaping up to be a bonza meeting and there’s a possibility that quite a few trainers won’t be able to transport some of the major chances to Pinjarra.”
Meanwhile, Houston adds that there is still some uncertainty over the sale itself: “We’re really exploring all our options. It depends almost entirely on the government at this stage, but even if it proceeds as scheduled, attendance will be seriously affected”.
The Perth Magic Millions has often played host to buyers from throughout Asia, New Zealand, South Africa, England and, of course, every state of Australia, but buyer participation outside of Western Australia in 2021 really is in the lap of the gods.
“Last year 41 of the 136 lots sold were snapped up by interstate and international buyers and many of them have been coming for years,” Houston reveals. “Fellas like Andrew Noblet (trainer of Group 1 winning sprinter Silent Sedition) and Joe O’Neill have supported the sale for a long time and had a lot of success. Joe purchased Fituese out of Perth for $55,000 and she’s won six races and close to $350,000. Out of state buyers account for around $3-4 million of the revenue annually.”
The Perth Magic Millions has indeed been a happy hunting ground for buyers with Group 1 winners Black Heart Bart, Scenic Blast, Boom Time, Great Shot, Moment of Change and Magnifisio, all offered at the sale.
“Bottom line is, we’ve just got to keep our fingers crossed,” a philosophical Houston summarises. “Year in and year out good horses come out of Perth and, after talking to the likes of Steve (Davis) and Grant (Burns) I know we’ve got a cracking lineup for 2021 and, for every Black Heart Bart or Scenic Blast or Boom Time this sale produces, we’ve got a Portland Sky (winner of the Group 3 Manfred Stakes at Caulfield on 30 January), an All Banter (Listed winner at Caulfield on Australia Day) or that really promising 2YO with Matt Laurie, Ranveer.
“We’ve got the ‘Magic’ – now we just need a bit of luck.”