Don't miss Cot's longform feature about Summer Squall, Dogwood Stable's first classic winner.
The 1980s was a time when both Japanese tourists and business folk were beginning to venture forth into the world on a wide variety of missions. The Japanese are relatively well mannered and deferential today, but they were even more so then. They were most anxious to be polite, play by the rules and never overstay their welcome.
In the early days of this emergence, a sizeable group of Japanese horsemen had come to France to buy top race fillies for homeland campaigning and subsequent retirement for breeding.
They were being guided and advised by a French bloodstock agent and were touring the stable yards of Chantilly and other training grounds near Paris. The agent had rented a huge van and a driver to accommodate his client group of nine. The group had been scheduled to visit at 3:30 p.m. the yard of John Fellowes, a prominent English-French trainer who had three nice fillies for their inspection.
Ahead of the visit, the agent had apologized to Fellowes for having to send the group on its own, as he needed to go ahead in his own vehicle to set up the next stable visit. He intended to return to Fellowes' yard before they were finished, in time to facilitate any discussions and negotiations.
However, Fellowes had no idea that the visitors did not speak a word of French and knew only a few English words.
English and French trainers sell many more horses out of their racing stables than do American trainers, and they present them for purchase with panache.
If you go to Belmont Park to check out a horse, the trainer is often less than enthusiastic about the intrusion, the groom who drags him out is invariably disgruntled at having his routine disrupted, and the window of opportunity to inspect the horse is short-lived.
Their European counterparts, on the other hand, will invariably offer coffee and tea, and on some days those visiting the yard are invited to stay for an elegant lunch.These trainers can talk charmingly about the horses in their care (and knowingly about the ones not in their care). When they show you several horses that might fill your bill, they usually have a particular one, strategically placed, that they plan to sell you.
So it was with Fellowes. This visit represented a fine opportunity to sell a Northern Dancer filly with moderate ability and a big price tag. He planned to move her.
The van driver and the nine Japanese horsemen, sans their tour-director bloodstock agent, wheeled in right on time, disembarked, and assembled themselves on the walking ring and awaited the show. Fellowes chattered away graciously, with the visitors nodding and beaming pleasantly and not understanding a single word. The van driver was simply a driver with little interest in the nature of the visit.
The first horse was brought out. Fellowes said, "Here is a very smart 4-year-old filly by the splendid miler, Habitat. She broke her maiden at the tail end of last season and should show much improvement this year, especially at seven to nine furlongs. She acts on any ground and is a very pleasant ride."
The Japanese swarmed around her, as they are prone to do. They took numerous photographs and nodded and smiled a great deal. Fellowes then detected that the examination was over and signaled the lad to put her up.
Next came a gray 3-year-old filly. "This attractive filly is sired by the great Mill Reef. She did not start as a 2-year-old because of immaturity, but should be poised for a fine year...." Blah, blah, blah.
All nine Japanese horsemen again went into their inspection routines, and then the filly was walked away.
Next came the focus of the exercise. A big filly by Northern Dancer, a sire certain to set the Japanese wild, was brought out and stood up for inspection.
Fellowes picked up the tempo. He was on the muscle now. He was going to sell this filly.
"Here we have an absolutely lovely filly by that marvelous sire, Northern Dancer. I've never had in my possession a 3-year-old with more promise. She has shown an extraordinary turn of foot on the gallops at home, and I can hardly wait to start her," the trainer enthused.
The Japanese probably caught the name "Northern Dancer," but otherwise did not grasp a word being uttered.
"The only reason an animal of this magnitude and potential is being offered is due to the complications in the estate that owns her.
"I'm sure you'll agree that nowhere on the continent could you find more quality in a racehorse than in this elegant Northern Dancer filly.
"This filly is a very good buy. (Emphatic now) A good buy!"
The Japanese now recognized another word they knew: "Good-bye." "Good-bye" meant the party was over. Time to go. Leave.
In an effort to follow protocol, the nine Japanese began smiling, bowing, murmuring "Good-bye" repeatedly, and then disappeared quickly into the nearby van.
In short order, while the stunned Fellowes and his filly watched, the Japanese delegation was gone, heading out to the next stop.