Did Zorin value Pegasus’ brother correctly and how much did Bond win at Ascot?
Zorin’s equine operation and valuations of Pegasus and Ithacus
Background: Pegasus has been consistently winning and potentially controversially. Pegasus has been checked for doping and all tests are negative. It’s mentioned that the full brother, Ithacus, is a yearling colt that is about to go to sale. The expectation from the vendor is that Ithacus will sell for $3m (assuming USD). The feedback from the bugs in the rooms at Zorin’s stud is that the bidders are willing to pay a million dollars for the yearling colt. So – is Ithacus a $3m colt?
We assume that, because Ithacus is a yearling colt, that Pegasus, is a two year old (there is no mention of another foal in between Pegasus and Ithacus). There are only two races for two year old colts at Ascot in the summer months. Each are over short distances (1000-1200 metres).
Both races are group two races, and neither were known in that time as stallion races, given their short distance and the lack of record of European horses to be sprinters. The two races (the Coventry and the Norfolk stakes) only have a recent history of producing stallions, the highest profile being No Nay Never and Johannesburg in the 2010s.
If Pegasus had just won the Norfolk as a two year old, there is little history of horses that have won the Norfolk that go on and win at 3 years’ old or further, going over distance and becoming stallions. If the expectation is that Ithacus has greater pedigree, the expected price of $3 million, would be a multiple at a crazy rate. It would be a price that is over twenty-six times the earnings of the two year old Norfolk. As there is no proof of the stallion potential of Pegasus (or any proof that his sire or mare have a breeding history that would leave progeny) it’s a massive reach for Zorin and his team to believe he’d fetch $3m – even with the mentioned consistent winning, but not yet at higher honors possible based on Pegasus’ age.
For context, the highest selling yearling colt in 1985 was $13.1m. The sire, Nijinsky, was from a sire's line and had a history of producing stallions and group winning horses. Nijinsky himself, sold as a colt in 1982 for $4.25m. The expectation that Ithacus, who is the second foal of a mare of a second year sire would be able to sell for $3 million based off winning a two year old race is hopeful at best and foolhardy at worst. Therefore, the feedback from the buyers (via the bugs in the rooms) that they are willing to go to a $1 million at an auction is fair. Given that the sales are an auction and that if there are no bidders the horse is passed in and would require off-market negotiation highlights a lack of understanding of the dynamics of trading from Zorin or his stud farm staff.
With Ithacus unlikely to sell for $3m – that posturing was potentially just overconfident over selling to drum up interest and potentially continually serving as a distraction based on what Zorin was up to in the background. If Zorin truly believed that Ithacus was worth $3 million – would he have risked giving it up to Bond “gratis”? Even though this “gratis” was unlikely as everything was truly stacked in Zorin’s favour at the steeplechase. And Zorin just wrote a $5m cheque to Stacey, so money is no issue.
What’s interesting in AVTAK is that the horse racing introduction to the story – even though it might be Zorin’s hobby as a well respected industrialist is unlike Octopussy’s circus as it doesn’t provide a way for the villain’s plan to come to light. So purely for AVTAK the whole Pegasus and Ithacus storyline is there to confirm suspicion that something is awry and at a stretch is the continued megalomaniac partnership with Zorin and Dr Carl Mortner, who, has been up to something in his retirement (drugging horses, not pregnant mothers in concentration camps). The only potentially tenuous link is that Zorin’s microchips are the enabler of remote control the injections bypassing the drug testing – but this isn’t unique even for 1985.
How much did Bond win on Pegasus at Ascot?
If Pegasus is as striking a two year old colt as made out to be, the return on a bet for him in a short distance would be fairly low. He would likely be rated as the favourite or near favourite by bookmakers at the race (given two year old races are looking for either horses based on limited form or physical appearance). For Bond to be seen to be as he usually is as a clever and successful gambler, or just as being able to shout Moneypenny a dinner would mean he would have had to made a large bet on a short odds favourite. Based on the 1985 exchange rates, an estimated classy dinner out would have cost about £96. If Bond picked a winner that could cover that price, he picked a 2:1 favourite. He bet £50 pounds to win £100 on an odds on favourite. He's not smart. He's the average drunk punter that listened to a bookmaker.
On the other hand, taking some further evidence from the film, Sir Tibbett is surprised that Pegasus ran such a “fast last furlong”. This surprise is of course down to doping suspicions but potentially indicates that Pegasus might not have been considered by many to be a favourite, also further backed up by the lack of others betting on Pegasus. Therefore, if Pegasus wasn’t a favourite, odds would’ve been higher. Bond either had a bigger windfall due to putting a big sum of money down on a favourite (I don’t see Bond putting less than £250 on such a thing) or he put a big sum of money down on an outsider. This doesn’t indicate that Bond has a high level of knowledge of “good stock”. It more indicates that his hunch is correct that he’s going to Ascot to surreptitiously observe Zorin who owns a horse in the race and that horse is likely to win because something is going on.
The simple view is that Bond won the value of a meal for two (£100) by betting on a favourite. The more likely view is that Pegasus wasn’t a favourite, but not an outsider and Bond put at least £250 down and was likely to walk away with £1000 or more. Meaning that Moneypenny would’ve collected a large sum for Bond, and a portion of this was put towards a dinner. The only issue with assuming that Pegasus wasn’t a favourite obviously flies against the concept that Zorin and co would expect Ithacus to fetch a big sum of money based on his brother’s performance.
"Better make that two."