When William Shakespeare recorded the standout event in the reign of Richard III, he couldn’t possibly have foreseen a replay almost half a millennium later in little old Mooi River. Students of literature will recall that it was on Bosworth Field that England’s good king had offered up his kingdom for a horse, and if it weren’t for the fact that the auctioneer missed his bid, we’d have no Princes William and Harry today.
For a son of Northern Dancer, Sadler’s Wells was anointed thus in honour of one of the world’s leading dance venues, which in turn earned its appellation from its original founder, Richard Sadler and the rediscovery of a monastic spring on the property, the waters of which were said to have strong medicinal powers. While we revel in the appropriateness of his association with the world of dance, just as we can in the case of his paternal half-brothers, Nijinsky, Nureyev, Lyphard and The Minstrel, there’s little doubt either about the “powers” of the stallion Sadler’s Wells, who, both as a sire and a sire of sires, was destined to become the most remarkable of all Northern Dancer’s sons.
This is a story about triumph. Napoleon erected the Arc de Triomphe at the top end of the Champs Elysees to commemorate the most prosperous period in French military history. In 1920 the French racing authorities inaugurated the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in salute to the pinnacle of Continental horse racing; on Sunday, what has become Europe’s premier racing contest was renewed for the 96th time, and what a triumph it was.
It’s a hundred and sixteen years since the turn of the nineteenth century, and in that time only eight entities have aspired to the title of Champion Breeder in South Africa, which makes it the tightest-held premiership in all of racing. That Summerhill should’ve arrived at its tenth title in twelve years through a new earnings record with hardly a “Big Five” sire in sight, tell us that besides luck, there must’ve been other factors at work. We can only marvel at the efforts of our people, the generosity of the land, and the contribution of the “boys” in the stallion barn.
"It’s never easy to admit to the ravages of age, so I’ll confine myself to a confession that horses have been a part of my life since the day I was born, and that this is my 40th year in the commercial stud business." - Mick Goss / Summerhill CEO
The old adage “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”, has never been truer. Breeding racehorses is as competitive now as it’s ever been, which means that to play a winning hand, you need to hold the aces. All of them.
At the time, Willow Magic’s father, Dubawi, was an unknown quantity, the son of a largely disappointing Dubai Millennium. Nobody had the slightest inkling then that by 2015, Dubawi would be the fastest stallion on either side of the Atlantic to register 50 Group winners. Ever.
More than once, Markus Jooste has acknowledged the role of Summerhill in floating his “breeding” boat, and while in Klawervlei, the former Champion Breeders had spawned a Gulliver in their own Lilliput, Act Of War’s occupation of his new stall in KwaZulu-Natal not only marks a vote of faith in the region’s breeding community, but he also represents the salivating prospect of accessing one of the best-performed sons of one of history’s best stallions.
"For perfect timing, it doesn't get much better than this for many-times champion breeder, Mick Goss. At next week's Emperors Palace Ready-To-Run Sale he'll offer the last progeny of Await The Dawn and to say his progeny are firing is an under-statement." - David Mollett
One of Tom Jones' greatest hits was the “Green, Green Grass of Home” and buyers at the forthcoming Emperors Palace Ready-To-Run Sale might be humming those lyrics as they drive through the entrance of Summerhill Stud later this month.
It’s inevitable really, and it just lends credence to the old belief in racing that when you lose a stallion, you can bet he’s on his way to stardom. That looks very much like the story of Await The Dawn, who was tragically lost in a freak accident halfway through his second season at Summerhill.
Like anything worth savouring, it pays to sometimes keep your best for last; this applies to racehorse sales as much as it does to dessert. If it were otherwise, the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Sale would not have arrived at its status as one of the world’s fastest growing Thoroughbred vendues in the first dozen years of the new millennium.
Let’s face it, it was tough going at the National Yearling Sale, more so on the third day. There were those who complained that the market could not take more than 600 horses in a matter of a fortnight, and there was probably some truth in it. Others complained about the sale being sandwiched between an extra-long weekend and a big race meeting, and there may be a modicum of validity there as well.
When you don’t have the dough, you simply have to make a plan, which means “innovate” in modern speak. That’s been the story of ten times champion breeders Summerhill Stud for as long as they’ve been in business, and it’s served them well to this day.