Summerhill will consign close to 100 2yo’s for the 2006 annual READY TO RUN sale. The graduates of this sale - including 5 Grade 1 winners, 9 champions and a multitude of stakes winners - continue to light up winner’s boards across the country. We should know. Most were bred and raised here.
At its essence the Ready to Run sale is about performance and ready return on investment. The correlating statistics that show a higher percentage of stakes horses to candidates than any other sale in the country (irrespective of cost) merely underlines that fact.
The graduates of this year’s sale are in a special class. All are eligible for the inaugural Emperor’s Palace 2YO Stakes with a guaranteed minimum stake of R400k. With only 140 horses in the sale it’s about as far from a lottery - and as close to a ‘sure thing’ in racing - as you can get.
For the next few months our ‘Ready to Run diary’ will follow the lives of our 2006 draft. You can also enjoy a regularly updated photo gallery by clicking on ‘Photos’ (right hand column) and choosing ‘Ready to Race team’.
Our posts will introduce you not just to the horses and to the ‘platinum dozen’ (stay tuned for more details) but to the individuals who live and breathe their success from March to November (and then via The Sporting Post and Tellytrack afterwards!).
It’s another ‘first’ for Summerhill - and for South Africa. We hope you enjoy it.
Note: The following entry was written a week before the horses started cantering (August 1):
Warm light floods the Hartford tack room; a sole spotlight against the 3000 surrounding acres that continue to resist the dawn. The fragrance that embraces us as we burrow into jackets is of well-worn leather and grain.
Michael and Tarryn pore over the riding string lists; a worn clipboard their desk. An orange mark alongside a name indicates a retained horse; green indicates it is for sale. Of the more than 100 who entered the stables in March, 96 will face the auctioneer in the first week of November. Of these, 91 were born and raised at Summerhill.
Do owners change their mind about selling when they see their ‘ready-made racehorses’ come late October?
“Oh definitely,” says Tarryn, the South African born 23 year old who jointly heads the Division. Tall and reserved, her title belies her years. But 3 years as a work rider coupled with 6 months at Gainsborough in Kentucky and a second Summerhill sponsored secondment to Ocala (Florida) to work with internationally renowned Breeze-Up Consignor Becky Thomas proved that she was more than up to the task.
The other Ready to Race manager is Michael. For the 36-year old Zulu, life rather than the four walls of a classroom, has been his teacher. He speaks 5 languages fluently, has worked internationally as part of the Summerhill Development Programme, and has been a permanent member of staff since 1988. Stud proprietor Mick Goss recalls Michael as a “loincloth clad child” who taught himself to ride bareback and “was always up to mischief” but says “even back then he had the most incredible way with horses. He is one of those rare instinctive horsemen with phenomenal hands. He is certainly one of the most valuable managers we have on the property.”
Between them Michael and Tarryn manage 13 riders, 2 breakers, 2 barn foremen, and 13 stable staff. Their ‘offices’ include the stable blocks incorporating Hartford, Bye Farm, Mare Barn, B Block, C-Block and additional stables alongside the foal pens.
These days Michael oversees things from the ground level after breaking his back in a bad race fall in 2004. Instead he clocks more than 600 kilometres a week in his Bakkie [ute] between the stable blocks that house the Ready to Race team.
This morning heralds the first time the colts have experienced the starting gates. 10 mill quietly in the mist as we approach, riders rugged up against the cold.
Each horse is asked to walk through, stand for a few moments then move on. The voices that encourage them are calm, and the gentle lull of conversation -interspersed with laughter - continues between riders and those helping on the ground. The horses that roll their eyes at the experience are clucked to gently. One is recalled for a second try as the class stars stand in anticipative watchfulness. His name is marked on a list for ‘crush duty’ later in the day. Whilst the others will chew hay and await their check of feet and weight at 2.30pm, he will be lead through the crush a few times to ensure tomorrow’s barrier test is less stressful.
The second string is waiting for us as the bakkie pulls off the road. The sun is up, the mist lifting enough to see the base of the surrounding hills and about 400m of the track.
Like the last string the majority walk through the barriers with barely a flicker of nerves. Riders vault onto the horse’s backs. No excess or uneven weight is allowed on these horses backs so that means no weight in stirrups. SAUCY THATCH pigroots when his rider straightens in the saddle and a fellow rider quips at the possibility of a loss of balance. They are a fiercely competitive bunch. Falling off is a major blow to any ego.
Michael drives, trailing the string back to Bye Farm, eyes constantly assessing gait and ease of movement. It’s loose rein trotting only, allowing the horses to balance themselves and develop muscle. The riders are also being assessed to ensure they ‘fit’ the horses. With young horses nothing is left to chance and everything that can - and should - be monitored is.
The wind at the second of the colt stables - Bye Farm - is bitter. I wish for more than a jumper as the riders remove tack and turn horses loose into paddocks.
Across at ‘Mare Barn’ the fillies are due for their strangles vaccines. The staff work in perfect unison, one holding the box and snapping open vaccine caps, two holding yearlings, two injecting … and one managing the bag for disposals. A machine couldn’t have done it in more fluid motion; the human factor the cheerful chorus of an African song.
One of the fillies takes my eye. She is on the small side but beautifully proportioned and has the defining characteristics of what people from my part of the world (Australia) crave – speed.
“You often see these small fillies that are chunky but so damn fast,” Tarryn acknowledges. “Size continues to put people off but ironically we sold one last year for R30k and she has never been out of the money since.”
The filly in question is SWEET CHILLI (by Albarahin) who has returned a prizemoney cheque on each occasion she has stepped onto the track.
Michael and Tarryn both pause at a box along the back row. A filly is showing signs of tenderness in her near fore. Hands run over a tendon; assess a digital pulse. She will join another on box rest today.
Too soon we are back in the car and back to the colts. We pass broodmares heavy in foal and the usual fluffy ungainly weanlings growing into their yearling frames. The 8-year old champion stayer AMPHITHEATRE babysits a group of them. “He was our Sea Biscuit,” Tarryn comments.
A pair of rare Blue Cranes stand and stare at us from the paddock alongside the lake. They breed here every year.
Wide eyes assess the barriers as nostrils flare and eyes roll. A colt rushes it, stands for a tense moment then leaps forward. A handler hops in pain as a hoof snares his foot. Other colts don’t even flinch. Congratulatory pats are heaped onto necks.
The last of the group imposes a work to rule ban and steadfastly refuses to budge. He underestimate the patience and experience of those alongside him.
He eventually accedes. Albeit reluctantly. And with a rider on his back.
“He’s headstrong. We ride him through so we ensure we have a bit more control in case he decides to do his own thing,” is the comment from Michael.
He’s huge. I can appreciate the logic. I appreciate it even more when with a boggle eyed snort the colt launches himself clear of the gates taking two handlers (and a dose of adrenalin) with him.
The team’s oldest rider is in his 60’s. Michael decides to ask the exact age.
“38” is the definitive answer.
“In your dreams” is the response.
Cobwebs glow silver in the blonde winter grass and the second of the fillies’ strings return from the sand track. There are some well-related fillies in this group including the half to the Gr 1 winning son of National Emblem CARNADORE and the half to FORK LIGHTNING (who ran in this year’s July). They worked through the barriers yesterday. They are turned loose into 10 acre paddocks after they are unsaddled. The wind whips across the veldt, and hooves churn dust as the group scatters, a few bucking and squealing as they re-group and flow up the hill.
A second group of five need to be moved to an upper paddock. From the day they are weaned these horses have been educated to move quietly along lanes in groups, 3 people walking in front of them and 2 behind. There is no nonsense, even with a strong wind, and a tractor in the distance.
It never ceases to amaze me.
We suddenly veer off course to the other side of the farm. One of the Hartford riding horse relations (daughter of a nursemaid) has chosen to let out 5 other fillies so they can investigate the richer feed in the bottom paddock.
The naughty grey – HARRIET - trots willingly to the fence (feigning complete innocence of her crime) despite the frowns that face her.
On our return we dodge the road re-tarring exercise; pause to chat to the farrier about whether the lameness in a filly is the result of an abcess (it isn’t). Alongside the car the wind turns the water from the sprinklers to a sea of mist that drifts across greening paddocks.
There are still 2 strings of horses to be ridden. Michael glances at his watch and we’re back on our way.