The great thing about working on a farm like Summerhill is that you can walk into the main office on any ordinary Friday and stumble across the 15-time champion jockey of South Africa and twice champion jockey of Britain deep in discussion with the hotel manager about a wine order that his wife has sent him to collect.
I was fortunate to speak with MICHAEL ROBERTS for the better part of an hour and between discussing current prospects and how his yard is traveling, I asked him not just about his riding career but also his thoughts on the Ready to Run concept in South Africa and Summerhill’s stallions.
(See the end of this post for a Michael Roberts Fact File)
Number of horses currently in work?
“We have 60 horses in his yard with another 12 two year old’s coming in.”
“25 staff and 2 assistants” (His stable jockey Ian Sturgeon is also sipping a cup of tea alongside us)
Race you are best known for?
“Probably the last match race in South Africa – ironically perhaps, it was sponsored by Summerhill - on December 30, 1989. It was called The Winning Form Challenge and it was a mile race between a son and daughter of Northern Guest - Senor Santa and Northern Princess. There was a capacity crowd on hand to witness it even with a cricket test and a major surfing competition underway on the same day. Everyone said Senor Santa would win it but I just kept a little bit in reserve. We sat and waited for him [Senor Santa] and in 3 strides my filly went bang and got him on the line. The crowd went bananas.”
You buy quite a few horses from us at the Ready to Run sale. What is it about this particular sale that appeals to you as a buyer/trainer?
“I like a good actioned horse. The Breeze Ups allows you to see this.”
Can I ask which stallion/s at Summerhill you like?
“Cataloochee and Kahal. Kahal as he is doing very well and Cataloochee as he is the type of horse we’re short of – an excellent sprinter - in this country. He also looks versatile – if you breed him speed you’ll get it, but with his pedigree if you breed him a classic mare you’ll get stamina.”
Michael Roberts fact file
Born: May 17, 1954 in South Africa
Career: In South Africa, Michael was apprenticed to H. W. Brown, having studied at the Summerveld Jockeys’ Academy for five years. He rode his first winner in 1968 at Pietermaritzburg on Smyrn.
Feature titles: Michael won the South African 2,000 Guineas eight times, the South African Derby six times, and was champion jockey of South Africa 11 times. He was also England’s champion jockey in 1992, with 206 winners
History making: In 1992, Michael created history by being the first jockey to ride a 2-year-old juvenile filly to win the group I Nunthorpe Sprint at York, the meeting’s major sprint event. The filly was Lyric Fantasy.
Rising Star: Michael’s riding skills earned international headlines after he piloted the Alec Stewart trained Mtoto to victory in the 1987 Coral Eclipse stakes. Up until that point Henry Cecil’s brilliant Derby winner Reference Point had looked unbeatable. Michael’s partnership with Mtoto went on to add the 1988 Coral Eclipse stakes and the King George and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Roberts conceded he “was by far the best I sat on. His acceleration was incredible.”
Winning rides: Michael retired after a particularly bad race fall. He was just 32 winners short of 4,000 for his career.
Best horses he ever rode: Sledge Hammer, Lando, Wolf Power, Bold Tropic and Mtoto.
Owners he rode for: The list is long and distinguished and includes the Queen and Sheikh Mohammed.
Major international races won: ENGLAND: Oaks: Intrepidity (1993); 2,000 Guineas: Mystiko (1991); Coronation Cup: Opera House (1993); Eclipse Stakes: Mtoto (1987-88); King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes: Mtoto (1988), Opera House (1993); Champion Stakes: Indian Skimmer (1988); Haydock Sprint: Wolfhound (1993); Juddmonte International: Terimon (1991); IRELAND: 2,000 Guineas: Barathea (1993); Phoenix Champion Stakes: Indian Skimmer (1988); ITALY: Derby Italiano: Prorutori (1989); Premio di Milano: Lando (1995); Coppa d’Oro: Lando (1994); Premio Vittorio di Capua: Just a Flutter (1989); Premio Presidente della Repubblica: Sikeston (1991); JAPAN: Japan Cup: Lando (1995)