On a recent visit to the UK and France, I was reminded again of the enormous contributions breeders make to their national environments, and to their attraction of tourists. The world over, there are some spectacular stud farms, not only in the magnificence of the buildings erected on them, but in the splendour of their surrounds, with great park-like gardens and forests, beautiful rolling paddocks and meandering brooks and streams.
South Africa is no exception, and while we are different in our regional scenic attractions, the truth is that our local racecourses and farms are generally places with magnetism for visitors.
Some years ago, I was invited to assist Gold Circle in negotiating its betting dispensation with the Provincial Government, and among the long list of items I was asked to express before the Premier, the Minister of Finance and their entourage of Directors General, I elected to include a statement about the role our stud farms play in the development of tourism. Because several of have reminded me on occasions since, I know that the impression left in the minds of the ministerial delegation was lasting, and a number of them have visited us again and again.
Breeders have invested hundreds of millions Rands in the appointment and beautification of their properties, and we see streams of people visiting us throughout the year. In 2008 alone, more than 30 000 people signed the visitor’s logs at our entrance gates, and while these include people who come for purely commercial or servicing reasons, the bulk of them were serious students of the horse game, potential customers and guests, and even a good number of curious onlookers.
Of course, Summerhill has the advantage of being home to one of the nation’s top hotels in Hartford House, and that in itself is a powerful force in attracting people, yet the affairs of the two are both historically and culturally closely interlinked. A visit to the one inevitably leads to a visit to the other, and a tour of the farms not only reveals a deep affiliation to the province’s political past, but also a lasting influence over the culture and tradition of horseracing in KwaZulu-Natal.
That Hartford and Summerhill between them should’ve spawned the families of the last Prime and Deputy Prime Ministers of the Colony of Natal, and subsequently the leading owner-breeder establishment certainly of its era, if not of all time, in the Ellis family’s all- conquering dynasties of the fifties, sixties and seventies, is already remarkable. That these properties were destined to write their own history is illustrated by the present resting place of the Champion Breeders Trophy, and the secrets behind these things are revealed to those that take the trouble to visit us.
We are always conscious of the responsibilities we bear not only to the racing and breeding industries, but to the heritage of this country, and if we have a duty at all as custodians of these properties, it’s to ensure that those who succeed us, share that understanding.
Posted by Mick Goss