auction hammerIt’s all so easy to sit back and go with the flow, particularly in a well regulated, highly organized industry like horse racing. When Summerhill first embarked on its breeding enterprise under its current regime way back in 1979, racing presided over a betting monopoly which made it, in the economy of those days, one of the top five industries in South Africa in terms of its turnovers. There were no casinos, there was no sports betting, and every tote and bookmaker had to be licensed under the auspices of those that controlled racing. What a world of comfort and indulgence.

Besides racing’s monopoly, the government of the day was strongly inclined towards its farmer-based electorate, and the tax dispensations afforded to farmers, were the best in the world. This made the agricultural and racing sectors a comfort zone of note, yet both industries operated in fragile territory, vulnerable to the whims of a legislature that could amend matters at a stroke of a pen or the change of a government.

At Summerhill, we always felt we needed to position ourselves away from the calamities that might follow any amendments, or at least be in a position to influence their course, providing us with the proverbial parachute or soft landing. As a result, as long ago as 1985, we initiated an approach to the Natal Racecourse Betting and Wagering Board, requesting it to consider the establishment of a Breeders Premium scheme for the benefit of the local industry. While the motivation, which was drawn from the Summerhill boardroom table, took time to formulate following several visits to other countries across the world, and a good deal more time persuading the trustees responsible for the welfare of racing to understand our thinking, the scheme materialized 20 years ago in 1988. Today, it remains the only premium scheme in existence in the country, though we did assist the Western Cape at one time to get one of their own, which has since fallen into disuse.

Immediately after the inaugeration of the Breeders’ Premium scheme, serious stallions of the ilk of Northern Guest, Foveros, Rakeen and Secret Prospector found their way into the province, and this became the land of milk and honey, when it came to new investors entering the industry. Yet that alone was not enough to fend off the impact of the withdrawal of the tax concessions which had been primarily responsible for the attraction of business people into the breeding industry, and the deep recession the South African economy found itself in following the democratization of the country.

Farm after farm, big name after big name, came up for dispersal, as the breeding economy was decimated by the death in discretionary incomes. Remember the establishments developed by Cyril Hurwitz, Ross & Gardiner, Henry Kahn, Roy Meaker, Hylton Hale, the Scott Bros, George Rowles, Alan King, the Ellises, Bobby Jameson, “Bushy” Hamilton-Brown, all neighbours, all under the hammer. Those were tough times, with tough consequences.

Nonetheless, we’ve known the lasting value of the premium scheme, and we’re the first at Summerhill to acknowledge its contribution in attracting people like the Maktoums into the province, and its role in the building blocks which led to our first Breeders Championship in 2005.

Posted by Mick Goss