the big ask and bush pirateThe Big Ask and Bush Pirate
(Gold Circle)

charl pretoriusCharl Pretorius FreeracerWhen the big day dawns on the 1 November, racegoers will wake up to the fact that they will be witnessing the richest Ready to Run sales race in the world that afternoon. Not only that, the Emperors Palace Ready to Run Cup will rank as the fourth richest race in South Africa, and the excitement around it is already palpable.  We’re told by Caroline Simpson at Bloodstock South Africa and Linda Norval at Summerhill, that customers are enquiring on a daily basis about what it will take to qualify their horses for the event, painfully aware that last year, the Stakes winners Mzwilili and Regal Runner were eliminated from entry by dint of the fact that their connections had not subscribed them in the aftermath of the sale.
Those lucky enough to have the hammer drop in their favour at this year’s sale should remember this: it costs a mere R3,000 over and above what you’ve outlaid to ensure you have a ticket in the sweep for the 2009 version, and that’s surely irresistible in the context of the prize money on offer and the opportunities a place in the race represents, in terms of the added value to your horses.

As an illustration, four of those that lined up in the fourteen horse field last year, have already been the subject of multi million rand bids from abroad, and if the owners weren’t already there, they’re now multi-millionaires.

Just this past week, we were reminded of the class of the race when The Big Ask steamed past one of the nation’s best juveniles of 2008, Bush Pirate, under the lights at Greyville, conceding 5.5kg to a horse who must have ranked in the top five two-year-olds of his generation.

Yet there was nothing in the pedigree or the looks of The Big Ask (nor in what they knew of Imbongi at the time) to suggest they would be precocious enough to line up for the “Cup” the following November. That they did, and that they were among the cheque earners in the end, reminds us to leave nothing to chance. This is undoubtedly a chance in a lifetime, in a lifetime of chance.

So what do you suppose prompts breeders to subscribe close to R1 million towards the stake for the 2009 running of this “buzzy” event (where the prize money is expected to exceed R1.5 million), at a time when the world’s financial markets are in such turmoil?

Summerhill’s Tarryn Liebenberg, who together with Michael Booysen heads up the stud’s Ready to Race programme, is quick to answer,  “We needed to do something to set this sale apart, and that we’ve achieved that is exemplified in the over-subscription for this year’s sale, at more than 200 entries. In keeping with our promise to the buying public that this sale offers “the best odds in the world” of a runner in  a restricted event, the catalogue has been cut back to 166, a country mile ahead of its predecessors in terms of pedigree. Summerhill alone contributes close to R700,000 this year, and it’s one way of saying “thank you” to those who’ve become cult followers of the Ready to  Run in recent years.

“Our offering this year includes seven Australian imports by some of the world’s best stallions, carrying some exceptional “ink on their pages”. Besides we have 21 representatives of current leading sire Kahal, and no fewer than 11 by perennial “Big Five” sire Muhtafal.  Yet, the hallmark of Summerhill’s annual draft is that it not only offers  the best value  from a quality perspective, but we’ve also made it as accessible as possible by providing extended terms, up to six months depending on your aggregate purchases.”

There is another stark reality about the Ready to Run, and that revolves around the cost of keeping horses. Because of its positioning in November, it takes place as much as 10 months after the first sales of the year, and that represents as much as a R50,000 saving on horses purchased at the beginning of the year.  Besides, a Ready to Run graduate has been in work for at least four to five months before it’s presented for sale, and horses have been known to step right out of the sales ring onto the racecourse within a fortnight, finding themselves in the Number One box at the first opportunity.

Mick Goss of Summerhill wraps: “While we don’t get our horses much beyond 70% fit on the farm, the truth is that some of them are so talented, they’re able to step onto a racecourse within days of the sale. The likes of Fanyana (a 10 time winning Group One performer) and Effervesence have been facile winners of their opening starts, literally within weeks”.