tobie_spies_john_kramerTobie Spies and John Kramer
(Photo : Grant Norval)

In the life of any racehorse breeding establishment, the judging of a farm’s stock by independent experts is always a signal event. Wednesday was such a day.

Every producer has a different approach to the way he raises his horses, and it’s a well-documented fact that at Summerhill, more than most, Mother Nature plays a primary role. While some have been preparing their horses for this event for several months now, our way is to leave them out in our “organic” environment for as long as possible, avoiding the stress of incarceration and human intervention, and asking the elements and the wonderful world we live in, to continue their good work in shaping the futures of our horses.

While the old saying that there are “different strokes for different folks” was never more appropriate than it is in the horse business, the reality is the way we do it works for Summerhill, manifesting itself as patently as anyone could hope for in four consecutive Breeders’ Championships. That’s not to say that we’re right and everyone else is wrong; it’s simply that, in the model we follow, it seems to be the best way to proceed.

Every new crop of youngsters brings new challenges, and whenever there are the progeny of new stallions, there is new excitement. That said, we usually deal with the first stock of a debutant stallion on the basis of entering just a few of them for the showcase National Sales, preferring to keep a good number back for the Emperor’s Palace Ready To Run, where we can work closely with them, and understand their individual idiosyncrasies. This way we get to know how they respond to the making- and-breaking process, how quickly they learn, how they handle the rigours of exercise and being ridden, what their temperaments are like, what sort of actions they have, how durable they are and whether the mating which has produced that particular individual, is worth pursuing in future. The Ready To Run has been a great instrument in advancing Summerhill’s cause over the years, and has been a grand educational lesson for all of us.

We’ve often proclaimed the virtues of South Africa’s horsemen, and we point to the achievements of our jockeys, trainers and breeders on the international circuit as evidence of this. In Hong Kong, where the pursuit of the jockeys’ title is something every self-respecting rider in the world will take on at some point in his career, the Jockeys’ Championship has been in South African hands for seventeen of the past eighteen seasons (think Basil Marcus, Dougie White, Felix Coetzee, Robbie Fradd and Bartie Leisher), while the likes of trainers Mike de Kock and Herman Brown in Dubai, Patrick Shaw in Singapore and David Ferraris and Tony Millard in Hong Kong have illustrated the validity of this statement time and again. Of course, often enough they’re doing it with South African-bred horses, and that says something about the establishments that produced them.

We’re no less blessed in the quality of the intellectuals that bestride our game, and in the judges that are sent to the farms to cast their eyes over our yearlings. John Kramer, who’s been around since Methusalah, is as astute as anyone we know, with a far-sighted vision which is right nine times out of ten, when it comes to his expectations of what a horse will look like down the road. His assistant is the celebrated ex trainer, Tobie Spies, who in his day as an active conditioner of racehorses, was as hard-working a man as we knew at the sales.

There wasn’t a horse in the catalogue Tobie wouldn’t look at every sale he attended, and then he’d short-list his favourites and make sure, when the hammer fell in his favour, that it represented good value. Twice in the first four runnings of the old Bloodline Million, he managed to pull the needles out of the proverbial haystack.

The judges were more than complimentary about the draft in general, and they warmed particularly to the first progeny of Solskjaer and Cataloochee, each of whom claimed two of the top horses in the draft on points. In fact, the bulk of their horses earned “8’s” and above, and you couldn’t get off to a better start with a first crop sire than that. All three of the Hobb Alwahtans entered scored well, too, and so we’ll be looking to a good sale from these “freshmen”.

Besides a liberal sprinkling from our stalwarts, Kahal and Muhtafal in the line-up, we have a quality entry from some of the world’s best young stallions in Street Cry, Johannesburg, Shamardal and the old war horse, Royal Academy. Four of these are fillies from some exceptional families, and are bound to be on the list of anyone with a “collectors” taste for a good horse and a bit of serious pedigree, especially in these risk-averse times when downside seems to count so much.