We wrote on Tuesday about the Senor Santa Handicap, and posted a photograph of the old man in his paddock at Summerhill. He’s some kind of an institution here, and is the only horse we know that still attracts regular visitors, bringing him treats at Christmas, Easter and his birthday in October. He’s 23 years old now (the equivalent of 92 in human terms) and he’s in rude health, living now right next to the boss’s bathroom window, where he makes a point of surveying the showering process every morning!
Together with fellow racing stalwarts Amphitheatre and Redcarpet Style (between them they’ve won well over 30 races,) his role in life is to bring a measure of style and decorum to the annual weanling group, and along the way a dose of discipline and good sense are thrown in. These old fellows stay with the group until they are taken either for sales preparation or “backing”, which means that their bonds with the youngsters are forged over more than 12 months, and are of enduring value. They play a central role in Summerhill’s reputation for easy-to-manage horses, and so having “the Senor” here is not purely about sentiment, though we’d have to confess this place would be much the poorer without him, and his much revered colleagues.
For the record, Senor Santa won seven Grade Ones and three Championships, racing in the colours of the Cawdry brothers, Fred and Harry, while Champion Stayer Amphitheatre, carried the hopes (and fortunes) of the farm and two old mates in Rodney Thorpe and Roger Zeeman, to Grade One performances from a mile to two miles. He was retained when he failed to make his R30,000 reserve at three sales, and went on to earn R1.4 million, when a Rand was still a Rand.
Alec Foster’s sentimental journey with Redcarpet Style started when he was a foal, and carried on into his 9th season, when he officially took over as South Africa’s highest rated horse of his generation, from another erstwhile stablemate in Nhlavini.
It takes some training to keep horses sound for eight or nine seasons, so let’s ascknowledge Tony Rivalland and Willie Pieters in Senor Santa’s case, Charles Laird for Amphitheatre, and Peter and Dean Kannemeyer for “Redcarpet”.