There are not many of us who understand what it takes to be a world-class race jockey. If you’ve ever been onboard a horse pitching along at something of a gallop, even at a modest 40kms an hour, imagine yourself catapulting in the breeze at 70kms. If you can’t imagine that, try a motor car on a grass strip and you’ll see what it takes.
Make no mistake, to be at the top of your game as a rider in the racing world, you need to be as good as the best Olympic athletes, just as fit, and perhaps a little quicker witted. I think back to my polo days, when there were just eight horses on an immense pitch, and the traffic problems you encountered there and you quickly come to realise that in a 20 horse field travelling at full tilt, decisions are made in nanoseconds, and the ability to anticipate, to take initiatives and to seize the moment, is what separates the best from the field.
One man who’s had an almost uncanny association with the best horses from Summerhill, is Anthony Delpech, who with his wife Candice and his three children, was a guest at Hartford House over the Election Day holiday. Anthony’s association with this farm goes back to his days as an apprentice with “Uncle Joe” Joseph, one-time resident trainer to the Ellis family of Hartford. A little later in his career, Anthony Delpech teamed up with one of our earliest group winners, Home Guard, who we bred and raised at Summerhill for one of racing’s most celebrated owners, Lou Bernstein, and as the first horse to grace the silks of Robert and Robin Muir, now among the nations pre-eminent owners. This fellow not only won what was then known as the Smirnoff, the virtual two-year-old championship of its day, but he went on to earn National Championship honours, and he was quickly followed in a four year span by Spook n Diesel and Imperial Despatch. Three juvenile champion colts in four years.
Remarkably, as we don’t tend to keep too many colts in our ownership, principally because they’re part of our trading stock, of the few we’ve raced for our own account, Anthony has been successful at major level on three of them. Starting with Bianconi, a Christmas day foal who was advanced enough to become the first horse to ever beat the great Dynasty in the Golden Horseshoe (Gr.1), and in the process becoming one of only two horses to finish in front of that racing legend. He raced for Ronnie and Bev Napier along with the farm and is one of the legends of Summerhill Stud.
At a later stage, Anthony Delpech teamed up with two horses we were unable to sell, the first Amphitheatre the only horse to have attended two Ready To Run sales (as a two and three year old) and not to attract a single bid. His upset price was a meagre R30000, yet nobody wanted this “plain brown job”, mercifully, and he was retained to race for the farm, where he distinguished himself in Group One company from 1600m to 3000m earning 33 cheques in 34 starts and R1,5million, at a time when we needed the cash, to put it plainly. The partners in Amphitheatre were the fellows who co-bred him with us, old Summerhill stalwarts Roger Zeeman and Rodney Thorpe.
Anthony’s latest association with a Summerhill horse who’d proven difficult to place at the sales, was just a year ago with Imbongi. He too, was passed out of the ring unwanted at the Ready To Run, and we parted with a half of him at a subsequent time to Mr and Mrs Napier, Michael Fleischer and Owen Leibbrandt. Remarkable how Ronnie Napier seems to pick up on our best “Ready To Runners” whenever there’s possible potential staring at us.
Imbongi of course, ran in this past weekend’s Hong Kong Champions Mile (Gr.1) and in Anthony’s view, he was in with a live chance. Of course, he may have been biased, but we couldn’t help thinking that this may have been Imbongi’s moment. As it turned out, Imbongi ran a cracker of a race finishing sixth in a classy field, beaten by just 1,75 lengths.