(Photo : Leigh Willson)
Before coming to South Africa I was warned of certain things that I could not possibly believe to be true. “It will be very cold – pack lots of jumpers and a thick coat”. “Make sure you stay for Race 13 on Durban July Day - naked men run the final half furlong of the course”. Time was to prove my scepticism to be misplaced. Despite being lulled into a false sense of security regarding the weather after stepping outside Durban airport, a two hour drive to Mooi River did prove my case full of T-shirts to be redundant. Similarly, Race 13 did take place at Greyville with the participants not only running, but cart wheeling their way past the finish line.
The cold and nudity apart, I was lucky enough to experience some very special and significant moments during my time at Summerhill. The arrival of new stallions is always exciting, but for sons of AP Indy and Sunday Silence to be taking their places on the Summerhill roster illustrates the cosmopolitan nature of the racing and breeding industry. The birth of first crop foals is also always eagerly anticipated – so to see the arrival of progeny by Stronghold, a horse that I followed avidly during his racing career and whose relatives I am still cheering home, and Mullins Bay was a real privilege. To breed foals by a racehorse that represented you on an international stage and out of mares whose families have grazed your land for generations must be one of the ultimate aims of breeders worldwide, so it is no surprise that the arrival of the Mullins Bay babies has added meaning and significance for Summerhill.
One of the other dreams for anyone associated with thoroughbreds must be for a high-priced yearling to do the business on the racetrack – and I was also lucky enough to witness such a thing happen at Scottsville. Trafalgar Legacy, the top lot from the 2008 Ready To Run Sale, won on debut in the style of a horse with a serious future. He was led into the winner’s enclosure surrounded by his delighted connections (including the Summerhill employees who selected the horse as a yearling in Australia, and who prepped him for the Ready To Run Sale). To be part of the day when the culmination of all that work and foresight came to fruition was a real honour and a strong reminder of why we all love the industry as much as we do. The fact that these perfect endings are so hard to come by makes them all the more special.
I will return to Newmarket with many amazing memories, coupled with a great deal of respect for the people who make Summerhill tick – especially the young female managers who are repaying the faith put in them ten times over. The biggest lesson I will take back with me though is that whoever you work for, whatever the scale of your business, all of the people involved in the thoroughbred industry have the same ultimate aim. Watching a race from Ascot on a South African TV channel in the Summerhill offices surrounded by people cheering for Imbongi, it struck me how all of my co-workers back home would be shouting just as loudly for Confront, while no doubt the employees of Shadwell would screaming for Aqlaam. The connections of Dream Eater, Cesare, Without A Prayer and Ordnance Row, as well as the punters on the track and in the betting shops, would also be making their allegiances clear. At that exact moment, there will also have been races happening all over the world where people were cheering for their respective horses with the same amount of passion as the connections of the runners in the Summer Mile at Ascot. We are lucky enough to be part of a global industry which has the ability to unite people from all nations and walks of life – and horse racing has been doing this long before the World Cup was a glint in FIFA’s eye.