(Photo : Summerhill Stud)
Expand the market, branch out in new directions
and take an interest in the racing operators.
The Summerhill team may already be odds-on to win their sixth successive breeders’ championship but Mick Goss is more concerned about the bloodstock industry finding its way out of recession. He also wants the two racing operators to hurry up with their long-talked of marriage.
‘There is a danger that we begin retreating in the face of the current economic turmoil,’ says Goss who is a firm believer in looking on adversity as a time of opportunity, ‘and we need to broaden the base of our export markets.’
He maintains that too much reliance is being placed on Dubai - ‘our biggest market and the conduit through which we’ve reached the world. But what would happen if racing in Dubai were to slow down?
‘We have to find other outlets for our horses and ensure that delivery issues are resolved, including those connected to protocols and quarantine programmes.’
Goss points out that breeders are some of the biggest investors in the country’s racing and bloodstock industry and says they ‘should take a more active interest in ensuring the welfare of Gold Circle and Phumelela. There is little doubt that the two operators would benefit from being a single entity and we simply have to find ways of overcoming the obstacles. The benefits are too big to ignore.’
On the Summerhill front he believes that the recent addition of Admire Main and A.P. Arrow to the stallion ranks will prove a significant step forward. “By laying new foundations, we should be in a position to capitalise on opportunities when the tide turns - and in Admire Main we’ve forged a new alliance with one of the most potent entities in the game.’
Bound to win, year after year…
With five consecutive championships in the bag, Summerhill is beginning to assume the mantle enjoyed by some of the great breeding names in the past, albeit without so far the big race dominance of such as the Birch brothers.
Views on Summerhill and its charismatic boss are mixed. The more jealous of the Mooi River stud’s rivals say it is bound to win year after year because it has by far the most mares, and because any breeder boarding a mare there has to register the progeny as Summerhill-bred even if Summerhill only own a small percentage.
The more charitable also say that Summerhill is bound to win, but because the boss is such a determined and inspirational character that he would get to the top at whatever he did.
‘There will always be people who suggest that our numbers are bound to deliver the championship, and there is some truth in that,’ Goss concedes. ‘But these days there are few mares in which we hold much less than 50%. However the reality is that, if we hadn’t gone this way [partnerships], we would never have rebuilt the broodmare band to its present strength because we wouldn’t have had the resources to do so.’
Ten years ago the entire Summerhill mare contingent was put under the hammer because, when Goss bought out elder brother Pat, he put together a tax-saving deal to attract new investors. He ended up with more than 600 people owning a stake in the mares. The period of investment was ten years and the assets then had to be sold.
‘When those partnerships ended in 1999 and we held a dispersal, the industry was precarious, racing was in collapse and there was no guaranteeing its future.’
Goss’s answer was to attract new investors, many of them from overseas, and so the principle of having partnerships in the vast majority of the mares was continued.
‘Today more than 300 horses on the farm are foreign-owned, and I doubt that there is any other property in the world housing such a large concentration of foreign-owned horses.’
Gambling on stallion judgement…
The mares, of course, are only half the equation. Summerhill, like almost every other stallion-owning stud, has had to pick its sires carefully and gamble on its own judgement. Those five championships are a set-in-stone testimony to its ability to pick correctly and to select the right stallion for each mare.
Summerhill has had considerable help from the Maktoum family and this traces back to Goss’s famous Newmarket speech in 1990 – ‘South Africa gave several million lives to the British cause in two world wars. We also exported 450,000 horses - and none of them ever came back. We are in trouble and we need your help.’
Dubai’s racing-passionate ruling family promptly offered to send stallions and have gone on doing so to this day. ‘The venture with the Maktoums was not immediately successful,’ Goss recalls. ‘The best of the early stallions was Braashee but he suffered from low fertility and rather plain progeny, and he was not a commercially-appealing stallion.
‘What he did do, though, was to illustrate to us that we should set a benchmark for racing class. This should measure up, at the very least, to the successful stallions of the best periods in South Africa’s breeding history.
‘In fact, with the number of mares we have at Summerhill, it would have been commercial suicide not to develop a band of stallions capable of making a contribution, and our success has been substantially based on the patronage of these stallions.’
Many people who win awards or championships tend to downplay the achievement. Goss makes no pretence at false modesty – instead he deflects the credit to the Summerhill staff – but what he does have to say on this point makes interesting and informative reading.
‘We were never ambitious about winning the championship. All we did was to do everything in the best way we could. That was our standard.
‘I find that, if you set goals, you are disappointed more often than not. But if you set out to do things as best you can, most times the rewards take care of themselves.’
A recipe for success if ever there was one!