Becky Thomas with Thabiso Mgoza and Ricardo Christian in Ocala, Florida, USA
(Photo : Sequel Bloodstock)
“Breeze Up Sales
are frighteningly competitive affairs…”
On a weekend when one of America’s most successful racehorse investors was with us, we have news from our own young men in that part of the world. Ebony Flyer is the three year old on everybody’s lips right now, and Team Valor’s Barry Irwin and his wife Kathleen breezed this way for the weekend. One lunchtime with Mr Irwin is like a semester at Harvard when it comes to the racing business, so needless to say, we had an intriguing couple of days. The news on Ebony Flyer, incidentally, is that she’s no longer travelling : she’s staying to contest next year’s international version of the Queen’s Plate, given the ambitions L’Ormarins and their fellow stakeholders have for the prize money next year.
Closer to home, most readers are familiar with our international scholarship programme, and the fact that we have our 39th and 40th recipients in the form of Ricardo Christian and Thabiso Mgoza on tour as we write. More specifically, they are based at Becky Thomas’ Sequel Bloodstock farm in Ocala, Florida, dubbed by Floridians as the “horse training capital of the world”. We’ve been lucky in our association with Becky, as she knows and understands what these programmes mean to our young people, and especially to a man like Thabiso, the extent of whose travel experience was confined pretty much to Mooi River and the Durban precincts till now.
Because we’ve been associated with Ready To Run sales for more than two decades, there’s a perception that everything connected with this form of marketing of racehorses, starts and ends at Summerhill. While that may bear some truth in terms of the evolution of the concept of Ready To Runs and the technical advancement of sales of this sort, the reality is that it has its roots right there in Ocala, where the O’Farrell family initiated the idea as long ago as 1957, out of a frustration with the fact that they were unable to compete at the major sales in Kentucky against the established farms there. It was at a dinner with the present generation of O’Farrells in 1987 that Mick Goss and the late Chris Smith stumbled on the idea as a solution to a similar difficulty in this country. Wrapping our product up as a running horse (as opposed to the “walking” parade at conventional sales) founded the fastest growing and most popular sale in South Africa, one which has already witnessed six more Graded Stakes winners this season alone, Igugu, Hollywoodboulevard, Blue Voyager, Mannequin, Pierre Jourdan and Arabian Mist.
In the States, the “Breeze Up” sales, as they’re known in that part of the world, are frighteningly competitive affairs, and only supreme horsemen and women survive, and thrive, in such an environment. You see, in the United States, the breezes are timed, and, in order to realize their value, horses are expected to gallop at a spectacular clip. In Ricardo’s words, as a rider of these horses, you’d better know your stuff, right down to the seamless changing of legs, maintaining your horse’s balance, and always remembering that this is a raw, relatively uneducated talent, imbued with the exuberance of youth, as well as an often explosive capacity for self-destruction.
Our “boys” are keenly aware of their responsibilities to Sequel and they know that in a world which doesn’t always appreciate these things, having a mentor who genuinely cares, is a world away from the “take-it-or-leave-it” approach many work experiences entail. These are gifted young people, born to ride horses but limited in their exposure to “life”, as most of us know it. There is no measure by which we can judge the value of these scholarships, nor the impact it has on the aspirations of those who’ve never been before.