Saintly winning the 1996 Melbourne Cup
Saintly winning the 1996 Melbourne Cup

Take a trip down memory lane and watch Saintly winning the 1996 Melbourne Cup

(Photo : Sport Horse - Footage : TVN)

“They spat on their hands and

shook on a deal…”

Mick Goss Summerhill CEO
Mick Goss Summerhill CEO

Mick Goss

Summerhill CEOI’ve only ever been to one Melbourne Cup in my life, but it was a helluva Cup. It was the year Bart Cummings saddled his home-bred Saintly, and it was his seventh (of twelve) Melbourne Cups. You have to go to a Melbourne Cup to understand what it’s all about, what it means to Australia as a nation, and what happens in what they call the “Birdcage”, and in the parking lots. You’ve never seen such festivity in your life, and you’ve never seen so many bodies strewn about, funeral parlour-like, in a car park either.

In a way, it was all just too much for us, and the devil quickly drew us into the spirit of things and especially the imbibing. By the end of it all, we were probably ready for bed, but our old pal, Angus Gold, racing manager to Sheikh Hamdan of Dubai, told us we’d all been invited; Rodney Thorpe, Roger Zeeman and I, to the 30th birthday party of Adam Sangster. Summerhill’s association with the Sangsters goes back a long way, to our most famous resident, Northern Guest, and his erstwhile paddock mate, Home Guard. So we went, but we stopped off en route at an underground restaurant and made the acquaintance, for the first time, of a construction man from Edinburgh. His name was Kevin Doyle, a larger-than-live character with a pocket just as big, and just as generous.

Whatever the world may say about the Scots and their frugality, and how limited they are in handing the stuff out, Kevin Doyle inherited the lot in the way of generosity. There were at least a dozen dead bottles of Barossa Shiraz on the table when we got up to go to Adam’s birthday party. As they headed for the door, messrs. Thorpe and Zeeman were seen to conclude a pact with Mr Doyle. They spat on their hands and shook on a deal, promising that one day, just one day, they’d own a horse together.

Like most of these things, nothing materialized for a few years. Then, as if it was pre-ordained, Thorpe and Zeeman were forced into action, again after copious quantities of a favourite Shiraz. Well into the night at the National Sales, they bought a filly for what was in those days, an enormous sum, about R300,000. Most of us, when spending that sort of dough would take the time to inspect the horse, but all Roger Zeeman knew of her was the pedigree his well glazed eyes were gazing upon. There’s a thing called “buyer’s remorse” in the horse game, and it descended quite suddenly and quite strongly. They immediately thought of Summerhill, so kind of them. The invitation was to participate in what was arguably the most expensive folly of their lives.

It was approaching 23h00 when we visited the Maine Chance yard for an inspection. I must confess, she did have a wonderful pedigree, and the name Danehill appeared somewhere in its nether regions. Her sire Golden Thatch was a proven speed stallion, but he could get some very ordinary specimens as well. When the filly came out of her box in the dark, she looked like one of those, the ordinary ones. Never one to let friends down, we did volunteer to take 10% of her, but I said we’d have another look in the daylight and decide whether this could be amplified.

The next day we liked her even less, but having committed to the deal, we were stuck with 10%. Suddenly and rather ingeniously, Roger recalled the drunken evening in Melbourne. “What about our Scottish friend, the one we met at the Melbourne Cup?”. Letting him in on a filly of such breeding, after all, would broaden South Africa’s footprint in terms of international owners.

And so it was left to me to make the call. Characteristically, Kevin Doyle’s response was exactly as we’ve come to know the man. “Send me the bill for whatever is left”, and having included the man who’d introduced us for 5%, Kevin Doyle took up the remaining 50%. A year later, under the name of Lady Broadhurst, the filly debuted for the Dean Kannemeyer yard. Some debut. An effortless victory by 3,5 lengths.

It was December 1998, just as the first of the Summerhill partnerships formed ten years before, matured and their stock came up for sale. Lady Broadhurst was among the entries, and for the first time in racing history, a filly was sold at auction for R1 million. The protagonists with their irons in the ringside fire were John Messara of Arrowfield Stud in Australia and a partnership of Lady Chrissy O’ Reilly and the de Moussac family of Haras du Mezeray. Their agent was a young man who had been working for us for a couple of seasons, Laurent Benoit, who’d that day launched his now famous bloodstock business, Broadhurst Agency, on the back of that purchase. Kevin Doyle’s share of the proceeds was a cool half a million Rand, and as we’ve come to know him, he simply said “reinvest it in some of the mares in the sale”. Miraculously, of the four we bought, they included the dams of future champions; Icy Air, Amphitheatre and last year’s Dubai Carnival victor ludorum, Imbongi.

This is the kind of man we all like to know, and this weekend, for the first time, he visits us with the even better half of him, his wife June. Long overdue. Like the Three Wise Men.