Summerhill Sires Film 2011 / 2012
“Transactions build turnovers,
but relationships build value.”
Summerhill Stud CEOIf you’ve seen the Summerhill Sires DVD for 2011/2012 (www.summerhill.co.za), you’ll know our feelings about relationships. This last week I provided a few scribbles on the subject, and we concluded our DVD with “many of you have been doing business with Summerhill for more than thirty years. We started out on a handshake, and it’s still the way we do business. We’ve never forgotten, transactions build turnovers, but relationships build value. We know that times have been tough, but it’s no use giving up now. After all, racing and breeding are the lands of dreams, where kids from the “sticks”, like us, can make a name for themselves. The small man can prove his worth, where courage, hope and sometimes perfection can be found”.
It’s arguable that Summerhill, with numbers these days exceeding 400, is home to the largest foreign-owned contingent of thoroughbreds on any one property in the world. Bearing in mind our remoteness, these numbers are mind-blowing, though they might lead you to the belief that we deal only with the rich and the powerful. That’s not true, though; none of it would’ve been possible without people of means, but the reality is that Summerhill’s business has been built on the support of little people as much as anything else. In Value of Relationships (in these columns earlier in the week), we shared a few of the names of those who’d been around a long time, some of them recognisable among the “household” variety, others of the lower profile category but who nonetheless, in the world of the racehorse, have been just as successful.
One fellow whose name springs up regularly in our conversations here is Willie Messenger, a man who made his name as a plumber down the valley from us. With his wife Janine, Willie’s battled his way through the breeding business for decades, and once pipped us to the post for Horse of the Year with Key Of Destiny. The one thing you could always count on with Willie, was that whatever the price, sooner or later, you’d be paid, even if it meant mortgaging the farm. What a guy!
Andre Macdonald is another who kicked off as a battler and a one-time electrician, but who’s come well of late, not only financially, but as one of the owners of Igugu. He’s never managed a mention in Fortune magazine, but he did play scrumhalf for Digger’s Fourth. As an apprentice, they paid him 2 quid a week, and he used to punt half. He wrote his bets on his hand. That way he could keep track of his bank balance while he played. He started out his association with Summerhill, with the R5000 purchase of Mount McKinley, who missed immortality by inches in the SA Derby (Gr1). This year, he had his hands on the Horse of The Year, for whom he forked out a cool R1 million from Summerhill, and who’s since earned close to R6 million.
Ask former champion trainer Charles Laird where he’s had most of his success, and we’d bet he’ll tell you “Summerhill”. Reciprocally, on balance, Summerhill horses have enjoyed greater success in his hands than anywhere else. The relationship goes back to his Dad, Russell, who in one swoop and one near-aircraft collision, took home the Derby ace, Gun Drift and the Champion Stakes hero, First City. Since then, champions Nhlavini, Rebel King, Carnadore and Amphitheatre, national top earner of his generation, Pick Six, and the first horse to defeat Dynasty in the Golden Horseshoe (Gr1)Bianconi, among many others, have passed through this man’s hands. Let’s not forget too, the first defeat Igugu faced was at the hands of Hollywoodboulevard, another Laird acquisition from the farm.
On the subject of Igugu, she’s not the only one from Summerhill to make waves in the yard of the world’s top trainer, Mike de Kock : In rapid succession, he’s had his hands on the Champion Three-Year-Old of his year, Imbongi, as well as the Guineas heroine, Fisani.
Just this past week, we were flattered to learn that for all her international achievements and for all her brilliant racing successes, the one that stands out indelibly in the heart of Sabine Plattner, was the J&B Met victory of Angus. In that sense, she shares a common joy with my old school pal, Michael Destombes, owner and breeder at Summerhill of the champion Bold Ellinore, and her millionaire brother, Emperor Napoleon.
A man who goes back to the days when my mother and father were infant traders in the former Transkei, is Norman Yeats, fondly remembered at Summerhill for Travel North, Champion Stayer of his year, and his sister Northern Singer, who gave us provincial champion, Rhapsody In Red, and the most recent millionaire to carry the Summerhill silks, Vangelis. Almost as old a customer is horse nut, Steve Sturlese, one-time founder with Stephen Saad of Aspen, the all-time big performer in the pharmaceutical sector.
Credit has already been earned this week by Barry Irwin’s Team Valor, the world’s most successful owner of 2011 : it’s a well known fact that Barry considers South Africa the undiscovered jewel when it comes to the sourcing of quality international-class thoroughbreds, but it’s lesser known that one of his principal partners is South Africa’s version of Steven Spielberg, Anant Singh, who’s had a bunch of good ones with Team Valor, most notably, the “machine”, Ebony Flyer.
We did say this week that we were not going to drown the names of these pals through the sheer weight of numbers. There are many more, and they each carry their weight in gold. Another week, another revelation.