Wise Dan wins the Breeders' Cup Mile
Wise Dan wins the Breeders' Cup Mile

Click above to watch Wise Dan winning the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1)…

(Image : Washington Post - Footage : BC World Championships)


Santa Anita Park, Turf, 1600m

3 November 2012

robin bruss - cape thoroughbred sales
robin bruss - cape thoroughbred sales

Robin Bruss

Cape Thoroughbred SalesWhen Wise Dan crossed the line to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile G1 and endorsed his status as the highest rated horse in America, he did more than establish himself at the forefront of Horse of the Year honours - his victory was felt with a certain sense of pride by breeders in an unlikely part of the world - South Africa.

Wise Dan’s dam is by the South African-bred champion Wolf Power, whose 18 wins and Horse of the Year honours at home attracted the attention of John Gaines in the good old days when diversity was seen as strength, rather than a barrier to commercial markets. Hybrid vigour through an international outcross was popularised by Bull Hancock and John Gaines, scouring the world for the exceptional, regardless of fashionability. Great horses, after all, can create their own desirability.

Bull Hancock fittingly played another part in the construction of Wise Dan’s South African connection too, as he stood South African-bred champion Hawaii at Claiborne following his election as Grass Horse of the Year in the US back in 1969. Hawaii became broodmare sire of Hennessy, grandsire of Wise Dan, giving South Africans a double dose of pride, albeit somewhat distant. After all, what is a decade or three in the development of a pedigree?!

What both stallions had in bucket-loads was what South Africa prides itself on - toughness and soundness, for we are a country built on wide open spaces, plenty of sunshine, some of the most beautiful and some of the harshest territory imaginable - and a medication policy tougher than most jurisdictions, barring perhaps Germany.

Our tracks are firm and therefore horses must be sound. If breeders face that problem head on it’s because they are too sound, for horses race on average for lot longer and therefore there is less incentive to trade in and buy new horses every year.

South African yearlings are also cheap by international standards because we are marginalised, somewhat by geography, but more so by logistics and regulations. We would love to send more of our horses to the USA, but since 9/11, direct scheduled cargo flights were stopped and all cargo travels via Europe. As the Europeans require our horses to quarantine 40 days prior to export and America requires the horses to quarantine 60 days on arrival, it’s made the logistics somewhat tortuous. Currently we are exporting via the island of Mauritius, 4 hours by air into the Indian Ocean.

The answer to easier exports is to be found in a newly developed diagnostic test for African Horse Sickness, the PCR Assay, which provides conclusive diagnosis of freedom of this disease within a matter of hours. The PCR is undergoing international validation as I write this, and hopes are high that it will create a scenario for South Africa to readily enjoy greater freedom of movement, which we haven’t seen much of since the heady days of Hawaii and Wolf Power who were, then, shipped out at a few days notice and arrived in the USA. Similarly, the current USDA protocol for South Africa needs updating, as it was established in 1958, has served its time well, but everyone recognises that an update is overdue.

My hope is that the new PCR will permit reduction in quarantine from 60 days post arrival to perhaps 14 days, and that this will allow a whole range of constructive and dynamic possibilities, which will allow our brand of the thoroughbred to engage in other parts of the world.

It was the intrepid out-of-the box thinking of Team Valor’s Barry Irwin started buying South African horses a decade ago and shipping them through the tortuous gamut of red tape and quarantines in order to race internationally. I love a challenger to convention and love to see trailblazers get rewarded. Barry had some spectacular success with South African horses - winning Gr.1 races in Dubai, Hong Kong, and the USA and selling some of his fillies in the millions of dollars. He also now retains a band of Gr.1 winning mares in South Africa, breeding them to the top sires. He sees South Africa as a true emerging market.

Wasn’t it JFK who said that “we go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard, and because it will test the best of our courage and resourcefulness”. Well, we feel like that in South Africa too. Contrary to some opinions, we aren’t on a different planet, but we like to think our horses have developed differently to convention, because of our isolation and that we can offer something different, but at the same time, with a dose of good old fashioned value. Thirty years ago, the South African Rand and the US dollar were par. Today, given the tide of history, politics and economics, US$1 buys you R8.50. It makes SA horses incredibly cheap.

In 2011, South Africa’s major breeders set up the sales company that I run, Cape Thoroughbred Sales, specifically to operate an internationally advertised sale out of the world’s most beautiful city, Cape Town, in the international convention centre, in what is a uniquely constructed indoor sale.

We host visitors from 15 countries, we showcase our horses and our nation, and we do so with a measure of aplomb.

Racing and selling, we think, is more than business, its about entering the unique world of the great game of racing, and we use our sales, to create a series of lifestyle events. For what is a sale without the parties, the camaraderie, and the champagne that goes with it?! We fill our sales with wine, women and song. It’s like Keeneland-on-Broadway, with golf in between, and the Cape Summer is rather like Bermuda in glorious sunshine, blue skies, long warm days and party time at night. Isn’t the buying and owning of horses meant to be fun?

Sheikh Hamdan probably epitomises our sale best, in that he bought Soft Falling Rain (by US-bred National Assembly, a son of Danzig) from an imported Giants Causeway mare, at the 2011 sale, for R340,000 ($40,000) marginally below the sale average. The 300 horse sale has yielded three of the four winners of South Africa’s Gr.1 juvenile races, and the best of these Soft Falling Rain, received Champion 2-Year-Old status. He is currently on his way to compete in the Dubai Carnival 2013 for the Sheikh and trainer Mike de Kock.

Most foreign buyers leave their purchases in South Africa to race - training fees are less than $1000 a month, a low cost nursery, with a nice springboard - so owners have a good tax deductible excuse to return, and for the smart and the lucky, the best of these youngsters will wend their way into international competition on the Barry Irwin pathway - with a dose of patience and perseverance through the quarantine process. It’s not easy, but as JFK observed, Americans are up to a challenge.

In January, Kip Elser and Terry Finlay came to the sale, they bought a colt by American-bred Gr.1 winner Var (Forest Wildcat) for R600,000 as a pinhook, which is rare in our country. Re-offered at last Saturday’s Emperors Palace Ready to Run Sale, he sold for R1.6 million. A cool million profit. Americans, I realise, can teach us a trick or two! Ah, the intrepid and the brave. Here we go again.

We’ll have bigger dreams in time to come, including shuttle sires, American partnerships, perhaps a Breeders’ Cup series, the building of polytracks, structural changes to advance purses and easier trade routes. But that’s for another day. Thanks for reading this and racing luck to you.