Howe Great wins Palm Beach Stakes
Howe Great wins Palm Beach Stakes

Howe Great wins Palm Beach Stakes (Gr3)

(Photo : Dana Wimpfheimer/EquiSport)

“Howe Great books his ticket to Kentucky”

Time was, when America’s greatest horse race, the Kentucky Derby (Gr.1), was the preserve of the big owner-breeders, the Colonel Bradleys and his Idle Hour Stock Farm, the Wrights of Calumet, the Hancocks at Claiborne and the Phipps dynasty. Occasionally, you’d find the winner in the odd out-of-state homebred from Tartan Farms, the Genters, or Louis Woolfson’sHarbour View Farm, which turned out the last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed in 1978. From the Wild West, cowboy Rex Elsworth gave America a Derby hero in Swaps. The world has changed though, and commercial imperatives rule these days, to the degree that few of these large operations continue to exist. Just about everyone needs to sell their produce, to remain viable.

For the first time in many, last year, the most successful racing partnership in the world, Team Valor, realigned the stars for a moment, when their home-bred Animal Kingdom scooted home in the “Run for the Roses. Theirs is a thoroughly commercial operation, which survives (and thrives) on the guile, the intuitions and the strategic nose of a man called Barry Irwin. Team Valor keep its mares and their stallion, Visionaire at Summerhill, and we’ve got to know them pretty well, to the point that this year they’re sponsoring a student at our School of Management Excellence. You’d have to peddle a long road to find a team more infected by the bug of our sport and they know the form in South Africa as well as our smartest students. Technology has enabled these guys to tune into everything that happens here, so it’s little wonder, with the energy of the man that holds it all together, that they’ve plundered so many big races in this country, and taken our home-breds to glory abroad.

Breeding with South African mares is a relatively new phenomenon for them, yet 2010 witnessed the production of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile ace, Pluck, born of Fort Wood’s daughter Secret Heart, (whose mother Secret Pact, we sold for a then-record R750,000 in 1998). You see, it’s a fundamental aspect of the DNA of Team Valor to be adventurous, to by-pass caution and to plunge into the realm of what to Americans, is relatively untried. Animal Kingdom himself was a product of a mating between a German-bred mare (ironically, with links to South Africa’s Maine Chance Farms,) and a Brazilian-bred stallion.

On Sunday, Team Valor’s pioneering spirit was evident again in the outcome to the Palm Beach Stakes (Gr.3) at Gulfstream, where Howe Great booked his ticket for Kentucky. With four wins and a second from five starts, the son of the Japanese stallion Hat Trick (by Sunday Silence) out of a South African mare by Western Winter, brought the unlikely into the realm of possibility when sidelining the highly rated Dullahan. Both are now headed for Keeneland’s Bluegrass Stakes (Gr.1), on their way to America’s biggest day.

So you see, at Team Valor, “double-dip” means something altogether different from the speak of economists.

Editor : Howe Great joins unbeaten European Champion Juvenile of last season, Dabirsim among a legion of highly rated youngsters from the first crop of Sunday Silence’s excellent son, Hat Trick, now resident at the Beck family’sGainesway Farm.