winter star and jackie cameron
winter star and jackie cameron

Winter Star and Jackie Cameron

(Photo : Summerhill Stud)

Summerhill and Hartford have reason to celebrate

There were several reasons for popping champagne corks this weekend, the most significant of which was Hartford’s “Top Five” finish in EatOut’s national restaurant awards. Given our locality and that we’re not on tourism’s “main street”, this is a hell-of-an achievement, measureable against anything Summerhill has managed with its nine consecutive breeder’s titles. They tell us there are more than 65 000 eateries in South Africa, and anyone in the top 100 can take a bow. I have to confess, I’m in awe of Jackie Cameron and her little team in the kitchen, to the folks in the front of the house and those that look after our guests, and to the standards our management have set for a neighbourhood that’s considered to be in the “middle of nowhere”.

To think that when Cheryl came up with the idea of turning our home into a hotel, I and our financial people did everything in our power to dissuade her, from spreadsheets demonstrating that we’d be bankrupt in six months to reminding her that outside of the horse business, it was the toughest game in the world! We’ve penned a tribute on our blog (, but before closing, a quick word of advice: Hartford is “pumping” right now, and getting a reservation for our farm clients is becoming increasingly difficult. If you’re planning a visit to either the farm or to enjoy the culinary delights, please give us adequate warning, and remember that as a Summerhill client, you’re entitled to a 20% discount on your accommodation.

The other “cork-popper”’ was the eventual outcome of the Ready To Run sale, and our “one-two” in the R3million Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup. I’ll deal with them in the reverse order. It needs to be said, the seventh running of the Cup was a high class renewal, standing on its own on a day that featured two other Group races for three-year-olds over the same trip. It wasn’t the size of the prize alone that made it so; on parade were some of the best sophomore colts and fillies of the current generation, no fewer than five of them Group One candidates of the past season. The result was a triumph not only for Summerhill, but especially for the smaller owner. The heroine was Winter Star, a spectacularly talented daughter of Solskjaer, who cost a paltry R100,000 last November, while her runner-up was the ever-tenacious Mount Hillaby, (cost R80k), whose owner had to solicit the participation of the moguls, Larry Nestadt and Selwyn Nathan, to settle the purchase price in instalments. There’s an old saying attributable to St Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians that that you should “never look a gift horse in the mouth”, and it was never more appropriate than in this instance: Sheikh Mohammed “gifted” his interest in Winter Star’s mum to our good friend Jimmy Sarkis (carrying the “Cup” ace) and heavens knows, Jimmy needed it. The rich just get richer!

This was Summerhill’s fifth exacta in the first seven years of the race’s history, and besides advertising the value of concentrating your buying with the “champions”, it was the best proof of our well-worn adage that when it comes to buying a good horse, a good eye can be as good as a big chequebook. 

The other cause celebre was the resurgence on the Sunday of the Ready To Run sale itself, after a sticky start on Friday evening. Somehow Friday’s proceedings didn’t add up, given the buzz around the Cup, which, as it stands, is the second richest race in the land (Friday’s average was almost 14% down on last year). While the early results provided little reason for optimism, anyone who had horses to sell on the final day, will tell you we were steadfast in our belief that Sunday would be a different kettle of fish. And it was. That said, what separated this sale from last November’s was the fact that in eventually achieving a virtual break-even on average (with 2012), by Sunday evening there were many more horses in the R300 000 plus bracket than last year, while there was greater depth across the board in 2012. In a nutshell, more horses got a good crack of the whip a year ago, while the big scorers scored bigger this time around.

We’ll be working hard in in our analysis of the sale in the weeks ahead, so we can say no more at this stage other than that, in a world that’s fraught with so many issues at the moment, the only certainty seems to be uncertainty. On the bare facts, we’d have to believe that despite the odd disappointments, the Summerhill draft in general, performed satisfactorily, with an aggregate of R22,005,000 (last year R22,050,000), a top price of R1.8million (last year R2million) and an average of R226,855, slightly elevated against last year’s R218,317.

We are consoled these days by the success since its inauguration three seasons ago of our “farm” sale, the Emperors Palace “Summer” Ready To Run in February. Unsold graduates of November’s sale generally command a bit of a premium there, because they hold a ticket in next year’s R3.5million “Cup”; with the excellent performances this past year of the likes of No Worries, Corredor, Sithela and Rooi Nooi to advertise this sale, and a three month window now open to the progeny of later maturing stallions like A.P. Arrow, we expect growing interest in the 2014 catalogue.

It’s one of the ironies of our game that in a business as long-term as breeding is, we’re no more immune from the fickleness of fashion than our friends in the clothing industry. We remember very well the early crops of Northern Guest, Kahal and the not-so-long-ago “misfortunes” of Silvano, who were shunned by the buying public when their third crops came to the market, purely because the merit of those great stallions was as yet unrevealed. Going into this sale, A.P. Arrow was still “winless,” so when Flight Warning telegraphed his talents with a bloodless coup in the richest maiden mile in history on the Saturday, even that failed to change perceptions much.

That he’s had another three winners in rapid-fire succession since, rings the same old bells that tolled for a doubting public in the years of Northern Guest, Kahal and Silvano, and hopefully those with an appreciation for the higher signs in life will recall that A.P. Arrow was the most accomplished racing son of the “emperor” of American stallions in 2009; his best days, whatever they bring, must surely be ahead of him. Don’t forget too, Solskajer was the only stallion in the land, with three at the start for the Cup. That he’s standing around with just a handful of mares to service, despite the exertions of Shogunnar, Ice Axe, Winter Star et al, reminds us “boys” that when your number’s up, it’s up. So beware being put out to pasture!

That said, the cash register continues to jingle for the first runners of Visionaire in the United States, and if what we see on the ground is anything to go by, he’s headed for Hollywood. It doesn’t end there: wherever you went at the Ready To Run, there was a bit of chatter about the first Brave Tin Soldiers, so for those who’ve got either of them in the pipeline, good luck to you.

Finally, Cheryl and I were privileged to be invited by our long-time friend Anant Singh and his gorgeous wife Vanashree, to the premiere of the greatest movie South Africa has produced, Mandela: The Long Walk To Freedom. It’s a tribute to Anant’s creative genius that this show was worthy this week of a premiere at the White House, as well as New York. If you care about this country, and everyone who reads these notes does, and you’re looking for a greater understanding of our complexities and our victories, you have to see it.