Summerhill Stallion Barn
(Photo : Summerhill Stud)
“Dreaming is a fundamental requirement of the mating game;
if it were pure science, there’d be a sense of precision and order to it all.”
Summerhill CEOIt’s at times like these that we tend to forget ourselves. The mating game has a mystical, if not an aphrodisiacal effect on those who work within the process, and for the next few months, the Summerhill team will be preoccupied with it. So much time in the paddocks reveals a lot of things us office dudes don’t get to see every day. A reedbuck giving birth, an errant waterbuck female coming out of nowhere, looking like she wants to come under consideration, too. Waterbuck, by the way, are a rare phenomenon in this part of the world, (this is the first we’ve seen at Summerhill in the 35 years we’ve been here), and the passing show in the paddocks is a parade of reedbuck, oribi, blue cranes and secretary birds, jackals and serval. It’s unlike anywhere else in the world: this is Africa, not the Hunter Valley, which is littered with innocuous items like “roos”, wombats and possums.
As much as we love mating discussions, because they put the truth on the table about the value of your mares, your stallions and your previous mistakes, they also leave you with a sense of responsibility. Deciding which stallion a mare should visit is nothing short of “playing god”, and for your clients, you’re also putting your reputation on the line when it comes to the commercial consequences. What we recommend this year is going to revisit us not only in the sales ring in 2016, but on the racecourses of the country, maybe the world, for years after that. Once the foal hits the ground, all things are equal. Before and after, there can be vast differences, such as the pedigree and the value of the mare, the stallion’s prowess and his service fee, and the infatuation that infects us all when it comes to “hot” stallions. Once the foal is born, those things don’t count anymore; it’s a matter of upbringing from then on, and what difference the custodians of the foal’s welfare can make.
For us, we believe a stallion must be top class as a racehorse, able to hold his own in the best international company. He needs to have some mystique about his pedigree, and an aura about his ability. In short, you need to believe in your stallions, remembering though, that in the stallion prediction stakes, it’s two strikes and you’re out.
Dreaming is a fundamental requirement of the mating game; if it were pure science, there’d be a sense of precision and order to it all. The reality though, is that racing is seldom scientific; thoroughbreds do things machines can’t: they’re crafted, not manufactured. To be good in the breeding business, you need to have a touch of the mystic and the artist in you, which is why so many horse people have a “dysfunctionality” about them, in the human realm. The preoccupation is deep, very deep, and we find ourselves carried away by it into the wee hours of the night. It’s time to remind ourselves of the fundamental rule that family comes first, business comes second, and private passions come last. That puts the discipline back on the table.
I’ve said often enough, I’m the luckiest man in the world. I live in the most beautiful place in the world, my colleagues are some of its most talented people, and because we take our work seriously, we’re rewarded by working with the finest creature in creation. To top it, I wake up next to a lovely girl, the fountain of my drive, who understands my obsession with horses, and importantly, she covers my back when my shortcomings are exposed to the family! If this sounds like an attempt to mollify those nearest to me at this time of the year, and an apology for the fact that once again, my wife’s birthday falls into “July week”, it is. Truth is, her father, who’s a true-blue racing man himself of the Nelson Mandela vintage, could’ve spared me this inconvenience, if he’d planned things a bit better!