Stallions on parade at the Investec Stallion Day
(Photo : Leigh Willson)
INVESTEC STALLION DAY
School Of Management Excellence, Summerhill Stud
7 July 2013
Summerhill CEOLiving where we do, 10 kilometres outside of the dustiest little dorp in the Midlands at the Southernmost tip of the darkest continent, it’s always flattering to see how many people take the trouble to visit us, no more so than on Investec Stallion Day. Once again, Sunday witnessed the arrival of more than 40 Australians (comforting to know that the trend of migration appears to be reversing itself!), others from New Zealand, a Japanese television crew, owners from Hong Kong, office bearers from Singapore, fans from Dubai, Indonesia, Lesotho, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Turkey, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Greece, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the United States. Incredibly, they included the representatives of 13 international media operations (see below) and just about every member of our local journalist community worth his salt. We’d like to think that besides Jackie Cameron’s world-renowned cuisine, they came to see the stallions and to experience life in Zululand.
You’ve heard me say this before, but those of us who have horses in our blood are the luckiest people on earth. When old man Ellis tearfully handed me the keys to Hartford in 1989, he reminded me that the thoroughbred was the greatest of the good Lord’s creations. It’s okay, by the way, to be emotional about these things, provided you hide it behind your dark glasses, which he did. I remember the first time I entered the sandstone gates of Hartford like it was yesterday. Along the drive, the old flower pots bearing the names of 48 individual champions and Group One winners, talked of a fading history. Mowgli, Cape Heath, Sentinel and Magic Mirror. Panjandrum, Alyssum, Master Polly, Magic Charm, Ajax, Cosmonaut and Salmon. Things were quieter by then, but I knew I’d arrived in the racehorse valhallah. Hartford had been the home of the former Prime Minister of the Colony, it had played host to Winston Churchill and General Botha, both Prime Ministers of a later generation, but it was the Hartford horses that had infused the Ellises with the divinity of racing popes. Hidden away from the mortal world beyond those great gates, was the “great within”, as this imperial enclave was affectionately known.
Raymond Ellis set records the way Jacques Kallis sets records in cricket. He changed the way horses were trained as surely as Mohammed Ali changed the way men moved in the boxing ring. While other horsemen occasionally won big races, they often seemed to be throwing a dice and praying a lot. A.R. Ellis on the other hand, always appeared to be working to a guaranteed quota.
We were there to celebrate the racehorse on Sunday, and to greet the arrival of a racing legend, who had returned home for the rest of his days. Pierre Jourdan, who was named by the way, for the famous bubbly that greeted the arrival of our guests, reminds us why we love this sport. He was one of those racehorses that defy common logic. He mocked those of us who put our faith in six generation pedigree charts, he confounded vets in the manner of his engineering, and the judgement of horsemen who rely on the aesethics of balance and style and presence. In a nutshell, he was a reject.
His legs failed the inspection of everyone at the 2009 Ready To Run, except Gary Alexander’s, who inspected him in the dark after a few Johnny Walkers. If he’d seen him in the daylight, he would’ve failed him, too. R5million later, Pierre Jourdan reminded us that there are other things to a champion besides legs.
He wasn’t that big, his parents weren’t famous and at R60,000, he didn’t cost that much. But he didn’t know that. When the “people’s horse” raced home in the S.A. Classic, they roared him all the way to the winner’s circle. Briefly, he was a deity more than a racehorse. A prominent member of the Catholic clergy was so overcome, he forgot the Biblical injunction against the worship of graven images. He asked for, and received, a few coppery hairs from the horse’s tail.
When he went down in the Derby, he was so sore, they said he’d never come back. Truth is, “PJ” inspired affection. He came to be loved before he was admired. Because of the way he did things, he made people look good and the sport look grander. His connections are from a good old Catholic family. It is said they asked the parish priest to bless his final season, so he could regain his former strength. In a matter of months alone, he added another couple of million to his tally, and chased home Igugu in the July. The priest took joy in his affirmation of the power of the Lord. We took the 10-1.
Two years ago, in the Hall of Fame theatre at our School of Management Excellence, I witnessed the group race debut of a leggy, pimple-faced youngster whose third birthday was still ahead. He romped in by nine lengths, easing down. Seasoned campaigners seldom win Group races by nine, let alone debutants.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Chester racecourse, where they still parade the horses through the streets of the city on racedays. In Roman times, the racecourse served as a harbour for slave-driven galleys. Its tight turns make it more like a chariot track than a racecourse, and this was the venue for Await The Dawns’s next outing, in the Huxley Stakes. The turf’s accountants are a canny old lot, and this time the bookies took no chances: it didn’t help. The chequered flag was out with fully two furlongs to run, and now Await The Dawn was four-in-a-row, each time at odds-on.
There was more to come. He’d kept his best for The Queen and the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, a race with as proud a roll call as any in the European calendar, dating back to 1879. Just a year before, the hero was Harbinger, the highest rated racehorse in the world, bar none. The field was lousy with class, and by the time the bugle called them to post, there was money in the air. Big money, and a small share in the horse was traded for a very big price. In the parade there were three Group One winners, and some of the finest blood your money could buy.
They got away well enough, but Await The Dawn was caught four wide, first time up on a sloppy track. This is where jockeyship counts; Ryan Moore steadied the ship. The horse was back in the field, but suddenly he was cruising. Perfectly poised up front, was the trio of Group One aces, unaware of the lurking danger. The first to move was Godolphin’s triple Group One winner, Campanologist. By now though, he needs to be smarter than his lunch, otherwise he’s going to be the lunch: Ryan Moore was playing the predator. Everyone could see what the Coolmore colour-bearer was going to do to Ted Durcan’s horse. Campanologist is kind, Await The Dawn is a killer. Ears pricked, he broke his spirit in the straight. Quickly, clinically. The rest are broken-hearted.
We were beginning to think this could be one of the best middle distance horses in the world, Coolmore’s Tom Magnier, who’s here with his lovely wife Sophie, tells us he may have been the best horse in Ballydoyle that year. High praise from the world’s most powerful racing stable. It’s apparent that Europe’s greatest rating agency thought so too. Despite the horses lacklustre third in his Group One debut, when it emerged in the aftermath that he was life-threateningly ill, they provided the reassurance that once he’d made a full recovery, he was a Group One winner in-waiting. That he was never the same again, didn’t matter. Like us, Timeform had seen all they ever needed to see, and now the only ones waiting are those of us who look forward to his next career.
Our other inductee for 2013 is an entirely different story, not only because he comes from the other end of the aptitude spectrum. Besides being a bit of a “Johnny-come-lately” (he fell into our laps just two Sundays ago at supper with some of our old pals, Denis and Gael Evans), Ato represents several other good mates, Andreas Jacobs of Maine Chance and Myron Berzack of Shea Shea fame. Proof positive of the value of relationships.
Any racing fan worth his salt, knows the Australian star Black Caviar. As we’ve mentioned before, there are grandstands and bars bearing her name, some as far a field as England’s Ascot. She is a granddaughter of the regal Coolmore racehorse Royal Academy, sire of 170 Stakes winners, 27 of them in Group Ones. In the South African context, Dean Kannemeyer, who was with us on Sunday, tells us that Royal Academy gave him one of his best seasons ever, with the Guineas winner Express Way, and the Durban July hero, Eyeofthetiger. I remember very well the hubbub the Royal Academy yearling known as Lot 107, caused around the Maine Chance stables at the 2009 Emperors Palace National Yearling Sales. In the end, he was one of those rare youngsters who ran like his looks and his pedigreed said he would.
Ato’s arrival on the Asian racing scene was rather like the moment the big stranger bangs through the saloon doors, and the plinky-plunk piano dies. The new sheriff looms in the rush. Now fists fly, whiskey bottles smash, the stranger crashes through the plate glass window. It’s obvious, this movie still has a few reels to run. He wins 9 races, he amasses R14 million in stakes, he is the Singapore Mile champion, and then he shows his real class. He “smokes” an international field in the Group One KrisFlyer Sprint, and sends a telling message to the world’s best sprinters. Six lengths behind him is Krypton Factor: just a month before Krypton Factor had levelled the field in the world’s richest sprint in Dubai.
In this game, we never stop searching for that rare beast with size, speed and superior genes. John Slade swears Ato was as sensational a yearling as he’s taken to a sale. There were a lot of Aussies there on Sunday, and it would’ve been sacriligious to suggest in their presence that anything could down Black Caviar. But it’s a well-known fact that Patrick Shaw always felt short-changed at not having Ato at Royal Ascot the day of the 2012 Golden Jubilee. We didn’t say that: Pat Shaw did.
Once again, South African racing fans revealed their great generosity when it came to the sale of our stallion services, in support of the ongoing endeavours of our School of Management Excellence. For the record this is how they went:
AWAIT THE DAWN
BRAVE TIN SOLDIER
Remarkably, for a debutant stallion, the two services to Await The Dawn made R55,000 each, while a 6 litre bottle of Antonij Rupert Optima, which sold to Team Valor for R10,000 at last year’s auction and was generously redonated to the cause this year, made a staggering R50,000. It’s doubtful their best vintages in twenty years time will carry such a premium!
Mario Kizenko (US TDN), Tim Carroll (UK Sky), Chris Roots (Australia Sydney Morning Herald), Darryl Sherer (USA), Sharon Chapman (Australia), Katherine Ford, Alex Gorski (France Equidea), Fabien Cailler (France Turf Info), Rob Burnet (Aus TB News), Ada Vd Bent (Mercury South Africa), Aidan and Jimmy Lithgow, Karel and Kiki Miedema (Sporting Post), Sarah Cangley, Sarah Whitelaw (Aro), John Lewis, Andrew Harrison (Gold Circle), Andrew Bon, Liesel King, David Mickleburgh (Gavelhouse), Robert and Nicci Garner (Tab Online), Candiese Marnewick (KZN Breeders), Mike Moon, Neil Andrews (SuperSport) and Leigh Lippert.