When I think back on my upbringing, there are two features that stand out. One had to do with values. Ours was an old settler family which had survived the rigours of the remotest place in South Africa, through hard work, hand-me-downs and a sense of adventure. The story books tell you, growing up is fun. Ours was.
The other was horses. The Gosses and horses go back well into our Irish ancestry, and my grandfather founded his stud in the shadow of the Great Depression. There was no inheritance at Summerhill though. Just old relationships, and the disease that afflicts us all in the horse game.
As for myself, I always knew that one day I’d own a broodmare, though how, on the meagre stipend of a junior partner in a law firm, I didn’t know. Everything I owned was on hire purchase, including my wife and kids. I’ve always had a Land Rover though, and in the context of this story, in 1977 it was a clapped out old 3 series van, dating to the 50s.
In the car park, after Bold Tropic’s S.A. Guineas, I heard of the sale of a tough old mare whose career I’d followed as a racehorse. Saturday mornings for me were sacrosanct. They were my “farming” days, and on this particular one, I set out in my favourite old khaki shorts, veldskoens and the “Landie”, for the home of the agent, a fine specimen of a man by name Tony Furness.
Clad only in a towel and addressing me from the sanctuary of his apartment balcony, Mr Furness opened the negotiations for Cosy Rosy. I stood in the street below. We quickly established my willingness to buy, so we were only haggling about price. He insisted she was worth R10,000, and I was only offering five, though how I was going to settle even that modest sum, I wasn’t sure. I suggested we spin for it, a proposal with the potential to double my liability if it went against me.
For once, fortune smiled on the “farmer”, and after leaving behind five post-dated cheques, courtesy of my brother’s generosity, I drove away in the old banger, the proud owner of Cosy Rosy. And so the stud that would one day house horses for Arab potentates and English, Australian, Japanese and American millionaires, was born.
A nice image this, some would say, but the point of it all, is that it’s proof if ever it was needed, that in our sport, anything is possible. To many in racing, Summerhill now resembles a totem of money and prestige. The reality is different. There is no farm known to us which is home to more than 500 staff and their families every night. No farm runs four educational facilities, four football teams, four choirs and a world class dance troupe. Our dividends are not measured in money. We see them in the growth of our people.
There are those that will tell you that some guys win races, but often they seem to be throwing a dice and praying a lot. They will tell you that Summerhill on the other hand, seems to be working on some guaranteed quota. To those who are generous, thank you. Those given to envy, should remember that we came to the game with nothing but dreams.
Everything that’s come our way has been achieved through sacrifice, the force of our work and a gift for breeding horses that run. And the fact that our people chose to write their own history.
There was no running start here. Just a clapped out Land Rover, some tired khakis and old Cosy Rosy.