Time heals, and reflection is one of the essential balms after such a rough day at the office / Leigh Willson (p)
EMPERORS PALACE SUMMER READY TO RUN SALE
Summerhill Stud, Mooi River, South Africa
Tuesday, 18 February 2014
Summerhill CEOThe best tonic for flagging spirits in the horse game is the “winner’s circle”; after a testing sale on Tuesday, the hat-trick of victories at Scottsville was exactly what the doctor ordered. Mojo G looked like a decent horse in the making when he cracked his maiden by three for Dennis Drier and Winston Chow; Distinguished rattled home by a growing “five” in the big race on the card for the Joostes and Charles Laird, and Golden Dynasty rewarded “Buffalo Bill“ Burnard and Gavin Van Zyl for their ongoing support of the Emperors Palace Summer Ready To Run Sale. Princess Chichibu had already done her thing while the sale was underway, and yesterday, Negev finally delivered on all her promises for Louis Goosen. Five winners going into the weekend is like 300 for three at the close of play, so we’re feeling more like the Aussies right now than the Proteas.
It’s probably just as well we didn’t share our thoughts on the sale’s outcomes immediately: time heals, and reflection is one of the essential balms after such a rough day at the office. In our thirty-five years in business here, we’ve had to “gut” it out through some challenging situations, and this one ranked with the toughest. Nobody ever said this game would be easy though, so you just have to regroup, take stock and bat on. It’s true, a couple of the horses made more than we expected, but far too many of them didn’t, and it’s probably fair to say that for most of the afternoon, our team’s emotions ranged between disappointment and disbelief. In our view, this lot were as decent a draft as any we’d consigned to this sale, our former graduates had advertised its virtues well, and there were few stones unturned as far as the organisation was concerned.
The one thing we couldn’t bargain for, was finding ourselves in the midst of a postal strike; catalogues are the bibles of the sales business, yet the “mother’s milk” of the sale were piled up in a backlog of more than a fortnight’s postage. The sales company’s rear-guard action in desperately trying to get them hand-delivered to trainers and training centres at the last minute might’ve blunted the impact to a degree, but it was clear from several who attended that the first they’d seen of the “good book”, was when they arrived at the venue on the morning of the sale. Just not good enough.
The greatest disappointment of all though, was facing a “damp squib” in the wake of the raging success of the first two editions and the outrageous successes of some of its graduates. All my life, I have thought how lucky I was to be born in a developing country, where enterprise, risk-taking and hard work are generally rewarded with a commensurate return. Of course, whenever you embark on something new, you stake not only your money, but your reputation and the emotions of your fellow consignors as well, so when things don’t turn out the way you’d expect, you feel it all the more, particularly for those we’ve encouraged to keep their horses specially for this event. They didn’t deserve this, nobody did. It’s a measure of their stoicism, their loyalty and their understanding of how much this team put into the sale, that far from chiding us for the results, we’ve had more messages of support, condolence and encouragement than we can remember.
That said, you have to ask yourself what recourse these people are entitled to as far as the postal authorities are concerned. It’s their responsibility to deliver the mail, and when they accept it at posting time, they provide that undertaking. This was an illegal strike, it must have cost the country billions, and in the context of an industry like ours, it might even have claimed livelihoods. Mercifully, in our case, it didn’t, but that’s scant consolation to those who’ve had to bear the losses for their actions. It’s a fact of life that in emerging countries, economics is largely informed by politics, and in an election year, more so, as warring factions engage in points-scoring. This sale was caught in their crossfire, as was yesterday’s at Shongweni and the pedigreed cattle sale near Estcourt; the exasperating question for a business like ours which, in 35 years, has never spent more than an hour on its wage reviews, is why labour-and-labour and labour-and-business can find no better way of resolving their differences, than crippling the economy. I can’t stand “whinging” though, as I’ve said before, so we’ll leave this topic behind with a confession of embarrassment for the way things are in the land at the moment, and an apology, especially for our international consignors. For us, April’s elections can’t come quickly enough, nor can the hope that things will be different thereafter.
The one saving grace in the sale was the presence of our Mauritian friends. In what turned out to be a happy coincidence, I was watching Tellytrack a fortnight after the November Ready To Run sale, and heard the announcement that the Jockeys’ International was finally going ahead on the Indian Ocean island. Cheryl and I were scheduled to attend Mike de Kock’s annual “bash” in Jo’burg that weekend, but given the history of their association with this sale, we decided to divert for Mauritius instead, in an attempt to “nab” a few customers. Thank goodness they came, because they took home 14 horses between them, as did Bruce and Jo Gardner and the Alexander boys who pitched up with intent, and wrapped up 14 for their own account as well.
If you’re ever going to go out of business because you gave your horses away, best do it with good people. At least, they’ll appreciate them!