EMPERORS PALACE NATIONAL YEARLING SALE
TBA Sales Complex, Gosforth Park, South Africa
27 - 28 April 2014
Summerhill CEOThe countdown has begun. Less than a fortnight, and lot 1 takes his place at the nation’s showpiece auction, the Emperors Palace National Yearling Sale. We had a man and his three sons make the pilgrimage all the way from Jo’burg Saturday morning for a second look at what he’d seen less than a month ago. He’s a man of business, but he also breeds horses, and he knows a good thing when he sees one. The day before, a wise man from Europe phoned, keen to know what the “Bankables” were like. He knows how good the South Africans have been abroad, and he’s looking for the next “big thing”. As the owner of a son of a first crop sire who’d been close in the Investec Epsom Derby, he knows that real value resides in the undiscovered potential of a freshman stallion. After all, New Approach gave him the thrill of his life, and he remembers that Northern Guest, Jet Master, Western Winter and Silvano were all “first season” champions at one stage.
The man from the Reef was quite specific too. Or should I say his eldest son was. He’s obviously seen the movie, and he wanted a “Secretariat”. The fact that Secretariat was a horse in a lifetime, and that with Frankel, there’d already been two in mine, was no deterrent to the young man from Hilton College, where the motto is “Orando et Laborando” and which in my loosest of translations, means all things are possible. Remembering that miracles just take a bit longer, the penny suddenly dropped for me. I recalled my childhood, when my fascination with horses ranked above everything.
I suspect that Trevor Bennison, the chap who had the task of teaching me the subject, may not have credited me with a sense of history. But it was always a fact, and just a shame that the characters and events from the past that he tried to enthuse me with, rarely excited me much. When, aged seven, I bought my first book on racing, what grabbed me most about the sport, was its long history. It had been around for longer than any of my other boyhood passions - cricket and rugby - and the fact it had endured so long, made it the more compelling. It did not take me long to become a pedigree nut, because that seemed the easiest way to understand the continuity in the sport. Today’s horses didn’t emerge from nowhere; they are the current representatives of a long-established breed, connecting with the great horses of the past, whose achievements had me in thrall.
On Saturday, I had to draw on all my childhood research to satisfy the young Hiltonian. We didn’t have a Secretariat, but we sure as hell had some of his blood. Earlier in the week, Brave Tin Soldier had registered his first South African winner. Visionaire, who like Western Winter descends from a son of a Secretariat mare, Gone West, has his first South African-breds going under the hammer. We were making progress; both carry the blood of “Big Red”.
When I told the young man that for me, a stallion had to be top class as a racehorse, able to hold his own in the best company, I could see his eyes beginning to respond. The stallion needs to have some mystique to his pedigree, and an aura about his ability. He needs to inspire belief, and I could see that both the Hiltonian and I were becoming believers when it came to the “Visionaires”. His score is already on the board: eight winners from a handful of American juveniles, a Stakes winner and a Stakes performer among them, and the young man was a convert.
In the Stallion Prediction Stakes, it’s two strikes and you’re out. There are really only three things people consider when a horse goes to stud: pedigree, performance, physique, in no particular order. A Stakes-winning juvenile at six furlongs, and a record-breaking miler as an older horse when, Lazarus-like, he’d risen again from the ashes of a crippling injury, Brave Tin Soldier answered the other two criteria in a matter of a few syllables. He was, and still is, the record-priced foal of all time. You wouldn’t want to be betting against either of them.
Watching our grooms when we arrived at the Final Call Yearling yard, you’d think they were rubbing down the most valuable racehorses in the world. It’s like they’re as delicate as some precious artefact from the Cradle of Mankind, to be handled gently, reverently, because one careless touch might undo everything that’s led to this day.
You see the successes of our horses are a culmination of so many factors. When a foal hits the ground, all things are equal. Before and after, there can be vast differences. Those two things are in the hands of those of us who are privileged to care for them.
The second phase starts within minutes of birth, and here we are, 18 months on, working with the fruits of our labours. Among the youngsters are the brothers and sisters to Love Struck, Fakazi, No Worries, Emperor Augustus, Onehundredacrewood, Highly Decorated, Alejate, Salutation, Phunyuka, Aces Wild, Winning Leap, Negev, Fox Hunt and Extra Zero; the sons and daughters of millionairesses, Classic heroines, blinding speedsters and doughty stayers. Their grooms are kneeling in the straw of their boxes removing the “putties” and tightening the surcingles. A pigeon scrambles out, frightened from its wits by the stable cat. The horses are immediately taller, alert and mildly agitated.
The grooms, still kneeling at the altars of their straps and buckles, offer a fretful look. Whatever lunacy is this? And a fair question, too. But these youngsters are not that easily stirred. They have faith in their “sidekicks”, it’s the Summerhill way. In the soft light and brisk air that passes for an early Summerhill Saturday, the yearlings are ready for their morning walk. We are watching the rituals that produced the likes of Mowgli, Sentinel, Magic Mirror and Panjandrum, and in a more recent age, Nhlavini, Rebel King, Spook and Diesel and Pick Six, Igugu, Imbongi, Hear The Drums, Pierre Jourdan, Blueridge Mountain and Fisani, who in the space of the past nine years, have delivered up more Breeders’ titles for Summerhill than any other farm in modern history.
Editor: The yearlings depart for Block “A” at the TBA Sales complex this Thursday.