SUMMERHILL STALLION DAY
Story and photos by Liesl King
Thoroughbred Daily News
Cold, colder, coldest. Welcome to the Summerhill Stallion Day. Traditionally held the day after the Grade 1 Vodacom Durban July, Summerhill’s Stallion Day is a veritable United Nations on the beautiful stud situated just outside Mooi River at the foot of the Drakensberg Mountains. It is this last part that guests need to pay careful attention too. Mountains, especially high ones in KwaZulu-Natal, have snow on them in winter. Lots of it.
Fortunately for most, the storm that blew in as the race day was winding up gave fair warning of what was to come. Yet while Durban dropped to a comfortable 15 degrees celsius, Mooi River had dropped to four, something we only discovered upon arrival as the car door let in a blast of icy air. That meant a scurry for those carefully packed suitcases, hunting for scarves, hats and gloves - in fact, anything that could possibly keep the biting cold out.
Thankfully, Summerhill Stud owner Mick Goss is the consummate host, and as guests hurried past the welcome singers to the convention center they were greeted with a pile of furry blankets, hot coffee and a giant log fire merrily burning. Slowly defrosting, I must admit that when we were requested to brave the outdoors again for the stallion parade, the idea was not very appealing. Hence, if it wasn’t for my desire to see Await The Dawn (Giant’s Causeway) in his new role as a stallion, I may have politely declined.
Guests were seated on hay bales and horse blankets safely under the cover of a Bedouin tent as the rain threatened, but thankfully stayed away. Unfortunately, my desire to bring the world some pictures of Summerhill’s stunning stallions meant I had to ditch the gloves and the comfort of the tent and head for the windswept lawn.
Summerhill’s latest arrival, Ato (SAf) (Royal Academy), was first up, and the G1 Krisflyer Sprint winner was understandably keyed up when he saw the waiting crowds. He must have been convinced he was back on the racecourse. Golden Sword (GB) (High Chaparral), on the other hand, is by now an old hand, and posed beautifully for the appreciative crowd. When Await The Dawn (Giant’s Causeway) finally appeared, I was pleased that I had braved the cold, despite by now having numb fingers. He is just in a class by himself, and it came as no surprise that he already has a full book for his first season. Then it was the turn of the unruly bunch. Mullins Bay (GB) (Machiavellian) did his usual grand entrance on his back legs, and Solskjaer (Ire) (Danehill) promptly followed his example. Admire Main (Jpn) (Sunday Silence) is a showman of note as well but preferred to show his beautiful collected trot, tail flying. Visionaire (Grand Slam) may have come from the land of winter snow, but with the temperature continuing to drop he looked like a fire-breathing dragon as he came out on parade with clouds of steam erupting from his nostrils.
All the while the troupe of Zulu dancers were patiently waiting, clad only in their traditional clothing of loin cloths and bits of sheepskin. Considering I was wearing at least four layers, I was mightily impressed by their ability to handle the dropping temperatures. Yet once they started dancing the cold was immediately forgotten, as their performance was as exhilarating as it was breathtaking. It came as no surprise when Goss announced that the dancers had been asked to perform at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
Finally, Queen Masenate Mohato Seeiso from the Kingdom of Lesotho performed the traditional sabrage, sending the cork of a bottle of Pierre Jourdan flying with one deft sweep of the sabre, and it was time for lunch. Hartford House is renowned for its cuisine and, if lunch was anything to go by, their reputation is well deserved. Of course, it was certainly helped by the superb L’Ormarins wines on the tables. The stallion service auction was deftly handled by auctioneer extraordinaire Graeme Hawkins and before we realized the afternoon had flown by, the snow was threatening to fall and the day was over.
It may have been freezing, it may have been a long drive after a long race day, but once again, the Summerhill Stallion Day was a fitting and glorious finale to the Vodacom Durban July.