Those who were fortunate enough to attend the lecture of two of South Africa's riding legends, Michael Roberts and Garth Puller at our School Of Management Excellence's Winter Workshop last year, will know what we mean. Michael Roberts triumphed in more jockeys' championships than any other rider in history, besides being the first South African to take out a jockeys' title in the United Kingdom: just a fortnight ago, on the eve of the Emperors Palace Ready To Run gallops, no less a racing man than Graeme Hawkins named Garth Puller as the most intuitively talented rider he had come across. I guess this qualifies these two fellows to talk about how best to exploit the bend at Greyville and what it means to have the run of the rail.
It's no different when it comes to picking racehorses, as inexact a science as any known to mankind. Racehorses, like human beings, are "flesh-and-blood", and unlike buying a motor car where you can pick up the bonnet and check that all eight cylinders are cosily embedded inside, you won't know when you are buying a yearling at a conventional sale whether there's a heart under the bonnet or a bunch of rubber bands. When an animal parades his "souped up" physique at a yearling auction, there's no knowing from his walk alone what lies within other than the branding on his catalogue page, which leaves us wondering what his jaunty walk and his presence might turn into the day he goes to the races.
So here's where the "Ready To Run" differentiates itself, where the buyer claims an extra couple of yards in assessing what he's letting himself in for. As we've so often reminded ourselves, there are no "walking" races, so running is much the better option in the picking of your prospective steed. How a youngster conducts himself on the way to the start, how he moves and how he acquits himself at the business end of a gallop, are all clues to temperament, action, class and courage, and while there's no 20/20 hindsight in this game, it's a lot closer to knowing what you're raising your hand for when the bidding starts than otherwise.
There's another dimensional aid to the process though, that's often overlooked among buyers, and that's the "inside track" you get from speaking to those who are closest to the horses themselves. In the early days of the Ready To Run, a wily customer by the name of Bill Strydom endeared himself through his courteous enthusiasm to our jockeys and grooms at the sales over the years, and leveraged his friendships with them to gain an insight into the horses' virtues. At the end of the day, he knew all they knew about the catalogue, and that made him an "insider" in an exclusive club. After all, these fellows are intimately connected with the horses from the day they start their education. They've been there every yard of every trot, canter and gallop. They know them in their boxes, they know them in the paddocks, they know how quickly they've learnt, how much work they can take and what they can do when they get down to business. Bills' first good "steer" came from Michael Booysen, now one of our senior managers, but in those days groom to a son of the unfashionable stallion, Alami, by name Fanyana.
While Bill paid a small premium for the "info" because he wasn't the only one who could see Fanyana could run, the R95 000 he shelled out on the Sunday of the sale was half repaid three Saturdays later when Fanyana obliterated a juvenile field on his first visit to the races. He went on to win 10 more for Bill, including several eye-catching performances at Group One level.
Since then, there've been countless instances of "self-enrichment" on the part of prospective customers who've sought the advice of a team of horsemen who have hundreds of years of collective knowledge between them in identifying the ones they think hold the tickets to the Number One box.
While they won't always get it right, these men certainly hold the best cards in the pack, and with nothing to gain but goodwill from the dispensing of their insights, they share their views gratuitously and in the best of faith. That way, the Ready To Run gems Imbongi (cost R140k champion three year old miler), Igugu (Horse of the Year), Pierre Jourdan (cost R60k, Highveld champion and R5.2milion), Hear The Drums (cost R42k, winningmost racehorse in history), Majestic Sun (cost R70k, multiple Group ace), Desert Links (cost R110k, Gold Cup (Gr.1) hero), Mannequin (cost R80K, millionairess), Dynamite Mike (cost R45k Guineas winner), No Worries (cost R440k, multimillionaire), Amphitheatre (cost R30k, R1.5million) and Hollywoodboulevard have been unearthed by word of a good man's mouth, most times for little money.