Selling horses tests every human emotion there is, and examines our capacities in dealing with those of our clients, not only the customers who put up their hands at the auction, but especially those on behalf of whom we consign. Think about this: at the Ready To Run we had a 105 lots to sell, roughly 50% of the catalogue, belonging to almost two-and-a-half times that number of owners whose home countries span 22 time zones from Japan to the United States. While some of these owners' names are replicated across a number of entries, it remains something of a nightmare consulting with so many individuals ahead of the sale, more so in the attempt at achieving a consensus among partners which, in some cases, comprise as many as ten representing five different nationalities, and just as many clock-settings!
While most of our selling mandates are achieved with a minimum of fuss, many buyers leave their inspections to the last minute, which means in essence that our conversations with vendors have to be compressed into the last couple of hours before the first fall of the hammer. And that's not the end of the deal; with every horse that passes through the ring, there's a report-back to every seller and the inevitable post-mortem not only with those who emerged "damaged", but also with the ebullient trader whose exceeded expectations. Mercifully, the disappointments are in the minority, and I must say that by-and-large, we represent the most agreeable, and by far the most philosophical clients you could wish for, and they bear their victories and their setbacks with the same degree of equanimity. You can't divorce yourself though, from the highs and the lows that follow every lot through the ring: there is a finality to the end of the auctioneer's chant, and in the uncertain markets in which we live, there's no anticipating the outcome with much certainty. We feel the exhilaration of every one that makes its mark, and we know the pain of every one that doesn't, a hundred-and-five times from the start to the finish.
There's no attempt at self-sympathising here though, just a shot at sharing the relief we get from the few hours on the journey back to Summerhill. You might've thought there'd be room for a quick respite, but there's no place to hide at this time of the year; foals are coming thick and fast (as many as 7 a night), sales entries for next year's Emperors Palace Premier and National Yearling sales are being submitted with the judgments that accompany them to follow, and then of course, as last week's winners reminded us, we're just knuckling down to the preps that precede the Emperors Palace Summer Ready To Run.
In residence at Hartford House as we write, are the chairmen respectively of Epsom racecourse (home of the English Investec Derby) and the English Jockey Club, in the company of their wives and pals. The Jockey Club "man" is an energetic fellow who's chaired the British TBA, the board of the English National Stud and anything and everything else that's worth chairing in English racing. The celebrated Irish breeder, David Nagle, told us last week that apart from the very top of the European market where (like here,) its strong "you can't raffle the others, and likewise Julian Richmond-Watson is perplexed at the "iffiness" of the middle and lower markets in the UK. It's little different in South Africa, and it seems these are the choppy waters we all have to navigate for as long as it takes and while we still have the stomach for it.
Which brings us back to the ones that pricked our ears last week. Increasingly, racehorse investors are searching for value, and those steeds that pitched up for us are the best advert for our "farm" sale, which in its three year history is rapidly earning a reputation for its dependability in churning out not only a regular stream of winners, but among them racehorses of genuine class.
While the "flagbearers" are obviously the multi-millionaire No Worries, the Black type performers Tomorrow's Miss (cost R80k), Greasepaint (R80k), Corredor (R60k), Sithela (R45k), Rooi Nooi (R60k) and King Of Pain (R50k), the latest claims have come from Flyfirstclass (R130k) (who took down the colours of July ace, Power King and the Gold Challenge runner-up Bold Ice, on Sunday a week ago,) the first timer Tokyo Drift (R20k) in Jo'burg; second-timer Black Cashmere (R60k) and the "hardy-annuals" Rumbullion (R25k), Lady Cougar (R35k) and London Olympics (R60k), all in Durban as well as two-in-a-row Lebeoana (R90k).
In the midst of it all, the KZN Breeders' Awards were something of a triumph for the farm and its customers too. Both Juvenile champions were bred here; Rabada (with the Hong Kong Breeders Club) and Royal Pleasure (Team Valor, USA) while the redoubtable Uncle Tommy took the Champion Sprinters' title on his way to his second million. His "mum" Cousin Linda, co-owned with the UK's Mike and Marty Meredith, was crowned Broodmare of the Year, while Visionaire was anointed Stallion Prospect of the Year on the heels of his national Freshman Sires' title.
The complexion of the winners and the diversity of origins among their co-breeders reminds us how fortunate we are that in saluting for the fifteenth consecutive year as Breeder of the Year, Summerhill is home to such a wide spectrum of supporters. All of which makes taking 105 horses to a single sale for close on 240 owners worth every yard of the journey!
Summerhill Receiving The Breeder Of The Year Award / Candiese Marnewick (p)