You have to take your hats off to the KZN Breeders Club. Undeterred by an unprecedented de-listing of all stakes accruing from their enterprising race programme by the National Horse Racing Authority (NHRA) just over a year ago, they've laid on yet another big day of racing for this weekend, topped by the Breeders' Million Mile. Setting a stakes benchmark of a minimum of R200 000 per race, they've eclipsed every day of this ilk and in the process, they've paid their respects to a tradition that dates back to the first running of the Breeders Stakes in 1893, four years before the inaugural staging of the Durban July (these days, the Vodacom Durban July).
Apparently concerned that region-specific and sales-related races in particular, would have a distorting effect on the national statistics, and at the same time disclaiming any motive connected with the fact that the national breeder's title had resided on this side of the Drakensberg for nine consecutive years (impacted incidentally, at the time of their decision, only once by the existence of any one of these races), the NHRA in its initial public statement on their reasoning, stated there was no consistency in the treatment of restricted races around the world.
In their defence, it should be said that they were at first hesitant about adopting the measure, which you'd expect of the guardians of the game's "fair play", but in succumbing to a flawed understanding of the international standpoint, they reminded us of the frailties of the human condition.
They added later the suspicion that the percentage of restricted races to the overall stakes pool in South Africa, was larger than anywhere else. Hence their decision to simply eliminate these stakes altogether, without regard to the history of the excellent fields which had graced them and the achievements of the great champions that had flowed from them. The decision not only lacked juristic credence, but it prompted some detailed research into how these events are dealt with internationally. You see, by a single stroke of a pen, they had discredited for some horses, as many as a third of their annual starts (horses run on average five to six times a year) insofar as their earnings accruing to the credit of their sires or breeders were concerned, while still recognising them for their owners, trainers and jockeys! In effect, breeders and stallions get "zut", simple as that.
It turns out that there is complete consistency in the international treatment of these races; there is no country in the world (besides ours now) where restricted races are held, that they are not accepted for everything they represent, and in those instances where the races are worthy of the status, they're afforded "Black type". Incidentally (or perhaps not so "incidentally",) the festival dubbed the "World Championships of Racing", the Breeders Cup series in America, consists of races restricted to horses paid up either as foals or on account of their sire's subscription. What's more, the four most prosperous racing nations in the world, the United States, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong all have sizeable numbers of restricted events, many of which carry internationally- accredited Black type status, and all of which are recognized for their domestic premierships. Besides, the former three happen to be among the largest breeding jurisdictions in the world, and they also happen to have the biggest percentage of state-bred and/or sales-related events of all, considerably higher in their proportion to the overall stakes pot, than South Africa.
It's a tribute then to our local kinsmen that, notwithstanding the shabby denials of their race of more than 130 years standing, they have persisted in their celebration of the great breeding traditions of their region in the excellent offering they're providing on Sunday. In the line-up for the Mile's R1 million prize, horsemen have again paid their respects with a premium entry, despite the race's proximity to the big events of the following weekend. The top of the card is headed by King Of Torts, Solar Star, last year's ace No Worries, Bezanova and Wild One, all of them major race stars of the current season, which ridicules the belief that a race of its stature is no longer worthy of a history that has stood the full test of time.
No doubt, there'll be those who'd want us to stick our necks out on the result. The reason we have to get to work at 6:30 am every day, is because we're lousy tipsters. But if you insist, the one thing we can say, is that the weights and the conditions of the race favour the best horses, which is what Admiral Rous had in mind when he conceived of the weight-for-age scale. If you're untainted, as we are by sentiment, and if you;re anything of a "Rous" adherent, better you be the judge.
Summerhill Bred No Worries - KZN Breeders Million Mile / Gold Circle (p)