Steve Jobs said "Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things." Of course, creativity comes from connecting people too and when it comes to connecting people, there are few who compare to Mick Goss.
A visiting journo recently described Mick as fizzing with energy. While there is no disputing that he is tremendously energetic, I tend to associate things that fizz with volatile, short-lived, undirected energy, and that would be selling Mick very short indeed. Unlike a sparkler or a firework, Mick's flashes of fire are not fleeting – each is purposeful and carefully considered and is usually directed at trying to fire synapses and light fuses in other people. Of course, like a laboratory experiment, the more powder you have, the more power you create.
Mick excels at meeting and collecting interesting people. And if there's anything he loves more than an interesting person, it's gathering a group of them together and seeing what happens. Mick has a prodigious interest in people and with his time in the legal field, has an enormous capacity for names, dates and details. He remembers mutual connections, family members and areas of interest and his power of recall is staggering. It is flattering, as well as more than a little humbling, that he remembers to ask after my dad (who left the Midlands over a decade ago) as well as my other half, in some detail, while at the same time, gently ribbing us for being Stormers supporters. In short, once you're on Mick's enormous mental database, you're there for life and he ensures that it feels like making the honour roll. Of course, he's not the only one – his lovely wife Cheryl and indeed the entire Summerhill team make every visitor feel like a prized guest. As such, because Mick and the team treat everyone like old friends, that is generally the spirit that people adopt when they visit.
Mick is famous for saying that Summerhill is built on relationships and no-where is it more evident than on Stallion Day. An assembly that includes royalty, heads of state, captains of commerce and personalities from all corners of the racing spectrum all gather on the grassy outdoor amphitheatre of the school. People share blankets, wave at friends and there is a festive, holiday air as we wait for the show to start.
Summerhill have added significantly to their sire arsenal and while it is fun to see the familiar faces, Capetown Noir stole the show. Karl Neisius was in the saddle, resplendent in Lady Laidlaw's victorious July silks while Dean Kannemeyer led him out before an appreciative crowd.
Summerhill's Zulu dance troupe entertained us with their award-winning routine and it's impossible not to get swept up by Mick's vivid stories of the area's rich battlefield history while the ululations and crescendo of Zulu drums float up into the heavens.
Lunch was accompanied by live music, the premiere of the brand new Summerhill sires video, and apart from the wonderful food, entertainment and fund-raising (the real purpose of the event) for me the magic of the day is less the event itself, as it is the amazing people Mick gathers under the School of Excellence marquee. Friendships were renewed and strengthened over the time-honoured ritual of breaking bread and Hartford House's charming new chef Constantijn Hahndjiek held good to his promise of feeding us to the same standards as the horses, with only the best locally sourced ingredients. I'm not much of a foodie, but Sunday's lamb hot pot will take a long time to fade from my memory and taste buds.
Mick takes pride in having the annual July winner as a guest of honour and Lady Laidlaw was there to see 'her boy', Capetown Noir and still beaming with delight about the exploits of her 'other' boy, Power King. Lesotho's King Letsie and Queen Masenate graced us with their presence, Queen Masenate performed the annual sabrage and friends and family mixed easily with bloodstock agents, owners, trainers and fellow breeders and over and over again, Summerhill's friendships and connections were evident in the food, the wine and of course in the horses and many new friendships and connections were forged before the sun sank below the hills.
One can see why Mick speaks so passionately about his farm when you wake up to the view of the Giant's Castle. If that and a Hartford breakfast aren't enough to chase you out of bed, then the prospect of the 5th annual Winter Workshop was sure to do the trick. In Summerhill country, even the delegates are celebs and I was thrilled to hitch a lift with none other than Brenda Eckstein. They say knowledge cannot be forced into a brain, it has to be pulled in, but the depth of speakers on offer guaranteed that we would be challenged, confounded, thoroughly entertained and pushed out of our comfort zones. As with Stallion Day lunch, the assembled speakers, as much as the assembled listeners were plucked from Mick's treasure trove of friends and connections, and formed a human chronicle of Summerhill's long history. It was a treat to get up close and personal with people and organisations that most of us only read about. Everyone was warm and friendly and there in the spirit of sharing knowledge, so not only did we get to listen to them talk, but there was lively Q&A. And if you didn't get to ask your question during the session, you had a further opportunity to pick their brains over coffee and lunch.
Racing journo and raconteur Neil Morrice was the first to run the gauntlet and kicked off Monday's session by regaling us with tales of racing derring-do and some of the great characters – both on and off the turf – that he has been associated with. Barry Irwin unfortunately encountered some passport issues, so Karel Miedema stepped into the breach with a presentation on the statistical analysis of first season sires.
The dynamic duo of Magic Millions' Barry Bowditch and NZ auctioneer Grant Burns gave us an overview of Australia's sales environment, how the fledgling Magic Millions grabbed their share of the Australian bloodstock market and how they manage to co-exist peacefully with Inglis.
The pre-lunch speaker was Aushorse Chairman and the 7th generation owner of Widden Stud, Antony Thompson, who talked us through his family dynasty and gave insights into their unique longevity in the game. Apart from a thoroughly well-prepared and engrossing presentation, he made me a fan for life by stating that of all the reasons their clients buy horses, a return on investment was the least important (Antony for president!). As a relatively small player up against the might of the Darleys and Coolmores of the world, his motto is that racing is a person business, not just a horse business and that if one is prepared to build relationships and go the extra mile for your clients, then there are still opportunities for smart players and it's not always the biggest chequebook that wins. Encouraging words.
If anyone can give Mick a run for his money in the public speaking stakes, then it's CTS Chairman Chris van Niekerk, who held the auditorium enthralled with his talk 'Life in the Fast Lane' and philosophies on how success is dependent on finding and growing the right people to work with you.
The last presentation of the day was delivered by Prof Brian Kantor, who gave us a bird's eye view of South Africa's economics as well as his views about on-line gambling and the state of the local breeding and racing landscape from a financial point of view. With our collective heads buzzing with information and insights, there was just time to draw breath and a quick drink before we were treated to a pre-dinner tour de force – there can be no other description – by Rob Caskie, African historian and story-teller par excellence. An audience with Rob is an unforgettable experience indeed.
Tuesday's proceedings were kicked off by Dr Emmeline Hill, co-founder and Chairman of equine performance genetics specialists, Equinome Ltd, the organisation that identified the 'speed gene' in horses.
Next, jockey agent / racing manager Justin Vermaak and jockey Bernard Fayd'herbe shared their stories so far, including insights into their career highlights, complete with blow by blow big race replays from Bernard and a great deal of the behind the scenes colour, fun and frustration that goes into finding and driving our track superstars home. The audience was rightly engrossed and the enthusiastic Q&A reluctantly had to be called to a halt well over schedule. The gentlemen have recently launched their 'Green Street Bloodstock' venture, which, if it is as focussed and professional as they are, promises to deliver a lot of fun.
Dr Montague Sualez from the Winelands Equine Veterinary practice covered equine internal medicine and neonatology, Professor Martin Schulman, who lectures at the School of Excellence, had some fascinating insights into the effects of early embryonic death in the mare and showcased an algorithm he has developed to calculate the associated risks and likely returns.
Over lunch, we were treated to an impromptu address by man of the moment, Maine Chance Farms' John Slade. John has strong ties with Summerhill, having started his career in Natal and it's a little known fact that he helped design the layout of the farm. John manages to be self-deprecating, blisteringly honest, thoughtful, funny and enormously kind and it is always a treat to spend time in his company. While I know he's looking forward to a well-earned retirement to the back of beyond, I will miss him terribly.
It was encouraging and illuminating to have participation from our operator ranks too. Jay Hariellel spoke to us in his capacity as the National Race Programmer and shed light on the mission impossible he faces with trying to match the programme to the racehorse population, providing balanced racing fare while keeping everyone happy. Well, semi-happy. The formal proceedings were rounded off by Hazel Kayiya, a former School of Excellence graduate, who not only earned an internship with the Hong Kong Jockey Club, but now heads up Gold Circle's Transformation and Corporate Social Investment sector, amongst others. Hazel is working hard to promote our rural racing sector and is currently in the throes of preparation for the Dundee July.
Last, but not least, Shirley Kantor, artist and a teacher of art, rounded off the two days with a bit of culture, talking us through some of the history of popular equestrian art. There was another chance to catch up with presenters and fellow delegates over dinner and all too soon we had to pack our bags, bid Summerhill goodbye and make our various ways home.
I have to end off with enormous thanks to our host and his whole team for a wonderful, stimulating and thoroughly enjoyable few days. Thank you also to the wonderful speakers and everyone who attended. My brain is bulging nearly as much as my wallet with all the new business cards I've collected and I'm already looking forward to next year.
Extract From Sporting Post by Robyn Louw
Zulu Dancer's Drum / Summerhill Stud