You have to take your hat off to the fellows behind the forthcoming Ready To Run Sale. Remembering that, in its earliest manifestation, it was attended by just a handful of customers under the old oak tree outside the Summerhill Farm office, last November its associated race, the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup, offered the richest prize money in South African turf history; the big race and the multitude of innovations over the years were always going to take some beating. So when Cape Thoroughbred Sales (CTS) announced that this year's candidates for the auction would be eligible for two races worth R2.5million each, suddenly at R5million in potential cash, we're talking about a whopping "million two" beyond the sum at the disposal of those that lined up in 2014. No doubt, there'll be questions as to how this was possible: the novelty lies in CTS' "ownership" of both the Jo'burg and Cape Ready To Runs, with a cross-entry into their respective races for graduates of each; seasoned racing people will tell you that's a prospect loaded in favour of those based in Gauteng and Durban, because of the traditional fear of Cape trainers for travelling to the Highveld. For the adventurous, and most owners are in the game for the fun that comes from left field, there is the spectre of a share of the spoils in the City of Gold at the end of October, before the trek to the fair Cape for a bash at another two-and-a-half bars at Kenilworth. Nothing wrong with a week in the world's holiday mecca of choice watching your steed warm up for that kind of money.
For close on a decade now, the Summerhill draft at the Ready To Run has been highlighted by the presence of a "hot" bunch of Aussie juveniles; most racing fans know they've included a liberal gathering of top class performers, yet the "stats" are revealing: fourteen (or a staggering 33%) have posted "Black type" performers: two Group One winners as well as a Horse of the Year; Igugu, Blueridgemountain, Hollywoodboulevard, Rio Carnival, Killua Castle, Dylan’s Promise, Rich Girl, Ilitshe, Umgiyo, Trafalgar Legacy, Indaba My Children, Ridethebreeze, His Affidavit and Grail Maiden.
Which reminds me of a four hour interlude I enjoyed on a plane between Sydney and Perth in the company, as it happened, of one of Australia's all-time great trainers, Gai Waterhouse. She's one of those unusual horse people of extraordinary gifts whose repertoire extends well beyond the equine realm, though I have to confess, we wasted little time on much besides horses. Inevitably, the conversation arrived at a comparison of the types of horses around the world, especially the differences between the Australian animal and our own back here. With the American sales at Keeneland in full swing as I write, I guess the variances are at their most extreme between those raised principally for dirt surfaces, and horses that perform in conditions more akin to our own. My observations of the "Americans" is that in general, they have massive shoulders and great, deep girths, while they taper up behind, a model of strength and athleticism. Australian horses are book-ended with big, strong shoulders, powerful hindquarters and plenty of bone. Ours tend to be more of a compromise between the stylish elegance of the European sort and the natural inclination of horses raised in colonial climes to develop more body, bone and size.
Of course, the Australasian thoroughbred has seen its type been influenced in recent times by the European classic "shuttlers", the Galileos, the Sadler's Wells, the Montjeus etc, and while they are not duplicates of their own tribes in the north, they are certainly distinguishable from their colonial counterparts down under. The likes of Igugu are quickly rejected by Australian horsemen if their sires' stock do not find their feet early in their careers for a lack of sustainability to the Australian racing programme which is designed specifically for early-maturing two year olds; which is where the gap opens for those who operate in the pin-hooking arena.
Accordingly, few of the European classic stallions have made muster in Australia, including incredibly, the Northern hemisphere maestros Galileo, Montjeu and Giant's Causeway, with one notable exception. Of all of them, on type, the one you'd least expect to cut the mustard under the precocious Australian model, is High Chaparral, a delicate looking horse lacking "middle" with a somewhat effeminate head on him. Remarkably, we've found them to be horses of good structures (think So You Think) with, almost without exception, easy, elastic locomotion on them. Mystified by what I was observing in his progeny, I once taxed Demi O'Byrne (he of the tag "best judge in the world") about what it was that had caught his eye in High Chaparral as a yearling, and his opening remark was he was as good a "walker" as he'd set eyes on. Which doesn't help our understanding of the full-bodied type we've seen among his "get", though it does explain the attraction the Golden Sword's held for the celebrated likes of Mike de Kock, Alesh Naidoo, Gavin van Zyl, Charles Laird, Magic Millions' Barry Bowditch and Grant Burns, Jehan Malherbe, Paul Lafferty and Justin Vermaak at the National Sales. Golden Sword is not only his father's lookalike; he's his "getalike".
While the European influence is easily discernible in our smart High Chaparral colt from the family of last year's Australian champion juvenile, Vancouver, the others in our Ready To Run draft by the champion stallions Lonhro, Exceed And Excel and More Than Ready are very much of the "Oz" variety, "book-ended" as I've described, by powerful hindquarters, 45° shoulders and the forearms of Floyd Mayweather. On the subject of Exceed And Excel, he celebrated his 103rd Stakes winner yesterday when a filly trotted up at the French racecourse, Maisons Laffitte. A hundred Stakes winners is a rarity in the horse racing business world that belongs to the likes of Sadler's Wells, Galileo, Danehill and Giant's Causeway: to illustrate the extent of the milestone, it doesn't yet belong to the current "rages" of the American and European sales circuits, Tapit and Dubawi. Nothing quite as vividly explains Exceed And Excel's feat than that.