Transcript of Mick Goss’ speech at the International Breeders Conference closing ceremony in Cape Town.
That was 21 years ago, and I’m delighted to see several of you among those who were present then and who played such a pivotal role in helping us achieve that. I guess it’s part of South Africa’s cultural respect for their elders that the pleasure of welcoming the breeding colossi and the veterinary elite of the world tonight has fallen on the shoulders of this Zulu farmer: I can’t tell you how pleased we are to see you all here.
To my own countrymen and women, many thanks for affording me this honour and especially to the chairman of our Task Team, Chris van Niekerk, and his right-hand man, Adrian Todd, to Markus Jooste, Hassen Adams and Bennie van der Merwe, for arranging the impossible logistics of getting me here. I grew up in one of the remotest parts of the African continent, and I am presently on holiday there with my family, so it’s an irony for one of such unsophisticated upbringing, that just three hours ago I was sitting in the middle of nowhere almost 2000km from here, yet thanks to the enterprise and magnanimity of these gentlemen and the wonders of space age travel, here I am in your glorious company. It’s probably fair to say that apart from His Majesty King Goodwill of the Zulu nation, never in the field of human endeavour has so much been spent by so few to get a single Zulu farmer to a supper date. They deserve a round of applause as well as my personal gratitude.
Until I went to California for the International Breeders’ Conference in 1995, I’d never been to the United States. Horseracing took me there. For that matter, I’d never been to the France, Germany or Japan, Australia, New Zealand or Hong Kong. This wonderful sport of ours took me there. It took me to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Macau, India and Dubai, the Middle East, Argentina and everywhere else this great pastime has taken root. No other endeavour in the world could’ve substituted the life racing has given us, and I dare say that goes for a good many of you in this room.
In the course of my travels, I’ve been convinced that Les Carlyon was right in reminding us that horses and people are what make racing and breeding so compelling. The rest is dross. If racing was simply commerce, Karl Marx should’ve been its interpreter. As a financial proposition, it is about the redistribution of incomes. It is socialism in a form so subtle you hardly notice it. Hundreds of millions are supplied each year by businessmen from Melbourne to Manchester, from Dublin to Durban, by surgeons and solicitors, gold miners and merchant bankers, and by tax avoiders from all over.
The treasure they contribute is then redistributed slowly, little by little each month so it doesn’t look too obvious, to jockeys, trainers, vets and farriers, to clairvoyants, chiropractors and grooms, to bottlers of magic elixirs, feed merchants and float drivers. Eventually, the working classes have acquired most of the surplus income of the bourgeois. When the cycle starts, the horse people provide the experience and the owners the cash. When it’s complete, the horse people have the cash, and the owners have the experience.
It would be remiss of us as a gathering, Ladies and Gentlemen, if we didn’t pay tribute this evening to the British aristocracy under whose custodianship the welfare of the thoroughbred rested for the first 300 years of its existence. They bred their horses for the right reasons, it was all about the sport, and one rich man beating another, and in their horses they sort nobility and grace, intelligence and courage, speed and stamina, mental strength and physical durability, all attributes we as a species should have been breeding for, but we’ve failed so badly to do. Today, the racehorse stands as England’s greatest gift to the sporting world, the fastest weight-carrying creature on mother earth.
I’m here to share a few thoughts with you on South Africa’s place in the pantheon of the world’s quality racehorse producers. When I last addressed you in Paris in 1995, we were home to 545 breeders, 158 stallions, our annual foal crop numbered north of 5000 and I still had a good crop of blonde hair. In 2014, there were 148 registered breeders, 103 stallions, 3400 foals and the decline in the numbers has left me with very little hair. The attrition was partly due to the global financial meltdown, but much of it has to do with our frustration at the constraints on our exports. It’s a tribute then, to the South African racehorse that despite the reduction in output and the extraordinary demands of our export protocols, our runners continue to excel on the racetracks of the world, given the occasional chance.
Since Mike de Kock first pioneered the plunder of the rich prizes on offer in Dubai 12 years ago, South African-trained horses have won 50%, or three of the six events on World Cup night on at least one occasion, and they’ve come home with a third (or 33%) of the spoils on a further four occasions. These victories include 6 UAE Derbys, 4 Group One Sprints, 3 Dubai Turfs or Duty Frees and 3 Godolphin Miles. By any standards, with a record that compares with the best anywhere, you’d have to say they’ve boxed above their weight. Besides, our fellows have won Group One races in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia in the same time, and only a year ago, Variety Club ranked in the top three racehorses in the world, with Vercingetorix among the top fifty.
It’s a fact, and I’m sure my good friends out there will be comforted by their knowledge of it, that the foundations of the great Australian breeding industry were laid with the arrival in Sydney in 1788 of 44 thoroughbreds aboard the First Fleet. They came from Cape Town, so just imagine what the mighty Australian racehorse might’ve looked like today without its South African connection! And they did so without the benefit of any quarantine.
It seems that while there’s been a reduction in our numbers, there’s also been a concentration in the quality, due as much as anything to the vigorous levels of investment South African breeders have made in recent times in saluting the achievements of our horses abroad. For all they’ve done though, the denial of access to world markets has had a depressing impact on returns to local horsemen. To illustrate the point, the average price at South Africa’s two premier sales in 2016 was $21,367 and $38,437 respectively, compared with $200,372 in Australia, $294,973 in America, and $317,967 at Tattersalls in England.
At the same time, South African horsemen have been loyal and conspicuous supporters of all these international sales, as well as those at Goffs in Ireland, Arqana in France and Baden-Baden in Germany for decades now. For 40 years, we were the biggest buyers of yearlings from Argentina, and we patronised New Zealand staunchly. More recently, there’s been talk among our bigger owners of getting a slice of the Deep Impact pie in Japan and I have a mandate to speak with our Japanese friends while I’m here. I’m sure you’ll concede, Ladies and Gentlemen, that we’ve more than paid our school fees, but just contemplate how much more we could spend in your markets with the reciprocal benefits of a little more cash in our pockets. I should add that most of our foreign buying is for domestic use in South Africa, but the inhibiting thing is getting them out if they’re good enough to compete elsewhere.
For all this, we continue to face major headwinds in getting our horses into the jurisdictions of our trading partners out of an apparent fear that we may export the African Horse Sickness virus. To get a horse to the Dubai Carnival, for example, takes as much as 6 months, and then they’re expected to compete with the best, which remarkably they do. While I don’t want to downplay the necessity of containing the disease, it’s worth mentioning that during the First and Second World Wars and those of the British empire before that, we exported more than 450,000 horses to those conflicts wherever they took place, without ever infecting the recipient countries; that without the benefit of any pre-export quarantine other than the duration of the ship’s journey. Indeed, my friends, we have continued to export several hundred horses every year from the various equine disciplines at considerable cost and enormous inconvenience, without ever transmitting the disease anywhere.
It’s puzzling to me, your Zulu farmer, that despite the technological age and the vast investment we’ve committed to our export facilities, it’s now more problematic than it’s ever been to get a horse out of South Africa, more so given the reality that the disease it not contagious. For that reason, I hope many of you listened to the addresses of Dr John Grewar and Professor Ian Sanne at the veterinary session of this conference earlier today and that you were comforted by what you heard. It’s apparent from the reception our technical team’s presentation received from the international veterinary community in Hong Kong last month as well as the findings of a highly-respected risk assessment organisation in Australia, that there is no longer a rational scientific reason to deny South Africa the normalisation of its protocols.
It seems to me though, that for those of us who reside at the southernmost tip of what the civilised world calls the Darkest Continent, it’s sometimes necessary for us to recall our scientific and business credentials in order to inspire some confidence. So forgive me reminding us all that South Africa gave the world its first heart transplant 50 years ago this month; while it’s not everyone’s favourite topic at present, more than three decades ago, we produced an atomic bomb then gave it up and dismantled it without any fuss; the World Economic Forum’s recent survey of the world’s most admired people included three in the first four with South African connections, one of whom, now in America, is at the forefront in the development of carbon-free motor cars and is a world leader in space exploration; it seems to me, your unsophisticated Zulu farmer, that on the one hand he’s trying to save the planet, while on the other, he’s found a way to leave it. Also according to the World Economic Forum, for the fifth year in a row, South Africa’s auditing and reporting standards were ranked first in the world, while our financial institutions were 8th out of 140 countries in the Global Competitiveness Survey. It’s a fact too, that this little country has produced more world class companies than any other of its size. In a nutshell, we have a vibrant private sector, and several of them have put their shoulders squarely behind the securing of our export facilities, as has our government.
Racing, as I said earlier Ladies and Gentlemen, has taken my wife, Cheryl and I to faraway places, and like most of us, it has made us many close friends. It has taken us to the top of the mountain many times, and it has sat us down with the Queen Of England. Racing has shown us that all of us, no matter our beginnings, can make a name for ourselves in this game, and sometimes aspire to excellence. Above all, racing has taught us that you only live once. But if you do it right, my friends, once is enough. Within the confines of this fine venue this evening, there is enough political power and scientific influence to assist the South African racehorse in resuming its rightful place on the racing circuits of the world. For that to happen though, we need your vote. Just once. Many thanks.