Mick Goss
At last it’s being said by someone beyond our borders. The siren call of “first aid” for South Africa’s export initiatives has finally reached the enclaves of those that really matter, thanks to a ream of links in a long chain of knocks on the proverbial door. Vast sums and great reserves of energy have been expended in the process, none more so than by the redoubtable Mayfair Speculators, otherwise popularly known as “M.J.”, now a name of the household variety in international racing circles.
— Mick Goss

Zoustar / Widden Stud (p)

Having followed the sun from Australia's Gold Coast to Cape Town, David Redvers has reliably imported some illumination of his own back to the cold and grey of January in England. For the professional vision that qualified the Tweenhills man to manage Sheikh Fahad Al Thani's emerging bloodstock empire, newly enhanced by the impressive debut of Zoustar (Northern Meteor), in whom the Sheikh has a significant stake, at the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale, is no less evident in his aspirations for the sport as a whole. Just as Redvers and his patron have invested immense funding and energy in innovative projects such as QIPCO British Champions' Day, so he is constantly urging the Turf community in his homeland to show a dynamism worthy of their heritage. And his recent trip only served to amplify depressing contrasts between the popular reach of racing in Australia in particular, and the land that gave the world the Thoroughbred.

Before reverting to Chris McGrath’s version of the Redvers pilgrimage and his illuminating observations on the state of contrasting racing jurisdictions (Australia and the UK), for South Africans, his odyssey to the “Fair Cape” was of immeasurably encouragement for local horsemen.

Redvers and Sheikh Fahad, who enjoyed riding a mock race on the Gold Coast beach, returned via the Cape Premier Yearling Sale, where they were keen to reciprocate the investments made in Northern Hemisphere bloodstock by Markus Jooste and duly dipped their toe into a handful of local partnerships. “It's extraordinary what one man has been able to achieve through his passion for the sport,” Redvers remarks. “He's pulling together some of the wealthiest owners down there and bringing in a massive international audience. But the future of the entire business there revolves around African Horse Sickness, quarantine, and being able to get horses out of there. Quite clearly the best South African horses are capable of competing anywhere in the world, they're sound and tough, but at the moment there's only a convoluted and expensive way of getting them out via America.”   

Noting the remarkable statistic that one in 310 Australians has a stake in a racehorse, Redvers offers a couple of specific examples that condense a culpable difference in attitude: the simple fact that syndicate partners all have their names listed in Australian racecards, and the diligence with which Australian trainers bombard their patrons with information.

“The thing that really struck me at Magic Millions, where the sale was very strong, with lots of A$200,000, A$300,000, A$400,000 horses going through the ring, was that almost none will end up owned by one person,” Redvers says. “To the extent that we bought four or five of the best Zoustars we could find and went halves on nearly all of them, with Chris Waller syndicating the other half. That reflects the way everyone wants to be involved in the sport. Owners don't care whether they have 10% or 75% or 100%, they just want to be part of it.   
”Obviously part of the reason is the prize-money and stallion values they have now”, Redvers continued. “Racehorses are viewed as furry lottery tickets. And of course it's such a social thing, going racing there. But the other thing that really strikes is that they feel like they're owners, and one of the reasons is that their name is in the racecard. Here, for some reason, if you have more than three owners in a horse, you can't get a fourth name anywhere. And that's just because the administrator hasn't got round to sorting out his computer, and doesn't want the hassle. Which is frankly scandalous. However little their share, within reason, say up to a tenth, get their names in the racecard, let them brag to their friends, rather than this nonsense where they have to run under Syndicate 3.2 or whatever.“  

As for the communications skills of the Australian trainer, Redvers goes so far as to suggest that nobody should be given a licence to train in Britain without serving six months as an assistant Down Under. ”Not because Australian trainers are any better than ours, much as they'd like to think they are, but because they're absolutely mustard when it comes to keeping the information flow going,“ he explains. ”With Chris Waller and Robert Smerdon, if I'm sitting in an office in London I'd almost be having more fun having a horse in training in Australia than I would do with one in Newmarket.

There are one or two trainers getting better at it here, but most of them are in the Ice Age compared with how the Australians do it, and that's because they are so syndicate-oriented there. However small your involvement, you get to know every last piece that's going on. And that's something we need to up our game on, big time.“ Needless to say, a less favorable funding structure in the British sport heightens discrepancies in the breadth of its appeal. ”Every horse that runs in a city race on a Saturday is running for A$100,000,“ Redvers acknowledges. ”The prize-money means you have a realistic chance of covering your costs. And we don't here.

If you could cover costs with the proceeds of a single win, trainers would have a tool to draw people into the sport. But obviously it's the most tired statement ever, that the prize-money here (in the UK) isn't good enough. The absolute crux of the matter is that we rely here on a very small number of very wealthy people to put the betting fodder on the table.“

Redvers asks what would happen if these few major investors, such as his own patron, suddenly decided to switch to motor cars or some such alternative. ”Left with our domestic owners, the game would collapse,“ he says. ”Because it is being massively subsidised, by and large by oil money, and basically the bookmakers and the sport have had a free ride on that. Without this support, there's no betting product. As it is, we're told there's a crisis because there aren't enough runners in races, at the same time as we have foal overproduction because there aren't enough people in this country wanting to buy racehorses.“
 
Happily for Qatar Racing's involvement in Zoustar, that buoyant Australian market registered its enthusiasm for his first yearlings. ”It really was staggering,“ Redvers says. ”He was by far and away the leading freshman sire on averages and at one point he had 23 sold from 23 offered. I think he ended up with three passed out of 30-odd, but there was an extraordinary willingness to embrace him. And you could tell them a mile off, they all had this amazing outlook. He's a horse with a great, muscular physique, and they all have the same thing, with a good walk.

“The fact that Chris Waller, who trained him, was prepared to go 50-50 on so many with us showed his belief in the horse, Redvers added. We've done our bit, we've sent him nice mares, we've gone to the sales and bought the best we could, and ensured they'll go to the best trainers. But he'd have done it on his own, because they're all so well-stamped.”
 
Zoustar was frustratingly denied the chance to run at Royal Ascot by an untimely setback, but if he builds on this commercial reception he is very likely to have a second opportunity to make an impression in Britain, by shuttling to Tweenhills.

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