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Equine Technology

CORRECTIVE SURGERY - How far is too far?

foal
The Corrective Surgery Debate
(Photo : Annet Becker)

 

Early assessment and close monitoring of a foal’s conformation is crucial so that measures can be taken to improve any abnormalities. However, one particular treatment, ‘corrective surgery’, has become so commonly performed on even minor conformational imperfections that many are now questioning whether it is being carried out too frequently and whether its disclosure at the yearling sales should be mandatory.  James Tate BVMS MRCVS writes the following report for the UK’s Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder.

 

Knock-kneed or bow-legged
‘Angular limb deformities’ are conformational abnormalities seen most commonly in thoroughbred foals that require early recognition and treatment.

 

They occur more frequently in front legs, are seen when viewing the foal from the front or back and are broadly categorised into two types – ‘valgus’ and ‘varus’. A valgus conformation is where the limb deviates away from midline, for example, a foal with valgus conformation of its knees is often described as being ‘knock-kneed’. A varus conformation is where the limb deviates towards midline, for example, a foal with varus conformation of its knees is often described as being ‘bow-legged’.

 

Angular limb deformities occur most commonly at the knee (carpus) but also quite frequently at the fetlock joint or the hock. The degree of the deformity is usually evaluated by repeated visual examination but can also be measured and assessed using x-rays. The main problem is often an imbalance of growth in the growth plates. For example, if the outside of the growth plate just above the knee is growing slower than the inside, then the foal’s leg will deviate away from midline and so develop a carpal valgus conformation – knock-kneed.

 

Congenital and acquired deformities

These conformational deformities are broadly grouped into congenital or acquired forms, with congenital deformities being present at birth and acquired deformities usually appearing at a few weeks of age.


Congenital abnormalities are caused by either laxity of joint ligaments or incomplete formation of the small bones of the knee or hock. Careful palpation of joints should establish the presence of joint laxity and the conformation of such foals can usually be corrected successfully with conservative management, even in relatively severe cases.

 

Incomplete formation of the knee or hock bones is typically found in premature foals and so x-rays should be performed as a routine.

 

Conservative management of angular limb deformities is successful in most foals and, in fact, a degree of carpal valgus conformation is normal in a newborn foal.

 

Therapy consists of restricting exercise to box rest with a limited turnout period per day, providing a firm bedding and turnout pasture, as well as corrective hoof trimming and, if necessary, the use of glue-on extensions that force the foal to straighten its legs. This allows the growth plates to be stimulated but prevents stress and compression on the affected side of the growth plate. If the affected limb of a newborn foal can be manually ‘straightened’ because it is being caused by joint laxity, then conservative management will usually be successful. More severe cases are treated with splints or limb casts, but these should be used with caution and changed regularly to avoid skin rubs.

 

Acquired angular limb deformities are caused by asymmetrical bone growth from the growth plate, with one side of the growth plate growing faster than the other. Sometimes the cause of such deformities is not known, but it can be the result of injury to one side of the growth plate, uneven loading on one leg due to lameness of the other leg, inappropriate nutrition (for example, too much nutrition or an incorrect calcium/phosphorous ratio), excessive exercise, or improper foot-trimming.

 

Whilst affected foals can also be treated conservatively, this is when many foals are booked in for surgery.

 

Corrective surgery – more now than ever

There are two surgical treatments that should be used for the more severe cases but which are now being used more than ever.

 

Both techniques depend on continued growth in order to straighten the leg and so should ideally be carried out before the foal is two months old (especially in fetlock deformities) and in severe cases the techniques can be performed together.

 

The first surgical technique is a periosteal elevation, which is carried out on the side of the growth plate that is not growing fast enough and its aim is to stimulate growth on this side of the growth plate. The outer surface of the bone (the periosteum) is thought to have a restraining influence on growth and by removing a strip of periosteum over the slow-growing side of the growth plate, growth is stimulated. For example, periosteal elevations are performed on the outside of the knee in a foal with carpal valgus, or the inside of the knee in a foal with carpal varus. An inverted ‘T-shaped’ incision is usually made approximately 2.5cm above the growth plate and its maximum effect is seen after approximately two months.

 

It has a few advantages over the second surgical technique described below in that it is a one-off surgery, it is minimally invasive and there appears to be little risk of over-correction, although some argue that this is because it is not that effective. Indeed, recent research has suggested that foals with the mild deformities currently treated by periosteal elevation generally improve without the need for surgery if treated with box rest and corrective farriery alone.

 

The second surgical technique works in the opposite way to a periosteal elevation, in that it slows down the side of the growth plate that is growing too fast.

 

Temporary transphyseal bridging is the insertion of metal implants to slow down

the growth of one side of the growth plate to allow the other side to catch up.

 

Traditionally, a staple is inserted over the growth plate or two screws are placed either side of the growth plate and either wires or plates join them together.

 

However, more recently, a new method of inserting a single screw across the growth plate has been developed, as it has the advantage of a better cosmetic result. All of these methods are very effective.

 

However, the metal implants must be removed as soon as the leg is straight, otherwise over-correction and deviation in the opposite direction may occur.

 

There is no doubt that, if left untreated, severe angular limb deformities cause big problems for horses and the result is often osteoarthritis of the joints which have been put under excessive pressure by the poorly balanced limb.

 

Veterinary surgeons have become so proficient at these corrective surgeries that they are becoming very widely used, even for minor conformational abnormalities. Therefore, the possible disadvantages must be discussed.

 

Are there any downsides to such surgery?

In 2006, Santschi et al reported on their findings from studying the conformation of 199 thoroughbred foals from birth to yearling auction age, and found that knee and fetlock conformations change greatly with foals, generally becoming less carpal valgus and more fetlock varus as they become older.

 

This could lead the reader to suggest that it may be difficult to ‘correct’ a foal’s conformation to exactly the right degree as its conformation is likely to alter after corrective surgery has had its effect. However, in reality veterinary surgeons are now so good at judging these corrective surgeries that this is rarely a problem. The only significant practical downside of the surgeries seems to be the minimal scars and white hairs that can be left after the procedures, if the breeder is unlucky – although one or two do attempt to fix this with a little boot polish at the sales!

 

From an auction sale point of view, these corrective surgeries are excellent and have very few disadvantages.

 

However, the final important issue is whether performing all of these corrective surgeries is good for the racing careers of the horses concerned or, indeed, the breed as a whole.

 

In 2004, Anderson, McIlwraith and Douay published a paper in the Equine Veterinary Journal on the role of conformation in musculoskeletal problems in the racing thoroughbred, and the highly-respected Professor Wayne McIlwraith presented his findings at the Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding Seminar at Cheltenham racecourse.


He made two significant points. First, he came to the slightly unexpected conclusion that a degree of carpal valgus, which many are currently ‘correcting’, is actually a good thing and may serve as a protective mechanism for soundness.

 

Second, he argued that we should try to “manipulate Mother Nature” when we need to and suggested that corrective surgery is not always helpful and can actually contribute to unsoundness.

 

Widespread use does spark some concerns

In summary, corrective surgeries are excellent procedures for the treatment of extreme angular limb deformities. However, their widespread use leads everyone involved in the thoroughbred industry to have two serious concerns.

 

First, is it correct to be performing so many surgeries? Second, should vendors be made to disclose which yearlings at the auction sales have had such corrective surgeries?

 

The second concern is exactly what the North American Consignors and Commercial Breeders Association have been suggesting for some time.

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MATING RECOMMENDATIONS : This is where it all begins...

Broodmare Manager, Annet Becker, with Broodmare Of The Year Aspirant, Cousin Linda, dam of this year’s Cape Flying Championship (Gr.1) Ace, Rebel King and top colt at the NYS, and nightwatch supervisor, Sizwe Ndledla with the dam of Canon Gold Cup (Gr.1) hero, Desert Links (Selborne Park). As Annet said, “It’s a great shot of them both – as well as the mares!”
(Photo : Leigh Wilson)

Our Bloodstock and Broodmare, Foal and Yearling Sales Managers, together with Assistant Managers Richard Hlongwane and Thulani Mnguni, have been scouring the paddocks during the last few weeks, alongside Mick Goss and photographer Leigh Wilson, scrutinizing the weanlings from last season as well as their mothers, with a view to the lengthy deliberations regarding the latter’s stallion mates for the forthcoming year.

This is a painstaking affair, with every detail being noted concerning the mares’ breeding histories, the progeny they’ve already produced, the trainers and the work rider’s views, and now of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we’re looking to the future.

Summerhill farm clients know that over the next few months, they’ll be receiving the first of the proposals from our mating team, whose work spans the wee hours of May, June and July.

There’s a reason why we get so many horses to the races, and why so many train on well into their sixth, seventh and eighth years, and that’s because of the work that gets done in such detail right now.

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Facebook, Twitter, Social Media and Horseracing

bold application facebook

Bold Application by Kahal
(Gold Circle/Summerhill Stud)

 

Social media is defined as any platform where users can interact, create content, communicate and converse in a free and informal manner using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies, most commonly via the internet and mobile communication networks.

 

Leading the online social media frontier is Facebook.

 

Facebook is a free-access social networking platform that allows users to join networks organised by location or interest groups, thus facilitating the easy transfer of information between personal contacts or organisations.

 

Ray Paulick, leading voice in the US Thoroughbred industry and previous editor in chief of BloodHorse, last year launched the online publication, The Paulick Report (www.paulickreport.com), which aims to provide the Thoroughbred Industry with an independent voice for news, analysis and commentary.

 

The Thoroughbred Daily News recently published an interview with Ray Paulick in which he discusses his experience with Facebook and other social networking websites from a horseracing standpoint.

 

TDN : What has your experience been on Facebook? How does it help you keep in better touch with racing, or promote your racing product to customers? How might the industry better use social networking to promote itself? What other sites do you use?

 

Ray Paulick : Like many middle-aged adults, I first learned about Facebook from my kids, who now rely on this tool more than e-mail for communications with their friends. I’ve found Facebook to be a useful tool for reaching a new audience, and if I’m going to generalize, I’d say it’s a younger demographic, though more and more people from my generation are discovering it as a fun and useful way to keep in touch with individuals or groups of people, from old friends to relatives to folks I’ve met online.

 

From a business standpoint, Facebook has been a means to heighten awareness among racing enthusiasts about the Paulick Report, though our audience consists mostly of people with an investment or serious interest in the Thoroughbred industry. In addition to my own Facebook page, the Paulick Report has a group page on Facebook, but we try not to inundate people with breaking news or updates because I’m afraid that if you flood inboxes you’ll lose a good part of your audience.

 

We’re still tweaking how to best utilize this tool, and are looking at other platforms, including Twitter, which has really caught on in some areas of news and communications. There’s no question that the future of publications, news gathering and networking is online.

 

Having said that, I think many people who have been in the Thoroughbred industry a while are a little slow to the dance on some of these tools. I’m glad to see so many racetracks and organizations getting on board this online bandwagon. As marketing budgets are cut, it’s a very cost-effective means to keep in touch with customers and other interested parties. In particular, I like what the New York Racing Association is doing on YouTube - adding original content to the site that is both entertaining for fans and useful for horseplayers. I hope other tracks learn from them, because if we don’t start reaching out to where most younger people are spending their time these days – online – we’re only going to see our fan base continue to shrink and our demographics take on an even older profile than we currently have.”

 

The percentage of businesses taking advantage of the “free” social media environment is currently minute in comparison to the potential on offer. This is something that anyone can and should be involved in, especially in times of scaled back marketing budgets.

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NO, HORSES ARE NOT RUNNING SLOWER

thoroughbred speed (michael nefdt)In pursuit of the “Perfect Equine Athlete”
(Stuckenberg/Haase)

This is my response to Saturday’s article which suggested that thoroughbreds might have “topped out” in terms of their progression as speedsters. The answer is simply “NO”, they haven’t. The first thing any correspondent on racing has to understand is that, unlike human competition, horseracing is a tactical business, the idea being to get the race to pan out to suit the individual horse’s style of running. Bear in mind, unlike human beings, the horse has no ambition to break records, as he doesn’t understand the subtleties of timing. His instinct is to run, and in the process, to beat his opponent. That’s what his genes have been honed towards throughout his 300 plus years of existence, and so it’s a wonder human beings have been able to teach horses to settle in a race, off the pace, and await their time.

The reality is, with the enormous prize money available to racehorses (human races are run for significantly less), the best tactics are all important, and getting the horse across the line first is the only thing that matters. If a record tumbles on the way, it’s a bonus.

Of course, like every form of endeavour, the closer you get to perfection, the more difficult it becomes to establish new records, and it’s no different in the field of human sports. Throughout history, people have set themselves targets against which to run, yet the biggest increments in human athletics have been in the last 50 years, where special nutrition, enhanced facilities and rigorous training programmes have dominated, even more so in the last twenty years.

In the world of the equine runner, the extent to which horses could be worked was long ago taken beyond where human beings were prepared to stretch themselves, so “topping out” (or reaching a stage closer to perfection) in human athletics. But all of this ignores the remaining opportunities for improvement.

The fact is, at Summerhill, we’ve found several means in the last fifteen years of significantly improving the performance of our own horses, and we’re nowhere near done yet. Our suspicion is, as has been the case with human athletes as they’ve grown bigger and stronger by the decade, is that there are still genetic and nutritional advances which can shape the equine athlete, and take it to levels we’ve yet to explore. That, and the discovery of the latent potential of our own environment, which we still have the daily luxury of exploring.

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Have racehorses reached their speed limit?

speedy horsesSpeedy Horses
(Painting : Thoroughbred Paintings)

According to Mark Denny, PhD, of California’s Stanford University, it doesn’t look as though Thoroughbred racehorses will be breaking records anytime soon… or perhaps ever again.

Mark Denny believes that a plateau in racing speed was reached back in 1949, 1971, and 1973 for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, respectively.

Denny analyzed the records for the U.S. Triple Crown races from 1896-2008 for the Kentucky Derby, 1925-2008 for the Preakness Stakes, and from 1926-2008 for the Belmont Stakes (when the current race distances were set).

In addition to noting that horses are not running any faster than they were decades ago, his assessment also revealed that the predicted maximum running speed is only 0.52-1.05% faster than the current race records.

“These results suggest that definite speed limits do indeed exist for horses and that their current speeds are very close to these predicted limits,” said Denny.

Despite the fact that horses have been bred for speed and the population from which to select fast racehorses has increased over the past 50 years, race speeds have not increased in the past 40-60 years.

“Horses appear to have reached their limit,” noted Denny.

While Denny’s analysis may be construed as disappointing by some, Denny attests that his findings should not, “diminish the awe with which we view the performance of horses.”

The study, “Limits to running speed in dogs, horses and humans,” was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology in December 2008.

What do you think?

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THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP: Part 5

summerhill tractor (michael nefdt)Organic Integrity
(Photo : Summerhill Stud)

“Agricultural Eccentricity

We concluded our last episode on the “Mating Game” with the betrayal of a confidence, or put another way, with something of a presumption: declaring Lady Chryss O’ Reilly a kindred spirit. Truth is, the O’ Reilly’s don’t only have their breeding philosophies in common with us; they also share a deep-seated attachment to South Africa. Outside of Ireland, they have more homes here than anywhere else.

But for the best evidence of the value of what we had to say of our reliance on stockmanship as the optimal tool in the design of a mating, you need only look at the National Breeder’s Log, where Summerhill’s boldest pursuer is Lionel Cohen. A revered horseman if ever there was one, he’s another with something in common with the odd one among us: his computer illiteracy! Lionel’s Odessa Stud is nothing if it isn’t driven by a consummate professional, whose best advertisements most times have been bred the less conventional way, with stock of lesser commercial fashion.

In a world in which numbers are fundamental to championships, you might be forgiven for thinking the breeding of racehorses has become something of a production line, and while this is obviously true in many parts of the world, at Summerhill we still pride ourselves on the fact that with us, it remains an art. Talking of art, we quickly realised in our business model, that this was another pillar on which we could separate ourselves, by adopting a course that was off most radar screens. In episode two, “Defining The Job”, we spoke of the need to employ specialists in every division, and that most times in the horse breeding world, agriculture is a rather neglected area of activity.

It’s one thing getting the mating right, it’s another altogether sustaining the pregnancy in the healthiest and most productive circumstances, and then, post-delivery, providing an environment in which the foal is able to achieve its full genetic potential.

Our observations of the way things were being done on horse farms in most parts of the world (including here at home,) led us to the conclusion that, for the most part, this was an area where we could separate ourselves from the field. The first thing was to employ the best agriculturalist our money could buy, but in the process we needed to find someone who was still fresh and open to new ideas, unburdened by the baggage that so often besets a conservative community, when it comes to change.

The reason was, we were about to embark on an altogether untravelled road, and what we were about to do was in the nature of a revolution, certainly in the horse business.

Many of our lessons came by trial and error (we’ve paid the school fees!), but the one thing we’d learnt in our time at Summerhill, was that repeating mistakes was a costly business. So our powers of observation grew sharper each time we entered a cul-de-sac of no return, and in the fullness of time, not only did nature begin to reveal herself to us in all her glory, but the folly in trying to beat her became abundantly evident.

The end of World War II heralded the fertilizer revolution, coinciding with the development of serious tractor power. The new convention involved ploughing on a broad scale, and the application of fertilizers brought about a multiplying of yields on a scale hitherto unknown. Let’s not forget, the fertilizer business was born out of the explosives industry, which had to find a means of redeploying its products with the ending of hostilities. Agriculture provided the perfect place. What nobody told us, was that the regular pulverising of soils and its constant doctoring with synthetic stimulants was not a sustainable practice. Inevitably, we found our soils were beginning to resist the rigours of ploughing, and like a drug addict, they were drawing in ever-growing quantities of fertilizer, just to uphold the yields of years gone by.

And so we discovered what nature could do for us. We resorted to recycling our bedding through a composting plant, balancing of our soils through natural minerals and trace elements, and restoring the original integrity of the soil. No longer the impermeable, hard-baked crust that took a ripper to break it at the onset of the planting season; no more the outrageous quantities (at what cost?) of fertilizer, and countless applications of insecticides and herbicides. No, here we were, returning to our beginnings with composts, limes, rock phosphates, nitrogenous legumes, natural worm remedies and a “No’” sign across anything pretending to look like a toxic spray.

Cattle were introduced almost twenty years ago to combat the parasites that pervade the horse world, to pick up the ticks and convert the straw bedding into their own form of compost. The natural world is finely balanced by the variety in its multitude of species, and in the interplay between cattle and horses, there is something resembling the wildebeest and the zebra in the wilds. No wonder nature works.

If you’d come to Summerhill with a penotrometer six or seven years into this programme, and thrust it into a typical soil crust in winter, it might have gone, at best, some four inches down. Today, since the tilth or crumble of the soil has reverted to what nature originally intended, in many cases, the penotrometer will sink to the handle, almost a metre into the ground. Imagine the implications.

The earthworms are back, the dung beetles are peddling their trade, and instead of rushing away across its surface, water percolates down into what was once a parched earth, enhancing its retention and in its interaction with the new lungs of the soil, it promotes the existence of micro organisms. A new-found religion, it has to be said, and what a difference it’s made to life on the farm.

There are those that believe we must be sleeping with fairies at Summerhill, and that what we’re up to, boarders on what some regard as eccentric. If doing things differently means being eccentric, so be it. Truth is, eccentricity has always abounded where strength of character has abounded; the concentration of eccentricity in society has generally been proportional to the concentration of genius, mental vigour and moral courage. That so few dare to be eccentric these days, marks the chief danger of our time. But that suits us, because our “eccentricity” is obviously what sets us apart.

A recent estimate of the birthweights of foals at Summerhill reveals an average increase of between 5-6 kgs over those of less than a decade ago, while the incidence of loss through conventional disease has been stringently curtailed. The levels of natural immunity in our horse population, has been considerably enhanced, with one exception.

Two years ago we encountered the first occurrence of salmonella at Summerhill. Those who know it, will tell you it’s lethal. Yet, for all the wonders of modern medicine, and despite the application of the fanciest of drugs and the most stringent of bio-security measures to control the disease, it was only a resort to a natural remedy that restored us to normality.

Salmonella is a bacterial disease, and in a naïve environment (one which has never previously known it,) it is apt to spread like wildfire. Our horses and our environment had never before been challenged. Do what you want with all the antibiotics, washes, rinses, power hoses, movement curtailments, none of these on their own or in their collective might, are entirely effective in the eye of such a storm. In the end, we found our solace in a natural antidote.

Again it was about restoring the balance, and we sought the assistance of “good” bacteria to counter the effects of the “bad”. Almost instantly, we noticed the turnaround. To our knowledge, this was a ground-breaking “world first”, never before employed in our discipline, yet it was all so simple, and made so much sense. Thank you, eccentricity!

Of course, there have been other issues of influence in Summerhill’s four consecutive Breeders’ Championships, and each of them accounts for an increment of little more than 5-10% in terms of improvement. This though, was the beginning of an agricultural revolution for us, where our understanding of and our alliance with nature, prevailed over the previous revolution. Seeing it at work, and knowing its benefits, has been as satisfying as anything we’ve done here.

trowel and bricksClick here to read :
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP : Part 1
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP : Part 2
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP : Part 3
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP : Part 4

PLACENTITIS : Measuring placental thickness in mares

horse fetus“The single most important cause of premature delivery is placentitis.”
(Photo : Tim Flach)

annet beckerAnnet Becker Summerhill Broodmare and Foal Care ManagerImproved diagnostic techniques and advances in the understanding of equine reproductive physiology and pathology have resulted in increased pregnancy rates in mares. In contrast, the incidence of early pregnancy loss has remained fairly constant at a rate of 10-15 %. Pregnancy losses during late gestation (> 5 months) represent an even greater problem for the equine breeding industry. Affected mares will not only fail to produce a foal, but will often have a lower conception rate during the next breeding season.

Pregnancy losses during late gestation could be the result of fetal illness, placental dysfunction, or maternal illness. Monitoring of maternal health and preventive treatments of the pregnant mare against diseases that may cause abortion have been performed routinely for decades. However, monitoring of the placenta during late gestation has only recently gained recognition in equine veterinary medicine.

Premature delivery of a weak or dead foal is devastating to horse owners. Even if they receive the best neonatal care, most of these foals, if they live, never have productive performance careers. The single most important cause of premature delivery is placentitis. It accounts for nearly one-third of late-term abortions and fetal mortality in the first day of life. Placentitis is most commonly caused by bacteria that ascend through the vagina and breach the cervical barrier.

An abnormal thickness and partial separation of the allantochorion from the endometrium has been observed in mares with clinical signs of ascending placentitis based upon transrectal ultrasonography. In advanced stages, the space between the uterus and the placenta is filled with hyperechoic fluid. In a field study on Thoroughbred mares at commercial stud farms, it was concluded that an increased CTUP (combined thickness of the uterus and the placenta) during mid and late gestation, indicates placental failure and pending abortion. None of the mares with normal thickness of the placenta lost their pregnancies, and all mares that aborted had a marked increase of the CTUP or placental detachment. Under practical conditions it was suggested that a CTUP >8 mm between day 120 and 300, >10 mm between day 301 and 330, and >12 mm after day 330 suggests placental failure and pending abortion.

For a while now, we have been measuring the CTUP of all the mares at Summerhill on a bi-monthly basis. Any mares with an increased CTUP are placed on daily antibiotics and are rechecked by the vet a month later to see if there is a decrease in the CTUP. If it has decreased, we suspend her antibiotic treatments, but if it increases she will continue on antibiotics for another month. In the previous years we have done this with all our ‘high risk’ mares with great success – all of them producing live, viable foals. As there is a 10-15% pregnancy loss in normal mares, we feel by checking their placental thickness on a regular basis, we see more mares carry to term and produce live foals.

While transrectal and transabdominal ultrasonographic examination of the placenta is very useful in detecting early signs of some placental pathology, it is important to keep in mind that placental changes resulting in periparturient problems can sometimes be subtle, and may not readily be detected on ultrasonographic examination.

The Danehill affinity for Northern Dancer-line mares

northern dancerNorthern Dancer
(Painting : Richard Reeves)

“A CELEBRATED CROSS: ONE GOOD HORSE AFTER ANOTHER”

Readers of the Summerhill Sires brochure for 2008/9 and those that use the mating guidelines on our website, will recall us banging on about the Danehill affinity for Northern Dancer-line mares, and how many good horses have flowed from this “nick”. Of course, we need to remember that while Danehill himself was a son of Danzig (by Northern Dancer,) he carries in his female line yet another strain of the Emperor’s “blood”. Indeed, he is a member of the self-same female family (of Northern Dancer), and while that’s no guarantee of an affinity, the fact is, the Danehills are typically big, strong horses who generally complement the very feminine, high quality females descending from the strain.

This past weekend, we were reminded of the potency of this cross when the winner of the Arrowfield Blue Diamond Stakes (Gr.1), Australia’s most famous “stallion maker”, was taken out by a son of Exceed And Excel. In common with some of Danehill’s most famous racing progeny, Rock Of Gibraltar (Be My Guest mare), Desert King (Sabaah), Peeping Fawn and Horatio Nelson (both Sadler’s Wells), Exceed And Excel was spawned by a daughter of Lomond, Northern Dancer’s English 2000 Guineas winning brother to Seattle Slew.

With the biggest concentration of Northern Dancer blood in its female herd in South Africa, and so many breeders’ preoccupations with outcrossing, you might have thought that in the presence at Summerhill of the largest assembly of quality racing sons of Danehill on the African continent, we might’ve been foolhardy in overdoing the concentration of this blood on the property. The answer is endorsed in the events of this last weekend. It’s a comfort to see this approach to the production of quality racehorses, is working so well.

Watch Reward For Effort winning the Arrowfield Blue Diamond Stakes 2009

SUMMERHILL INTERNSHIPS : The Future is Bright

summerhill internship“A seasonal or longer internship at Summerhill is unlike most in the world.”
(Photo : Kayleigh Leisegang)

The Thoroughbred industry is part of an extremely well established global trade. This must be one of the industries with the greatest potential for international travel for a young person. You have people travelling the sales circuit from one country to another, and others working 6 month breeding seasons on opposite sides of the equator, on a regular basis. It’s not only about the work, but also experiencing the cultures, traditions and environments of all these countries. With horses, it barely matters what language you speak, because the skills you need are universal and the most important attribute is passion. Singularly, passion is the only language.

Besides the fact that Summerhill has sent its employees from the previously disadvantaged community on more than 32 overseas trips, we also offer opportunities for young people to work here. This has provided us with some exceptional seasonal help over the past 10 years, provided by locals and people from abroad. Thoroughbred racing is a diverse profession, and spending time on a world class stud such as Summerhill, you are not only exposed to stud work, but also get a glimpse on so many facets of the racing world.

Our interns of the past include:

Mick Flanagan

mick flanaganMick FlanaganMick is from County Louth in Ireland and spent several months in 2006 working at Summerhill. He has worked at a variety of the top studs in the world including Coolmore America, Haras du Logis and Haras de la Louviere in France. Currently a second year intern on the Darley Flying Start course, Mick is doing a 5 week placement with Mike De Kock in Dubai.

“My time at Summerhill was one of the most enjoyable times in my life so far. What a team and what an environment for a horse to grow up in. I was afforded lots of hands on experience during my couple of months at Summerhill moving from morning management meetings to stallions, to yearlings, to broodmares and trackscavators!” “I learned so much about the South African bloodstock industry while at Summerhill and it is definitely a place where I will be spending more of my time in the not so distant future.” 

Douw Coetzee

douw coetzeeDouw CoetzeeAfter finishing a year and a half internship at Sequel Stallions in New York, South African born and bred Douw worked two seasons at Summerhill as assistant broodmare manager. He then did the internationally renowned Irish National Stud course and is currently working for Arrowfield Stud in Australia.

 

 

 

Claire Neveux

clair neveuxClaire NeveuxClaire came to us as the top graduate of her year at the Irish National Stud course, after previously having worked at Lord And Lady Lloyd-Webber’s Watership Down Stud in Hampshire. After finishing a season at Summerhill, Claire returned to her native France, and is studying Animal Science at Paris Diderot University.

 

 

 
Declan Foy

declan foyDeclan FoyAnother Irishman, Declan initially started his career as a banker and then swopped it for the greener pastures of Sheikh Hamdan’s Shadwell Stud in England. Shadwell’s 20 year association with Summerhill led to Declan coming here last season. He worked as Assistant Foal Manager at Summerhill in the 2008 foaling season, our biggest seasons yet, with 245 mares foaling down. After completing his season at Summerhill, Declan is currently working at Juddmonte Farms (our Broodmare Manager, Annet Becker, is another Juddmonte graduate) in America, after which he will do a season in Australia.

“I learnt a great deal from my time at Summerhill and it was wonderful being part of such a successful team with a great attitude to working hard. I would encourage anyone to spend a season there as it is the most rewarding and worthwhile experience”, says Declan.

A seasonal or longer internship at Summerhill is unlike most in the world. The experience you get here in all the different aspects of horse management, from treating sick horses, evaluating young stock, staff management, client relations to sales prep and breeze ups, is a lot more challenging than in most other countries of the world, mainly because the level of responsibility is much greater. Interns are not simply used as labourers, but are introduced to the demands of management. It involves long hours and is not for the fainthearted. Accommodation on the farm and a living allowance are provided.

There are seasonal and permanent positions available in the different divisions at Summerhill on a regular basis, and if you are interested please send your curriculum vitae and cover letter to :

annet@summerhill.co.za

THOROUGHBRED IDENTIFICATION

equine research linkEquine Research Centre Team
(Photo : Annet Becker)

“I am who I am”

Ensuring that a horse is easily and accurately identifiable is vital in the Thoroughbred industry. Not only does it prevent the use of ‘ringers’ at the races but it also ensure that stud books are kept precise. It is the job of the Equine Research Centre at Onderstepoort to travel around the country from the beginning of each year, during which time they micro-chip all registered Thoroughbred foals. This Tuesday each and every one of the Summerhill foals was micro-chipped – in what we have to add – a record time for the Equine Research Centre. Never before have they been able to micro-chip 230 foals in one day.

Micro-chipping involves not only the placement of a micro-chip in each foal, but also the drawing of their markings (for future use in their passports) and a blood typing to ensure that all foals were produced from a specific dam and sire.

Micro-chipping is not the only way of identifying horses. Other ways of identifying horses include the following:

Photographs :


Photographs will often help in the recovery of a stolen horse, they can be used in advertisements and notifications and also help prove ownership of horses when found.

Identification Documents :


Registration of a horse with a Breed society will ensure the horse receives an identification document with the horse’s details. This document will include drawings, descriptions and positioning of markings and whorls on the horse.

Freezemarking :

This is a form of identification that makes it very easy to identify a horse. Mainly used in Australia and New Zealand, it not only indicates the horse’s year of birth but also the breeder of the animal. A branding iron is used, cooled in liquid nitrogen to freeze brand the horse. The cold iron destroys the pigment cell on the skin so that the white hairs grow within a few weeks providing a permanent identifiable mark on the horse.

Hot Iron Branding :

It is mainly used for native ponies and some foreign breeds leaving a dark identification mark on the horse.

Lip Tattooing :


Tattooing is another form of branding a horse, it involves having a tattoo, made of letters and numbers put on the inside of the upper lip. However, tattoos can fade in time and can be altered. They are also not easily visible, meaning that they do not serve as an efficient way of identification.

More and more Thoroughbred breeding countries in the world are moving to micro-chipping combined with blood typing. These micro-chips are checked at sales, before races as well as entering and leaving stud farms and covering sheds, making it all the more possible to accurately identify horses and avoid mistaken identities.

(Posted by Tarryn Liebenberg and Annet Becker)

School of Excellence preparations well under way


Colin Powell once said: “Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude”, and this philosophy is the driving force behind every element of preparation for both the building and the curriculum for the Al Maktoum School of Management Excellence.

While the agricultural team oversees the site preparation for the school, and the design is being tweaked to ensure maximum functionality while taking full advantage of the magnificent site which has been cleared, work continues behind the scenes on the development of a curriculum which will be worthy of international accreditation.

The curriculum is being designed to firstly offer entry-level candidates the opportunity for practical, hands-on training in the breeding operation as a whole and, secondly, to offer more advanced candidates the opportunity to specialise and to study a broad range of management studies which are pertinent to the industry and to the efficient running of a breeding operation.

Managers and business partners alike are hard at work adapting and collating the best study material possible, and the team is working towards finalising the final drafting process during the month of May.

GET A LIFE: What's going on at Summerhill?

al maktoum school siteSite preparation for the Al Maktoum School of Management Excellence
(Summerhill Stud)

Casual observers might be forgiven for thinking that this is a time of rest and recuperation on a thoroughbred farm. For those who have an inclination for a break, we’d caution against applying for a job at a place like ours. We’re scarcely over the breeding season, and the team is beavering away at a variety of new things.

Firstly, our year-end is the 28th February. Managers have got their heads down preparing business plans, budgets and cash flows in every division.

January witnessed the “coming-in” of the 2009 National Yearling Sales candidates, and there’s a gang going flat out educating these horses, prepping them and conditioning them.

The In-Training division has fifty youngsters under its wing, and every week witnesses prospective customers coming in to buy horses. As we write, there are enquires from as far a field as Pakistan, Mauritius, Hong Kong, Johannesburg and Durban, and you have to ask yourself what all this talk is about recessions in the outside world. Maybe, at last, South Africa is seen as a bastion of value, and that’s probably the reason for the added interest in our horses.

And then the agricultural division is hard at its land preparation for the forthcoming autumn and winter pastures, while at the same time, they’re involved in and overseeing the site preparation for the new Al Maktoum School of Management Excellence.

THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP : Part 4

summerhill stallion barnSummerhill Stallion Barn
(Photo : Grant Norval)

THE MATING GAME

I guess it would be sensible to start at the beginning. The point at which champions are conceived, if not yet in the womb, then at least at the table. This is when all the benefits of individuality and specialisation are finally pooled for the greater good of our purpose.

Let me explain. There are those in the breeding business who believe that mating “the best to the best, and hoping for the best” is the most productive way of churning out champions. While there is merit in this argument, champions are never “churned” out, and in our view it leaves too much to chance, when practised as a single criterion for success.

Others resort to matching their mares for the best commercial outcome, betting the “farm” as it were, on the most fashionable stallion of the moment, proven or otherwise, and looking forward to their day in the sales ring as the sole judge of the worth of their endeavours. While this may bring short-term gains, it’s most times at the expense of long-term prosperity.

Yet others are committed faithfuls of the computer system, where some programmers have made a fortune persuading people that a champion can be generated through the rituals connected with software. To our knowledge though, without the benefit of knowing the animals concerned, their idiosyncrasies and their needs, no computer has ever consistently produced a good horse anywhere as regularly as a good stockman. As Bob Hope once said, “computers have enabled people to make more mistakes faster than any other invention, with the exception of tequila and hand guns”.

Our experience tells us there is no substitute for the eye and the experience of a good stockman, his wisdom honed over years of observation and interaction with horses. Indispensible to us is the collection of all the evidence, from the thoughts of your stallion man, the broodmare and foalcare manager, the yearling sales division and the Ready To Run team, listening to trainers and jockeys who’ve been associated with your horses where the action is beyond the rehearsal stage. All of these things influence our collective thinking.

But unless in your interpretation of what you have at hand, you can marshall the right instincts to best exploit the information and then back it up with best practice standards of husbandry, you still cast yourself adrift on the waters of chance. We like to think that we control 90% of the process at least, and the ability to do that is enhanced by the fact that our decisions are unfettered by concerns of what the result will fetch in the sales ring.

Every fan of the turf knows The Star, the Cape Argus, the Mercury, the Daily News, the Saturday Independent and the Sunday Tribune, but not everyone knows these titles belong to 1955 British Lions legend, Sir Tony O’ Reilly. Even fewer know his wife Chryss, and especially that she’s one of Europe’s outstanding breeders. Just this last year, her Castlemartin Stud in Ireland and her Haras de la Louviere in France between them produced 16 Stakes winners, among them the Gr.1 stars Nahood and Equiano. Lady O’ Reilly tells us that in their mating decisions, “we tend to favour proven stallions for our younger mares, but I would say that among semi-commercial breeders we do the least commercial matings, because our first consideration is to breed a racehorse”. We have a kindred spirit, it seems, in Her Ladyship.

trowel and bricksClick here to read :
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP : Part 1
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP : Part 2
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP : Part 3

LAND OF THE RISING SUN : The dawning of a New Era?

shunsuke yoshida and mick gossShunsuke Yoshida and Mick Goss
(Photo : Tarryn Liebenberg)

About a fortnight ago we posted a piece on the anticipated visit of a delegation from Japan’s Champion breeders, Northern Farm, which is part of the Japanese thoroughbred legend. Summerhill has taken great pride in its four consecutive Breeders Championships in an era when competition for the title has never been greater. Katsumi Yoshida’s Northern Farm has managed this on six consecutive occasions, each time at the expense of the fabled Shadai Farm, property of Katsumi’s older brother Teruya. On the face of it, this sibling rivalry has all the tenets of an internecine struggle, and while the battle for the championship is contested as stoutly as any, it’s all done in a spirit of considerable mutual admiration.

Both sons of the father of Japanese breeding’s international renaissance, Zenya Yoshida, the premiership is always a tightly contested affair between the brothers, best illustrated in the past season’s results when Northern Farm’s total earnings eclipsed those of Shadai by a mere $1 million and a touch, an aggregate of $75 million being Northern Farms championship winning total. Imagine that, $75 million US dollars (R750 million) in a single season!.

In a recent interview in America’s most famous weekly, The Blood Horse, Teruya proclaimed Katsumi’s exploits as “legend”, adding that Katsumi was the man he admired most in the breeding business. The fact is, the three brothers (there’s a third, Heruya) have it in them to co-operate on a broad scale, notwithstanding the rivalry for the Breeder’s crown, and collectively they preside over an assembly of Japan’s most formidable stallions at Shadai Stallion Station, where nine of the nation’s top ten stallions reside. We’ve always been in awe of Coolmore’s dominance of the European stallion logs, but Shadai brings a new dimension to our understanding.

The delegation this week included Katsumi’s son, Shunsuke Yoshida, resident veterinarian, Dr Kiyosumi Suygaya, and Yuku Matsmura. You can imagine the banter passing between us during the course of the weekend, and the exchange of ideas between representatives of a nation which leads the world technologically, and one which has to be as innovative as creativity allows, in order to maintain a semblance of competiveness in the international racing world.

Who knows, this could lead to the advent of Africa’s first son of Sunday Silence at stud.

VUMA : A NEW REVOLUTION IN HORSE FEEDS

vuma horse feeds“Vuma : New generation feeds in brand new recyclable wrappers.”

“Never the imitator: always the innovator”, Vuma Feeds was at it again this past weekend with the introduction of their new generation feeds in their brand new recyclable wrappers. Born of the same foundations that have made Summerhill Stud and Hartford House national leaders in their respective disciplines, Vuma is nothing else if it isn’t the nation’s signature brand leader in ground-breaking advances in the field of equine nutrition, a status which even its most ardent competitors have acknowledged

Dubbed by the marketplace as the Rolls Royce of South African horse feeds, Vuma’s technological leaps of the past decade have wrenched the South African environment from it’s backwater slumber to the forefront of the international revolution in athletic nourishment. On its way, Vuma overturned the outmoded philosophies of the eighties, and became the world leader in the production of organically based feeds.

Sunday evening witnessed the convergence on Hartford House of a number of Vuma’s foremost distributors, and there was pretty much unanimity among those gathered that the benchmark Vuma has set in the feeding of horses, is replicated in the dinner Jackie Cameron and her team served up at Hartford. A meal at KZN’s Number One restaurant set the tone for the unveiling of Vuma’s latest secret weapon, and the reception the “new generation” range received was an encouraging precursor to a launch which has been gathering momentum for a few weeks now. Within a week of this note, all Vuma’s stockists should be carrying the new range, where the chic green wrappers will guarantee the longevity of a product that has brought a new definition to the word “freshness”.

vuma horsefeeds south africavisit
www.vumafeed.co.za

THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP : Part 3

giants castleThe Giant - Giant’s Castle
(Summerhill Stud)

BUILDING CAPACITY:
NOT WITHOUT THE RIGHT PEOPLE IN THE RIGHT PLACE

So we came to the realization that we needed to flatten our management structure, and that experts in each division would be far more effective than subordinates answering to someone who himself was no expert beyond his own qualifications. Instead of bookkeepers, we put chartered accountants in charge of finance; instead of a part-timer we put a serious agriculturalist in charge of the farm; and the stallion manager was exactly that, a stallion man, dyed in the wool. The Broodmare Manager is a graduate of a veterinary school, the Building and Maintenance Manager was no longer a handyman; the trading store demanded a trader in the proper sense of the word. And so on.

The increments that flow from this approach are remarkable. Having an expert doing his job properly means others can concentrate on theirs: the need for duplication is cancelled and the added capacity is palpable. Not only does this mean the job gets done the way it’s intended, but it also means there is plenty of room for more horses, more stallions, for more feed, more foals, more customers, for more guests at Hartford, more insurance through that division, and so the wheel grinds on, and the team gets better by the day. We’ve been here thirty years now, but the real work started only fifteen ago. The word “only” is appropriate here, as fifteen years is a big chunk of any man’s working life, either way.

The other thing that flows from a job well done, is the satisfaction of having done it. I’ve always said I’m the luckiest man on earth, living where I live. I wake in the mornings and gaze out through double doors upon a world heritage site, at the centre of which is “The Giant”, the pivot around which our lives revolve. Like Gulliver after a well earned rest, he lies there prostrate across the length of the Drakensberg, the tip of his nose and the point of his chin signalling the apex of these great mountains.

I wake up next to one of the loveliest ladies in Mooi River, and I’ve been doing this for more than 30 years; I go to work with some of the finest people on this earth, and I get to work with the greatest creature the good Lord ever created. What a noble profession, made the nobler by the quality of those around us, and the excellence of what they deliver.

The next episode will follow next week.

trowel and bricksClick here to read :
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP : Part 1
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP : Part 2

ADENA SPRINGS named US Champion Breeder

 

Adena Springs has topped the list of leading individual breeders in North America in 2008, for the sixth consecutive year.

 

Congratulations must go to Frank and Andy Stronach and the Champion Adena Springs Team.

 

The Thoroughbred Daily News reports that according to figures released by The Jockey Club Information Systems, Inc. on Tuesday, Adena Springs bred the winners of 603 races from 3,671 starts. Stonerside Stable, which bred the winners of 98 races from 518 starts for earnings of $7,433,027 to is second on the list. Adena Springs also heads the breeders’ list which includes partnership, with Stonerside second on that list as well. Completing the list of top 10 individual breeders (with earnings):

 

Eugene Melnyk ($6,410,230);
Brereton C Jones ($6,339,254);
WinStar Farm LLC ($5,460,005);

Juddmonte Farms Inc. ($4,924,494);
Sherman Family Thoroughbreds LLC ($4,839,702);
Sez Who Thoroughbreds ($4,780,068);
Padua Stables ($4,773,351); and

Everst Stables Inc. ($3,966,631).

Rounding out the list of top 10 breeders which includes partnerships are:

W. S. Farish, Brereton Jones, Eugene Melnyk, WinStar Farm, Sherman Family Thoroughbreds, Sez Who Thoroughbreds, Juddmonte Farms and Padua Stables.

 

PS. You may recall that Andy Stronach, on the back of his attending the Summerhill Stallion Day last year, bought four mares at the Sibaya Broodmare Sale, with a view to supporting the DANEHILL stallions standing at Summerhill.

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THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP

summerhill stallion brassesStallion Brasses
(Summerhill Stud)

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be recounting the issues that influenced Summerhill’s ascent to the National Breeder’s Championship, and what roles they contributed to the process. Some background might be of value here.

While horses have been in the blood of most of us ever since we can remember, the realities of running a commercial stud farm were so far removed from any other business experience we’d known, our venture into stud farming was like entering kindergarten for the first time. It was 1979, and a chance visit to Summerhill to see a yearling filly we’d just purchased at the National Sales was at the root of it. It was tough in those days to make a living out of horse breeding, partly because there was just not enough money in the game, and partly because very few people had any understanding of what it took to turn the breeding of racehorses into a successful business model.

Summerhill was a victim of both of these things, and was losing money, and I was asked to intervene, at both a legal level and with ideas on a turnaround strategy. The first part was easy, the second was a venture into the unknown. It was obvious it needed fresh money, a capital injection of substantial proportions, yet that on its own would be frittered away without a sustainable plan to reinvent the business. That Summerhill exists today as a thriving business tells us we found something on which to found a viable business, but that was for the short-term.

We’ve been here 30 years now (precisely, this year) and for 12-15 of them, we laboured along in the hope that one day we’d see the “big hit”. Not long after we opened the “new” gates, we struck gold, with the advent of the great stallion Northern Guest, but once he’d come and gone, we were floundering for the next bright idea. This is quite typical of so many horse farms, where reliance on the belief that the elusive needle in a haystack might just turn up for you one day, seems to epitomise business models. Rich people might achieve this by simply going out and buying the genetic giant which turns the whole show around, but even then, it’s still a lottery.

To say that after 15 years, we were disenchanted with our results is putting it at its lowest level, and while we were still eking out a modest living, the results were not what we intended when we set out. So we started to examine the models around us, and those of the more successful farms abroad. Our own results were sluggish, and we were looking for ways to extract ourselves from the malaise of ordinary returns and results. What we found was interesting. Most farms were run by a horseman, which is perhaps not so strange, because banks are run by bankers, legal practices by lawyers etc, and whether they were owner-run or horseman-managed (whilst owned by someone with other interests), the structural models were pretty much the same.

In the agricultural context, this is also not so strange, because cattle farms are usually run by a stockman, crop farms by croppers etc, but there is one strong distinguishing feature between the horse farm and most other agricultural activities. This rests with the market, and the customer base it serves. In just about every other farming endeavour, the product goes to a mass consumer population, while the thoroughbred is an item of luxury, it belongs in an extraordinarily sophisticated environment, and appeals to a relatively narrow group.

Besides, like no other business, horse breeding is riddled with myths and old wives’ tales, concocted over the decades by people whose achievements would appear less of a spectacle were it not for their aggrandisement in the eyes of people who’d know no better.

Reality is, ours is a fairly straightforward endeavour, simplified by the truths that flow from a closer understanding of the ways of Mother Nature.

The skills sets needed for the management of a successful commercial racehorse farming business are so far removed from those of a normal breeding operation, as to be of an entirely different species. While they may include some of the same, there are a number of broadly diverse dimensions to the skills needed for horse farming, and for which you need to search for these in earnest. We did.

The next episode will follow over the next few weeks.

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Al Maktoum School of Management Excellence

maktoum school of excellence

“HISTORY IN THE MAKING”

The great thing about the horse business, as we’ve said before, is that every day there’s new history being made, some big and some small.

Today is a big day for Summerhill, as it signifies the beginning of one of the more spectacular milestones in our thirty years on this property. It’s two decades this year since we first commenced our association with the Ruling Family of Dubai, and one of the enumerable benefits that have accrued from that relationship has been the upliftment of our previously disadvantaged people. The presence of the Maktoum stallions at Summerhill has not only contributed in large part towards the enhancement of the genetic integrity of the South African Thoroughbred as we know it, but it has created many hundreds of jobs in our province, not only at Summerhill, but on neighbouring properties housing mares which patronise these stallions.

It’s appropriate then, as we pen these lines, that Sheikh Hamdan’s Kahal bestrides the leader-board on the General Sires Premiership, a timely reminder of what today means in the annals of the Champion Stud.

About a year ago, Sheikh Mohammed, the current Ruler of Dubai, proclaimed the foundation of the Al Maktoum Trust. Under the guidance of the Deputy Ruler, Sheikh Hamdan’s Shadwell Stud, it has been decided the best way to honour the life of the late Ruler, Sheikh Maktoum, and the family’s contribution to the affairs of South African racing and breeding, was to erect a memorial of lasting consequence. This will take the form of the Al Maktoum School of Management Excellence, and while there has been considerable work done in establishing curricula, the recruitment of lecturers and the raising of funds, the actual foundations will be laid this morning.

The earthmovers will be on site within hours of this note, where we’ve selected a position of staggering beauty, for the location of a facility which is set to contribute substantially to the education and growth of management skills in the South African horse business.

For the record, Summerhill has just concluded its 32nd annual international scholarship, (mainly Zulu graduates) to the farms of the Sheikhs Maktoum in the USA, Ireland and England. In a programme which kicked off more than a dozen years ago, we’ve seen the growth of people beyond all expectations, and a new realisation of their self-worth and an infection in the rest of our people of standards hitherto unknown.

SHADAI FARM : The Legacy Of Another Genius

In a remarkable coincidence, at one of our morning management meetings (these take place every day at 6:45 am, and are attended by 16 of the farm’s management team, some of whom drive all the way from places as far afield as Pietermaritzburg, Howick, Estcourt etc, we were involved in a discussion about Japan’s Shadai Farm. It arose because of a correspondence between ourselves and Katsumi Yoshida, (son of the late, great Zenya). Katsumi Yoshida is the owner of Northern Farm, current Champion breeders in Japan, where Mick’s son, Chris has spent the past 2 ½ years. Katsumi is a friend of Summerhill’s, and he was so impressed with Mike de Kock’s famous victory with Eagle Mountain in the Hong Kong Cup (Gr.1) a fortnight ago, that he’s asked us to facilitate a visit to Mike’s South African stable, taking in Summerhill en-route.

As so often happens in these instances, we began to reflect on the achievements of the most famous of all Japanese breeders, Katsumi’s late father, Zenya Yoshida, founder of Shadai Farm. The conversation turned to the first really important stallion to stand in Japan, a son of Northern Dancer by the name of Northern Taste, and we proffered the suggestion that he couldn’t have been a terribly expensive horse, notwithstanding his bloodlines, because of the somewhat ghostly appearance of the horse’s face, whose white-splashed blaze eclipsed his left eye. Truth is, horses don’t run with their eyes, nor with their blazes, and Northern Taste was a stalwart in Europe, where his most famous victory included the Prix de la Foret (Gr.1) contested over the 1400 m of Longchamp’s fabled racecourse.

Northern Taste went on to secure ten National Sires titles in Japan in eleven years, and has been the perennial champion broodmare sire ever since. Just last weekend, the Arima Kinen (Gr.1), as important as any race in Japan outside the Japan Cup (Gr.1), was taken by Daiwa Scarlet, a granddaughter of the most famous of all Shadai stallions, Sunday Silence, from a Northern Taste mare, and this story was reported in the American Thoroughbred Daily News within hours of our conversation at the morning meeting. Coincidentally, the story of Northern Taste’s acquisition is revealed in full, and Andrew Caulfield, as good as they get in the pedigree field, felt compelled to share his thoughts on Daiwa Scarlet’s pedigree.

“Northern Taste, a son of Northern Dancer bred by Windfields Farm, raced in the colors of the late Zenya Yoshida after being bought as a yearling for $100,000 in 1972. This was a comparatively modest sum for a youngster whose sire was responsible for such as Nijinsky, Fanfreluche, One For All, True North, Northfields, Lauries Dancer and Alma North in his first few crops. I suspect that Northern Taste’s price might have been inhibited by his markings. His broad white face extended just beyond his left eye, and his flashiness also included two lengthy socks. Perhaps would be buyers also had qualms about his being inbred 3x2 to Lady Angela, even though this famous mare numbered Nearctic among her many winners.

Needless to say, Northern Taste proved an excellent buy, becoming a Group 3 winner at two before developing into a high-class performer at up to a mile at three, when he took the G1 Prix de la Foret. He also finished fifth in the Derby on one of the rare occasions he ventured beyond a mile, so it was no great surprise that he went on to sire winners of the Japanese Derby and Oaks and even of the two-mile Tenno Sho (Spring).

He was Japan’s champion sire 10 times in an 11-year period, and his success laid the foundations of the Shadai Farm empire which flourishes to this day.”