Mick Goss
Operating at the top of any pile has both its financial rewards as well as its distractions: the road to the top is pitted with potholes, not the least of which are those irrepresible imposters, envy and derision, yet if you think its tough in the world of business, try the horse game!
— Mick Goss / Summerhill CEO

If you didn't already know him, surely the horse world knows him now. Markus Jooste is, by our reckoning, the world's second biggest racehorse owner after Sheikh Mohammed, Ruler of Dubai. Last year, he mesmerized the French with the biggest account at Arqana's premium sale in Deauville, and this week he added significantly to his menagerie at Tattersalls Book One.

There's nothing anonymous about Markus Jooste in the business world however: as the CEO of Steinhoff International, he has his fingers in many other enterprising pies, among them the PSG Group, Capitec Bank, Hertz Car Hire, Unitrans, and more recently with a R65 billion splurge on Pepkor, he made the headlines with the biggest acquisition in Johannesburg Stock Exchange history.

His interest in racing dates to his prep school days, when he would accompany his Dad to the local bookmakers' rooms on Saturdays: the old man loved a bet, but as a civil servant, he couldn't afford a racehorse. The bug bit the youngster deep, and he put that "wrong" to right the moment his pocket made room for it; like his "swoops" in business, his opening racehorse salvo was in the same class. We first got to know Markus Jooste good and proper as one of five partners in the great racehorse National Emblem, when we secured him for stud at Summerhill. National Emblem is another of those rags-to-riches stories which not only dot the racing landscape, but are typical of the pioneering fables that characterize the South African business scene. Like the dabbles in his corporate gems, National Emblem quickly demonstrated that whatever he was as a racehorse, he would emulate again in the stallion barn. By the time Jooste and his partners, Investec's Bernard Kantor, Chris van Niekerk, Johan "Dup" Plessis, John Koster and Danie van der Merwe et al, co-founded new champions Klawervlei Stud, National Emblem had already cobbled together two juvenile sires titles during his tenure at Summerhill. As the farm's biggest ever customer, the "Markus Jooste" roadsign which connects the upper and lower reaches of the "old" Summerhill, recalls the names of Nhlavini, Rebel King, Pick Six, Rabada, Hollywoodboulevard and Rich Girl.

Operating at the top of any pile has both its financial rewards as well as its distractions: the road to the top is pitted with potholes, not the least of which are those irrepresible imposters, envy and derision, yet if you think its tough in the world of business, try the horse game! There's not a breeder out there who wouldn't want a man like Jooste as a customer, yet there are some who, having taken the money, would want to see them in hell on the racecourse! We live in a competitive old game, and it's no different anywhere else in the world; I think back to the early days of Coolmore and the predictions of foreboding that foreshadowed its emergence as the most powerful racing and breeding entity known to mankind: I recall vividly the antipathy that greeted the arrival of the Maktoums on the racing scene and the predatory condemnation their endless spending attracted. In the end, I guess we should all take a step back and ask ourselves whether the welfare of the thoroughbred and the state of our sport is not much better for the billions these big players have thrown at the game than it might otherwise have been; none more so for us breeders, who've for centuries been confined to the negative returns that made the art of racehorse production one of the most precarious activities on earth.

Not so long ago, the financial press ascribed the growth in the Jooste empire either to good luck or fortuitous timing: in other words, we shouldn't confuse brains with a bull market. In the wake of another 36% increment in the growth of the Steinhoff group this year, even the nay-sayers are having to concede to some genius.

Because they're flesh-and-blood, we know that picking racehorses is not just a matter of reading the numbers. Predicting racecourse success in a thoroughbred is an art which eludes the best of us, but yields more to those who put in the hardest yards and have the deepest instincts. Success does not come easy, and it's not always within the reach of the men with the deepest pockets. Strategy has always been a hallmark of Markus Jooste's investment logic though, as alive today in a battling world as it was when opportunities abounded. That Variety Club, Art of War, Rabada, Legal Eagle and Seventh Plain have come to play in green, gold stars, black sleeves and cap in the season past alone, tells us he and his team have to be doing something a few octaves better than most.

Jooste knows that in tough times, the tough find opportunity, and as he's always done, he's found profit in partnerships. When the name of his racing operation, Mayfair Speculators, appeared as frequently as it did alongside that of Coolmore and the China Horse Club on the vendor's roll at "Tatts" is the best evidence that what's worked for Steinhoff has been at work again in the busy hills of the Sussex countryside this week.

Editor's Note: The South African news at Tattersalls was not confined to "Mayfair" alone. The world's top price for a yearling in 2015 fell to a Dubawi filly consigned by a Maine Chance-connected farm, Newsells Park, and Dr. Andreas Jacobs. Besides, Form Bloodstock's Jehan Malherbe was also making waves at the ringside (and as we know him, in that irresistible round pub at the back of the sales pavilion), as he's been doing for decades.