Mick Goss
With the pace at which the European bloodstock community entered the home stretch of its gruelling autumn-winter cycle still full of running, we were starkly reminded of the contrasting fortunes of those who transact across open borders and the shackles with which local horsemen have had to contend for decades in getting our bloodstock between provinces, let alone across borders.
— Mick Goss / Summerhill CEO

It’s as well at this juncture to remind ourselves that South Africa has exported horses all over the planet for hundreds of years, and without ever underestimating the world’s concerns about African Horse Sickness, the truth is that in transferring well over half a million horses to other parts of the globe in that time, South Africa has never exported the disease.

Yet here we are still, at a time when our technological safeguards are at an all-time high and the prospects of infecting a recipient country are down to around one in 2 million (in other words, “nil”, for all intents and purposes), trying to persuade the international community that it’s time to do business. Thank heavens then, that jurisdictions such as Hong Kong and the United States have come to understand that South Africa has paid its penance, that as a producer of world-class thoroughbreds there is no longer a legitimate scientific reason for our stock being excluded from the international traffic in horseflesh, and that the arrangements for exporting our produce need to be rationalised. It helps of course, that neither of these countries has reason to feel that their own trade is under threat, and that makes their stance an objective one.

Followers of these columns will recall my visit in January to the Asian Racing Conference in India, where I was asked to present our commercial and political cases for this process to begin. While we know that those with reservations, whatever their motives, might not have come forward as willingly as our friends who were sincere about helping, it’s a fact that there was an outpouring of support from across the horse world in the wake of that presentation, and we said at the time that the playing fields had never been more receptive to a change in the status quo than they were then. Ever since, our veterinarians and scientists have been “heads down” on the scientific argument for anyone who would listen. In Johannesburg last week, I was pleasantly distracted from the intensity of the Ready To Run Sale by the occasional need to participate in the bolstering of our political and commercial causes, while the doctors and risk analysts were polishing theirs.

At last, for the first time in a while, the country goes into battle with the support of government and the private sector, with the funding and commitment of the entire industry, and as important as anything, with the goodwill of a couple of prospective trading partners. These are the ingredients without which “nothing”, and it appears from my conversations with our friends in Hong Kong that they too want to see a definitive outcome, one way or another, by the end of this week. I doubt there’s a sensible man or woman out there who does not join in wishing them well.

Back to the vibrant world of the European bloodstock scene, where at Arqana’s premier session of their breeding stock sale, there was a last opportunity for those who’d been thwarted repeatedly at Newmarket last week, to pull something out of the fire in fulfilling their order books.

Arqana Breeding Stock Sale 2016 - Day 1

A case in point was James Delahooke, who’d taken a real pasting in England and feared the prospect of missing out again at €1 million for the three-year-old filly Parvaneh, a German Group 2-winning daughter of Holy Roman Emperor, who’d made €175 000 at the Arqana Breeze Up Sale last year.

“It was my last bid”, Delahooke admitted. “I thought someone would buy her to race, and be prepared to pay more, so it was quite nerve-wracking till the hammer fell”. Such a seasoned observer, Delahooke was suitably impressed. “This sale has got stronger and stronger over the years”, he said. “You get good horses here, and good value, and it’s now a very important sale”. Sure enough, the indexes held up healthily with the average climbing 5.53% to around €110,000 (+-R1 650.000). No doubt, with the game-changing implications of a reversion to normality for South African horse players, these numbers would’ve been enhanced by the participation of our countrymen in that market once the reciprocity of international investors becomes apparent here.

It’s one of the abiding fascinations of the game that every now and then, there’s a fairy-tale for the telling. As Chris McGrath has been known to observe, cynics would tell her to quit while she’s ahead, but for those of a more romantic disposition, the sale of Lot 158 at Arqana provided a 15 year old Swedish schoolgirl with a spectacular ending to a story remarkable in any walk of sporting life, never mind one as full of hard luck, and harder-headed judgment as the bloodstock world. A brief career for Pia Brandt this year established the calibre of Camprock (a daughter of Myboycharlie) beyond doubt. She started with three wins, notably in the Prix Penelope (Gr.3) at Saint-Cloud, and was then beaten only a head in the Gr.1 Prix Saint-Alary. Not seen again after disappointing in the Prix de Diane, she arrived at the sale as part of the consignment prepared by an Summerhill old connection, Anna Drion, whose tearful reaction after her sale for €850,000 to another old connection in Katsumi Yoshida’s Northern Farm, sooner reflected the fact that she herself had bred the filly’s breeder. Her daughter Moa had been given Camprock’s dam Camproese (Sadler’s Wells) by Tom Ryan in order “to help give her a good start in life”. It was quite a gesture; Camproese’s granddam being a half-sister to the dam of the great Hasili.

Doubtless some might’ve rebuked Moa for entrusting the mare to Myboycharlie, then starting from a new stud fee of €4 500. But her choice has been amply vindicated since being bought by Brandt and Drion for €30 000 at the October Yearling Sale in Deauville, and there was an emotional video exchange between mother and daughter as Yoshida’s agent, Emmanuel de Seroux, extolled Camprock’s virtues: “She’s a fantastic looking filly, and obviously a very good racehorse, almost a champion,” he said. “She has everything, breeding and class, we’ve followed her all year and we’re thrilled to get her. She will surely get to visit Deep Impact at her new home”.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Drion said, after ending her call to a boarding school in Sweden.” It’s a fairytale, a dream come true. A great reward for all the passion of my daughter, and all the hard work of not only Pia and her team, but of my team also”.

Thus ended the lesson.