In three and a half centuries of endeavour, rich men have thrown independent fortunes at the pursuit of racing’s championships, and stories of those who’ve come and gone have long passed into legend. Truth is, money alone can’t buy the silver bullet, not in our sport anyway; there is no substitute for time, dedication, ingenuity and a good measure of luck.
It’s a hundred and sixteen years since the turn of the nineteenth century, and in that time only eight entities have aspired to the title of Champion Breeder in South Africa, which makes it the tightest-held premiership in all of racing. That Summerhill should’ve arrived at its tenth title in twelve years through a new earnings record with hardly a “Big Five” sire in sight, tell us that besides luck, there must’ve been other factors at work. We can only marvel at the efforts of our people, the generosity of the land, and the contribution of the “boys” in the stallion barn.
In many ways, breeding racehorses is like the work of an artist. Vermeer, “the masterclass” if ever there was one, is a case in point. For example, just look at this lady’s scarf. The radiance of the blue comes from pestle-ground lapis lazuli. It took an extract of wild flowers to produce the yellow tones. The glaze on her lips required a reduction of madder roots, boiled for days and kneaded with clay. A paste of white lead and linseed described the earring, and only crushed bone, ivory and charcoal could cast such shadows. Besides his obvious brilliance, Vermeer was a model of discipline. Before he sat at his canvas, he crafted his pigments. Daily.
The result, like each of our horses, was an “individual masterpiece”. The reward is forever.
Here follows a transcript of Mick Goss’ acceptance speech on the occasion of Summerhill’s tenth Breeders’ Championship.
“To you, Masters of Ceremony, to the Racing Association, to Phumelela and Gold Circle, to our friends and runners-up Klawervlei, who fought the good fight, the way it should be fought, and to Bob Yearham and his famous team at Emperors Palace, good evening and thank you for your welcome to the greatest city in Africa from our team in the dustiest little “dorp” on the other side of the Drakensberg.
Three years ago, I stood here in this great room before our sport’s great champions, and I offered the belief that it was unlikely we’d visit this podium again; which just shows, in racing all permutations are permissible. The competition these days is at an unprecedented high, and the opposition (and I speak not only of the top ten, but of our breeders wherever you find them,) are just so good, and in many cases so big and so bloody rich, it’s difficult to maintain your relevance, let alone win prizes.
That said, I must commend our colleagues for their unbending commitment and the staggering investment they’ve made in upholding and improving our gene pool. The production lines of the South African racehorse have never been better endowed, and it’s astonishing for any country to have in its stallion ranks the formidable likes of Trippi, Silvano, Dynasty, Captain Al and Var, hard on the heels of the loss of the mega-sires Fort Wood, Jet Master and Western Winter. For those of us mortals who can ill-afford to patronise these giants in any numbers, we can only look on in awe at the feats of their progeny, but fear not, we are already busy, as we’ve been for many decades, proving the next roll of champions so that this fairy-tale will have legs well into the future.
All sports, Ladies and Gentlemen, are about winning, more so those of high stakes and unbridled speed. If ever you’ve been in the pit lanes of Formula One, you’ll know that they don’t like it much when you win too often, and of course, we all know that second sucks. In a sense, that means you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t. But be assured my friends, when you’re facing adversity, as I have these past several months, there is no community as generous-spirited and as warm-hearted as those that worship at the shrine of the racehorse. To those of you that wished me well and to those that travelled, some of you thousands of miles, to check on me, I’m here in excellent health tonight because of your support. I have been overwhelmed, and I must admit, at times overcome by your kindness, so many, many thanks.
And finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me remind you that the special mixture of relief and satisfaction that follows a major triumph, is one of the sweetest pleasures in racing. Yet I have to confess that in almost 40 years of these pilgrimages, nothing beats waking up at Summerhill the Monday before last, knowing that the score was “Ten”. Which brings me to the privilege Cheryl and I share in leaving home at 6:30 in the mornings to join one of the world’s best teams at work. To those of you who share our love of the horse and continue your unwavering support of our industry, you’ll never know what it’s meant to us to be part of your beautiful game.
Siyabonga bakhiti. Inkosi siyabulela.