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Barry Irwin

DEVON AIR’S Group 1 winning relative comes to Stud

She’s On Fire arrives at Summerhill Stud
(Photo : Leigh Wilson)


Durban July watchers will remember with great affection the escapades of the fine mare, Devon Air, who took Africa’s greatest horse race end-to-end, and then proceeded to pulverize a quality field in the Canon Gold Cup (Gr.1) over the marathon two mile trip at the Greyville circuit a month later. Toiling behind Devon Air on the first Saturday in July was a Summerhill-bred, Versailles, so for us, there was added significance in this grand dame’s victory.

This week, a Group One winning granddaughter (by Jet Master out of Cream Of The Crop, by Concertino out of Devon Air) arrived back for her new career at stud. 6:30pm Sunday evening, to be precise.

We need to be precise about these things, because these are momentous events on stud farms. There are precious few horses in the world that carry the title of “Group One winner”, and She’s On Fire is one of those, having distinguished herself not only at that level among her own sex, but having put up Grade One performances against the colts as well, notably in last year’s renewal of Africa’s richest race, the Gomma Gomma Challenge (Gr.1).

We’ve written about Team Valor’s Barry Irwin and his “picking” talents before and anyone looking at the photograph of She’s On Fire on arrival, will know what we ‘re talking about. And when they come from Ormond Ferraris you can see the hand of a maestro.

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A few National Sales comments...

pen and handwriting


barry irwinBarry IrwinTeam Valor’s Barry Irwin is famous for having proclaimed South Africa “the best kept secret in the racing game. “You’ve raised world-class horses in a world-class environment, and you have some of the world’s best horsemen”. About this year’s sale, Barry fingered the draft in general as the best by some stretch he had encountered. Some statement from one of the world’s greatest “pickers”. We often wonder whether the partners in Team Valor appreciate the talents of this man, who has separated himself from virtually every yearling selector we know, in achieving the hit rates for which Team Valor has become renowned. He’s not only a good picker though, he’s a supreme strategist, places his horses in the right places at the right time, and he seldom misses an opportunity.




Summerhill’s draft was outstanding, in what was the most outstanding collection of horses I’ve seen in nine visits to South Africa’s National Yearling showpiece”.




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Karel Miedema reviews National Yearling Sale 2009

Uncle Tommy
(Photo : Jean Stanley)

karel miedemaKarel Miedema Sporting PostThe world can look in wonder at South Africa’s flagship National Sale, the Emperors Palace National Yearling Sale. True, the sale’s aggregate and average price followed world-wide trends downward, but closer scrutiny tells a remarkable story, writes Karel Miedema for the Sporting Post.


“The sale as a whole was down on the 2008 record breaker. Last year 501 lots accumulated a total of R200million, compared to 490 lots for R152million this time round. That’s a drop of R48million. Taking the top 10% of lots by sex for 2009, we find 26 colts selling for R750k or more, totaling R29million.


Similarly, 24 fillies sold for R500k or more, totaling R18million. Added together this gives R47million. Last year 40 colts went for R750k or more, and 43 fillies for R500k and up. Together they made for a total of R93million. The difference between these two top 10% totals is R46million – just about the amount by which the sale went down. In other words, the drop in R47million aggregate can be entirely attributed to the pricedrop amongst the top 10% of lots sold.


Median prices by sex tell their story, too. The median price is the mid-point between highest and lowest price, and in the case of horse auctions tells a truer story than a straight average would, because the high (extreme) prices have a lesser effect. The median price for colts in 2009 was R250k, down only 9% from R275k in 2008. As was predicted based on what happened at previous yearling sales this year, demand for fillies fell through the floor. The 2009 median for the weaker sex was R200k, down 20% versus the R250k in 2008. The overall median was down 15%, to R220k from R260k last year.


Given this background, the conclusion must be that South Africa is still on a high and that pre-sale doomsayers are eating humble pie, indeed. The future looks rosy.


Post sale comments from visitors echoed these sentiments. “In the current economic climate the South African National Yearling Sale is without a doubt the best performing thoroughbred sale in the world,’’ said Australian buyer Paul Guy, echoing auctioneer Steve Davis’ earlier assessment that this was his “strongest sale in the last six’’ he’d conducted around the globe.

Team Valor International’s Barry Irwin, on his fifth successive visit, secured eight foals and summed up the event, saying, “The value here is superb, it is a joy to come to this sale and I’ll be booking for next year.’’


Barry Irwin, renowned as one of the shrewdest buyers on the planet, described his purchase of Klawervlei Stud’s Lot 587, a daughter of Captain Al from Grade 1 winner Roxanne, as “incredible, because I would have gone to well over R1million for her and paid only R600k.’’ He added: “She’s probably the nicest looking filly I’ve seen. They don’t come better looking than this.’’


South Africa’s Champion breeders Summerhill Stud reaped the rewards for their great achievements of the last few years, selling the top-priced colt and filly at the sale. The Kahal colt, Uncle Tommy, a half-brother to Rebel King, was knocked down to Mike Bass for R2.4 million, while Team Valor bought first-season sire Solskjaer’s daughter Matara Garden for R1.5 million.”

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graham beck brut“We toasted the town, the team, and our buyers with a couple bottles of Graham Beck Brut…”


Uncle Tommy (Kahal out of Cousin Linda, half brother to Rebel King) did us proud yesterday, topping the first and second sessions with a heart-stopping, whopping R2.4million bid by Mike Bass for Graham Beck. Underbidders Mike de Kock and Markus Jooste carried him there, and our partners Mike and Marty Meredith, Mick and the team were ecstatic. In a fairly solid session we also sold, among others, Matara Garden (Solskjaer out of Garden Verse, half sister to Imbongi and Spring Garland) for R1.5million to Barry Irwin’s Team Valor.

We toasted the town, the team, and our buyers with a couple bottles of Graham Beck Brut – a fitting finish to yet another of those grand days at the office!

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The Emperors Palace National Yearling Sale begins today in an atmosphere of anticipation. The dramatic events on the global economic stage and a general slowing in the local economy has left many analyists wondering how the local Thoroughbred market might fare.

At the TBA Sales Complex there is a cautious optimism among vendors because, as Team Valor’s Barry Irwin says, “this is the best value thoroughbred sale in the world.” With 596 lots on offer, there are some mouth-watering prospects for the astute buyer. Bloodstock South Africa are holding thumbs that buyers are tempted by the progeny of many of South Africa’s, as well as the world’s, top stallions.

The Summerhill team has been working feverishly this past week meeting a steady stream of potential buyers. If you missed it… our draft this year includes progeny from a band of formidable international stallions : Johannesburg, Royal Academy, Oasis Dream and Haafhd. On debut at the sale are the progeny of Solskjaer (brother to champion stayer, Yeats, who was recently awarded a Timeform rating of 128), Cataloochee (the record setting son of Al Mufti), as well as the Summerhill stalwarts Kahal and Muhtafal (sire of Dubai World Cup star, Paris Perfect) and Malhub (Kingmambo’s best racing son at stud).

In an attempt to make the sale more “user friendly”, Bloodstock South Africa have discontinued the contentious green pages and select session. There will also be uninterrupted coverage on Tellytrack (DSTV Channel 232), and for the first time the sale will be streamed live online, starting tonight at 18:30 (South Africa time).

Just log onto to follow the action.

FOREST PATH and GYPSY'S WARNING : The Big Stakes Weekend

gypsy's warning (michael nefdt)KwaZulu Natal-bred Gypsy’s Warning
Grade 1 SA Fillies Classic Champion 2009
(Photos : Team Valor/Summerhill)

The world’s eyes were on Dubai this weekend, but South Africans were torn in where to fix their focus. Phumelela were celebrating one of two pinnacles in their autumn season with six Graded Stakes races on the menu, while the richest meeting in the world was spewing out surprise after surprise, which had parallels only in the tipping rain which preceded the meeting by a day and a half.

The Dubai World Cup might well have been one of Mike de Kock’s more “ordinary” days at the office, but such is the man and his team that they still produced the winner of South Africa’s richest race for three year olds, when Bridget Oppenheimer’s Forest Path, got home in a stirring tussle for the R2million SA Classic (Gr.1). As if to emphasize the growing “internationalism” of our racing, America’s Team Valor ran off with the spoils in the Fillies’ equivalent, albeit with the KwaZulu Natal-bred Gypsy’s Warning.

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TEAM VALOR : The true meaning of "International"

barry irwin (michael nefdt)Barry Irwin - Team Valor International
(Photo : Summerhill Stud)

The American magazine, Blood Horse, is as time-honoured a bloodstock publication as any in the world. To have yourself featured in it has parallels elsewhere only in a dedicated article in Time Magazine. Just recently, the Blood Horse paid tribute to a man who heads up one of the world’s best-known thoroughbred investors, Team Valor International.

Of special significance to South Africa, is Barry Irwin’s well-known dedication to our cause, and we quote from the article: “Irwin added the word “International” to Team Valor’s name, saying the change was made to reflect the venture’s increasing involvement in racing abroad, especially in South Africa. They breed a tremendous animal in South Africa, and they also have the land to raise a horse right,” Irwin said. “By and large, the people who market the yearlings don’t fiddle with their legs, and they don’t give them steroids. If you can go back to about 1950 in Kentucky, that’s what it’s like. We’ve got about 30 horses there, and I consider them to be like a farm team. If they’re good enough, we bring them here or send them to Europe.”

That was a recent statement. Barry Irwin is previously on record as saying “the world hasn’t cottoned onto South African bloodstock yet, despite your great performances in Dubai”. You don’t get much credit from Irwin unless you deserve it, and this is serious praise, coming from a man whom the Blood Horse describes as “one of racing’s biggest winners, and one of its biggest critics”.

At a time when customers are a little like rocking horse droppings, Barry Irwin is a stand-out Premier League commodity.

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