The latest Summerhill Sires brochure, penned in the hot aftermath of their tenth national Breeders’ Championship, ended with a piece on its sister business Hartford House, with a statement which in the heady context of what had just happened, might’ve smacked of exaggeration: “For every goal Summerhill has scored of late, Hartford has banged in two".
Viewing entries in
Land Of Legends
Viewing Rhino at Phinda Private Game Reserve
(Photo : Land Of Legends)
“THE GOOD MAN IS THE FRIEND OF ALL LIVING THINGS”
Summerhill CEOGoodness knows, we’ve banged on often enough about the rewards we’ve reaped through our educational programmes at Summerhill. That we preside today over one of the best teams in the world is no coincidence: these programmes started when we first opened the gates, and those that know Summerhill, know the value of what’s happened here. Responsibility for the Mirza Al Sayegh Creche was recently assumed by Angelique Heinen (Business Manager Ferdi’s new “acquisition”), and she’s doing a sterling job preparing the little ‘uns for life in the big world.
Cheryl and I have been fortunate in so many ways in our involvement with this property, and one of our most pleasurable dividends comes from our association with Hartford House, Cheryl’s favourite “child”. Quite apart from the fulfilment that comes from the beaming grins of satisfied guests, we’ve built associations with other exceptional establishments, principally those who partner us in the Land Of Legends, the world’s only collection of hospitality establishments whose “glue” is their celebration of history, their respect for culture and tradition and their preservation of the environment. With very few exceptions, these properties represent the cream of KZN’s leisure destinations, and include The Oyster Box, The Beverley Hills, Phinda Private Game Reserve, Hartford House, Fordoun Spa, Rocktail Beach Camp, and the odd one out in hospitality, Fee Berning’s famous Ardmore Ceramics.
As a group, we get together quarterly, and a couple of weekends ago we assembled at Phinda, arguably Africa’s finest private wild preserve, with its seven different ecosystems and the variety of species it supports. On the way there, we were privileged to be invited to Thanda Private Game Reserve, which is the property of the celebrated Swede Dan Olofsson, best known for his past association in the high tech world of Ericsson, his principal ownership of Teleca, Sigma and Epsilon, as well as numerous philanthropic commitments in South Africa. Thanda is a magnificent facility, and this past weekend it was populated by a mass of foreign visitors, mainly Swedes. We all know what Sweden did for our politicians in exile in the apartheid years, and we know too, that championing the cause of the underdog has long been a Swedish fetish. Of course, Alfred Nobel, who gave his name to the Nobel Prize, was a Swede, and that the hallowed institution that goes by his name, remains housed in that country.
Sweden is renowned for the fact that it has one of the world’s most effective welfare systems, it’s famed for its standard of living, and its generosity towards philanthropic causes. Yet few of us know the extent of the generosity of the Swedes as a nation, and the remarkable work which goes on in the community around Thanda in the name of their “Star for Life” programme. It’s one thing for us South Africans to be doing our darndest to uplift our communities, it’s another entirely for people who live as far away as the Swedes do, to be doing so, and the team at Thanda appear to have settled on a marvellous model, where the benefactors not only part with their cash for these causes, but when they visit, they happily pay for that privilege as well!
We’ve been associated with Phinda since its earliest days, when Dave and Shan Varty and the Londolozi team were the propellers behind its creation. At that time, Summerhill was home to horses belonging to the three game reserve “kings”, the Vartys, Mike Rattray of Mala Mala and Luke Bales of Singita. We knew these people well, and the enormous roles each has played in moulding the future of this country. Nobody has done more work in this realm than the guys at Phinda, and they’ve extended the hand of friendship across the waves as well, hence their brand name “andBeyond”. The Fitzgeralds, Steve and Nicky, perpetuated (and perfected) the dream, and Joss Kent is the latest impetus behind Kevin Pretorius’ tireless efforts at Phinda. You can’t help but be mesmerised by the Phinda experience, but this time we saw another dimension.
We were taken to remote Northern location in the reserve, where six rhinos were quarantining before being “gifted” to the Botswana government. How many of us know that there are fewer than 20 rhinos in the whole of Botswana, and that another six will add almost 25% to that population?
Holding six rhinos, strange to one another, in a confined space, is an onerous undertaking of its own, yet these were quite at ease with one another in preparation for their new frontiers. There are issues attached to relocation, one of which is often “bombshelling”, leading to a dispersal in any direction of these precious animals. In the context of what is happening with rhinos throughout the world, we know that that is bound to end in tragedy, so the timing of the transfer is critical. When these creatures arrive in Botswana, they will do so shortly ahead of the annual flooding of the Okavango delta, and they will remain in quarantine on their island base until such time as the floodwaters are high enough to contain them for the next several months. It’s hoped that by the time the waters recede, they will be sufficiently comfortable with one another and their new habitat to call it “home” under the watchful eyes of the andBeyond team; For all its wildlife diversity, it’s incomprehensible that Botswana should be so poor in its stocks of one of the planet’s most hunted creatures.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” - Albert Einstein
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Please click above to view photos from Investec Stallion Day…
(Photos : Leigh Willson)
Investec Stallion Day
Summerhill Stud, 8 July 2012
Racing and breeding aficionados have embraced the annual stallion day at Summerhill Stud to such a degree, that it is now a fixture in many fans’ calendars. That was evident at the Midlands nursery on Sunday, where they fed more than 700 people from twenty-one different countries, including Kings, Queens and Princesses from two royal households, Ministers of State, Presidents and Chairmen of turf clubs and racing operators, and countless addicts of our sport. It is a tribute to what has become racing’s favourite day out, that it should have been identified by Investec, who sponsor not only Britain’s greatest race, the Epsom Derby, but also a number of the world’s leading sporting competitions, as an event they wanted to be associated with. Wherever you find Investec’s brand these days, there is an aura of class and sophistication to the proceedings, and Sunday was no exception, though as one wag put it, he’d never seen so many “zebras” at a stallion day before!
A highlight of the day was the new Summerhill Sires Film, voted Sunday superior even to the previous two editions. It’s an indication of their public appeal that these productions have been aired not only on our own public broadcast channels, but also on Sky and TVN. While those on the Summerhill mailing list will obviously get their own DVD copies when the new Stallion Brochure is published towards the end of the month, those wishing to access the footage in the next few days should keep following blog.summerhill.co.za.
The day was filled with the usual emotion that surrounds horses and people in the racing world, and there was a touch of nostalgia in the posthumous recognition of two of South Africa’s greatest sons, David Rattray and Lawrence Anthony, in the granting of Ingwazi Awards by the Land Of Legends (www.landoflegends.co.za), the only collection of hospitality properties in the world whose common bond lies in their celebration of history, tradition and culture. Appropriately, given David Rattray’s own fame as the world’s best story teller, the awards were presented by one of the best speakers on any subject anywhere, Professor Nick Binedell of the Gordon Institute of Business Science.
Graeme Hawkins is widely recognised as the industry’s number one auctioneer, but it would hardly be doing justice to his performance on Sunday to discredit it as his finest exhibition ever. In the process, the Summerhill sires delivered up R270,000 towards the funding of the School Of Management Excellence, saluted this past week in the achievement of one of its first candidates, Thabani Nzimande, whose name was splashed across several international racing publications as the English National Stud’s “Best Practical Student of 2012.” To put it into context, Nzimande is a young Zulu graduate of the School who grew up in the Summerhill vicinity, and earned his accolades at the National Stud in the company of scholars from seven different countries. On Friday last, the European Bloodstock News (EBN) reported that Brian O’Rourke, Managing Director of The National Stud, said: “With the Childwick Trust’s close connections to South Africa and racing in both the UK and South Africa, the Trustees proposed that a potential link could be forged between The Al Maktoum School of Excellence students at Summerhill Stud and The National Stud’s Diploma programme. It has been an extremely successful joint venture.”
Thabani Nzimande said: “For me it has been a dream to come to The National Stud and work under the management of Brian O’Rourke and the team. I would like to say thank you to the team who organised great lectures for this year’s class that have helped us to build ourselves up in this Thoroughbred business. I am so lucky that I have been able to increase my experience and knowledge in this business, and that memory will stay with me for life.”
Tabitha Smith, Training Director at The National Stud, said: “Thabani has been an exemplary member of the group - he has amassed many new skills and enhanced the considerable practical skills he arrived with. Thabani has never once failed to take advantage of the opportunities available and use his time in the UK to the best advantage.”
Click here to read the full European Bloodstock News article : “Flagship Diploma Course breeding next generation of Stud Managers.”
For the record, here are the details from the auction:
BRAVE TIN SOLDIER
BRAVE TIN SOLDIER
Judge Alan Magid
Judge Alan Magid
Judge Alan Magid
ANTHONIJ RUPERT L’ORMARINS OPTIMA
Alan Miller & Steve Karlin of Team Valor
Bismarck du Plessis
(Image : SA Rugby)
“But this isn’t a sentimental business…
especially in South Africa.”
Summerhill is not traditional Blue Crane country, so when six of our national birds checked in for the weekend at Ntaba Nqumo (Decision Hill) at the foot of the farm, the portents were good for a Springbok victory. They had chosen one of the most serene spots in the district, with views stretching across the length and the breadth of the Land of Legends. Named for the dilemma faced by the two generals on their next strategic move, this “koppie” is where former prime minister, Louis Botha, took command of the Boer forces from the hero of Majuba, General Piet Joubert, in November 1899. The sight before them surely inspired these two soldiers that this was a country worth fighting for.
In the end, the Springboks got home on Sunday, but it was a close-run thing in which the Welsh played out of their socks, and where our countrymen were anything but convincing. A margin of a single point was hardly suggestive of a team on its way to retaining the World Cup, and in the process the match took its toll in the way of injuries. Our go-to man, Victor Matfield, pulled a hamstring, and Jean de Villiers, whose pained expression as he left the field with a rib injury was a replay for him of the opening match at the 2007 World Cup, could be on his way home.
What the outcome may well have done, though, was signal an early warning of the shortcomings of the kick-and-chase game plan the Springboks persevere with, despite its lack of success in the last year since the rules changed. The modern game calls for the ball’s retention, and you kick your possession to attackers like the All Blacks and the Wallabies at your peril. The match probably also resolved a few selection issues, with Francois Hougaard’s try in the closing ten minutes underscoring the fact that Bryan Habana may well have reached his sell-by date. It took the replacement 10 minutes to score : Habana hasn’t done so in his last 10 matches. Bigger than that though, was the impact Bismarck du Plessis made when he replaced our captain. John Smit has been a talismanic leader of the Springboks for some time, and his 100 test matches are testimony to one of the finest captains to wear the green and gold.
But this isn’t a sentimental business, especially in South Africa, and if the Springboks are going to be at their effective best for the rest of the tournament, John Smit will have to do his inspiring from the bench, and from the change room. He may well have a role to play in the impact department in the closing 15 to 20 minutes of a match, especially when his experience and his leadership will be most needed, but to have him grinding away for 80 minutes is not only asking him to go beyond his most effective range, but it is to deny the Springboks the services of the most destructive Number Two in the world.
Igugu and Pierre Jourdan fight out the 2011 Vodacom Durban July
(Photo : John Lewis)
VODACOM DURBAN JULY
2 July 2011
This weekend turned out to be historic for more reasons than the opening of the Al Maktoum School Of Management Excellence alone. In our time, a 1-2 in the biggest sporting event in Africa has only happened once, and that was to our neighbours, Alan and Vera Sutherland almost twenty years ago. This time it was the turn of Igugu and Pierre Jourdan, both raised and grazed on the historic pastures of Summerhill and Hartford. Though we only played the mid-wife to Igugu, both of their upbringings were evident in the last punishing 400 metres of the event, the filly getting home by just over a length in the end after making much of the running, and PJ shouldering his welter 57,5 kgs like a Trojan.
The bonus in all of this, is that, barring miracles, PJ’s R600,000 for second money has probably put the Breeders’ Championship beyond the reach of our competitors for another 12 months, and so Summerhill becomes the first entity in the past forty years to rack up seven consecutive premierships. We won’t celebrate until there’s a bit of singing from the lady that counts, but we have a bit of a cosy feeling for now!
“You can take this filly anywhere, she’s world-class,” were the words of her world class trainer, Mike de Kock in the immediate aftermath, as he flogged the international health authorities for their timid management of the protocols that have done everything but strangle South Africa’s international trade. Which made us think of the boss’s revelation at Sunday’s Investec Stallion Day, that more than 500,000 horses had left our shores to fight the colonial wars, and never once did they export African Horse Sickness to any of the recipient nations. Surely that must be a salutatory enough lesson to those who make the rules, particularly when you think that South Africa has built a world class quarantine to enable these things.
Back to the races, and a remarkable race by a quite remarkable filly, and yet another feather in the extraordinary cap of her sire, Galileo, whose progeny have won six Classics in Europe this year, and are as rampant as an unstoppable train.
This really was a rags-and-riches story, with Igugu having stripped a cool R1 million from the unsuspecting pocket of a former electrician when she came up for sale in the Summerhill draft at the 2009 edition of the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Sale, while our man PJ, a comparatively unwanted urchin of the same sales ring, managed a paltry R60,000, hammered down to a previously unheralded owner by the name of Emilio Baisero, and the trio that make up the Gary Alexander Racing gang. PJ went on to become South Africa’s biggest earner in 2010 (putting together more than R4 million in stakes), while Igugu, together with her Triple Tiara bonus, has already passed the R5 million mark, and she’s the second consecutive Summerhill graduate to top the national earnings.
These are heady days for a farm like ours, despite the many years that we’ve been in business and the many great horses that have come off this farm, and they will count in the pantheon of our top five or six occasions for a long time to come.
No less historic though, and perhaps of a far greater lasting value, was the opening of the School Of Excellence by the Province’s First Lady, Dr. May Mkhize and the Director General, Mr. Nhlanhla Mgidi, and the awarding to one of our nation’s greatest sons and certainly one of the world’s greatest conservationists, Dr. Ian Player, and to the Premier of the Province, Dr. Zweli Mkhize, of the Land Of Legends Ingwazi award for their contributions to life in our region.
In the end, we had a record 21 nations in attendance, headed up by presidents, royalty, chairmen, champions and just good old racing folk, who came to worship their idols on a uncommonly cold day. That was nothing Waterford and Haute Cabriere couldn’t sort out, once we got to the warmth of the dining facility and Graeme Hawkins’ inimitable rendition of the stallion services auction.
That the Summerhill sires are in solid demand, is evident in the auction’s outcomes :
INVESTEC STALLION DAY
Fund Raising Auction
Advertised Service Fee (ZAR)
BRAVE TIN SOLDIER
Advertised Service Fee (ZAR)
KEVIN ARNOLD SHIRAZ
WATERFORD CABERNET SAUVIGNON
For more information please visit :
Hartford House, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
(Photo : Hartford House)
HOUSE AND LEISURE / VISA
BEST OF SA AWARDS
“The only world class hotel on a world class stud farm in the world”is the well-worn mantra of Hartford House, the fifteen suite boutique hostelry housed in the historic Prime Ministerial homestead on the Summerhill estate.
The horsemen on the property have long prided themselves for their six consecutive Breeder’s titles in the most competitive era in history, yet Hartford House has matched the racehorse nursery stride-for-stride when it comes to accolades. Today, for the second consecutive year, the readers of South Africa’s most popular lifestyle magazine, voted it the Number One restaurant in the House and Leisure / Visa Best of South Africa awards. As competitive as the horse business may be, this one came in an environment covering more than 10,000 local eateries, and in a category which included among its finalists, two World Top Fifty celebrities, La Colombe and The Tasting Room.
The Summerhill team is in awe of its little sister’s home run. We salute you, Head Chef Jackie Cameron, GM Paula Mackenzie and your exceptional band of merry people. Nobody’s worked harder and nobody’s more deserving.
From one Champion team to another, well done!
(Photo : Heather Morkel)
“WINKS HAD THE HEART OF A LIONESS”
A few months back, we wrote of a grand old dame’s induction into the Land of Legends (www.landoflegends.co.za). We spoke then of Durban’s most famous hostelry, the Beverly Hills, and its affiliation with KwaZulu’s leading accommodation establishments, three of which had just been voted the nation’s best in the House and Leisure/Visa Best of SA Awards.
Today we speak of another grand old dame, this time of the human variety, who’s passed to the Elysian Fields. Winks Greene was some lady. Everything she achieved in her life, she did off her own deep reserves of determination, imagination and an insatiable energy.
When she first entered the world of physiotherapy, she had to withstand the resistance of many, particularly the veterinary profession, some of whom cast her business as some sort of witchcraft. Her only saving grace came in the belief she inspired in the then Champion trainer, Terrance Millard, and through his support her credibility and her talents came to be appreciated by a much wider audience.
Many a Shark, and any number of Springbok rugby players were rehabilitated through sessions at “The Wolds”. And many a young lady, trained and mentored by Winks, has passed that way to become her reincarnations for the future. Their roads, of course, were never quite so rocky.
In the early 1990’s, when Bruntville township on the outskirts of Mooi River, was the “hottest” spot on the political landscape and the regular scene of the shocking ritual of “necklacing”, Winks drove into the heart of it in the dead of night. Her purpose: to retrieve her beloved Jerseys, which had been rustled from her paddocks. Winks had the heart of a lioness.
At the personal level, our mutual affection arose from the common reverence we held for thoroughbreds. Winks was born a member of one of our most famous breeding dynasties, the Labistours of Dagbreek, who produced the winner of two Durban Julys in the 50’s, Gay Jane (1951) and C’est Si Bon (1954) as well as a number of runners-up, Masquerader, Labby and Doctor John. Some place, was Dagbreek. Whenever we met, our conversations turned to those days, and to the stallions, Sadri II (who also won the July,) and the great French-bred English Champion Stakes hero, Mystery IX.
Inevitably, we sat down to a glass of her favourite red tipple (it was the only thing about the Cape she liked more than her beloved Natal.) She always arranged my appointments with her to coincide with the end of the day, so that we could enjoy a natter at the end. The one thing that stood out about Winks Greene, was her generosity. She never had much money, but she’d give you the shirt off her back. She had a heart of gold.
Readers of these columns took a well earned rest this past week, as Cheryl and I were away on a bit of “R and R”, mingled as usual with a bit of business. Business for us, is a pleasure, because we work at the things we like to play at, like horses and hospitality. In the process, we reawakened some giants of history, taking in their old haunts enroute.
Thursday last witnessed a gathering of the “legends” at Umhlanga’s Beverly Hills Hotel, the grandest old dame on Durban’s glittering coastline. The occasion was the induction into the Land Of Legends of “The Bev”, as well as Fee Berning’s world famous Ardmore Ceramic Art, which is now at a point where an institution like Rovos Rail pull their great train up at the gates to Ardmore, for their international travellers to glimpse the remarkable work which springs forth from the creative loins of Fee’s Zulu artists. Yes, Rovos Rail, of all rail operators. There is no bigger compliment.
Back to The Bev, and the gathering of monumental proportions. There wasn’t a stopper unpulled. Instantly, if you didn’t know it already, you knew you were at a serious address. General Manager, Sebastian Berernato, is a veteran of the game, and he and Lorna Gourley’s deep-seated passion for hospitality, their embrace of the traditions for which The Bev stands and their preservation of its history, is everywhere.
The induction was unusual, as they led in three employees who were there the day Sol Kerzner “wowed” the world with the first opening of the doors, and each of these fellows, colourful in their own right, delivered their own tale about the “Sun King”. All told in camera, so none of that for repetition here. Since then of course, there’s been Sun City, Atlantis, the One and Only.
By definition, you have to be a legend to join the Land Of Legends, and the Beverley Hills slides seamlessly into a collection of properties which as recently as September included the top Lodge, the top Spa and the top Restaurant in South Africa, and for those of you looking for one of the best meals in the province, look no further than Executive Chef Sean Munro and his side-kick Attie, for as good as it gets. Yes, Durban is in the process of accumulating hotels almost as quickly as Dubai did in its heyday, but the Bev will stand its ground long after many of those have come and possibly gone, because they’ve been at it for 40 years now, they know how to look after people, and the service is up there with the best anywhere.
From a Summerhill perspective, it’s the connectivity with the great racing events of the KwaZulu-Natal winter that matters, and like The Oyster Box next door, The Bev has any number of stories to tell of the great characters of our history. Besides being the hotel of choice for most of the best cricket and rugby teams of the world, the guest list reads like a who’s who of Hollywood, Broadway and the parade, including Sir Cliff Richard, Embert Humperdink and Whitney Houston.
Friday we took up a longstanding invitation from the General Manager of the newly renovated Oyster Box Hotel next door. Much has been said and written about the half billion Rand recently splurged on this famous landmark before its opening in October, and my goodness, you can see it in spectacular technicolour. You cannot sustain destinations on one great hotel alone, and I’m sure The Beverley Hills welcomes the introduction to Durban of another world class establishment like the Oyster Box, as much as they’re immediate neighbours, and the competition will be hot.
If we’re going to put up our hands finally to the rest of the world, and claim the right to be counted with the most favoured places on earth, we have to have establishments of the stature of The Bev and The Oyster Box, not only to pull the crowds, but to reassure them that this is KZN’s time. In the end, we have the most diverse collection of visitor offerings in this country, if not the world, with outstanding venues at the Beach, in the Berg, the Bush and the Battlefields, and with its proximity to the new King Shaka Airport and the biggest port city in Africa, The Bev adds a special dimension to our collection.
Before we leave the Oyster Box, names like the Durban July Room, the Flash On and Sea Cottage suites (ring some very old bells?). We stayed in the latter, at a sumptuous R17 000 night apartment on the beach with its own plunge pool gazing out over the warmth of the Indian Ocean). The Oyster Box, driven by the energy and enthuisiam of Wayne Coetzer, is well on its way to reviving memories of the greatest characters of our sport, Cyril Hurwitz, Laurie and Jean Jaffee, Graham and Rhona Beck, Eric Gallo, legions of them who decades ago, darkened their doors.
And so we passed on, to another Jaffee, Hurwitz, Gallo and Beck haunt, The Vineyard in Cape Town, for the annual Eat Out Restaurant Awards (for the full story, click on www.hartford.co.za). This place hums, and deservedly so, because as a world class operation, it carries the mantle as the best value-for-money in an overcharged world. Laid out more than a century ago by the much loved Lady Anne Barnard, family-owned and family driven, The Vineyard perches in one of Cape Town’s most spectacular gardens, and in the short time we were there, we renewed an acquaintance with the most powerful minister in the South African government, Trevor Manuel, and became acquainted with the King and Queen of Norway, out here on a state visit.
Wonderfully, The Vineyard traverses without fuss, the trappings of royalty and the trimmings of us normal beings, without so much as a whimper, a testimony to the values which it (and I like to think, ourselves) have come to respect. A wonderful compliment to a team who know what The Vineyard means to South Africa, and will ensure that our grandchildren will know it too.
If you’ve never been to The Bev, The Oyster Box or The Vineyard, you haven’t been anywhere.
AUTUMN IN SOUTH AFRICA
MEANS DIFFERENT THINGS TO DIFFERENT PEOPLE
The rains have stopped now in our part of the world, the days are blue and there’s hardly a cloud in sight. From now until September, the one thing that’s constant with us, is day after day of sunshine, the only difference lies in temperature. From nature’s perspective, Mooi River’s world goes to sleep for a few months and takes a well earned rest after so much output, so much given from September until now.
But for those of us who live here, we’re just entering another era of furious activity, weaning mares, preparing the winter pastures, preparing ourselves for the breeding season and the marketing of the stallions, assessing all the horses on the farm, particularly the mares, with a view to the forthcoming breeding season, and then writing the recommendations to our many customers around the world.
Of course, KwaZulu Natal, Africa’s racing capital, enters its Champion’s Season as we write, and so the sports are only just starting.
It’s a beautiful time at Summerhill and Hartford, and it’s not only the wonderful weather but the changes that come with the seasons, the briskness of the mornings, the warmth of mid-day and the coolness of the evenings. It’s an invigorating time, energies are lifted, and while the land and the environment go to rest, we have a little respite in which to get stuck into our intellectual pursuits.
And then we have a few things to look forward. Next month we have a draft of five yearlings arriving from Australia, two filles by the reigning European champion sire, Galileo, and colts by the celebrated international stallions, Red Ransom, Anabaa and Hussonet. On the same flight we will have a brace of new stallions, two men who will hopefully have a breed-shaping influence on our lives for many years to come.
These are momentous events in the life of a thoroughbred stud, the arrival of two progenitors who’ve been especially selected to take us to new levels.
But this little story is about autumn, not new stallions, and that is a story for another day.
The Giant - Giant’s Castle
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.
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.
Greig Muir with twins Devon and James at Giant’s Castle
Nature plays a primary role in nurturing youth to achieve success and we have been privileged to witness the arrival and growth of a new crop of youngsters this year, many of whom are about to take a “big step out” on their own as they are weaned from their mothers to become individuals. Mother Nature herself will continue to shape their futures, providing them with rigorous challenges along the way, as they are molded into champions to follow the previous generations on the turf.
Summerhill’s nurturing role in nature has existed for over a century and can largely be attributed to the foresight of the last Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of the Colony of Natal before Union, Sir Frederick Moor and Colonel Richards, whose agricultural principles established what was to become NCD Dairies and the Eskort Bacon factory, which today represent the biggest dairy and meat processing businesses on the Continent of Africa. The intensification and expansion of modern day farming practices threatened the biodiversity of the farm and Summerhill’s allegiance to organic farming practices has reaped rewards. Colonel Richards established a historically famous herd of cattle on Summerhill and today the same breed of cattle has achieved awards at provincial level. From the 40’s, the all conquering Ellis silks carried off every major prize on the South African Racing Calendar, whilst today internationally renowned homebreds have earned four consecutive Champion Breeders awards for the farm, as Seth Hancock once said “these are the kind of stories that stir the imagination”
The natural environment that is Summerhill provides the ideal holistic nursery for growing stock; it also provides a home for a stallion barn which is the showcase for some of the finest thoroughbreds in the southern hemisphere. Stallion manager Greig Muir arrived in South Africa almost a quarter of a century ago, and reminiscent of Seth Hancock’s line, he married childhood friend Michele and took up accommodation in what was Colonel Richards stockman’s house, soon to be christened “the Convent”, under which roof twins James and Devon were born. From the Colonels stately homestead itself, did their education commence in an environment perfect for developing youth and enquiring minds; it culminated in the achievement of Academic Colours at the close of their 10th year at Treverton College this year. Congratulations to James and Devon on the attainment this award.
All great pedigree pundits argue the origin of talent, be it the “get” of the sire or dam, Lady Josephine or Pocahontas, we all must remind ourselves that less than 2% of stallions make great sires, either way, congratulations must go to the proud parents as well.
There’s an old saying in the racing world that you might fluke the odd big performance, but it’s the ability to consistently achieve at the top level that’s the real mark of quality. The magnitude of Hartford House’s Top Ten Restaurant Award last Sunday evening, is only just beginning to sink in, and the extent of it is quietly coming home to us.
The reality is that none of these achievements are overnight occurrences, and they’re no different to winning Breeders’ Championships. We know what it took to put a team together capable of landing the spoils in the horse business, and the sustained record of four consecutive championships has been the product of almost 30 years of blood, sweat and tears.
In Hartford’s case, the journey started almost eight years ago, with the recruitment of a man by the name of Richard Carstens, who came to us with the option of working at Hartford or at our new venture at the time, Lynton Hall. As it turned out, despite Hartford’s own requirements, we felt that Lynton’s need was the greater because it was in its infancy, and after eight months at Hartford, Richard relocated to the coastal resort, where he took Lynton to a top ten finish in the national awards, and in the end, was elected the nation’s top chef.
As Richard was departing for Lynton Hall, we discovered a waif-like Thespian, who had already spent a year at the Mount Grace Country House & Spa, in the form of Pietermaritzburg born and raised Jackie Cameron, and she proceeded to beaver away as industriously as anyone we’ve ever come across in an already industrious team. Though wet behind the ears, Jackie quickly revealed an underlying potential that’s rare not only in people of her age, but uncommonly so in older people too. It wasn’t long before local critics nabbed onto her coattails, and began to invest in her growth. People like Mechthild Yorke-Mitchell, then restaurant critic for Wine Magazine, Anne Stevens of The Mercury, Derek Taylor of the Sunday Tribune, and latterly and very significantly, Victor Strugo of The Saturday Star, who has been a powerful personal mentor to Jackie. All of them caught onto the fire that was raging at Hartford.
Of course, there’s been many other accolades, and last year the Hartford restaurant made the Dine Top 10: Deluxe 2008 voted by Diners club international & Wine magazine, but the Prudential Eat-Out Restaurant Awards are the summit of them all, and to have achieved this is the ultimate for any young chef or restaurant anywhere.
The point of this is that under Cheryl’s tutelage, in the relatively short space of 12 years, we’ve seen the emergence of two national celebrities in the culinary game, and it’s all a result of a sustained obsession that goes beyond perfection.
There’s no team in the world that can appreciate the significance of Hartford better than that at Summerhill. We know what it takes, and we understand what it is that keeps you there. Class, class and more class, and nothing less than class.
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HARTFORD HOUSE BLOG
The Irish, the English, the Australians and the Argentineans are all well known for their close identity with horses in general, and with racing in particular. Yet there can be few nations anywhere whose culture is more deeply linked to the horse, and the use of the horse, than that of the Kingdom of Lesotho. The full expression of the Basotho people’s obsession with horses could be no more evident than in their Monarch, King Letsie III’s “detour” to Summerhill this morning, enroute from Maseru to Johannesburg. Anyone familiar with the route will tell you there are much quicker ways of reaching Johannesburg from the Mountain Kingdom, yet His Majesty just had to see his new SOLSKJAER foal, and his new broodmare acquisition.
In fine form, His Majesty and his entourage were guests of the team at lunch, and there’s nothing that makes the Royal heart more jovial than a discussion about horses.
Nobody is more conscious of the impact which the global financial turmoil is having on the world, than we are. Long before its onset, and against the backdrop of spiralling food costs, we embarked on a programme to encourage our people to be as self-sufficient as possible. The first fruits of the new campaign are just being harvested, and nobody’s done better than Ida Nkabinde (one of nine from this family in the service of Summerhill) who arrived with these freshly cut lettuces, all organically produced, of course.
For those who don’t know, Ida is also one of our resident “Sangomas” (traditional healers,) and it seems some of the ancestors were alongside her in this endeavour. Eat your heart out Woolworths!
Lunchtime dining on Hartford’s verandah
(Photo : Hartford House)
“THIS MAN’S BEEN AROUND : SO THIS IS SOME COMPLIMENT”
Hello Jackie and Cheryl:
Just a short note to thank you both and Gold Circle and Gill Simpkins for the wonderful experience of being at Summerhill this week and the great lunch in a perfect setting. Jackie you are a genius, pea soup and ice cream!! such invention. I love it. And the Norwegian salmon was superb and the desserts sublime. I hope to come back and do a proper crit and also take in more of the amazing atmosphere of Summerhill. We are truly blessed as South Africans to have a place like this. Thank you for a memorable day.
I saw Mickey briefly on our tour but would obviously like to interview him and get an in depth view into his thoughts on the farm and subjects in general. I am told he has a wonderful way with words and views about our country.
Best wishes and thank you again.
(Eminent Journalist : The Daily News)
It’s been a helluva year for Summerhill. New records at the races, new benchmarks for the trade, and a brand new Breeder’s Championship, for the fourth consecutive year. You’d think we’d be quite pleased with ourselves, and we’d be kidding if we didn’t admit to feeling a bit lucky.
Yet this is the time to give credit where credit is due. As a business, we‘re more dependent on people than most. Mainly because we started with nothing, and without relationships, we’d have ended with nothing. We owe everything to the people around us. Our customers, those that keep their horses with us, and those that support our sales. Our suppliers, our advisers, our bankers. Our trainers, our jockeys, our agents. Those that promote our sport in the media, and the fellows that lay on the show. The fans in the stands, and the punters at the rail. To our colleagues, the breeders, who kept us at our game, and played it the way it should be. Thank you. We re proud to call you our friends.
And then finally, to our own team, and the horses they’ve raised. You’ve set new standards in the way things are done. Encore for your dedication, your integrity and your decency, and as much as anything, your ingenuity. You’re the reason we get up in the mornings.
(Photo : Gold Circle)
Anything we ever achieve at Summerhill is always the product of many people’s contributions, and in this case, as we’ve so often said before, we must start by remembering that we work with one of the best teams in the world. Besides the expertise of those who’ve had the opportunity to work abroad at the management level, there are those among our Zulus, from the people who clean the stables all the way to the upper echelons of those who make the place tick, that have had their hands in this scrum. It’s an appropriate time then, to remember we’re privileged to work with the Zulus here, some of the most gifted stockmen in the world. Their contribution has been immense.
Besides, there’s hardly a horse bred on this farm that doesn’t involve co-ownership, and so we must congratulate all of those people that were associated with the breeding and raising of Friday night’s winners, either in partnership or on their own. Here we mention the names of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai; the late Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al Maktoum; Mike and Marty Meredith; Peter Brown, Dr Barry and Liz Clements, Robert Lynch, Stephen Gill and Angus Gold. All of them had a hand in these achievements, and our guys are standing at attention acknowledging their part.
Sprinter of the Year – Rebel King
KZN Stallion of the Year – Muhtafal
Stayer of the Year – Galant Gagnant
Breeding Achievement of the Year – Summerhill Stud
Three Year Old Colt – Imbongi
Stallion Prospect – Labeeb
Middle Distance Female – Outcome
Outstanding Older Female - Outcome
Sunday witnessed another gathering of Hartford connected people, this time the 90th birthday of Tempest de Frederickz, (who was born Ellis in 1918). The Ellis family acquired Hartford as long ago as 1939, and they lived here until early 1990, when the Gosses took over.
During that time, Raymond Ellis Snr manifested his all-conquering racing operation on the farm, and proceeded as an owner/breeder to outstrip the achievements of any of his kind in all of history. From this property, the Ellises bred, raised and trained the winners of every major race on the South African racing calendar, and enjoyed the recognition from no less an author than Sir Mordaunt Milner, as ranking with the all-time elite of the private breeding and racing game. They’re the only South Africans in history to enjoy mention in the same breath as the Aga Khan, Lord Derby and the Sheikh’s Maktoum in English racing, Coolmore in Ireland, France’s Boussac and Italy’s Tesio, and America’s Hancocks and Phippses.
Besides being sterling breeders, the Ellis family were richly endowed when it came to the arts, and Tempest was reputedly a fine musician, while Graeme Ellises’ “The Duck Pond: Midnight” reveals his prowess.
THE DUCK POND: MIDNIGHT
Tonight, if you will walk beyond that lonely tree
And stand quite still, perhaps you’ll see
Cloud shadows spun by moonlight; cool
Breezes lulling sleepy flowers;
Three ducks splashing silver in the pool
To while away the evening hours;
And at the water’s moon-kissed brink,
Two sleepy cranes that sit and think
Of summers spent in unknown lands,
And waves that lap on silver sands.
By Graham Ellis - 1943
Written at Hartford
Hartford House Head Chef Jackie Cameron
(Patrick Royal/Hartford House)
As weekends go, and with a history of almost a century of achievement involving the Summerhill and Hartford properties, this one will take some beating. On Friday evening, 26 of our team attended the KZN Breeders Awards, and while you might say that having won a national Breeders’ Championship for the fourth time, this is just “small beer’ the truth is, very little beats recognition by your own peers, and the eight prizes awarded to our various Champions mean just as much this year as they did the first time we marched up to the stage almost thirty years ago.
So much for Friday. Sunday evening in Cape Town, our pride and joy, Hartford House, was recognised for an extraordinary achievement. The restaurant made the top ten in the nation, and significantly, it was the only one in KZN to receive this accolade. Embracing as this competition does, every restaurant in South Africa in all categories, this is one of those very rare achievements, particularly when you consider where we are : ten kilometres outside of the dustiest little dorp in the Midlands, at the southern most tip of what the civilized world likes to call the darkest continent, and yet, for the past six or seven years, Pietermaritzburg-bred and raised Jackie Cameron, a waif of just 26 years old, and her team have marched all the way to this very select podium. But it’s not only in the company that they’ve joined in receiving this recognition, it’s also in the quality of those that didn’t quite make the cut, that you begin to realise the immensity of what they’ve accomplished.
For all that, Jackie Cameron will be the first to acknowledge that she’s galvanised a great team around her, not only in the kitchen but in the front of house, and it’s the sum of all these things, and the wonderful ambiance of old Hartford that has brought together an irresistible combination. Putting all of this into context, we should recall the other “victories” which this little team has gained in recent years.
When Jackie Cameron joined us some seven years ago, she was just out of cookery school, yet she was old enough even then to recognise the need to train the people around her, in particular those from the previously disadvantaged community. Instantly, she recruited two ladies who’d been serving as casual cleaners in the horse operation, and taught them to clean dishes. She then taught them to clean vegetables, to make bread and then to cook, pretty much in that order, and three years ago, a third generation Zulu lady with only six years of education behind her, accompanied Jackie Cameron to a world culinary exhibition in Zurich as South Africa’s representative. Just last year, another, with only five years at school, made it to a similar exhibition in Prague, while our Zulu Traditional Dancing team, who’d never set foot beyond the confines of Mooi River ten years ago, made it to the World Championship in Tokyo in 2006, where they finished third.
Last year, in Hong Kong, they finished second in the world, and they’ll be on their way shortly to the United States to go and lift the world crown. Wonderful stories about a wonderful part of the world.
From one champion team to another, we salute you Hartford House!
Our Zulu Dance Troupe performing on Stallion Day
There are those who’ll tell you it’s one of the rare places on earth.
That it has a soul so deep and so spectacularly surprising. That its originality and its history are defining dimensions.
That for all its “busyness”, it also has its sanctuaries, hideouts and nesting places for our wild friends and their natural habitats. Places we look after by leaving them strictly alone.
And then there are things we never let go, like www.summerhill.co.za .
For those of our pals with the frenetic timetables, of the civilized, increasingly crowded and belligerent world, who “visit” us for their daily rush of racing’s news, views and the business of breeding, we’ve installed the most advanced therapy in the technological world.
Many will tell you that if you’ve never been to Summerhill, you’ve hardly been anywhere. Imagine the stories you could tell if you had. And while you can never beat the real thing in the real world, the virtual one will do for now.
It’s a little known fact that following the alarming events which ensued in South Africa in the latter part of 1989, with the collapse of the Rand on the default of the nation’s international debt repayments, that the enterprise of this business initiated a delegation to England to attract people into racing and breeding in South Africa.
Such a success was the visit that among those who were lured to the southernmost tip of what our civilized neighbours to the north call the “darkest continent”, were the Maktoum family, whose association with this farm celebrates 20 years next March.
Besides the horses belonging to Dubai Rulers, Summerhill has become home to more than 300 thoroughbreds belonging to friends and investors spanning seven time zones, including Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Dubai (of course), Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Monaco, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.
It’s remarkable what you can achieve when you’re desperate, and today it’s a source of pride at the farm to know that this is the largest concentration of foreign owned thoroughbreds on any one property, anywhere in the world.
You’d sometimes have to ask yourself (if not pinch yourself) what it is that attracts these people into keeping their horses here so far from their homes, and it’s probably an answer that lies in the long history of the province of KwaZulu Natal. Let’s not forget that the Zulus who populated this area almost 1300 years ago, fought tooth and nail, in the first instance to amalgamate their own nation, and thereafter to preserve the territory they owned, against all odds. In the early 1800’s with the influx of European migrants principally from Britain and Holland (in the form of the Boers,) dominion over what was seen as some of the finest and most productive farm land in the world suddenly become an issue, to the extent that three nations (the British, the Boers and the Zulus) witnessed the greatest moments in their respective military histories within two hours of Summerhill.
The great battles of Isandlwana and Hlobane, Rorke’s Drift, Colenso, Majuba and Spioenkop sit deep in the breasts of these people, while its an intriguing fact of history that the greatest Englishman of all-time, Winston Churchill and the greatest African of all time, Nelson Mandela, were both captured within half an hour of Summerhill in 1899 and 1961 respectively. Don’t forget though, the liberator of India, Mohandas Ghandi, spent 22 years in this province, and that he turned up the battle of Spioenkop as a stretcher bearer in a scrap he had nothing to do with.
What was it then, in the subconscious of these people that attracted them here, and continues to tug at the heartstrings of the many who are part of the Summerhill story these days? We guess it must have something to do with the splendour of our environment, one of the best climates in the world, and of course, the people who live and work here. The Zulus are some of the most enchanting, respectful and hard-working people in the world, and it’s a tribute to their creativity and their appreciation of the performing arts that our little dance troupe, which has already ranked second and third respectively in the World Traditional Championships in Tokyo and Hong Kong that they’re off to the United States towards the end of the year as cultural ambassadors for South Africa. This time, though, we think they could come home the World Champions.
Until we meet again.