Mick GossQ : What is your name and age?
A : My name is Mick Goss and I was born in 1950.
Q : Tell us about your family?
A : My wife is Cheryl, and I have three sons, Paul (a jet pilot), Chris (a farrier), and Nicholas (who does our promotional videos, DVD’s and some of the brochure work at Summerhill), and a daughter, Bronwyn (who is an occupational therapist).
Q : Tell us a little about your family’s history in racing and when did you personally become interested in this wonderful sport?
A : My family have been involved in racing since the 1930’s. My grandfather, Pat, started racing horses in Pondoland around that time, and founded his own stud, The Springs in East Griqualand at the same time. While there was no inheritance at Summerhill, his reverence for the sport and the disease that afflicts those of us that are closely connected with it, passed through my father to me, so here we are! When my father died (in 1977,) the sum of my inheritance was a one third share in a R900 horse which he left to my mother, my brother and me. I have forever been indebted to him.
This horse, Heliotrope, won his second start, and that was that. However, my own fascination with the sport started when I was still being “potty” trained as a two year old, and I have to thank Ernie Duffield’s Duff’s Turf Guide for enthusing me with the love of the game. I grew up around horses, and while I was a lawyer in my first life, I knew that one day, somehow, I would own at least a piece of a mare, and that’s how it started.
My involvement at Summerhill commenced in 1979, and at Hartford in 1989, when, standing at a urinal at the Summerveld Clubhouse with Steve Lappin (the Financial Director at Hartford at the time), we agreed to exchange my Hillcrest house for the farm, in the process of trying to sort out a dispute between the Turf Clubs and the trainers. Does that ring a bell?!
Q : Where is SUMMERHILL STUD FARM situated and give us a short history on the development of SUMMERHILL?
A : As I’ve said, we got involved in Summerhill in 1979 when, as the lawyer representing the owners, I was party to arranging the syndication of the property among some friends. They didn’t want to pay any legal fees (an occupational hazard for lawyers) so I was left with 6.25% of the equity. It took us some years to get into full production (probably nine or ten), but we did have some early success with horses such as Versailles, who ran second to Devon Air in the July. Since 1988, Summerhill has bred in excess of 100 national and provincial champions, which is probably a record for KZN.
When we took over Hartford, we inherited an awesome responsibility. The Ellises were South Africa’s most successful owner-breeders of their era, and with the exception of the J&B Met, they had bred and raced the winners of every major race on the South African racing calendar. We made it our mission to try and win a Metropolitan before the close of the last century, and while it’s a privilege just to have a runner in a race of that sort, we did manage it twice with La Fabulous and Angus, though the latter was after the turn of the new millennium.
The farms are situated, in the Hlatikulu valley, 12 kms outside of Mooi River on the Giants Castle side. We are lucky to live on some of the best agricultural land imaginable, and to have one of the finest climates in the world. We overcame the fear that many of our colleagues held for breeding horses in Natal, because of the generosity of the environment and the belief that it promoted orthopaedic issues, by harnessing its fantastic potential, and that’s been a key element in our success. In other words, we’ve used the virtues of nature to develop an authentic African racehorse, rather than trying to fight the riches of the environment by regulating the way our horses grow. I think several of our colleagues have come to the same belief now, and KZN breeding is on a much sounder footing.
To explain the reasons for the excellence of the area in which we operate, the Drakensberg used to be where Hilton is now, but being relatively soft sandstone, over the millions of years it has eroded back to its current position where it rests on a basalt underlay, which has stablised it. It has left in its wake in the valleys around us a remarkable endowment of mineral richness, and that’s why you find some of the best beef in the world in our territory. We only had to realize this, and what it could do for our horses, to turn it into champion horse breeding country.
Q : How many stallions do you now stand and who are they?
A : All told there will be 14 stallions on the roster this year. They include Muhtafal, Kahal, Malhub, Solskjaer, Way West, Cataloochee, Stronghold, Mullins Bay and Hobb Alwahatan on the farm. Besides these, we have under our management 2 stallions in Kenya, one in Zimbabwe, one at Bosworth Farm in Gauteng, and Albarahin at Invermooi. The Rulers of Dubai own nine of them.
Q : How many broodmares do you run on the farm and who would you consider to be your foundation mare?
A : There are roughly 320 broodmares at Summerhill and the farm has an interest, mainly in partnerships, in about 180 of those. The foundation mare in the Summerhill/Hartford story is undoubtedly Preston Pan, from whom have descended such as Magic Mirror, Amaze, Cosmonaut, Alyssum, Panjandrum, Flying Promise, Alhambra, etc. As far as Summerhill is concerned, we’ve had to rely on a broader spectrum of foundation families, including Majority Blue, Coconut Ice, Her Highness, Final Wonder, Garden Verse, Up The Creek, Ellinore etc (all raced by us), all of whom have produced multiple Stakes winners, while the families that produced Icy Air and Amphitheatre, Pick Six and Bridal Paths, Angus and Dignify are others on which we’ve built some solid foundations.
Q : Who would you consider the top 5 horses that SUMMERHILL has produced?
A : We’ve never fallen into the trap of deciding who our top horses are. You’re only as good as your last race in this game, and the most recent big one for us was Imbongi’s win in the Gauteng Guineas the other day. Watch out this Saturday though, for Emperor Napoleon; he could be the newest Group One winner off the property, if he take the spoils in the Horse Chestnut.
Q: What staff compliment does it take to run your stud farm?
A : When we came to Summerhill, there were only six people here, yet last Christmas we paid over 360 bonuses. However, that includes people employed in the hotel, Hartford House, as well as Vuma Feeds. The government has placed a great emphasis on the tourism industry as an employment generator, and because we’re involved in the luxury end of it, we know how good it is, but in the end there’s nothing like horses for creating employment. I’ve mentioned this to ministers in government several times, and they’re always pleased to hear it. There is roughly one employee for every three horses at Summerhill, and we have long been among our district’s biggest employers, which is something of a responsibility.
Q : What is your philosophy on breeding horses?
A : Breeding racehorses is essentially about producing an athlete. It’s not just about the most fashionable stallion and the best mare your money can buy, it’s also about matching the right attributes and trying to produce a durable, reliable, talented runner. However, unless you raise the horse properly in as natural an environment as possible, using the best people you can find and the finest nutrition, and give the horse every chance to be what its genetic potential promises, no money in the world will make you consistently successful.
We never had the money to seriously compete at a genetic level in this business, so we had to find other means of making ourselves competitive, and these included lifting our skills levels through international scholarships for our Zulu staff (we’re on our 32nd one now), switching our farming practices from a conventional approach to one embracing organics (our horses are, to our knowledge, the only truly organically produced racehorses in the world,) feeding them under the same philosophy, and providing them with an environment in which they might develop all the natural attributes they were born with.
Q : Your farm stands some of Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s stallions. How did this arrangement evolve?
A : The relationship with the Ruling Family in Dubai is unique, and was another pillar on which our business was built. Because we never had the money to acquire the best in genetics, linking ourselves with them has done this to a significant degree as well as providing opportunities for our staff to be educated abroad in the United States, the UK and Ireland. Other than on their own farms in these countries, they do not have horses on any scale anywhere else, yet 12 kms outside the dustiest little dorp in the Midlands, the family has collectively close to a 100 horses at Summerhill. What they’re doing at the southernmost tip of what the civilized world calls the darkest continent, we’ve no idea, but it’s a treasured relationship which has been invaluable not only to Summerhill, but obviously to South Africa.
Q : Who do you feel are your choice lots coming up at this weekend’s National Sale?
A : We’d be loathe to choose any particular individual in our draft for the National Sales, other than to say that this is one of the better crops that have left Summerhill, and we hope they represent decent investments for those with a taste for something different.
Q : Many of your yearlings have Zulu names. What is the thinking behind this?
A : Naming many of our horses with Zulu names is merely an extension of our decision to develop the quintessential African thoroughbred. We realized about 14 years ago that we should stop attempting to mimic overseas practices in the raising of our horses, and that we should start using the great benefits of our own environment and our own people in order to create a horse we could all be proud of. Thankfully, we’ve made some progress in this department, and we think it’s appropriate that these horses should carry names that have a local association as well.
Q : To what would you attribute the rise of SUMMERHILL into the country’s Champion Breeder over the past two seasons?
A : I think I’ve dealt with how we came to be the Champion Breeders, and this was a singular honour for us as there’ve only been six farms in recorded history to achieve this. It’s the tightest held Breeder’s Championship in the world, and we were the first on this side of the Drakensberg to manage it (there’ve been three in a row, not two!). Our championships have been the sum of all the things we mentioned earlier, and we owe everything to the people that have worked here over the almost 30 years we’ve been in business. It’s taken us that long to assemble one of the best teams in the game, and our people have made massive sacrifices during the lean years in order to get us there. If you look at the Long Service Awards board in the Summerhill boardroom, you’ll find more than 75 employees who have served more than 10 years in our employ, and that’s a patrimony you should never squander. It’s invaluable in any business to have the collective benefit of such a depth of experience, coupled with the energy of youth, and we’re lucky to have so many young people seeking employment here as well.
Q : Tell us about your involvement with your horse feed company called VUMA?
A : Vuma started out because we felt the nutritional industry in South Africa was not doing our horses justice. The founding principle came from a realization of the central role which good nutrition plays in the development of a good horse, and we went abroad and harnessed the best technology available. Through our international associations, we’ve developed a range of feeds which are as good as any in the world right now, and it’s a well known fact that it has not only been a critical ingredient in Summerhill’s success, but it has assisted in propelling many of the nation’s top trainers to the top of the log. We now feed horses in various domains around the world.
Q : What do you consider are the most valuable lessons you have learnt about breeding thus far?
A : We’ve learnt thousands of lessons about breeding since we started, mainly by bumping our heads, and often enough, through circumstances of desperation. However, fundamental to breeding horses is the realization that it’s a long game, and it’s the accumulated wisdom that comes from the fact that there is no single facet of the business which stands alone in producing a good horse. In our case, because we never had the funds as we’ve said, to acquire the best genetics or to provide extravagant facilities, we had to think out of the box almost all of the time, and as a result, Summerhill’s innovation has made it an international leader in a number of spheres. In the end, though, it is the understanding that a racehorse is as natural a creature as any and that it still has the instincts of an animal in the wilds, and getting inside its head and developing a familiarity with its ways, is critical to providing it with its needs.
Q : Which SUMMERHILL bred horses do you think will excel at this weekend’s Classic day at Turffontein?
A : We’d be looking to Imbongi in the Classic, and Emperor Napoleon, Pick Six, Catmandu, Dynamite Mike and Fork Lightening (that’s 5 out of 13 runners in a Grade One!) in the Horse Chestnut to run big races on Saturday. There are numbers of other Summerhill horses engaged at the meeting with chances, but these ones obviously stand out.
Q : If you could have any stallion in the world standing at SUMMERHILL, which would it be?
A : If Danehill were still alive, I would unhesitatingly nominate him as the stallion we’d like to have here. He’s the most versatile stallion in history, being the only horse to have won championships in the northern and southern hemispheres, and his influence is pervasive. In time, he could be as important a factor as Northern Dancer, but to the extent that his horses also excel in the south, our prediction is that, given the time, his world-wide influence could be even greater, especially as he and his sons are compatible with the Northern Dancers as a tribe.
That said, he’s not around anymore, and if we were looking for a young horse on the up, we’d probably go for one less obvious than most, and that would be Street Cry (by Machiavellian), who has 12 Graded Stakes winners from his first crop including last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, as his horses perform on both the dirt of America and on the turf in Europe. He has the physique, the pedigree and the versatility to be successful in both hemispheres, and he could be the first really serious global stallion in the Maktoum armoury. We have three sons of Machiavellian on our roster, as we’ve identified him as the most valuable scion of the Mr. Prospector line for South Africa, and Kahal has already proven the value of this. Mullins Bay is another son of Machiavellian entering our service this year, and we’ve just acquired our third son of Danehill in Stronghold.