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South African Breeders

THE BREEDERS’ PREMIERSHIP : A NEW RECORD

equus champion breeder award
equus champion breeder award

SOUTH AFRICAN THOROUGHBRED BREEDERS’ PREMIERSHIP

2009 - 2010

It was the celebrated South African flyhalf, Naas Botha, who once famously said that “the Currie Cup is not won in May.”  He was quite right, and that’s been proven time and again with the passage of the years. However, Summerhill’s record of five consecutive Breeders’ Championships is one that stands alone in the last forty years, and this weekend, with a full three months of the racing season left, we have eclipsed all our previous (and South African) earnings records, as our runners amassed more than R1million for the week, catapulting our collective earnings for the season past the R16million mark.

We’ve asked the question before, only to be proven wrong, but we wonder whether we can ever best this season again. The log tells the story. And asks the question.

Figures courtesy of Sporting Post as at 5 May 2010

Breeder

Stakes

AEPR

SW Wnrs

SW Wins

Summerhill Stud

16,037,712

64,151

11

14

Lammerskraal Stud

5,207,650

56,605

3

3

Normandy Stud

5,113,525

71,021

6

10

Wilgerbosdrift Stud

4,960,900

55,740

3

4

Highlands Farm

4,599,587

38,845

2

2

Maine Chance

4,499,312

38,787

2

2

Ascot Stud

4,478,225

46,167

3

3

D Cohen & Sons

4,289,662

33,513

0

0

Avontuur Farm

4,264,325

63,647

5

5

Klawervlei Stud

4,201,075

25,933

2

2

Royal Ascot history for TIGER RIDGE and TRIPPI

royal ascotRoyal Ascot
(Photos : Getty/AP Photo/F1)

“RED LETTER DAY FOR SOUTH AFRICAN STALLIONS
AT THE WORLD’S BIGGEST MEETING”

The purchase for stud duty in South Africa of A.P. Indy’s Storm Cat half brother, TIGER RIDGE, and Florida’s number one stallion, TRIPPI, both set new records in terms of the cost of sire-power for this country. Many a pundit was left gob-smacked at the outlay, but the protagonists behind their acquisition were of the faith that if we want this country to go to the next level as a nursery for world class horses, we have to do what it takes.

It’s times like the ones we live in though, that make us question our judgement, that tell us to reinvest our beliefs, Doubt becomes the refuge of the pessimist. Yet it’s times like this that can set us apart, and determine our futures.

Mary Slack and Gaynor Rupert, the principals behind these horses, could hardly have chosen a better place to vindicate their views than the number one race meeting in the world. Royal Ascot is not only populated by the people that matter in racing, but the message goes out to tens of millions on television. On the opening day, TIGER RIDGE displayed his wares with the impressive victory of his American-trained son STRIKE THE TIGER, in the Windsor Castle Stakes (L).

Yesterday, TRIPPI’s daughter, JEALOUS AGAIN, demolished a field of England’s best two-year-olds in the Queen Mary Stakes (Gr2), providing her adventurous American trainer, Wesley Ward, with his second Royal Ascot winner from three starters. No doubt the enterprise of this man will ensure this is by no means the last sortie among US trainers to this great showpiece.

Talking of enterprise, our top hats off to Wilgerbosdrift Stud (TIGER RIDGE) and Drakenstein Stud (TRIPPI). The entire team at Summerhill is here, saluting.

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Breeding Racehorses : A Matter of Family

 goss family

The Goss Family
(Summerhill Sires Brochure 2008/2009)

 

The tradition of producing quality racehorses goes back almost eight decades among the Gosses. But their admiration for horses as a family has its origins in ancient Ireland, before the Battle of Boyne.

 

Ever since, they’ve held a warm affection for the sport of horseracing, and especially for the animals at the heart of it. The custodianship of that association was never more proudly revered than under the stewardships of Mick’s great grandfather, Edward, his grandfather Pat, and his own father Bryan, and today the manifestation of their obsession lies in everything you see at Summerhill.

 

It is true that in modern times, Summerhill” is a splendid, much-envied brand. Because in the eighty years since they first started breeding racehorses on a tiny scale at The Springs in east Griqualand, the Goss family have never breached the founding principles of excellence and audaciousness, laid down by the man who embodied them.

 

What you’re looking at here, all over again, is history. And more history, in the making. And you’re more than welcome to join us in making some of your own. Because there’s one thing that’s as true today as it was at the Battle of Boyne. We only win if you do.

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HIGHVELD BREEDER OF THE YEAR 2009

Catherine Hartley accepts the award for Breeder of the Year on behalf of Summerhill Stud from Peter Miller  at the 2009 Highveld Racing Awards
(Photo : JC Photographics)

It may not be the National title, but it’s certainly one we’ve always coveted, and we’re very proud to hold. For the second consecutive year, Summerhill was last night named Highveld Breeder Of The Year, and Vuma’s Catherine Hartley was on hand to pick up the silverware. Gauteng is the most competitive racing environment on the continent of Africa, and we’ve always counted ourselves lucky to be among the finalists for this prestigious award.

It’s probably an appropriate moment to revisit our standing on the National Breeders Log as well, where our lead is approaching R5 million. We’re reminded at this time of an advertisement we wrote in May 2005, as we marched to our National Breeders’ Premiership, and we thought we were reasonably comfortable with a R2 million margin. While the big lady still has a bit of singing to do, it’s a comforting thought that there is a sound buffer between us and our pursuers.

We never forget though, the sacrifices our people have made towards this achievement. It’s a sobering thought that, in our 30th year in business, that we should be so deeply indebted to so many, who’ve given up so much in getting us there.

sporting postClick here to view
South African National Breeders Log

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MATING RECOMMENDATIONS : This is where it all begins...

Broodmare Manager, Annet Becker, with Broodmare Of The Year Aspirant, Cousin Linda, dam of this year’s Cape Flying Championship (Gr.1) Ace, Rebel King and top colt at the NYS, and nightwatch supervisor, Sizwe Ndledla with the dam of Canon Gold Cup (Gr.1) hero, Desert Links (Selborne Park). As Annet said, “It’s a great shot of them both – as well as the mares!”
(Photo : Leigh Wilson)

Our Bloodstock and Broodmare, Foal and Yearling Sales Managers, together with Assistant Managers Richard Hlongwane and Thulani Mnguni, have been scouring the paddocks during the last few weeks, alongside Mick Goss and photographer Leigh Wilson, scrutinizing the weanlings from last season as well as their mothers, with a view to the lengthy deliberations regarding the latter’s stallion mates for the forthcoming year.

This is a painstaking affair, with every detail being noted concerning the mares’ breeding histories, the progeny they’ve already produced, the trainers and the work rider’s views, and now of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we’re looking to the future.

Summerhill farm clients know that over the next few months, they’ll be receiving the first of the proposals from our mating team, whose work spans the wee hours of May, June and July.

There’s a reason why we get so many horses to the races, and why so many train on well into their sixth, seventh and eighth years, and that’s because of the work that gets done in such detail right now.

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South African Resilience Dictates National Sales

south african fight (michael nefdt)“…it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Emperors Palace National Yearling Sale
“Tommy” Tops the Trade

Readers of the Summerhill Sire’s Brochure last year, will recall the statement “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog”, that probably sums up the resilience of South Africans. And if ever you needed evidence of it, you’d have wanted a seat at the ringside at Sunday’s proceedings.

An average price of R321,000 after three hundred Lots had been traded, and an aggregate closing on R80million, tells it’s own story, with every indication the aggregate would sail past the R100million mark by the end of yesterday. Stories of trade 40% down at Sydney’s Easter Sales (running concurrently), might have had most people quivering in their boots. But South Africans, with a history of dealing with adversity in so many different shapes and forms, can always be relied upon to exhibit their standard traits of courage and foresight, and their looking forward rather than behind them. That goes for a number of our overseas adherents too, who make the pilgrimage each year.

Countdown to National Yearling Sale 2009

Udube

 

The 2009 Emperors Palace National Yearling Sale countdown has begun and BloodStock South Africa will be more than hopeful that the local market remains strong enough to weather a global economic crisis as deep and dire as the Great Depression.

In stark contrast to earlier yearling sales held in the Southern Hemisphere, where double-digit declines have been the order of the day, results at the GrandWest Yearling Sale proved more than encouraging, with the average showing an increase 9% on last year’s total.

That said, BloodStock South Africa has catalogued the cream of the 2007 foal crop, a total of 596 yearlings, which will go through the TBA sales ring at Germiston from April 3 to 6.

The decision to do away with the contentious ‘green pages’, the so-called Select Session, has been welcomed by consignors and trainers alike. Many felt that the green pages set up a false market at the start of the sale, with major buyers not returning or ignoring the non-select yearlings, and the general feeling has been that buyers will now stay for the duration of the sale. The concept of a select sale has also outlived its purpose, as witnessed in the US, where Keeneland’s July sale was abolished when many of the major vendors opted to send their better yearlings to the marathon September Sale. Likewise, major English auction house Tattersalls has done away with its select Highflyer Sale.

International buying support contributed heavily to 2008’s record-breaking sale. Barry Irwin of international racing outfit Team Valor described it as “the best value thoroughbred sale in the world. You would pay roughly twice the price for any foal at sales elsewhere in the world.”

Once again, a high percentage of the yearlings on offer boast international bloodlines, added to which there is a fine cross-section of international proven stallions represented at this year’s sale, all of which should appeal to the most discerning international buyer.

Over the past twelve months, the sale has received a fillip thanks to the exploits of a slew of graduates, ten of which won at Gr.1 level and were purchased as yearlings from as little as R25,000 for Gold Cup hero Desert Links (in 2005), Gypsy’s Warning (R170,000 in 2007), Russian Sage (R450,000 in 2006), Urabamba (R475,000 in 2006), Buy And Sell (R300,000 in 2005), Rudra (R375,000 in 2006), Kings Gambit (R600,000 in 2006), Wendywood (R800,000 in 2006), On Her Toes (R800,000 in 2007) to R1.8million for Warm White Night (2007).

No less than 131 stakes winning mares are represented, 24 of which are Gr.1 winners. The catalogue features siblings to 32 Gr.1 winners including Russian Sage (by Dynasty), On Her Toes (by Spectrum), Disappear (by Kahal), O Caesour (by Rakeen), Diamond Quest (by Saumarez), Consensual (by Spectrum) and Mother Russia (by Dupont).

THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP : Part 4

summerhill stallion barnSummerhill Stallion Barn
(Photo : Grant Norval)

THE MATING GAME

I guess it would be sensible to start at the beginning. The point at which champions are conceived, if not yet in the womb, then at least at the table. This is when all the benefits of individuality and specialisation are finally pooled for the greater good of our purpose.

Let me explain. There are those in the breeding business who believe that mating “the best to the best, and hoping for the best” is the most productive way of churning out champions. While there is merit in this argument, champions are never “churned” out, and in our view it leaves too much to chance, when practised as a single criterion for success.

Others resort to matching their mares for the best commercial outcome, betting the “farm” as it were, on the most fashionable stallion of the moment, proven or otherwise, and looking forward to their day in the sales ring as the sole judge of the worth of their endeavours. While this may bring short-term gains, it’s most times at the expense of long-term prosperity.

Yet others are committed faithfuls of the computer system, where some programmers have made a fortune persuading people that a champion can be generated through the rituals connected with software. To our knowledge though, without the benefit of knowing the animals concerned, their idiosyncrasies and their needs, no computer has ever consistently produced a good horse anywhere as regularly as a good stockman. As Bob Hope once said, “computers have enabled people to make more mistakes faster than any other invention, with the exception of tequila and hand guns”.

Our experience tells us there is no substitute for the eye and the experience of a good stockman, his wisdom honed over years of observation and interaction with horses. Indispensible to us is the collection of all the evidence, from the thoughts of your stallion man, the broodmare and foalcare manager, the yearling sales division and the Ready To Run team, listening to trainers and jockeys who’ve been associated with your horses where the action is beyond the rehearsal stage. All of these things influence our collective thinking.

But unless in your interpretation of what you have at hand, you can marshall the right instincts to best exploit the information and then back it up with best practice standards of husbandry, you still cast yourself adrift on the waters of chance. We like to think that we control 90% of the process at least, and the ability to do that is enhanced by the fact that our decisions are unfettered by concerns of what the result will fetch in the sales ring.

Every fan of the turf knows The Star, the Cape Argus, the Mercury, the Daily News, the Saturday Independent and the Sunday Tribune, but not everyone knows these titles belong to 1955 British Lions legend, Sir Tony O’ Reilly. Even fewer know his wife Chryss, and especially that she’s one of Europe’s outstanding breeders. Just this last year, her Castlemartin Stud in Ireland and her Haras de la Louviere in France between them produced 16 Stakes winners, among them the Gr.1 stars Nahood and Equiano. Lady O’ Reilly tells us that in their mating decisions, “we tend to favour proven stallions for our younger mares, but I would say that among semi-commercial breeders we do the least commercial matings, because our first consideration is to breed a racehorse”. We have a kindred spirit, it seems, in Her Ladyship.

trowel and bricksClick here to read :
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP : Part 1
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP : Part 2
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP : Part 3

THE NATIONAL YEARLING SALES: A few pointers

street cryStreet Cry
(Dubai Racing Club)

In bringing to a close yesterday’s blog, we proclaimed an historic event in the commencement of the foundations for the new Al Maktoum School Of Excellence. While today is of routine significance, it nonetheless marks the beginning of another chapter of importance in the lives of a new generation of horses. The 30-odd lots selected for the Emperors Palace National Yearling Sales was brought in today for the commencement of their education, and we guess this lot face one of the great acid tests of all time when its economic prospects are bound to be tested in an international climate which has red lights flashing for the luxury goods sector.

Their location for the next ten weeks will be the Final Call Yearling Preparation yard, named after Gaynor Rupert’s great foundation mare, and reclad in its stone finish in commeration of the 80th birthday of Erica Bennet Goss, two Novembers ago.

No doubt, whatever the financial limitations of the credit squeeze, the Final Call yard will witness the visit of many an aspirant horseman between now and the departure of this lot for Germiston in the closing weeks of March.

Among the early entries is a daughter of America’s hottest young stallion, Street Cry, now boasting an incredible nine Grade One winners from his first three North American crops. Eight of these are from his first two crops, while his third crop has already yielded another as a juvenile in 2008. Down Under, where Street Cry got off to a rather belated start by their standards, he now has two Grade One performers from his first classic crop, including what is arguably the best three-year-old in Australia at the moment, Caulfield Guineas (Gr.1) hero, Whobegotyou.

This fellow’s another example of why there’s occasional folly in over-emphasizing the value of pedigree alone in your yearling selections (or for that matter, in your broodmare acquisitions). It’s the composition of these things, and their combination with the physicals and athleticism of the animal that counts, and the fact that Whobegotyou was offered at as modest a reserve as $25000 as a yearling (which he failed to reach, and he was subsequently sold for $17500) is testimony to this belief. There was hardly a Black type horse in sight in his female line, besides his Listed placed first dam.

The Summerhill draft is sure to be the subject of some intrigue, if only for the fact that it includes the only daughter of Street Cry on offer in South Africa this year.

Watch Whobegotyou winning the 2008 Caulfied Guineas.

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THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP

summerhill stallion brassesStallion Brasses
(Summerhill Stud)

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.

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SEA COTTAGE STAKES : Tribute to a Grand Old Man

sea cottageSea Cottage
(Summerhill Stud Library)

When the handicappers of South Africa met in 2000, to pick the best horse of the previous century, they settled on the names of Sea Cottage, Mowgli, Colorado King, Hawaii and Horse Chestnut. While Hartford-born Mowgli was the only one to garner two votes (and might, for obvious reasons, be our sentimental favourite) there’s no denying, that for us at any rate, the best we’ve known was Sea Cottage.

That he’s been demeaned in having a race of only Listed status bestowed upon him, doesn’t detract from the merit of Fenerbahce’s sterling victory in Sunday’s renewal of the race that takes its name from the legend. A creditable second for this R425,000 graduate of the Emperors Palace Ready to Run Sale in November’s Ready to Run Cup, Fenerbahce showed admirable improvement in getting up to beat the Dingaans Gr2 second, Captain’s Table, while the fourth horse home in that event, Broadsword, finished third. The result franked the best form of Gauteng’s top three-year-olds of this season, and with Fenerbahce looking like a horse with improvement to come, and still racing a little green, Andrew Fortune may well be right in his post race interview, in proclaiming this a Derby horse.

Fenerbahce is among five smart purchases for our Turkish friends Fedai Kahraman and Berdan Yerlikaya, and he is the second decent Summerhill winner this week for the Gary Alexander stables, following Bhekinkhosi’s win in the top-liner at Turffontein mid-week.

FAMILY BUILDING : Don't ever shut the door

stallion albarahinSire of Mystic, Albarahin
(Photo : John Lewis)

The outcome of Thursday’s main event at the Vaal was a timely reminder that us breeders often appear to have a short-sighted vision, driven no doubt by the commercial imperatives of the desire to cull. All too soon, we’re often guilty of prejudging a family’s destiny, based most times on a perception of the saleability of a mare’s progeny. The result is, by the time the subject mare has had as few as three or four foals, and the commercial returns have not quite met expectations, we quickly resort to the chopping block, forgetting just as suddenly, all the good reasons for the mare’s acquisition in the first place.

Mystic’s lightening closure for victory in the 7th on Thursday; recalled the value of patience and the underlying purpose of family-building. We’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating; at Summerhill our mating policies are not driven by commercial outcomes alone. Truth is, they never enter our thoughts. Rather, we prefer the process of trying to breed a racehorse first, and then trusting the market to respect the result by paying a fair price for the progeny.

While there is a possibility this policy can cost you in the sales ring to a certain degree, there is little doubt of its contribution to the respect you earn when you breed a Champion.

Returning to Mystic, he’s a son of a bread-and-butter stallion (Albarahin), out of a mare (Vanish, by Coastal) who herself was the subject of some derision as a foal and as a weanling, when some of our number at the time doubted her value as a prospective runner, let alone a broodmare. But we’d ventured this far for a reason, and Vanish’s dam, the Lyphard mare Cahard, like her own sire, (a diminutive, natty little model of a horse,) had been bought out of the memorable Nelson Bunker Hunt dispersal, with the long road in mind. Here she was, producing an equally diminutive result, (notwithstanding Coastal’s 16.1 ½ h.h,) in the effort to get something with range and scope.

Vanish was spared the “knackers” and leased to an erstwhile customer of Summerhill, Brian Burgess, where she displayed the lion-heart at the races, accumulating four victories in fairly competitive company, despite her “tinyness”. The rest is of course, a matter of history.

Besides Mystic, she’s produced 100% winners from runners, including the 9 time Group One winner Disappear, who was the first to get the ball rolling in what has become a celebrated affair between Muhtafal and Coastal mares.

So where is the parable? Breeding is a long term process and it demands endless patience. The reality though, is that with few exceptions, with the benefit of judicious selection, quality stockmanship and proper husbandry, you can get a respectable response from most mares and we’re reminded at this time of a conversation we shared with Lionel Cohen a few years back on this topic. You see, we’ve a common thread with Lionel on this score, and in a discussion about flawed physical specimens in the broodmare population, he simply said “we can always breed this out, can’t we?” Applying this principle, the rare likes of Lionel have produced one good horse after another for so long now, no-one can gainsay the weight that accrues from great stockmanship.

MYSTIC KEEPS THE FLAG FLYING

hanging stirrups and helmets

During what has been a relatively quiet time for Summerhill-breds on the racetrack, Mystic kept the flag flying for us at the Vaal yesterday. Running like a horse possessed he dug deep in the Merit rated 92 Handicap over 1450m on the sand to beat Argo Bay, Infinite Spirit (a R700 000 purchase and G1 placed) and The Giant (a AUS$ 200 000 australian import).

This little horse with a big heart is yet another success story from the Ready to Run sale. He was bought for R90 000, has now earned a tad over R280 000 and looks to have a few more in the tank.

Congratulations to all the connections: Sean Tarry, Scott Kenny, Devon Habib, Greg Blank, S Appanna, D Yutar, HN Yutar and AR Burke.

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The Origins of Talent

greig and devon and james muirGreig 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.

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THE TAPESTRY OF LIFE: Always Rich in the Silly Season

richard haynes and mick gossRichard Haynes and Mick Goss

It’s one of the great pleasures of working at Summerhill that our lives are brightened by the regular visits of people from all over the world. Those that read these columns will remember that on Stallion Day this year, we were honoured by the attendance of people from 14 different nations, and while that’s probably a record of its own for any one day, it’s a fact of life here that we have people from all corners of the globe calling on us at different times of the year.

Linda Norval and her cohorts entertain people every day of the year (yes, somehow Christmas and Good Friday included) at the Summerhill Visitor’s complex, and often enough, a visit includes at least tea, if not a fine lunch.

Many of these people stay over, enjoying the wonders of Hartford House, and soaking up the atmosphere of an authentic African farm. At lunch earlier in the week, we had our long-time friend, Wayne Aldridge from Sydney (Wayne was the founder of the Equine Insurance Group when it previously traded as Delta Bloodstock), Richard Haynes from New Zealand Bloodstock, Dick and Anne Pemberton from East England, while the evening before we hosted South Africa’s favourite investor, Jim Hay’s English trainer Tom Tate and his lovely wife Hazel. Tom is a past trainer representative in the UK on the British Horseracing Board. For the record, Hazel, a talented trainer in her own right, is the sister of Michael Dickinson, the only man to saddle the first five home in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and both of them descend from one of England’s most famous dynasties.

Last Tuesday we were on duty again with Peter and Alison Brown, breeders of Outcome (crowned Champion Filly at the KZN Breeding Awards last weekend), ex CNA boss, Ian Outram and his wife Deidre, and Tony and Dale Feasey, buyers of last year’s top lot at the Ready To Run sale.

Just a few days ago, we were honoured with a visit by two legends of Australia, Antony Thompson of the spectacularly famous Widden Stud (at the top end of the Hunter Valley), and fourth generation success, John Kelly of the celebrated Newhaven Park Stud, where the likes of Wilkes, Luscan Star and Marauding made their names as the resident sires.

Students of the breeding game will tell you that there are very few farms anywhere that have survived successfully for more than three generations, yet Australia seems to be the gleaming exception, certainly in the case of these two properties.

Antony and John were here as ambassadors of Aushorse, the marketing arm of the Australian TBA, where Antony is the successor to John Messara as chairman, and John serves on the board of directors. We’re always honoured when men of this calibre visit us, and we always feel the wealthier (and indeed, smarter) for what they leave behind.

(Photo kindly supplied by Richard Haynes)

SURFIN’ USA STEPS UP

surfin usa and piere strydomSurfin’ USA and jockey Piere Strydom
(Gold Circle)

After a spate of rather disappointing results against minor fields, Surfin’ USA, the 5 year old gelding by Modern Day, finally showed his class with a hard fought victory in the R300K Midmar Premier Trophy (Grade 2) on Sunday at Kenilworth.

Jockey Piere Strydom certainly coaxed the best from his mercurial mount by patiently biding his time as the field settled. Then by leaving his charge until the very last moment, Surfin’ USA was able to just shade Vision Of Grandeur on the line for honours.

Congratulations must go to all the winning connections including Surfin’ USA’s breeder, our good friend and client of Summerhill, Fenn Tarbitt.

VETERAN STALLIONS: Worth a second look

stallion sunset (michael nefdt)Summerhill Sunset
(Summerhill Stud)

Andrew Caulfield writes in the Thoroughbred Daily News that to say it is going to be fascinating to see how the Thoroughbred industry responds to the spreading recession sounds a bit too gleeful, when experience has taught us that there are going to be casualties, both human and equine, as production is cut back. But experience has also taught us that the industry will be fitter and leaner, and consequently healthier, when the economy inevitably starts to rally.

The question is how best to survive until that happens - hopefully not too far into the future. Although it may be stating the obvious, breeders are going to have to ensure they obtain the best value for money or biggest bang for their buck, to use a more colorful expression.

One area worthy of consideration - especially for the owner/breeder - is whether the hot new stallion is as safe a bet as a less fashionable stallion with a proven track record. The stallions I am thinking of in the latter category are those which have reached veteran status (aged more than 20). Because of their age - and what could be termed the boredom factor - these stallions are rarely as busy as they were in their heyday, when they achieved so much that they earned a lifelong place in the industry.

Form is temporary : CLASS IS PERMANENT

executive chef jackie cameronHartford House Executive Chef Jackie Cameron

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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OF CABBAGES (LETTUCES) AND KINGS

sangoma and lettuceCelebrating a successful first crop

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!

The Power of the Positive

positive

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.