The welfare of the thoroughbred was in the hands of the British aristocracy for the first three centuries of its existence. They bred horses for the right reasons: it was all about the sport, about one nobleman beating another. What we see now is what they selected for then: grace, nobility, intelligence, courage, speed, stamina, mental toughness and physical durability.
Viewing entries in
Thoroughbred Racehorse Breeders
DUKE OF MARMALADE (IRE)
(Danehill - Love Me True)
Leading South African stud farm Drakenstein Stud has purchased Duke Of Marmalade from Coolmore Stud in a deal brokered by Blandford Bloodstock.
The top-class son of the great Champion sire Danehill, a five-time Gr.1 winner, was last year’s leading European Second Crop Sire of Stakes winners, outperforming the likes of New Approach, Henrythenavigator and Raven’s Pass in that regard. Duke of Marmalade is currently the leading third crop sire in the Northern Hemisphere by Stakes winners (twelve) and horses (nine).
Duke Of Marmalade was rated 132 by Timeform after enjoying a spectacular four-year-old campaign that included Gr.1 successes in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, the Juddmonte International at York and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.
Drakenstein Stud’s owner Gaynor Rupert said: “I am absolutely delighted that a horse of the quality and calibre of Duke Of Marmalade is coming to Drakenstein Stud to stand alongside Trippi, Horse Chestnut, Philanthropist and What A Winter.”
Mrs Rupert added: “We went to see The Duke last week at Coolmore Stud and we loved him. He started quarantine yesterday and he will ship to Cape Town next month ready for the next Southern Hemisphere covering season. Given what his progeny has achieved on the track already and that he has 234 two-year-olds to race this season, I believe he is an outstanding addition to both the Drakenstein Stud stallion roster and the South African Stallion ranks.”
Duke Of Marmalade has sired 23 Stakes class performers to date, including Aidan O’Brien’s classy Venus De Milo, a Gr.3 winner of the Give Thanks Stakes who was also second in last year’s Gr.1 Yorkshire Oaks and Gr.1 Irish Oaks.
Blandford Bloodstock’s Tom Goff said: “I believe this is a landmark moment both for Drakenstein Stud and for the South African breeding industry. I cannot remember when a horse with so many of the high quality attributes that this stallion possesses went to stand in South Africa.”
Goff added: “He is a fantastic physical specimen and was a truly great racehorse by the mighty Danehill. He has a superb pedigree that was matched by his great turn of foot and he has made a hugely promising start to his stud career. I greatly look forward to seeing his progeny in South Africa.”
Duke Of Marmalade is a half-brother to Gr.1 Derby hero Ruler Of The World and hails from a top-class family of sires that includes Champion Sire A.P. Indy, Summer Squall, Al Mufti and Lemon Drop Kid, who have all sprung from the foundation mare Lassie Dear, herself a profound influence on South African breeding.
Extract from European Bloodstock News
Battle Of Isandlwana / SA History (p)
“Agility” is the name of the game today, speed off the mark and athleticism are what make the world go round, and if they come with size, they’re your passport to international sporting pleasure.
Summerhill CEONext month, we celebrate thirty-five years of involvement at Summerhill. When we first arrived, there were just six on the staff, and I had a mop of blonde hair. They say if you want to save on the hairdresser, get into horses or hospitality. I did. Both.
At the time, the average birthweight of our foals was less than 40 kgs. I guess you could say we were living in the time-warp in which the British army found itself in 1879, when the average height of their soldiers at the Battle of Isandlwana, was 5 foot 4 inches. No wonder the Zulus won. From what I can make out, little happened in the evolution of man in the space between then and the 1937 Springbok tour of New Zealand. Our manager in the Western Province President’s XV when I was a young man, was “Oom” Boy Louw, the tighthead prop in Danie Craven’s touring party, and one of only a handful in that team who tipped the scale at more than 100kgs. Today, in a Springbok party of 30, you’d battle to find a half dozen who’d not make more than that.
In short, the world has changed, not only in the manly pursuits of rugby, cricket, athletics and the “beautiful game”, but in the world of racing, too. Pick up a stallion directory in Australia, the United States or Japan, and you’ll find the bulk of them measure 16 hands and beyond, and if they don’t, they’ll still try to persuade you they do! “Whatever happened to Northern Dancer?” I used to ask, recalling that history’s most famous sire stood just over 15 hands.
“Agility” is the name of the game today, speed off the mark and athleticism are what make the world go round, and if they come with size, they’re your passport to international sporting pleasure. Ask Heineke Meyer. And for good measure, remember Jet Master. That’s what happened to Northern Dancer.
There were many things that made our Breeders titles a reality, small increments of 5% here, 10% there, and an obsessive concentration on the wood beyond the trees. On the way, our thoughts and our lives were influenced by the things we saw and the people we met. We’ve talked often in the past about nutrition, our stewardship of the land, the advancement of our people, and the clients we surrounded ourselves with, but observation and interaction counted for just as much.
I was lucky in my student days to know the late Paulie de Wet. If ever you were seeking a definition of the “master horseman”, look no further. Race days honed his competitive juices, they brought out his sartorial graces, and the old “clothes horse” spoke of the Thoroughbreds he so clearly adored, with an appealing mix of sentiment and intuition.
Ten years into our time here, Summerhill was crying out for some “loving care”. The fundamentals were in place, but it was looking for an artist. Such a man was John Slade, the frustrated schoolmaster who’d found a refuge for his talents in horses. His passion was the dynamic that lifted the breeding of racehorses from a physical chore to a spiritual inspiration. There are few geniuses in the world, and even fewer of them call tell you what made them geniuses. The day a “genius” attempts an explanation, he’s probably not one: they live in a world of gifts, of intuition and in the matter of horses, they plumb the rich veins of mystery that pervade our sport, without knowing why or how.
These are the piano notes of the great stud man’s life, and they are best played by feel than from any existing song sheet. John Slade planted trees, he rerouted roads, built buildings and re-laid fences in a spirit that pleased people, nurtured horses and protected wild creatures, all at the same time. Passion is the keyword. It is what underlies all great works, and breeding racehorses is one of the most captivating. It has found its “promised land” right here in the valley of The Giant, thanks to its geography, its climate and its incomparable soils. In truth, everything is at its aesthetic prime, for has there ever been a more beautiful country? While ours does not speak of the money that’s been invested in much grander establishments, I often wonder whether there are more soulful places built in honour of the Thoroughbred?
Passion is also the footnote to everything we do. It’s been our creed to play “open cards”, and we’ve always shared with our friends what we thought had taken us to the mountain top. Our most recent adventure is to take the equine equivalents of the men who fought at Isandlwana and transform them into the giants that made World Cup heroes of the 2003 England rugby squad. That means more inches and more bulk, and it involves the guts to live by your convictions. Few things of value have come about without the smell of risk in the air and the pain of disappointment. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” they say, and these are the watchwords of our work.
We’re told that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and speed and size are not always the best bedfellows in a racehorse. The infrastructure has to match the superstructure, otherwise we’re raising a beautiful invalid. The table at the foot of this piece plots the course of our progression in the arena of our “latest” project, birthweights, commencing in the year following our first premiership, up to and including the ninth. The racing statistics tell us our runners are more robust these days, they’re tougher and they run more often than most. The fulfilment of our endeavours in the breeding business though, is a matter of decades rather than days, so hindsight should not impose too much grandeur on what is still something of a fledgling experiment.
Who knows, one day our luck my run out, but one thing’s for sure: we’ll never stand accused of not having tried it. If you should choose to make this journey with us, I assure you, your visit will win you over. You will not stay immune from this story.
Percentage of crop
I always knew that one day I’d own a broodmare, though how, on the meagre stipend of a junior partner in a law firm, I didn’t know.
The resilience of elite broodmare valuations during the worst of the crash demonstrated how these stock assets now rank with high-end art as commodities of monetary value beyond the comprehension of horse-dealers like me, purely because their collectibility now ranks up there with Warhol, Beatles memorabilia and stamps.
Mick Goss / Summerhill CEO
“Horses and humans both eat on Good Friday, Christmas Day and every other public holiday we know, more so in December, so we’re heads down here.”
December has always been an eventful month for the Goss family. My late Dad and younger brother were both Sagittarians, and so am I. Nelson Mandela touched us all with his burial last month, and Boxing Day marked the anniversary of the respects we paid to Cheryl’s Mum the year before. For most people I know, it’s a “down tools” month, but if your chosen profession is horses and hospitality, that’s a pipedream. Horses and humans both eat on Good Friday, Christmas Day and every other public holiday we know, more so in December, so we’re heads down here. Not that we’re complaining at all; Summerhill and Hartford seem to have a disarming effect on the grumpiest of politicians, banged-up bankers and stressed-out solicitors, and often enough, the soothing balm of a stud tour turns an unsuspecting hotel guest into a paying customer on the farm. It all helps the bottom line!
But of course, the memories of those that’ve passed on, inevitably induce some reflection. My old man was a trader by birth, an accountant by profession and a horseman at heart. Some of these things are mutually exclusive, if only because accountants generally think they have a handle on the economics of the horse game, and so you seldom find them among the “players”. But there’s another aspect to their in-built aversion to getting their feet wet, and that’s because accountants like to bring order and logic to their lives; horse racing is seldom ordered and is never logical. It’s an affair of the heart, and it appeals more to the adventurous among us, to beings of the creative spirit who believes you only live once, and to those with an appreciation of the higher things in life.
In that respect, my father was an unusual accountant: he loved the ponies, and so did his dad, Pat Goss, who chose the thick of the Great Depression to launch his stud farming ventures in faraway East Griqualand. “One horse is all it takes” Pat would confide to anyone who’d listen, and when his moment of glory came before the 100,000 who’d thronged the fastness of Greyville racecourse on the first Saturday of July 1946, there were more than a few in the crowd who took heart in the memory of that one-liner. I have to confess, that while my time only came later, the recollections of what St Pauls did that day, and what my granddad had often professed was as much a contributor to the existence of Summerhill as we know it today, as any others beyond the genetic predisposition towards horses that appears to infect the male line descendants of our family. We simply haven’t been able to find the antidote!
Most of us grow up wanting to please the “ancestors”, not only because in Zululand it’s a fundamental aspect of local religion, but I guess it’s because they all seem to harbour so many expectations of us. My Dad liked the idea that in my first life, I’d chosen the law as a means to a living, but I’ve often wondered what he’d have thought of my abandoning it for a stud farm. After all, this is not so much a way of making a living as it is a way of life, and I’ve often pulled the leg of my brother, Pat Jnr, that when I bought him out of Summerhill in the 1980s, I gave him his passport to the Sunday Times “Rich List”, while here I am still wearing the shoes I first arrived in!
Pat Snr and my Dad were both winners, and I suspect they would’ve applauded our nine consecutive Breeder’s Premierships, knowing the odds-against when you’re as remote from the mainstream as we are, and that it’s happened at a time when the contest has never been tougher. At the same time, as former champions themselves of the lot of the little guys, they would’ve lamented the demise among our colleagues of so many of the farming fraternity who’ve withered in the face of a wave of involvement from the “big money” in town. Yet horse breeding is not alone in this respect; agriculture in general as well as the dairy, plantations and crop farming sectors, have seen similar patterns gain traction in recent times.
Herein may lie opportunities for the former farmers to become the highly-rewarded managers in the new corporate scheme of things, free of the hazards that world prices, weak currencies and wet Wednesdays in the Western Cape winter might have held for their one-time enterprises. Pat and Dad would, I’m sure, have liked the idea of hosting the only world class hotel on a world class stud farm in the world, as well as its recent recognition by a senior critic of no less a publication than The Wall Street Journal, as one of the top three country restaurants on the planet.
As former studmen whose covering yards were gum-poled palisades out in the open, they’d have envied the shelter of the stallion barn, the countenance of which resembles the Moeder Kerk in Graaff Reinet’s main square. As a man who’d spent the entire proceeds of his “July” victory on a stallion son of Hyperion, granddad would’ve taken pride in the assembly of princely pedigrees and pulsating performances that populate the stallion precinct. They’d have applauded a team that replaced the arduous torture of yearling “prep” with the first automated “walker”, which does the work of ten men; and of the innovation which took the guesswork out of early pregnancy diagnosis with the nation’s first ultrasound scanner: which worked with the treasury to rewrite the most favourable tax dispensation in the world of racehorse production; that had the foresight to persuade our local custodians of the benefits of a breeder’s Premium Scheme which remains unique to those who ply their trade in these valleys: a team which gave fresh impetus to racehorse marketing through the engineering of the world’s first Ready To Run Sale almost 30 years ago, a concept which maintains its place as the world’s fastest growing tool in the turnover of horseflesh: that understood the imperatives of the trade in horses, and presided over the establishment of a national Trade Council which has overseen the export of more than a billion in bloodstock.
They’d have been in awe of a blog site which attracts the busiest traffic in thoroughbred breeding across the globe; and I’m sure they’d have marvelled at a farm just 10 kilometres outside the dustiest little dorp in the Midlands, (at the Southernmost tip of what the civilized people call the “Darkest Continent”,) whose “resident” customers stretch across 22 timezones, from Japan to the United States. They’d have been especially appreciative of the Southern Hemisphere’s only School of Management Excellence, whose governors count a former Judge of high repute and an eminent ex-chair of the Jockey Club of South Africa; of the fact that eight professors, local and foreign have given their time to teach our students in a theatre dedicated to their memory; and that our graduates have excelled in the company of representatives of all the major racing jurisdictions of the world.
Born where they were and raised the way they were, they’d have rejoiced in the skills of our people, in the presence of our other institutions of learning and especially, they’d have been comforted by the harmony that exists between the six hundred who call Summerhill “home” every night.
I’ve no doubt, they’d have delighted in my Mum’s and my brother’s unstinting commitment to our enterprise, and that in the celebration of her life, no fewer than two Kings and a Queen turned up to remember the “old girl”.
Finally, for a man like my Dad who belonged to another century but who loved “gadgets” nonetheless, I’m reminded every day as I enter the main gates of Summerhill, how tickled he’d have been at their mechanical activation. For all our Sunday school lessons, it remains a truism: the Devil is in the detail.
“FOR ANOTHER GREAT YEAR - MANY THANKS”
To those that
keep their horses with us
, to our
customers at the ringside
and those who
support our stallions
. To our
and those who
care for our horses
. To the
of our sport, our
in the stands and to those who
live and work here
what it is… for another great year - Many Thanks.
The Thoroughbred Racehorse - Hot-blooded Young Creatures
(Photo : Greig Muir)
“All we can do, once the best laid plans have been put to rest,
is pray a lot and hope for the best.”
Summerhill CEOThere is no enterprise in the world which succeeds without a bit of the rub of the “green”. No matter what kind of genius you may be, how revolutionary your invention, you still need to be at the right place at the right time. History reminds us of the great gold and diamond discoveries, of the railway revolution that changed the face of America, that Bill Gates was fortunate to grow up near a university that encouraged schoolboys to use its facilities, and there was a good deal of luck in the timing of our ventures at Summerhill. In due course, the desperation that came from this country’s isolation and our need to find new markets for our racehorses, just happened to coincide with the release of Nelson Mandela, which meant it was South Africa’s “time”, and Summerhill’s solicitation of the English gentry on the eve of this momentous event was a “game-changer” for us. “Carpe diem” says the Kearsney College motto “seize the day” said Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, and we did just that. A few years earlier or a decade or two later, and these opportunities might have passed many of their beneficiaries by.
Over the years, we’ve penned a few ideas on the breeding of racehorses, and while we’ll continue the series of articles we started a couple of weeks back, we should allow ourselves to ponder for a moment on the role luck plays in the fortunes of our endeavours. We all know that the stockman’s eye and his instincts are indispensable in the consistent production of good horses, but we know too, that no two individuals resulting from the union of the same stallion and the same mare, will be exactly the same. We know that for all the care and environmental advantages we have in raising a horse, who gets to train it, where it’s trained, and what opportunities it’s given, is beyond our control, and that because we’re dealing in flesh and blood, we remember too, that accidents do happen. This is especially so with a hot-blooded young creature, whose forte is speed, whose will is to run, and whose superstructure can be brittle.
All we can do, once the best laid plans have been put to rest, is pray a lot and hope for the best. Much has been said on this topic by much wiser and more learned people than myself over the years, and it’s worth quoting a few of these. We’ll entertain you with a short quote day-by-day going forward.
“Any man who has the price can become the owner of a great racehorse. But many a man has spent the greater part of a lifetime trying to breed one - and has not succeeded. Many persons suppose that this is because he has just been unlucky, for they consider that luck is the main factor for breeding, just as they suppose that it is the main factor in racing. That luck enters into both racing and breeding is indisputable. But that it governs either, is a mistaken idea. In the long run it is merely incidental”.
- Salvator quoted by John F. Wall, Breeding Thoroughbreds.
KwaZulu-Natal - Horse Capital of South Africa
(Photo : Ethekwini)
The KZN Breeders Premium scheme stands alone in South Africa as a inducement to horse lovers to put their money into the production of quality racehorses in the Zulu kingdom.
If the capital status of a region was measured by the skills and passion of its people, the perfection of its environment and the quality of its product, KwaZulu-Natal could justifiably lay claim to the title “Horse Capital of South Africa”, just as it does the name “Africa’s Racing Capital”. Certainly, in the world of racehorse breeding , horsemen in our part of the world are seen as the “little giants”, with a centuries-long history of boxing above their weight.
In broad terms, there’ve been two epochal eras in which racehorse production in the Garden Province might be said to have been at its zenith. These periods were marked by the early 50s through the 60s, and then the late 80s into the early 2000s. It’s probably fair to say, that the region is on the verge of its third epoch, as those who ply their trade in the lee of Africa’s most famous mountain range, the Drakensberg, rack up new markers of excellence.
Who can forget the famous Durban July victories of St Pauls, Gay Jane, Mowgli and Ce’st Si Bon in the early 50s, and the legions of celebrities that stepped out from the Elllis’ Hartford (now part of the Summerhill estate), Joyce Tatham’s Springfield, Harry Barnett’s Springvale and the Labistours’ Dagbreek Stud. The achievements of the Ellises were such that one of the sport’s great scribes, Sir Mordaunt Milner, once counted them in the same breath as England’s Lord Derby, the Aga Khan and Lord Roseberry, France’s Marcel Boussac and Italy’s Federico Tesio, rare company by any standards.
And then local horsemen like to recall the ages of Northern Guest, Foveros, Secret Prospector and Rakeen, who dominated the top five in the national sire’s log for the best part of a decade, and shortly before that, Jungle Cove, as a golden era in the tradition of fine thoroughbreds emanating from the region. Doordrecht’s Birch Bros remained the dominant and largest producers of racehorses in South Africa through this time, the only serious challengers to their hegemony being the KZN studs, Hartford (never populated by more than 25 resident mares) and the Scott Bros, who earned their fame with the supreme racehorse Politician, among others.
In the newer scheme of things, Jet Master, who was bred by a former Hartford resident, Hugh Jonsson, down the valley from us, not only put up his hand among history’s racing greats, but he became the stallion phenomenon of the first decade of the century. In the same era, commencing with the 2004/2005 season, the national Breeders’ Premiership found its way east of the Drakensberg for the first time, when Summerhill kicked-off its own modern record of nine consecutive titles, a reign which continues in the face of the stiffest competition in the annals of the sport. They’re not alone though: no year passes without another stream of top horses from local farms, and any man of fair mind would have to concede that the “little giants” are on the move again.
What’s in it for investors?
Ask any farmer worth his salt, and he will tell you that the valleys of KwaZulu-Natal carry the continent’s most generous soils. Reliable rains and an abundance of water, a congenial climate, and some of creation’s most gifted horsemen, the Zulus, make for one of the world’s greatest stock-rearing grounds. That, a location in close proximity to Africa’s racing capital, and convenience to the principal sales venues, and you have the ingredients for the perfect storm. Besides its natural attractions, on the initiative of Summerhill, the KwaZulu-Natal breeding community had the foresight some 25 years ago to engage with racing’s upper guardians, instituting a far-sighted programme aimed at the betterment of the breed and the encouragement of investment in the province, in the form of the KZN Breeder’’ Premium scheme.
This programme rewards breeders and stallion owners for their efforts in producing quality stock, and was one of the principal attractions behind the arrival in its earliest years, of the stallion “greats” Northern Guest, Foveros, Secret Prospector and Rakeen in the 80s and 90s. In much the same era, the Midlands became a magnet for broodmare owners, and Summerhill established itself as home to the biggest concentration of foreign-owned racehorses on any one property on earth. Its customers today span 22 time zones, including some of the leading personalities and stud farms of the world, from Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai, to England, Ireland, France, Germany and the United States, and they include members of the Ruling families of three different countries; if ever an endorsement was needed for the riches of a region, this is as emphatic as any.
The KZN Breeders Premium scheme stands alone in South Africa as a inducement to horse lovers to put their money into the production of quality racehorses in the Zulu kingdom. There’s little doubt, looking at the numbers, that the accruals from this scheme are a powerful attraction to anyone with ambitions of investing either in stock or in the prime real estate of the province, given its lucrative rewards and the exceptional natural potential of the Midlands.
(Photo : News.com.au)
“RACING IS ABOUT AS ORDERLY AS AN EARTHQUAKE”
Summerhill CEOOur story “A certainty, whatever the odds” has attracted a good bit of comment, much of it involving two masters of the Australian turf, Bart Cummings and Tommy Smith, and the trouble they found themselves in during the heady days of the late 80s, when tax schemes and racehorse investment syndicates were the rivals to the plantations, airplane and film “fantasies” dreamed up by local accountants at the time. I don’t know about Tommy Smith, but I do know of at least two books about Australia’s “Cup’s King”, Bart Cummings, one by his official biographer, Bruce Montgomerie, the other by my personal “pick” of racing’s scribes, Les Carlyon. To give you a brief idea of the man Cummings, he’s won no fewer than 12 Melbourne Cups, a record which is not only likely to stand the test of all time, but defines Cummings as the outstanding horseman of his era, if not in the history of the game. This is a legend in the proper sense of a word which has been much debated in recent times, but a man about whom very little is still known.
Cummings has never courted the media, never employed a public relations man, never taken on affectations, and he’s never taken himself too seriously away from the training tracks and stables. Yet he doesn’t do a sports babble, he doesn’t throw tantrums, there is nothing contrived, nothing theatrical. They tell us he is just the same today as he was almost sixty years ago, when he first took out a license, much the same away from the camera as he is in front of one. He has won hundreds of Group One races, yet he seldom leads in his own horses after a big race, one exception being his exquisite colt Beau Zam, after he’d won the St Leger at Randwick in 1988 by ten lengths. Cummings has never been about show, and he never will be. It is as though too much show is a form of bad manners, and anyway, post-race hysteria tends to frighten the horses, and the horses are the real heroes. Cummings belongs to the era of Don Bradman, when it was thought proper for sports heroes to be humble, and when they didn’t use social networking sites and a forest of exclamation marks to tell us about their trip to the supermarket. Modern fame, you suspect, still baffles Cummings. He is a man formed in another era. And like us, he understands that there is a danger to victory. Being gracious in defeat, as in victory, is not a characteristic that defines the modern sports era. I’m sure he often asks, what happened to being a good sport?
To get back to the tax schemes, by the time Bart and Tommy found themselves in hot water, our local Minister of Finance, Barend Du Plessis, had already shut ours down, just about a year before. The premier New Zealand yearling auction takes its place in the international racing calendar in January every year at Trentham, just outside the harbour city of Auckland. The Wrightson’s Bloodstock sales in an earlier generation, were the stomping grounds of Chris Smith, Cyril Hurwitz, John and Mary Liley and Herman Brown Senior, from the loins of which sprung the likes of Sledgehammer, Sun Monarch and Frisky, the latter winding up at Summerhill as a foundation mare for our long serving management team, Greig and Michele Muir.
That day at Trentham, money didn’t seem that important to Cummings, his purchases accounting for a quarter of the day’s takings. It was all about beating the other fellow and getting the right horses. Cummings was buying for his new Cups King Syndicate, and Cummings, the peerless horseman, had become a financier, a “packager” of horseflesh. He had strayed from the place he knew so well, the racecourse, into the world of men in suits, leveraged buyouts, debt and tax-effective deals. This new place was much more dangerous than the racecourse, and the rules were different. A handshake didn’t mean much here. By the time of the New Zealand sale, it had become commonplace to call racing an “industry” rather than a sport, and people were said to “invest” in it. In one sense this was absurd. Industries are rational and ordered, or at least try to be, so it’s possible to draw up a business plan, to make a list of reasonable expectations and assumptions, even to predict a likely yield or dividend. Racing isn’t like this, never has been, and never will be. That’s why it’s interesting. Whoever saw a piece of share scrip maim itself on a fence, then stand bewildered and uncomprehending, as the vet pushes the stitches through with plyers and bloodied fingers, and says, yes, there’s a chance this particular investment might make it to the races?
Racing is about as orderly as an earthquake. You breed the best to the best with the intention of selling the offspring, and the resulting colt comes out with misshapen forelegs and straight away, you’re out a couple of hundred thousand Rand. You breed an unfashionable stallion to a non-descript mare, and out comes Politician. Racing is proof that two plus two, doesn’t always come up as four.
There was another factor at work which had nothing to do with racing. The 80s was the era of deregulated money markets, of entrepreneurs, merchant bankers, company raiders and all manner of paper shufflers. They stalked the land trailing huge lines of credit. They were audacious and hungry and all over the business pages of newspapers, the new buccaneers.
Above all, this was an era when, as an American writer put it, the financial system slipped loose from its moorings, just as the collapse of Lehman Brothers five years ago, served as a bit of déjà vu about the frailties of humankind. For centuries, debt was considered something to be avoided, or at least entered into modestly. These days, debt is fashionable, and those who don’t embrace the idea are considered passé. What have been called the four most dangerous words in the English language were being spoken again “It’s different this time”. The new financiers of racing, or more specifically, the buying of yearlings, racing’s raw material - were accountants, lawyers, the young and brash movers and shakers of the new financial world. They were not necessarily steeped in the language of racing and horses. Oh, yes, they thought horses chic, but for reasons that had to do with leverage and tax avoidance.
The horse “packages” they came up with were different to what had gone before. The syndication of yearlings was not new: people like Wayne Alridge and Robin Bruss of Delta Bloodstock and Peter Youell of Equine Management, had been putting together syndicates in South Africa for some time with great success. These were the classic old-fashioned deals: one horse, one cash payment, no overt considerations of tax. Half a dozen people wanted to race a horse and have a bit of fun: if they also made money, that was a blessing. Neither was there anything new in trainers buying yearlings on “spec” in the expectation of passing them onto stable clients. That’s how Ever Fair was picked up by Johnny Nicholson for a “grand” and became the hero of the Johannesburg Summer Handicap, and how the diminutive “galloping goldmine” Grand National, found herself in the hands of a brotherhood of Lebanese racecourse “battlers” and wound up in the history books. In the Australian context, that’s how Tulloch, bought by Tommy Smith, came to be owned by an eighty-year old grazier from the little country town of Bathurst, in New South Wales.
What was new here was that the packages being fashioned in 1989 were about dozens of horses and millions of dollars, and were not aimed at traditional racing folk so much as business people, who wanted to trim their tax bills. The horses were simply the vehicles, just as oil exploration companies, (and as we’ve already said, films, aeroplanes and plantations) had been in earlier tax schemes. It was all about business and numbers: any fun was incidental.
By the late 80s, Cummings knew he could no longer sneak into New Zealand and pick up a potential Melbourne Cup winner for a couple of thousand dollars, as he’d done so often. He might pick one up for a couple of hundred thousand, if he was lucky, but he would more likely need half a million. He decided if he was going to compete, he needed to tap into all this deregulated money that was looking for a home. He got up the scheme with two well-known accounting firms. “I thought you couldn’t go wrong with such conservative, powerful names behind you”. And so the Cups King Syndicate was born, offering tax advantages to investors. In 1989, Cummings bought close to 90 yearlings for some $22 million at sales in Australia and New Zealand. He didn’t have to pay for them at once; the auction houses would extend credit until Cumming’s syndicate had sold their units to investors. A few months after the sales, however, it was clear to many that Australia’s wild boom, its love affair with debt and paper shuffling, was coming to an end, choking on its own excesses. Some, and they were not in the Federal government, saw a recession coming.
Supplies of speculative money were drying up, interest rates were high, big companies were crashing. The share market was skittish. The auction houses gave Cummings a final deadline for the end of June that year. After that, the horses had to be paid for. When the deadline came, Cummings still had 64 unsold yearlings on his books. He thought the risk was being shared by him and the two accounting firms. They told him though, that he was on his own. “I’d shaken hands with them” he wrote, “and made certain agreements which I believed we all understood together, but when they brought out the fine print on the contracts, they argued that when I thought I’d been doing this in a sophisticated risk-spreading way, I was actually doing what I’d been doing all along, putting up my money, taking all the risk myself”.
Cummings now had to sell 64 yearlings and, as he put it, he was caught in no-mans-land. People like to buy yearlings, fresh, untouched by saddles and riders. They also like to buy older horses with good racetrack form, but the horses Cummings was trying to sell, now rising two-year-olds, fell between these two poles, neither one thing nor the other.
William Inglis and Sons, who host the sale that spawned the likes of Igugu and Hollywoodboulevard for us, put the yearlings up at their Sydney stables in September 1989. It was a fire sale: no reserves. Someone with a black sense of humour came up with a title for the sale, “The Night Of The Stars”. Cummings sat in the auditorium, hunched in his overcoat with his wife Valmae beside him. For him it was the night of purgatory. The horses brought $9 million. At the end of the night, Cummings still owed three auction houses around $11 million. He took the accounting firms to the Federal court, and the hearing endured for six weeks. Some months later, the court ruled that no joint venture existed, and the debt was Cumming’s alone.
A five year repayment scheme was eventually worked out. Cummings conceded that it was at least better than bankruptcy. He sold his home in Vaucluse and Prince’s Farm at Castlereigh, which he’d bought only a few years earlier. The loss of the farm hurt him more than the loss of the family home, and anyone who’d savoured its beauty, would understand why. People were even beginning to think he was mortal. Bart was now 63, an age when most men are thinking about retirement, and when the one thing they’re certainly not thinking about, is starting over again. He’d won seven Melbourne Cups, made a lot of money and now with one wrong move, one that had nothing to do with horsemanship, he’d lost a great deal of it. Many in the sport at this point said, softly and without malice, that most of his future was behind him. He couldn’t come back to what he had been after a setback like this, not at his age, not with all that debt hanging about him like coils of a chain.
It’s a measure of the man that he’s since bounced back to win another five Melbourne Cups in less than two decades since this mess manifested itself, he’s overcome grave illness and recovered his beloved farm, and to this day, he’s at his yard before the sun rises and most days, leaves it when it’s almost set again.
Trevor and Minou Armitage / Beach Beauty
(Image : Sporting Post / Gold Circle)
“WE LOST A SOLDIER LAST WEEK.”
Summerhill CEOWe lost a soldier last week. Trevor Armitage hails from a deep-rooted thoroughbred breeding family, reaching back to the days of his father, Jim, who founded his Rathvale Stud on the outskirts of Standerton in the Eastern Transvaal. Like those of us who breed horses in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Transvaal had to overcome a misdirected belief that it was not good horse country, something the runners from Rathvale proceeded to dispel once and for all.
Another myth which Jim Armitage was quick to put the lid on, was a notion that was gathering traction quite quickly at the time, that to breed good racehorses for the modern era, you had to do so with sprinter/milers. He employed the services of two stoutly-bred stallions in succession, with startling results. The first of these being the eventual champion sire, Penthouse II, a son of the out-and-out staying influence Worden II, while the second, Kirsch Flambee, was a son of the Epsom Derby winner, Crepello, whose legacy in the breeding shed was also strongly inclined towards stamina and later-maturing horses. You only have to look at a few examples of how class prevails whatever the aptitudes, to know that these prejudices, whilst well-intentioned and sometimes supported by circumstances, can be completely misleading. In this country alone, I’m reminded that the two mile Durban Gold Cup ace, Salmon (whose 1945 Gold Cup is a focal point of our Hall of Fame these days), and Wilwyn, winner of the Washington D.C. International over 2400 metres (and whose pedigree was replete with heavy German stamina influences), were both champion two-year-old sires, which tells us that nothing in this game is entirely predictable, and the ability to stay does not preclude the sheer quality of the horse to shine through in his second career. In modern-day Europe, Sadler’s Wells and Galileo (whose progeny’s average winning distance is well beyond 2000 metres) have both demonstrated an ability to get top class two-year-olds in recent times.
Most racegoers of the 60s and 70s will recall with fondness the remarkable racehorses, Home Guard and Gatecrasher, whose racecourse feats were of such a magnitude, they tended to make us forget that the Armitage heritage includes the Derby victors, Bridesman and Skyline, the Summer Handicap winner, Appointment, the outstanding racehorses Storm Signal, Nile Guard and Wavecrest, the S.A.Guineas conqueror and Champion Zimbabwean sire, Sun Tonic, and the “speed merchant”, Shelter. Penthouse himself had an affinity for Davy Gordon mares (not to be confused with the eminent legal counsel of the same name,) much as Masham clicked with the daughters of Sybil’s Nephew here at Hartford, so Jim Armitage had the advantage of a natural “nick” to set him on his way, and Kirsch Flambee’s endowment was built on the daughters of Penthouse.
In a far more competitive era, Trevor continued his father’s sterling work with the quality gallopers Fairy Ring, Gold Tax, Summer Line (a daughter of Hobnob, and another example of the benefits of loading stamina on stamina) and then, his crowning achievement, Beach Beauty.
Most of us in the horse breeding world would want to go out at the height of our powers, and if Trevor Armitage was ever looking for something to remind us all of the stockman he was, it rests with Beach Beauty, surely one of the most remarkable fillies of the modern era. The daughter of Dynasty is just a midget of a mare, but my goodness, does she pack a punch, and she does so in the colours of the Shanks Syndicate, a group of friends who got together after the tragic passing of Trevor’s son, nicknamed “Shanks”, after the toilet and bathware manufacturers, “Armitage Shanks”. What a way to go.
In an earlier era, and as a much younger man, Trevor was a regular visitor at Summerhill. He had an eye for a bargain, and I was always grateful for his observations on the value of imported fillies as a means of invigorating your stud with fresh blood, and that they could often be bought locally for less than the cost of their transportation to South Africa. It is a tribute to his love of the game that he founded his own stud with Miss World (wouldn’t we all like to do so?!), whom he bought with a loan from his wife, Minou (wouldn’t we all like a wife like her?). Of some sentimental value to us, Henry Eatwell, the man that trained many of the Armitage stars including the great Home Guard, was a one-time manager (before his training career) of my grandfather’s stud, The Springs, near Cedarville in East Griqualand.
Trevor had suffered with leukaemia for some time, but he seemed to have beaten it a while back after successive treatments with chemotherapy. However, he suffered a relapse recently, and while he still talked of the many things he wanted to do with his life, it eventually got him. The consummate stockman, he also bred cattle on his farm near Volksrust. At 69, he was the much younger brother (by 14 years) of the many-times champion breeder of Zimbabwe, Geoff Armitage, whose son James now operates the highly productive Sandown Stud in the Western Cape, where he stands the much-underrated Kingmambo horse, Ashaawes.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember old Trevor.
Make the Receiver of Revenue your “partner” for the full extent of the investment
(Photo : Leigh Willson)
“A VOICE FROM THE WILDERNESS”
Summerhill CEOAs a boy who grew up in the bush, and who followed the sport of racing for the “sport”, and very little else, I have to confess, I had trouble coming to terms with the corporate age in racing. Of course, if you didn’t embrace the things that changed our sport, you were never going to survive in it, let alone thrive, and so most of us did. I belong to a fraternity though, that can still stand for hours in the wind and the rain watching weanlings romp in the paddock. That might help to explain why I had difficulty seeing horses as collateral: instinct told me they break too easily, and neither could I come to terms with horses being depreciated, like say, a printing press, or lease-financed, like a BMW. Until I asked myself why a printing press or a BMW was any better than a racehorse, and why a man should not be tempted into investing in what was obviously a nobler object to put his money, than a piece of equipment?
I had to adjust. There was no sense living the horsey version of cricket before Kerry Packer’s revolution. Racehorses long ago became more than sport. Remember the days when we were confronted by prospectus after prospectus offering a collection of well-bred yearlings, packaged as a partnership under a lease-financing scheme. What those documents told us, if only obliquely so, was that by paying just R10,000 in cash and borrowing another sixty to meet the first year’s payment to the partnership, you could claim a tax deduction of around R70,000, and more if your borrowings attracted interest. South Africa’s tax laws were, (and for those in breeding, continue to be,) the most favourable in the world, and when it comes to racing, provided you are serious enough about your endeavours and show enough in the way of income, even there, racing has more than just the sport to its attractions.
Supposing your horses are well bought, and your venture is serious and capable of making good profits, there should be no argument about the deduction in the case of breeding stock. As I understand it, “ring-fencing” has placed an onus on taxpayers to prove the seriousness of their endeavours, but provided your intent is genuine, you ought to be able to write down your capital outlay to zero or to what the taxing master terms “standard values” (less than a R100,) in the year of acquisition. The idea behind the dispensation, is to encourage investment in farming and farming stock, and I know of nowhere else in the world where the commissioner makes it this attractive for taxpayers to invest in the agricultural sector. If, for example, you occupy the space of the highest marginal taxpayers, and have a taxable income of say a R100,000, by borrowing R100,000 and investing in bloodstock, you can make the Receiver of Revenue your “partner” for the full extent of the investment, and not only saving yourself the tax, but acquire a handsome “blue blood” at the same time.
As they say in the financial community, that’s leverage. As we say on the racecourse, that’s odds of 5-2 in a one-horse race. It may be in the long haul, that all I’m doing is deferring tax, because when my investment is eventually sold, it may yield a substantial profit. In that case, I may owe the tax man, but that is the best sort of problem, anyway. Today’s odds remain 5-2.
The advent of the big tax schemes of the late 80s, gave birth to the new concept of racing partnerships, and while the concessions in the form they were in those days, were eventually withdrawn and replaced with the “saner” variety we have today, the partnerships remain a popular form of racehorse ownership; partly for their camaraderie, partly for their spread of risk, and especially because they make the game accessible to a broader spectrum of people for a smaller outlay in these times of big prices. Often enough, racing partnerships explain the buoyancy of the top end of yearling sales around the world, while breeding partnerships have helped underwrite the heady market for Black-type mares. The “sport” is still there: it always will be. But the method of financing a large portion of it has become as sophisticated as the financing of a takeover or of a large shopping mall.
One reason for this, is the people who figure on the finance pages these days, often also appear on the sport pages leading in a Group One winner, and sometimes, trying not to strangle themselves with the lead rein. But there are deeper reasons for the new financial vehicles.
First, nothing propelled the start of racing to “industry” status more surely than the advent of the TABs in the 70s. These guaranteed that part of every betting Rand went back to the sport, and a good portion of the residue went to the funding of hospitals, schools, roads and game parks: can you think of a better cause? You need look only at the rag-tag way English racing is financed, to realise the genius of the South African TAB system.
Secondly, prize money has soared. In the season just ended, it is just better than R300 million. Twenty years ago, it was less than half of that, and another twenty years before, it was down to a tenth of it. Yes, we have inflation, but the nett growth factor is around double for every decade. This was not always so. When Campanajo won the first Durban July in 1897, first prize was £100. When my grandfather won the Durban July with St Pauls in 1946, the prize was £7,500. I remember Elevation winning the third of his Holiday Inns in the mid 70s, when we thought a R100,000 was enormous. If you are on a really good horse these days, there is no need to bet: the Vodacom Durban July prize stands at R3.5 million, and the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup offers a handsome R3million.
Third, there is now the concept of “residuals”; in other words, what good fillies and mares and the odd colt, are worth when they leave the racecourse. Once, before Black type became important for breeders, prices were often none-too-fancy for racetrack retirees. Now, the figures can go like this. You buy a well-bred filly with fashionable blood and good looks for R100,000 at the Yearling Sales. She is a fair performer on the track, and wins a couple of hundred thousand Rands, let’s say, and is a Stakes winner. Someone working on the old figures in the old days, might say the deal didn’t work too well, that you finished a long way behind. Studs these days are owned by some of the wealthiest of the wealthy, and a good looking filly with a good looking record can double her price (and much more) at the point of retirement. A filly of the class of Igugu, would be worth many times what she made when we sold her at the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Sale, notwithstanding the million she cost in the first place.
Jet Master was bought for R15,000 as a foal. On the track he won the modern equivalent of about R10million with eight Group One victories. You could say the Devines finished strongly in front, but they did much better. When the horse went to stud, he made such an impression, he wound up commanding a stud fee of R250,000, payable up front. On the basis of a 100 mares (and perhaps more) a season, and about 80 foals on the ground, the sums are not difficult to work out. There is something of the order of R20 million in the annual kitty, and until his purchase price was repaid (of little account in his case, but often of considerable account with an expensive stallion) the income would be tax-free. Of course, there would be no argument with the Receiver Of Revenue about the seriousness of your endeavours.
And finally, racehorses have become an “industry”, because they generate turnovers of more than R7 billion a year. It’s natural that so much money would attract the big financiers. The recent entry forms for the Lanzarac-sponsored Cape Ready To Run Sale towards the end of the year, advertise that Cape Thoroughbred Sales will pay their vendors ten days after the sale is completed, and that buyers can pay them within six months. You can’t get those terms anywhere else in the world.
Whether you go the racing or the breeding route is a matter of choice, and often it’s a matter of temperament. The former is probably better suited to the high-flying gambling type, whose thrill lies in the throw of the dice, while the other takes time, patience, and a closer association with the horse, to name its attractions. You need an element of the “roulette wheel” if you do want to be a racer, and you need to be of the “little farmer” variety for the latter. On the face of it, breeding seems safer, and yet, to be truly fulfilled in the game, you need an element of both. We’ve all heard the adage about the “person who wants to make a small fortune, having to start out in horsebreeding with a big one”, but I’d like to tell you that we had neither. When we came to Summerhill in 1979, we had nothing but a burning obsession to breed horses the best way we could. Together with a team who were willing to share the sweat, the tears and the sacrifices with us, thirty-five years later and a with a helluva lot less hair than we started out with, the legacy is of a lot of people who’ve managed to make an honest living, to educate their kids, to enjoy a few parties, and who’ve occasionally got time to dust off the trophies on their mantlepieces.
And while we’ve been in it the past three decades and a bit, we’ve seen the game turned upside down in the mix of its offerings, its players and those that would “own” it, but it remains as irresistible as ever. You may think the way it is these days, that it all rather argues with the spirit of Rudyard Kipling and those battlers who dream of just one Jet Master. It does. But then a couple of decades ago, I never thought I would see international cricketers cavorting in pj’s while Tony Greig talked about their comfort levels. Cricket changed, and I often wondered what would’ve become of it, if it hadn’t. I guess the same applies to this glorious game of ours.
If these stories do nothing else, hopefully they will revive some memories. And if they do, they may even provoke some discussion.
Mick Goss - Summerhill CEO
(Photo : Devin Carter)
SOUTH AFRICAN BREEDER’S CHAMPIONSHIP 2012/13
Extract from Business Day, 5 August 2013
Racing EditorBreeder Mick Goss, who has described racing as “an unforgiving business”, has led his Summerhill Stud team to a ninth consecutive Breeder’s Championship and few would argue his shrewd decisions have proved all-important.
Back in 2004 when Mark Zuckerberg was co-founding Facebook, Goss was on the verge of capturing his first breeders title having established Summerhill with a handful of mares back in 1979.
“Summerhill is 34 years old and it took 25 of those to produce the first championship - that it’s remained here for the past nine years is a tribute to guts, determination and a work ethic that goes way beyond the call of duty,” commented Goss.
“Horseracing is an unforgiving business - one moment you’re cruising and the next you’re bruising and there’s little time for the fallen,” he added.
Summerhill’s 2012/13 campaign was no cruise. Steinhoff boss, Markus Jooste, has made no secret of his desire to win the title for his Cape-based Klawervlei Stud and the battle went down to the final meetings of the season.
Goss will never regret deciding to opt for breeding than a career in law and he’s relishing the challenge of a new season. “As soon as the back-slapping is over, it’s back to the grindstone. The horses don’t know that we’ve won the championship and they need to be fed.”
Goss keeps close tabs on racing around the world and has just returned from the big Goodwood in the United Kingdom where Dawn Approach and Toronado had a fascinating clash in the Gr1 Sussex Stakes.
Quite possibly, Goss would have made it as a racing scribe as he wrote the following on the Summerhill website. “The pace was on from the start and as they neared the bend to the straight, it picked up to the speed of sound. Dawn Approach grabbed the initiative, surging away and looking the winner. On Toronado, jockey Richard Hughes was as still as a corpse. As they went through the two-furlong pole, I was beginning to think he was riding him “crook”. I’ve seen great races in my time, but this one matched the best of them.”
SOUTH AFRICAN BREEDERS’ PREMIERSHIP
Though the Equus Awards are only due to take place on the 14th August, according to our calculations (see below), these were the figures left on the table at the close of play yesterday. Tellytrack’s comment about “Summerhill Stud cracking the champagne”, brought on numerous congratulatory messages. Many thanks for your support and good wishes. The Summerhill Team.
South African Breeders’ Championship 2012/2013
(Image : Summerhill Archives)
SOUTH AFRICAN BREEDERS’ PREMIERSHIP
Summerhill CEOWhen I was growing up, convention decreed that when under pressure, you kept it to yourself, you internalised your thoughts and you worked it out. Being stoic about your struggles was the gentlemanly thing to do well into the late decades of the last century. Then suddenly doctors of the mind began to tell us that we should share our issues, that we should unburden ourselves of the weight on our shoulders.
These days, it’s as though the world has turned a complete circle. People want to know how you feel, they want you to share your innermost thoughts, and so that’s what we’re going to do right now. In case you thought we were suffering some serious psychological disorder, be at peace. South Africa’s is about the most tightly-held Breeders’ Premiership on the planet, one which, since the beginning of recording, has been held by just six entities, and to the best of our knowledge in the pre-recording era, just one or two others have aspired to the mountaintop.
Ours though is unique for a couple of other reasons, the first of which is our locality. Since the breeding of racehorses first kicked off in the Western Cape several centuries ago, no farm on this side of the Drakensberg had ever been there until we won our first title in the 2004/2005 season. We’d been close before, agonisingly so the previous year, but winning it was a milestone not only for Summerhill, but for the fabric of racehorse production across the country. At last it put to rest the widely-held theory that you couldn’t breed a decent horse in these parts, and we have to concede, it took more than a year or two for us to believe it was true, and that is was repeatable.
The second unique feature of this championship, is that no farm has held it for eight consecutive years since the seemingly “interminable” reign of the famous Birch Brothers in the early 1980s. The title had resided with them ever since recordings began in 1947, and it was uninterrupted for 36 years. We can’t see a repeat of that in the modern era, given the depth, the power and the excellence of the opposition these days. Historically, the breeding of racehorses was the preserve of farmers, stockmen who lived on their farms, and raised horses as part of a mixed enterprise. They did so with limited means, and those that knew their stock best and applied the smartest of intuitions, climbed the mountain. These days, the world of racehorse breeding in South Africa is entirely different. It is dominated by big money and big business, people with the means to buy virtually what they want in the way of genetics, to acquire the best of land and to employ the best of management. The kind of people who used to own the farms in those days are now running them, and they have at their disposal the personnel, the equipment and all the trappings of big enterprise, at their disposal.
Summerhill stands on its own in the top half dozen studs in the land as a pure farming entity, funded through the endeavours of its people alone, and carried along by the achievements of the horses it raises. Few properties of Summerhill’s ilk finance themselves on the quality of their horsemen. These people know what they owe, and they understand the responsibility of living in the shadow of Giant’s Castle. If it does nothing else, Summerhill is a beacon for those who would want the world to be a better place, and who have hopes of one day repeating the feat.
We used the word “eight” advisedly at the beginning of this story, because it isn’t “nine” yet. Technically, it’s still possible for our pursuers to get their hands on the pot of gold, but with a lead of marginally more than R300,000 this morning, and just two days to go, we’d rather be sitting in our seat than anyone else’s. It’s been a close run thing, and it’s been a clean-run thing, and for that we must thank our competitors. It’s a compliment to them and their efforts, that we’ll have to hold our cheers until midnight on Wednesday, lest we should “lose our ventures”.
Editor’s note: Business Manager Ferdi Heinen, last evening, put together a projection of what principal rivals, Klawervlei, will need to do today and tomorrow to wrest the title from us with their engaged runners. The exercise assumes Summerhill will have no earnings in that time.
(Photos : Leigh Willson)
“Summerhill claim that we are home to the
best-nourished horses on the continent”
Statisticians and “log-watchers” have been asking a lot of questions of us as the season draws to a close. There’s a reason why horses from Summerhill run more often than most, and there’s a scientific explanation for the 9kg increase in the average birth weight of our foals compared with their counterparts of a decade ago. For that matter, there’s a sound basis for the fact that Summerhill-raised horses contract illness less frequently than most, and it’s to do with their immune systems.
Without knowing the consequences, some 20 years ago, we embraced the idea that nature was our master (or our mistress, depending on your persuasion) and that, rather than working to beat her, we needed to work in harmony. Our old friend, the world-feted conservationist, Ian Player, once said “Nature has plenty of time; in the end, she will get her way.”
It wasn’t an overnight process, because we needed to educate ourselves into an understanding of how nature works, and to undoing all the things man had done to alter her ways. The harmonisation which followed was part of a realisation that we couldn’t compete with the big money in breeding, and that we had to find other ways of doing things that would provide us with an edge: one of these was to harness the advantages of our environment, our climate and the virtues of our people, and to get the small increments that accrued from each of these, to work to our benefit.
The advent of tractor power and the revolution that flowed after World War II from the conversion of the explosives industry into the fertiliser business, turned the agricultural world on its head, dramatically raising productivity and yields on farms. But this revelation came at the expense of the integrity of soils and the elements of nature that had for so long sustained the natural world. Pulverising soil with mechanical power was a wonderful substitute for the old horse or cattle-drawn plough, and converting the massive explosives manufacturing businesses into makers of fertiliser, was an act of ingenuity of matchless proportions. What few people understood at the time, was the impact this would have on the productive agricultural environment over the next 50 to 60 years, and it’s only now that we’ve come to appreciate the desperate need for us to find a balance between nature and commercial expedience. Soils were being destroyed, and synthetic fertilizer was like a drug.
Most of us that made Summerhill “tick” two decades ago, were lucky in our upbringings. Somewhere inside the lot of us was a “little farmer”, a respect for the environment and a love of animals, and fortunately, there resided in all of us a determination to preserve the sustainability of what we were doing. Getting the mind-set right is always the biggest challenge in circumstances like these, and once that’s done, the rest is about blood, sweat and sacrifice, and a big “dollop” of patience. Reversing the damage of 60 years is not an overnight undertaking, and there is still work to be done.
Let it be said upfront, if we’d not attended to these things, we doubt whether we would have won a single Breeder’s Championship, let alone eight in a row, given the limits of our resources and the broadly-held belief at the time, that you couldn’t produce a decent racehorse in KwaZulu-Natal. As remarkable as that may be in hindsight (given the fine histories of the old Hartford, Dagbreek, Springvale and Springfield Studs, and not forgetting Politician and Jet Master came from these valleys), that was the prevailing propaganda of the age, and having made our commitment to this region, purging that from the minds of those who would believe it, was as galvanising a force in what’s happened since, as any. We kicked off our programme with the introduction of cattle, aimed principally at the eradication of parasites in both species (the cattle and the horses) and the elimination of biliary-bearing ticks. The symbiosis was easy to see: you only have to visit a game reserve to see the “glue” between zebras and wildebeest. As a by-product of the cattle, we discovered the benefit of feeding them the bedding from the stables in the winter, and the fact that they could re-distribute this on the land as compost. This alerted us to the realisation that in all the hay we put down on the floors of our stables, we had one of the most bountiful natural resources imaginable, and so a composting enterprise of mean proportions was born.
We sensitised our minds to the adoption of a more delicate approach to the breaking up of our land for planting, and to the fact that our soils were crying out for a return to their original tilth and crumble. We quickly realised that the health of our soils depended not only on the micro-organisms and the tiny creatures that resided beneath its surface, but also on the metre or so above, and we began to restore the land to its original form, by re-introducing the materials and minerals that had been extracted over the decades. The outcome was not only a reversion to the natural balances which had existed over the ages, but the revitalization aerated the soil as well as significantly improving its capacity for the retention of water, and hence the return of the creatures we see every day.
There was little point in all this if we didn’t deal with our nutrition and our husbandry in the same philosophy. Our feeds division, Vuma, soon became the first manufacturer of organic or bio-friendly horse feeds in the world, and our people led a charge in the way we operate, attracting the attention of some of the leading stud farms of the world.
How often have we heard citizens complaining about the moles in their gardens, and the earthworms and frogs that appear with the onset of the rains and the first signs of spring? Truth is, moles are nature’s natural aerators, earthworms are the sub-soil conveyors of nutrients, and dung beetles are the outward evidence of a healthy, balanced and welcoming environment, just as frogs are. Anything in excess or in absence is a sign of imbalance, and we should see the re-emergence of these little fellows as an act of generosity on the part of nature, rather than a warning (as we often do), that things are not how they should be.
As much as we might like to see a Kikuyu pasture resembling a bowling green, to the modern, educated farmer, a couple of moleheaps are a good sign that all is well, that the environment is kind, but not necessarily soft, and that the Summerhill claim that we are home to the best-nourished horses on the continent, is not just a pipedream.
South African Breeder’s Premiership 2012/2013
(Image : Summerhill Archives)
GOLD CUP DAY
Greyville, 27 July 2013
Racing is an unforgiving business, it spits out dreamers like us, and losers like a chaff machine. There’s hardly a person who’s played at it that hasn’t been hurt by its vagaries: we’re dealing in flesh and blood, and like us, horses have good days and bad days. One minute you’re cruising, the next you’re stumbling, and you have to have the stomach for its ups and downs. In that sense, it’s not unlike rugby, where just this past season, our Sharks had five consecutive victories under their belts and looked set for the play-offs, only to crash to five consecutive defeats.
Racing and rugby are easier to promote than running, which at best, is a middle class fad. For that reason, they appeal to tough-minded nations like Argentina, Australia and Ireland. It’s not wise to offend citizens of these countries. To them, a scrum or a whip-cracking finish, is just a pleasant interlude among like-minded countries. Cauliflower ears and a few welts on the bum are signs of a life well spent. Others might beat them, but not even the All Blacks can scare them.
That was a long story, getting to this point, which was about the chances of the Summerhill entries on Gold Cup Day. Monday’s story disclosed that we have sixteen runners from the farm engaged on Saturday: it’s difficult enough getting a place in the field on days like these, let alone queuing up for a cheque. We’re not going to deal with the chances of all of them: some are compromised by bad draws, one or two in our opinion have gone over the top, and at least one other is there through wishful thinking.
Tinchy Stryder is an interesting entry in the third. At her best, she’s shown she could come from far back to down the subsequent Group One giantess, Blueridge Mountain, and if Blueridge Mountain was engaged here, she’d be a galloping certainty. That said, nobody knows whether this talented filly has recovered from the injury that cost her a start as the ruling favourite in the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup, so we’ll have to see.
In the Juvenile Fillies Group One, the Thekwini Stakes, the obvious favourite is Klawervlei’s impressive Golden Slipper victress, For The Lads, who looks unbeatable on that effort, especially as she was running on strongly at the end, and looks untroubled by the extra furlong. If you don’t have hope though in this game, you have nothing, and until it actually happens, we’ll be consoled by the run in the Golden Slipper of Admiral’s Eye, who came from the worst of the draw and the back of the field on July Day to finish 5th behind the favourite, beaten less than three lengths. It’s likely she ran the fastest last 400, and as a granddaughter of Sunday Silence, the extra furlong here is likely to see her at her best, particularly as a half-sister to the stout fillies, Saltwater Girl and Rapid Flow, as well as Saturday’s Gold Cup entry, Shogunnar. Of course, there are others in the field that she still has to beat, the obvious ones being the Golden Slipper runner-up, Along Came Polly, and yet another Klawervlei-bred, Alascan Maiden - they seem to have us surrounded!
In the Premier’s Champion Juvenile Stakes (Gr.1), there is one entry off the farm, Umgiyo (not officially bred under our name, but sold by us). As a winner of his only race, he has it all to do against a more-experienced opposition, but he’s a beautifully bred son of Danehill Dancer out of a Sadler’s Wells mare, and if blood matters at all, he should be a runner.
As we’ve already mentioned, Klawervlei have a big hand in the Gold Cup itself, with the impressive winner of the Gold Vase Kolkata, well drawn here under champion jockey, Piere Strydom. The Summerhill response lies in two horses bred and raised here (again not under the official label), Shogunnar and Patriotic Rebel, both of whom have a bit of a shout, though the latter is poorly drawn at 15. This is an awfully open affair though, and only a brave man could be emphatic about any particular horse’s chances. Problem is, as far as the championship is concerned, there’s an awful lot of money at stake here, and the outcome could be decisive.
On the other hand, we have a proper horse in the Champions Cup (Gr.1) in No Worries, who ran a cracker in the Vodacom Durban July, coming from draw 19 and the back of the field with the fastest last 400m, for the fourth-placed cheque. At much the same weights, he has it all to do, against Jackson, Whiteline Fever (a kilo better off and over his preferred distance), July runner-up, Run For It, and the in-form Bravura, who at his best is capable of a top performance, and comes into the race well treated at the weights. No Worries represents the best form of the sophomores right now, so he’s not only our hope for the Number One box; he carries the hopes of an entire generation.
In the Gold Bracelet (Gr.2), we have our own home-bred Checcetti, as well as our sales graduate Dylan’s Promise, looking to spoil the party for Thunder Dance. On form, Thunder Dance has to be the pick here, but with different riding tactics (she likes to be forward and dictating), Checcetti could make a meal of this one as she did last year, and then anything could happen. We don’t know what Dylan’s Promise beat in the Oaks, but she couldn’t have done it any better than she did: if she’s progressed since then, she could be in the shake-up too.
The Darley Arabian (the Listed 10th race) brings together some vast talents, and here we are represented by Corredor, Emperor Augustus and Distinguished in a “sunset” attempt at keeping our hopes of retaining the title alive. This is a helluva line-up, the top class Yorker, Halfway To Heaven, General Sherman and Red Barrel representing some outstanding class, and we’ll have to be good to feature. Garth Puller assures us though that he holds Corredor in the highest regard, and coming from a journeyman of his excellence, that’s high praise. With Emperor Augustus in attendance, it’s a matter of “letting the games begin”.
Finally, our aspirations rest with Negev in the 11th and Showmetheway in the last. Drawn well for a change, Negev has Mike de Kock’sBluRoute (she’d better do so; Louis Goosen is a box guest and he won’t forget it if she doesn’t) and Bermuda Sloop (Klawervlei again) to contend with, but she’ll make them run. In the last, Klawervlei are strongly represented by the West Is Wide, and as we’ve said, we have Mark Dixon’sShowemetheway, but it’s unlikely that either of them will be showing the way, as they’re both drawn wide, and besides, they have De Kock’s Welwitchia and Ormond Ferraris’ Sharp Design to contend with before they can put their hands on the dough. A helluva day’s racing, and one that’ll take a few good “Johnny Walkers” to endure.
In the end though, ours is a sport that has little sympathy for the vanquished; it prefers to hail its survivors, and those that “survive” are the ones that choose to make their own luck, and damn the odds. This weekend features the seasonal showdown for the breeder’s and the trainer’s premierships. The former is a straight battle between Summerhill and Klawervlei, the latter between Mike de Kock and Sean Tarry, and the margins at the moment are just about identical. The challengers are both in striking form, and both hold formidable hands. Earlier this week we speculated about the Klawervlei entry, and they have a few obvious standouts. Our hand, on the other hand, is a little light on favourites, but this farm hasn’t been the champion breeder of racehorses for the past eight consecutive seasons for nothing, and there are some out there who just don’t know where these runners come from!
De Kock, who with his better part, Diane, will be racing with us on Saturday, is another thing altogether. At least, as the trainer of his entries, his destiny is in his own hands, while ours are both tied behind our backs. He’s been known to survive the odd skirmish in weighing rooms, jockey clubs and on hotel veradahs in the past, and you can be sure of one thing, he’ll have gloves on both fists when he gets in the ring Saturday. One other thing about De Kock though, is that like us, he can handle these things, and he’ll get over whatever Saturday dishes up.
Good horse country…
(Photo : Leigh Willson)
Excerpt from the forthcoming Summerhill Sires brochure.
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Summerhill CEOI was lucky where I grew up, 20 miles outside the remotest village in 1950s Pondoland. Home was a trading station, where my father dealt in general goods and fattened cattle. Life was tough but it was good, and before my schooldays, my only friends were young Pondo boys from the local community. My first language was Xhosa, and my first love was cricket. In the context of our modern South African society, it was the ideal upbringing. Somehow though, horses were always destined to intervene in my life. Ever since I sat on a potty, I had a Duff’s Turf Guide in my hands, and I practised my riding skills on a sweet-natured mare called Gift. This was the life, and it’s what we called “home”.
My mother knew both the fascinations and the pitfalls of the turf. It is about dreams, rather than probabilities. It involves risk, physical and financial. And here we have touched on a part of its greatness, one of the reasons for all the lore and the literature. All great sport involves putting something on the line. All great sport demands some pain, the element of mortal chance, ritualised codes of conduct. That is why racing, rugby and cricket have spawned such great writing. That is why jogging has not, and remains forever a middle class fad.
My father had a different view. He felt that flawed people were more interesting than saints, so that the outrageous Randolph Churchill seemed a richer character than his canonised father. He taught me to know stock. He had an infallible eye. He knew that some faults and blemishes didn’t matter too much, and that others, like straight shoulders and shallow girths, were the road to poverty. He taught me about pedigrees, but he knew that a pedigree was just a piece of paper. You had to feed a horse to make that pedigree run. Sometimes that pedigree would not run, no matter what you fed it. He also taught me the art, a gentle art in this case, of persuading people of the virtues of owning a racehorse.
The hamlet of Lusikisiki was a hub of civilization in those days: we even had a resident doctor. It was a melting pot of tribes, of cults and cultures, a tiny metropolis in a distant world. The one thing about which there was no argument, was religion. You were either Catholic, or you were Protestant. The village hall, which doubled as a “flick” house as well as the local boxing gym, still stands. Catholic funerals were sometimes held there, along with the St Patrick’s Night Ball. I once heard somewhere that the Gosses were either “devout Catholics or confirmed alcoholics”. Our branch was Protestant, and I guess that’s why in 1820, my settler namesake, Michael, forsook the Emerald Isle.
The railway goods shed is still there too, its corrugated iron walls shot through with rust. Pigeons look down proprietorially from the roof spars, and the floor is carpeted with their feathers. The cemetery is east of the village. The Catholic section is hard up against the fence on the eastern side. The Protestants are hard up against the western fence. Between the two is a gap of perhaps 50 yards, which this afternoon, is populated by three non-denominational pied crows, lazing about in the sun. There wasn’t much more to Lusiksiki besides the local watering hole, the “Royal”, the cricket pitch and the racecourse. But it was home.
You wouldn’t recognise our little ‘dorp’ these days. It is a frenetic, aromatic, run-through-the- bushes trading post, scruffy on the inside, bleak on the outside. Twenty-four hours of this kind of energy, makes you long for your mother. Yet it produced the owner of the 1946 Durban July winner, which in turn planted the seeds for eight National Breeders’ titles. And still, it was home.
Beyond cricket, the one thing that thrived in our country villages, was horseracing. In addition to blessing the races, the Catholic fathers even provided the bookmakers. My grandfather taught my father to love the game, and my father taught me to do the same. Dad won a race at Matatiele one day, and doing a little arithmetic as the truck floated us home, he reckoned he’d paid out nearly as much in slings, gratuities and effervescent note-shoving, as he’d taken in prize money. It never bothered him at all. He was a racing man: damn the arithmetic. The same day, a partnership of ten had won a R600 race, and promptly spent R700 on framed photographs of the finish.
Our isolation was no cure for the racehorse “disease”. I remember vividly the six-hour, three-puncture dirt road journey to the Durban July, through the “racing” suburbs of Clairwood and Montclair. These places were all about the South Africa of that era, a land of beef, wool, sugar and flat-topped flamboyant trees. Here was a pastoral enclave which smelt of the country, even if it was within walking distance of the inner city. The produce of the hinterland ended up here, wool from the sandstone hills of East Griqualand, fat lambs from the Natal Midlands, and bullocks from the verdant valleys of Mooi River. Here were wool stores, the headquarters of the Woolbrokers Federation, the sugar terminal, great brick edifices built for the ages, and long warehouses crammed with hides, the stiff pelts of sheep, cattle, jackals and rabbits. Everywhere there were racing yards.
Despite my mother’s protestations, I was smitten, a victim for life of the racehorse drug. When I was fifteen and suffering from an allergy, my father took me to a specialist in Durban, who scratched my arm and exposed it to the toxins from horse hair, feed and hay. My arm reacted to everything. “That’s alright”, the doctor said, “all you have to do to be free of this for the rest of your life, is stay away from horses and stables”. Outside, as we walked up the Marine Parade, I turned to my dad and said “We’ve done our dough”.
For all its other attractions and its proximity to the Wild Coast, Lusikisiki was not great farming country. Sometimes it was feast, most times it was famine. For a few of the earliest years, God, even if he was a Catholic, smiled on old “Siki”. For a while, farmhouses and trading stations sprang up till there were some that were in sight of each other. Then there were years of locusts, internecene riots, droughts and dust storms. The proverb was wrong: the rain didn’t always follow the plough. But it was still home.
That’s why, when our turn came, we did what my dad had taught us. Good ground, good water and a good climate, are the “not-negotiables” of good horse country. Toss in good people, and you find yourself in Mooi River. Summer in some parts of the horse-rearing world means dust and a blazing sun that gives off a white glare. Summer at Summerhill is sublimely warm. There is always moisture in the soil, the grass holds a generous tinge of the green, and the clover stands to attention. Here there’s no need for farmers to struggle with stringy merino wethers; you can run five big Friesian cows to the hectare, without difficulty. Things grow. This is the Tipperary of the South. Kind country, paddocks bordered with clipped hedges of Drakensberg privet or sweet-smelling may, poplars, planes and liquid ambers along the farm lanes, old oaks encrusted with lichen around the farmhouses. Horses thrive here, partly because the land is generous, but also because the men and women who raise them, are stockmen. Unlike their counterparts in the cheque-book world you read about in overseas magazines, where buying a nomination to the hottest stallion in town is thought to be the panacea for breeding a good horse, these people live with their horses. They are not just pedigree pages, they are flesh and blood.
Like me, my wife comes from a background of toil at the grindstone, of modest living and hard habits. As the eldest child in a Catholic family of seven, she left school early to lessen the burden on a prolific father. Like us though, old Stanley Harrison is a die-hard racing man of the Nelson Mandela vintage. And like the rest of the Summerhill family, for the past thirty-five years, he’s enjoyed calling this place “home”.
Entrance to the Hartford Estate
(Photo : Leigh Willson)
Excerpt from the forthcoming Summerhill Sires brochure.
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Summerhill CEOCan you remember 1989? It was the year the Berlin Wall came down; the year of the Tiananmen Square massacre; the Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989, signalling the start of the jihad wars, and the government, for the first time, was talking to Nelson Mandela. The age of the protest had arrived and the planet was in turmoil. The only certainty about South Africa, was uncertainty. As I’ve said before, I was lucky where I grew up. At a time when there was a touch of the “jitters” among people of European descent in general and local farmers in particular, it helped to know the customs, the aspirations and the languages of indigenous Africans.
My best pal during my formative years, was Sizamela Sigcau of the Pondo Royal household, who preferred playing cricket on our front lawn to the formalities of court life. Even if that meant, as it did in the social dispensation of the era, that as a young “white” boy, I did most of the batting, and he did the bowling. That’s just the way it was, and as a six-year-old, I never thought anything of it. In later years, I served as the family’s lawyer.
Sizamela was strongly connected, and an inspiration on the road ahead. Set as he was for high political office in the future government, in apartheid South Africa, we consulted clandestinely for fear of compromising his ambitions. It was at such a meeting, in the darkness of a deserted Pinetown parking lot in the winter of 1989, that he shared with me the ANC’s plans for the economy: no “Freedom Charter” nationalization of mines, banks or industries; we were all South Africans, and we could look forward to the reality of Nelson Mandela’s “non-sexist, non-racist” dream of opportunity-for-all. As our meeting concluded, I sought his reassurance that as a cabinet minister, he would not forsake his oldest friend, that things would remain as they’d always been. “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had” he patted me on the shoulder; “the only thing that will change is, if we ever play cricket again, you’re bowling”. The man had a sense of humour, and clearly he’d have preferred to bat a little longer in our infancies. That’s exactly how things are in South Africa nowadays: these guys are doing the batting, and we’re doing the bowling. Come to think of it though, I’m not sure much has changed down in the Eastern Cape. The national cricket team is replete with the names of world class Xhosa bowlers: Makahya Ntini, Monde Zondeki, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, and I suspect that at the Selborne, Queen’s and Dale Colleges, the “white” boys like Mark Boucher, are still wielding the willows.
Thanks to my old pal, I had a different view of the future. With nothing to lose but Summerhill itself (most of which belonged to Standard Bank and Northern Guest at the time,) I was happy to bet the little we had in the farm on the way things would turn out. Days after that meeting, I was asked to mediate in an acrimonious dispute between the training fraternity and the Durban Turf Club. Understand, in the context of the affairs of the province, it was said that the Provincial government ranked third, the banks were second, and the Turf Club stewards, the “A” list families of Durban, were the supreme power. This was the age of protest remember, and in what was arguably the best bet of the year, the mediation process “exploded” within half an hour. So we took a tea break: tea fixes most things in Anglophile communities, as you know. During the adjournment I answered nature’s call, winding up in the loo in the company of the financial director of Hartford, the farm next door to Summerhill.
I don’t know the rules in other realms, but urinals can be quite sociable places in South Africa, and Steve Lapin and I soon struck up a congenial conversation. He enquired half-mockingly, knowing there was no inheritance at Summerhill, when I was going to buy the neighbouring land.
My old khakis and the same pair of veldskoens I’d arrived with in 1979, betrayed my poverty. Unaware how desperately the Ellis family were to sell, I had nothing to offer but the exchange of our home near Durban. Steve didn’t even wash his hands; we did the deal right there. That was South Africa in 1989. Now the site of the equestrian estate, Kirtlington, our land had a total agricultural potential of 2 milking cows and four polo ponies; swapping it for the most famous private breeding and racing establishment of its era, for me, was the deal of a lifetime.
Now part of the greater Summerhill estate, Hartford has a long and distinguished history. As the home of the family of the former Prime Minister of the Colony, Sir Frederick Moor, it had hosted Winston Churchill and General Botha, prime ministers of another generation. In later life, the Ellises had bred, raised and trained on the property, the winners of every major race on the South African calendar. The paddock alongside the chapel bore the footprints of the legends Mowgli, Sentinel and Magic Mirror. And Cape Heath, Panjandrum, Alyssum, Magic Charm, Ajax and Salmon. The roll call is long, and proof of Sir Mordaunt Milner’s proclamation that the Ellis era remains unrivalled in its dominance to this day.
I remember the first time I entered the sandstone gates of Hartford. Along the drive, the old flower pots bearing the names of forty eight champions, talked of a fading history; things were quieter these days, but I knew I’d arrived in the racehorse valhallah. The Hartford horses had infused the Ellises with the divinity of a racing pope. Hidden away from the mortal world behind those great gates was the “great within”, as this imperial enclave was affectionately known. Raymond Ellis’ aura radiated outward with the mystery and power of any enthroned Holy Father.
He set records in racing the way Jacques Kallis has done in cricket. He changed the way horses were trained, as surely as Mohammed Ali changed the way men moved in a boxing ring. He even contrived to ruin a stereotype. Because of the man he was, he brought a wholesomeness to a game that suffered from an ancient occupational hazard: no man blames himself when he’s “done” the housekeeping cash on a horse. While other horsemen of the time occasionally won big races, they often seemed to be throwing a dice and praying a lot. Ellis on the other hand, always seemed to be working to some guaranteed quota.
The unheralded genius behind the breeding of these “giants”, was a silent man of god-given talents. Peet Norval was the horseman everyone wanted to know. From the time Mowgli rolled home in the 1952 “July”, he was simply “Peet”. Everyone, even if they didn’t read the sports pages, knew who Peet was. It was assumed he owned magical powers. He was the alchemist who turned base metals into gold; to Peet though, this was all moonshine. He was about commonsense rather than magic, craft rather than sorcery. Astonishingly good at what he did. But this wouldn’t do for a doting public; it wasn’t the stuff of mythology.
That moment at the urinal had left me with two daunting tasks; the first was to break the news of the house exchange to my wife, and the second was the responsibility of stepping into the shoes of the most successful bloodstock enterprise of our times. These days, I’m sure Cheryl won’t mind me confiding in you, that the former held greater fears for me than the latter: it took almost a month to do it. Kipling had often come to my rescue in moments like these, and that bit about making “a heap of all your winnings, and risking it all on one turn of pitch and toss,” was the balm that settled it all. That Hartford House today is a totem among the nation’s boutique hotels, is a sign that all is forgiven.
The greater “mountain” lay in the custodianship of an unprecedented legacy. The Moors had arrived in 1875, and besides their political influence, they built two icons of the business world. Since the outbreak of World War II, the Ellises had carried the mantle of greatness into other realms, none greater though, than the fortress they built around the stock of Sybil’s Nephew and Masham. There was a time, from the forties through the seventies, when a horse in the green and black on its way to post, was said to be better than money in the bank. I have to confess, I liked the poetry, but it only heightened my apprehension.
So here we were, the boy from Pondoland and the girl without a “school-leavers”, venturing into the unknown of 1989. Luckily, Hartford is more than great “dirt”: abundant valleys of gorgeous loam over sandstone and basalt, hundreds of massive blue gums and oaks telling you the country is kind, but not soft. With its chapel, its venerable homestead and its English gardens, Hartford is a national institution. When Graham Ellis handed me the keys to the house in the shadow of Verrocchio’s masterpiece, I had a sense of destiny. He was obviously moved, but that’s okay: he hid it behind his sunglasses. I promised we’d do all we could to honour the past, whatever that took. When the Summerhill team lined up for its eighth consecutive Breeders’ premiership in the spring of 2012, I sensed the old man was saying “mission accomplished”.
Summerhill Stallion Barn
(Photo : Summerhill Stud)
“Dreaming is a fundamental requirement of the mating game;
if it were pure science, there’d be a sense of precision and order to it all.”
Summerhill CEOIt’s at times like these that we tend to forget ourselves. The mating game has a mystical, if not an aphrodisiacal effect on those who work within the process, and for the next few months, the Summerhill team will be preoccupied with it. So much time in the paddocks reveals a lot of things us office dudes don’t get to see every day. A reedbuck giving birth, an errant waterbuck female coming out of nowhere, looking like she wants to come under consideration, too. Waterbuck, by the way, are a rare phenomenon in this part of the world, (this is the first we’ve seen at Summerhill in the 35 years we’ve been here), and the passing show in the paddocks is a parade of reedbuck, oribi, blue cranes and secretary birds, jackals and serval. It’s unlike anywhere else in the world: this is Africa, not the Hunter Valley, which is littered with innocuous items like “roos”, wombats and possums.
As much as we love mating discussions, because they put the truth on the table about the value of your mares, your stallions and your previous mistakes, they also leave you with a sense of responsibility. Deciding which stallion a mare should visit is nothing short of “playing god”, and for your clients, you’re also putting your reputation on the line when it comes to the commercial consequences. What we recommend this year is going to revisit us not only in the sales ring in 2016, but on the racecourses of the country, maybe the world, for years after that. Once the foal hits the ground, all things are equal. Before and after, there can be vast differences, such as the pedigree and the value of the mare, the stallion’s prowess and his service fee, and the infatuation that infects us all when it comes to “hot” stallions. Once the foal is born, those things don’t count anymore; it’s a matter of upbringing from then on, and what difference the custodians of the foal’s welfare can make.
For us, we believe a stallion must be top class as a racehorse, able to hold his own in the best international company. He needs to have some mystique about his pedigree, and an aura about his ability. In short, you need to believe in your stallions, remembering though, that in the stallion prediction stakes, it’s two strikes and you’re out.
Dreaming is a fundamental requirement of the mating game; if it were pure science, there’d be a sense of precision and order to it all. The reality though, is that racing is seldom scientific; thoroughbreds do things machines can’t: they’re crafted, not manufactured. To be good in the breeding business, you need to have a touch of the mystic and the artist in you, which is why so many horse people have a “dysfunctionality” about them, in the human realm. The preoccupation is deep, very deep, and we find ourselves carried away by it into the wee hours of the night. It’s time to remind ourselves of the fundamental rule that family comes first, business comes second, and private passions come last. That puts the discipline back on the table.
I’ve said often enough, I’m the luckiest man in the world. I live in the most beautiful place in the world, my colleagues are some of its most talented people, and because we take our work seriously, we’re rewarded by working with the finest creature in creation. To top it, I wake up next to a lovely girl, the fountain of my drive, who understands my obsession with horses, and importantly, she covers my back when my shortcomings are exposed to the family! If this sounds like an attempt to mollify those nearest to me at this time of the year, and an apology for the fact that once again, my wife’s birthday falls into “July week”, it is. Truth is, her father, who’s a true-blue racing man himself of the Nelson Mandela vintage, could’ve spared me this inconvenience, if he’d planned things a bit better!