SOUTH AFRICAN BREEDER’S CHAMPIONSHIP
The most frequently asked question of the Summerhill team at the moment, is how we’re feeling about the Breeder’s Championship. I guess we’d be less than frank if we didn’t admit to a little apprehension! Though the degree of our anxiety depends on whose records you are consulting, the Sporting Post or Tellytrack? According to the former, going into the weekend, Summerhill held an advantage of R333,357, while Alistair Cohen’s revelation on Tellytrack on Saturday, suggested that our margin over Klawervlei was just about identical to the gap between Mike de Kock and Sean Tarry in the trainer’s log. Somewhere in the “one-hundred-and-ninety-thousands”.
Both championships will go to the line, and the forthcoming weekend’s Gold Cup meeting will probably be decisive. Problem is, while de Kock and Tarry have their destinies in their own hands and are both amply loaded for their encounter, any student of form worth his salt, will tell you that the dice are stacked in Klawervlei’s favour for the Breeder’s Premiership. Besides, they have one other distinct advantage, and that rests in the fact that at least two of their principals, Markus Jooste and Chris van Niekerk, are among the country’s biggest owners and have been piling up their Klawervlei-bred entries at the races for a couple of weeks now, with an armada of runners. All season, we’ve been saying the numbers have become overwhelming, and it’s only because Summerhill-breds run more often than most other farm’s products, that we’ve been able to maintain a semblance of relevance.
We’re sure we don’t have to persuade any of our readers that we are not defeatists at Summerhill. On the face of it though, the Klawervlei hand is particularly strong. As the only Group One winner in the Gold Bracelet, Thunder Dance is unbeatable in theory; on the strength of her victory in the Golden Slipper (Gr.1) on July Day, For The Lads looks to be exactly that, insurmountable on form; and on the back of his runaway march in the Gold Vase, Kolkata is a massive runner in the Gold Cup (Gr.1). Add to these the presence of Desert Sheik in the top division Handicap, and the signs could be ominous fairly early in the proceedings. That said, for eight consecutive years, the products of this farm have demonstrated that they will not go down without a battle, and there’ll be more on that as the week goes on.
Let’s not underestimate it though; the Breeder’s Championship means an awful lot in the life of any farm, as it defines all the things you stand for. The South African version is the tightest held premiership in international breeding, with only seven entities having aspired to the mountain-top in well over a century. The yardstick by which we are all measured, is the incredible story of the Birch Brothers, who from the time formal recording was commenced in 1948, remained unbeaten for a period of 36 years, a history unlikely to be surpassed given that the competition these days is significantly sterner, and the money invested at unprecedented levels. That in itself puts our own eight consecutive championships into a more recent perspective. No farm since 1984, has strung together that many in a row, and if it never happens again for us, we’ll rest in the knowledge that we gave it our best shot!
Meanwhile, you can be assured that the Summerhill team long ago identified other markers by which it wants to be measured: nobody owns a monopoly on a championship. Our people know the equations others often forget; great harvests come from arid sources. A modern-day record in Breeder’s Premierships, the winners of four Durban Julys, three J&B Mets, three Summer Handicaps, and they all sprung from nowhere. The other thing that drives this team, is knowing that one day you are going to be beaten: it’s the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose; you are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.