A little Goss Family history…
(Summerhill Stud Archives)
You’ve heard this before, no doubt, but there was no inheritance involved in the development of Summerhill. The farm and its now-famous boutique hotel and restaurant, Hartford House, were built on the blood, sweat and sacrifices of a gifted team, as good as you’ll find anywhere in the world. What we did inherit though, was an appreciation of the value of relationships, the thread of which you’ll find running through the history of the Goss family, from the time of the original founder, Michael, who was part of a contingent of Irish settlers under Captain Butler in 1820. My grandfather, Pat, started a trading enterprise in Pondoland in 1916, and his bankers were Standard Bank. He was the first man in those parts to convert from an ox-drawn wagon to a truck with a combustion engine, and he filled it up at his own bowser with fuel supplied by the Atlantic Fuel & Firing Company (which exists today, after seven name changes, as Engen).
When he planted his maize and sorghum, he used the products made by what is modernly known as Kynoch, and his books were audited by a small firm in Port Shepstone, the closest place where such a service could be found. He bought his first tractor in Kokstad from the Chapman family of East Griqualand Tractors in the 1920s, and he founded his racehorse breeding enterprise at The Springs on the New Almalfi Flats in the shadow of the Great Depression. He was quite a boy, old Pat, and it wasn’t long before he had his July winner, the diminutive St Pauls, in 1946.
These commercial relationships survived and thrived in my father Bryan’s era, and we’re proud to tell you that today, our bankers remain Standard, we continue to buy our fuel from Engen and our tractors from the Chapmans, and some of the family work is still undertaken in Port Shepstone.
Following St Pauls’ “July”, the celebrations were held at the very smart Kew Hotel on Durban’s Berea, where the manager was a spritely young lady, June Maguire. Her daughter Robin and her husband Robert Muir have had horses at Summerhill since the early 80s, initially in partnership with another erstwhile veteran of the farm, Lou Bernstein (remember his July winner, Chimboraa in 1968)?. The very first racehorse they bred here was Hot Guard, Champion Two-Year-Old of South Africa; the Muirs must have thought this game was easy, and for them it probably has been, with the likes of Champions Cataloochee, Argonaut and Candidato Roy, and Summerhill resident sire and Derby hero, Ravishing.
Many things have been said and written about the Rupert family, and the one thing that is common to everyone who has ever had a word to say about them, is how much they value relationships. Johann and I played cricket together at university, though the family’s inspiration in the breeding business came through his wife Gaynor. Whilst today they own the spectacular Drakenstein Stud in Franschoek, they’ve been with us since the gates opened at Summerhill, and they’re still here. A veteran trio at Summerhill includes my brother Pat and his two fellow founders of what was originally Rand Consolidated Investments, G.T. Fererria and Laurie Dipenaar, part of the Summerhill show since the early 80s (the latter two later established with the Ruperts, the conglomerate now called First Rand, which gave birth to Rand Merchant Bank, First National Bank, Momentum Life and Discovery). The 80s also sparked Rodney Thorpe and Roger Zeeman, owners of the champions Imperial Despatch, Harry’s Charm and Amphitheatre, and one-time investors in Igugu and the highly talented Lady Broadhurst. They’ve had a “charmed” life.
In my days as a practising attorney, I was bowled over to find the advocate I’d briefed in a case involving a horse called Marathon Gold, was able to recite the horse’s pedigree inside-out as I entered his chambers (remember, this was long before Google and the internet). That man became a highly respected judge of the Supreme Court, Alan Magid. Together with another stalwart of the farm, former Jockey Club Chairman and Imbongi and Fisani’s owner, Ronnie Napier, they serve as governors of our School Of Management Excellence.
2012 marks our twenty-first year of involvement with the ruling family of Dubai, the Maktoums, owners of Kahal and Muhtafal. Their mark has been left on the Thoroughbred the world over, as the biggest owners and breeders of all time, while at the other end of the “royalty” spectrum, we have His Majesty, King Letsie III of Lesotho, not only an ardent racing fan, but a great friend of the farm.
One guy who’s come from nowhere as a former running mate in the lunchtimes at Greyville racecourse, to commanding a Summerhill menagerie, is former Racing Association chair, Bruce Gardner, co-breeder of multiple “champ” Nhlavini, as well as Classic heroine, Mystery Guest, and dual Merchants hero, Arabian Mist. His predecessor at the “RA”, Barry Walters, has just completed his third decade with us, and includes among his memories the Bloodline Million (Gr1) victor, Last Watch, one of our earliest Classic winners.
Sport is a great forger of relationships and among our pals from the playing fields while there was still wind in our lungs, were Barry Clements, Alan Sutherland (rugby) Peter Fenix, Anton and Mike Proctor (cricket), Seymour Harley, Rob Pickering and Mike Benson (polo). Some of these fellows have excelled as much in the breeding of spectacular racehorses as they did in their international and provincial sporting careers, driven no doubt, by the competitive instincts that made them famous in the first place.
If you follow racing in Dubai, Germany, France, the UK, the States, South America, South Africa and sometimes even in Scandinavia, you’ll have come across the name of one of the world’s silent (but most ardent) investors. Our good friend, Rupert Plersch, has known Group race success in almost all these places, and concentrates most of his “fire power” at Summerhill.
There are many more of course, some bigger, some smaller, some long-standing, some more recent, among them real characters and intrepid players. You have to be all these things to be in the game, and then you have to have the “BMT”, that thing that steers us through thick and thin, the good times and the tough.
There are little breeders, one or two mare types who’ve bred millionaires, like Emperor Napoleon and Bold Ellinore, Paris Perfect, and Hear The Drums, others bigger and illustrious who’ve been associated with Ebony Flyer, Ipi Tombi and their ilk. But their stories are not going to be swamped by the length of this article. The holidays are a good time to reveal them and their secrets to you, so that’s what we’ll do.