Click above to remember Hear The Drums’ historic SA record-breaking run…
(Photo : Walley Strydom - Footage : Tellytrack)
Imbongi, Paris Perfect, Vangelis
and Hear The Drums
In the annals of the Summerhill story, no year was more definitive than 2004. As recently as 1999 we’d had to endure the dispersal of most of the farm’s breeding stock when the partnerships we had concluded 10 years before, matured. There were just 26 mares left, and we had to start from “ground zero.” It’s a measure of the determination and the enterprise of an extraordinary team, that within 5 years we came within one race of winning the 2004 Breeders Championship and for the first time since the early 1950s, when the Ellis’ of Hartford gave the Birch brothers a rev for the national title, a farm on this side of the Drakensberg gave notice of its intent as a serious player in the breeding industry. Another extraordinary thing happened in 2004; four unwanted urchins of the sales ring played the male equivalent of Cinderella, converting themselves from pumpkin status into golden carriages.
It is part of the allure of our game that these things can happen, and it’s part of the dream of those with limited means that they should get their hands on prospects like these. Imbongi went to two sales, the Nationals and the Ready To Run, and was led out unsold at both. A lifetime of racing and an eye for a decent horse, led Ronnie Napier and and old mate, Michael Fleischer, to latch onto half of him one Saturday morning at the farm gallops, and soon enough he was the champion three-year old miler of his generation. His globe-trotting career in England, Dubai and Hong Kong, saw him garner group races in most of those jurisdictions, and in the final piece of glory, he picked up $500,000 in the Dubai Duty Free Group One.
Another with international aspirations was Paris Perfect, for whom there was no commercial home off the farm. That meant that his breeder, Gail Fabricius and her husband, Peter, found for themselves not only a third consecutive East Cape Horse Of The Year, but they had their big payday when cashing him in to Saudi royals, before he became the first South African horse to earn a cheque in the world’s richest race, the Dubai World Cup Group One. R60,000 would have got the job done on the farm, yet his paycheque for the World Cup alone was in excess of $US1 million (R8.5million at yesterday’s exchange rate).
In the same year, a Kahal colt bred on the revered cross with a Northern Guest mare, was neglected by all and sundry because of a niggling shoulder injury. It took a man of Robert Muir’s intrepid speculative instincts to pick up half of him. Vangelis went on to win thirteen races, and with his premiums, rewarded us by becoming a millionaire at the races. Rightfully, this willing servant has earned his place in retirement, as my daughter Bronwyn’s constant riding companion.
To cap it all, another erstwhile paddock mate, Hear The Drums, also born in 2004, returned to the farm this past week. Until Hear The Drums went to the races, the title of winningmost racehorse in South Africa, was held by a former Hartford graduate, Sentinel (32 wins), but it’s a sign of the value of good land, good people and a good upbringing, that Hear The Drums, took his owner, Peter Fabricius and his trainer, Des McLachlan, to that most valuable piece of real estate in racing, the winner’s enclosure, on no fewer than 35 occasions. It’s worth recalling that Peter Fabricius bought Hear The Drums on an impulsive whim on the telephone, when there were just two lots left in the sale, and he was all we had to recommend. It’s an irony of the game, that if Peter had seen his legs, he probably would not have made the purchase. Hear The Drums was however, one of those that defied God’s engineering, that overcame the purest antipathy towards racehorses imperfections, and his guts, courage and that indefinable characteristic that belongs to the great ones, carried him through.
So this man, who passed through three sales rings, before he found an owner for a paltry R42,000, retires as the most prolific winner in South Africa’s glorious racing history. In his next life, he will join other former champions; Senor Santa and Amphitheatre as a baby sitter and mentor in matters of decorum to our yearlings on the farm. What a privilege to have been associated with these men, all born in the same year and raised beside each other in the same paddocks. Between them they amassed more than R17million in earnings, a record of excellence unlikely to have been matched on any one farm in history.