Excerpt from the forthcoming Summerhill Sires Brochure 2013/2014.
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I have never really been far away from the world of racehorses. In that sense, I am a fully-paid-up member of the secret society. The racing fraternity gathers each morning on stud farms and at training tracks when normal people are still in bed: it’s a fellowship with its own language and humour, and an unwritten code of rules. Dinner table conversations at home were dominated by horses, and photographs of the noble beasts looked down upon the family from the walls. From the back door of the farmhouse, you smelt soiled straw and fresh hay.
Les Carlyon reminded me that racehorse owners are different. Most of them have an engineer’s sense of precision, a mind that gravitates towards the objective and the rational. They like to bring order and reason to complex matters. Horse people are seldom like that. We can be rational and pragmatic too, but we tend to rank those things behind matters of the heart. To be good in our game, you need a touch of the mystic and the artist, which is right enough, because we are in the racehorse business, and racing is seldom scientific. Thoroughbreds do things machines can’t; they’re crafted, not manufactured. If you witnessed Brian Joffe’s embrace of Mike de Kock following the Shea Shea massacre in Dubai, you’ll know what I mean. Big deals make big men excited, but racehorses turn big men into little boys.
I know things have been tough the past few years, but if you’ve survived till now, you’re going to be fine. Trying to predict the future is like trying to predict the weather. You can’t let the last storm impact the way you think. Besides, the worm has definitely turned; you can feel it at racehorse sales the world over. Last November, the Emperors Palace Ready To Run posted its fourth consecutive record. When we initiated this event with our good friend Chris Smith 26 years ago, we held the cocktail party under the old oak tree outside the farm office. It was historic for the fact that it was the first sale of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. Twenty turned up, six from the farm, six from the sales company, six customers and two children. Who would’ve thought that a quarter of a century on, the welcome address to a packed audience in the palatial gardens of the sponsor’s grounds, would open with “Their Majesties King Letsie and Queen Masenate, and Her Serene Highness Princess Charlene?”
At a time when many of my contemporaries are winding down, we’re gearing up for the next chapter. It’s a game you can play to the grave. Right now, South Africa is on the cusp of a scientific breakthrough with its export protocols: that, and Mike de Kock’s annus mirabilis in Dubai, will be the game-changers.
There is an exuberance to stallions which I can’t explain. I know the five senses well, but there is nothing to match the thrill of knowing you’ve got your hands on a gem. The trick is to keep calm. And book a test drive. Which leads me to my point: there are moments in the horse game you never forget. One of those was the running of Ireland’s Kilternan Stakes two years ago. My curiosity was pricked by the sight of an unknown youngster demolishing a Group class field by nine lengths, not so much for the fact he might one day find his way to Summerhill, but because it appeared to herald the dawn of a new international star. He repeated the dose at Chester on his next start, decimating his foes in the way Usain Bolt would exit a bunch of neighbourhood joggers. Racing can be an emotional journey: it is always yearning for a hero. This day seemed like an overture. It was. The opera took its form a month later.
Await The Dawn had kept his best for The Queen. As one who’d lived on a diet of the “boys in blue”, Dubai Millenium, Dubawi and the like, for the first time in twenty years, I felt my loyalties shift. Here was an opponent I could love. The only let-down was that he eased up to win by three when the heroic gesture would’ve been a display of galloping prowess rarely seen on a racecourse. It should’ve been, and it would’ve been heroic. But then Await The Dawn wasn’t just a hero. He’s was a star.
Fate then dealt us a generous hand. It is a sad statement on the value of our currency that we are unable to compete for the most accomplished of the world’s stallion prospects. We occasionally have to prosper through the adversity of others. A life-threatening illness put a line under the horse’s career; unfulfilled promise becomes the “kiss of death” in circumstances like these, and suddenly he is a possibility for the Summerhill paddocks. We weren’t alone in our belief that in Await The Dawn, we’d seen one of Europe’s best middle distance performers of his generation. The world’s most respected rating agency declared him a Group One winner in waiting, but the only ones waiting now are those of us who look forward to his “second coming”.
The fellows in our Stallion barn have long sung the virtues of Brave Tin Soldier. A world record priced foal, an elite juvenile and a top-notch Group quality miler, the “pope” combines two-year-old class with a classic heritage. Despite the intensity of the competition, nobody here was surprised to see him top the “First Crop” sires averages at the National Yearling Sale. If they run like they look, who’s going to control the noise?.
One of the most persuasive reasons for using Visionaire in his third season, comes from our fellow breeders. They’ve seen the foals, and they sent him a hundred choice mates because of them. But they’ve also seen the movie; they know the horse. Don’t be fooled by the muscular curves of his “engine”; when he straightened for the line in the King’s Bishop, he motored home like few other horses in the great race’s history. Sometimes, you just have to grab the keys, and run.
One thing we’ve learnt in this business, is that nothing is impossible. Miracles just take a bit longer. Thirty years ago, with little but hope on our side, we bought ourselves a cripple. But Northern Guest refused to play the invalid; he became the Southern Hemisphere’s most celebrated son of the greatest stallion the world had ever known. Now we have to believe that in our present assembly, our stallion barn has never been better served in the quality of its incumbents.
It seems the legacy of Sadler’s Wells will live on principally through the influences of Galileo, Montjeu and the remarkable High Chaparral. It may seem impudent to compare anything with the immortality of Sadler’s Wells, but it’s a fact that High Chaparral is the only stallion since his father to get six Group One winners from his first year at stud, as well as an Australian Triple Crown king this season. His best performed Northern Hemisphere product, Golden Sword, served a royal book of mares in his inaugural season, a tribute no doubt to the fact that in 18 years of World Cup history, none of the winners of the world’s richest race have covered the 2000 metre trip quicker than he did. Not Dubai Millenium, not Cigar, not Street Cry.
Kipling taught us to trust ourselves when others doubt us, and this time last year, some of us had already forgotten that Mullins Bay was not a precocious two-year-old. That he now ranks second only to his former barnmate Stronghold, in a formidable line-up of contemporaries, Trippi, Black Minnaloushe and King Of Kings, by the earnings of his individual runners, is a salute to patience, the exploits of an unbeaten filly, whose victims include the Group One queen, Blueridge Mountain, and a colt who’s within a stride or two of the best of his generation. And now he has one of the coutry’s leading juveniles in his second crop.
Another who did not race at two is A.P. Arrow, who turned out the best racing son of the best American stallion worldwide in 2009. While it is so that he already has a Black type juvenile in his first crop, the best of them are in some of the best yards, and the best is yet to come. It is one of the truisms of the “A.P. Indys” that they get better with age. And they get better with distance. Hell, man, they just get better.
If there’s one thing racing fans like more than a fairytale ending, it’s a great comeback. A while ago, the once-famous Halo male line looked headed for extinction. Out of the blue, Sunday Silence and More Than Ready have delivered a valedictory flourish to a strain that had been ebbing away for the best part of three decades. Right now, nothing is more current, more fashionable or more desirable in a stallion line-up, than a son of one of these two sires.
That Admire Main and Traffic Guard are part of our show, is an acknowledgement of the value of relationships. Our customers span twenty-two time zones from Japan to the United States, and it’s thanks to our good friends, the Yoshidas and Dr. Jim Hay, that these fine racehorses are here.
Admire Main was a cracking racehorse, we all know that. Second best of his classic generation. But siring quality juveniles was not on his radar; keen bloodstock students were always content to wait for his first progeny to turn three. With nine winners from twelve runners, three in Stakes class from 800 to 2000 metres, all their predictions were turned upside down. But then, they remind us, he’s a son of Sunday Silence.
Speed, heart, conformation, these are the trademarks of the best racehorses. For Traffic Guard though, it was all in the family. A precocious, unbeaten juvenile, he carried his speed to the distance of the July. He carried his class to within a half length of the world’s best three-year-old, New Approach, in a Group One, and he carries the blood of one of the world’s sexiest sirelines. What else could a woman want?
We’ve always said that Summerhill is what it is today, because our people have shaped the course of their own destinies. History has not been kind to those who entrench the past, but almost always smiles on people who embrace the future. The acquisition of Await The Dawn is an epic in the annals of our sport. For the first time, members of our disadvantaged community have got “skin” in the game. The generosity of a like-minded banker has put them in the box seat for another industry revolution. For the sake of the sport and his connections, it would’ve been better if the horse had played to the full extent of his repertoire. Racing though, has never relied on the aesthetic: the primeval struggle is its essence. It is a contest, not a ballet. Beauty is the by-product, not the aim.
Racing has been good to Cheryl and me. And it has been good to the greater Summerhill family. It has taken us to faraway lands, it has made us many close friends. It’s taken us to the top of the mountain a modern record of eight consecutive times, and it’s sat us down with the Queen of England. Importantly, it’s shown us that kids from the sticks, like us, can make a name for themselves from nothing, and sometimes aspire to excellence.
Above all, it’s taught us that you only live once. But if you do it right, once is enough.