“The infusion of new blood into any nation’s stallion ranks is vital for the health and the future of any breeding industry, and as a country, we should be aware of this need.”

Mick Goss - Summerhill CEO
Mick Goss - Summerhill CEO

Mick Goss

Summerhill CEOWe’ve just penned a piece on relative values in the culinary world on the Hartford House blog site (www.hartford.co.za), following my return from Australia. Good meals are more often than not the source of good conversation and good entertainment, which reminds me of a piece of useful information which emerged from a good dinner in Melbourne’s Crown Towers last week. I was seated next to a regular South African visitor, Paul Guy, a bloodstocker in the state of Victoria, who pointed out something I should’ve known about the South African stallion environment. I say I should’ve known, because we’re in the stallion business, as you know, up to our necks, and so are most of the major stud farms in the country, yet I suspect that like me, many of my colleagues are unaware of Paul’s revelation.

It astonished me when he pointed out that of the top twenty stallions in South Africa last season, only one was born in the year 2000 or afterwards (in other words, 19 of the top 20 were fifteen-years-old or more). By contrast, the Australian premiership included six “young guns” in their top twenty armoury, which prompted a visitation on the part of my PA, Amorette Kramer, to investigate the position in America and Europe. I guess it’s probably unremarkable that there are parallels between those nations and Australia, given their “shuttling” commonality, which makes the South African exception to what is internationally “normal”, the more stark.

For some years, our readers will attest to our lament that buyers at the sales appear to have turned their backs on the progeny of new stallions at their own considerable expense. In our effort to understand this trend, we’ve found some forgiveness in the belief that when times are tough, people tend to fall back on the tried-and- trusted. It’s apparent though, that in Europe, the US and Australasia, the buying public adopt a broader and more accommodating stance, recalling that every one of their top sires at one point or another, were once first season sires.

Anyone who’s amused themselves by watching our sires’ videos over the past couple of years, will know that we’ve made a mission of reminding people of this at regular intervals: in the end, those that bought the first progeny of Jet Master, Western Winter, Var, Silvano and Dynasty, among the current generation, cashed in, just as they did when the first stock of Northern Guest, Foveros, Royal Prerogative, Jungle Cove and Persian Wonder debuted a couple of decades ago. Seen purely from the perspective of the racehorse trainer (unlike international jurisdictions, almost all of the “picking” and buying is done by trainers in this country), he gets almost twice the number of horses these days from an untried sire than he does buying a Western Winter, a Var, a Dynasty or a Silvano, so it makes sense to have a leg in more than one camp, particularly in an era when the quality of new entrants in the stallion firmament is at an all-time high.

I guess this begs the questions, just how good is the present crop of young stallions in South Africa? How difficult is it, given the strong preference of buyers at present in favour of the progeny of proven sires, for a young stallion to make it in South Africa, where breeders in general are driven by the market to support the established stallions at the expense of the younger ones? And finally, and most vitally, how big is the gap likely to be for the emerging stallion, when those ageing sultans of the top tier eventually move on, as they inevitably must? The National Sires’ Premiership of 2013 listed just a single stallion born after 2000, at no. 19, and it happened to be Storm Cat’s son, Mogok, who stands down the valley from us.

Looking at international comparisons, no fewer than six of the leading stallions in the United States last year were sires born from 2000 onwards: in Australia, five (or 25%) fell into that category, while right now, eight (or 40%) count themselves in the top twenty in that country: on the other hand, a glance at last year’s New Zealand log suggests they were suffering from a similar malaise to us in South Africa, with none of the top twenty less than 14 years of age, though that has changed dramatically this season, with nine (or 45%) among the ranks of the young pretenders.

The infusion of new blood into any nation’s stallion ranks is vital for the health and the future of any breeding industry, and as a country, we should be aware of this need. If we can’t encourage buyers to support a new stallion’s progeny in the sales ring, we’ll not only deter breeders from supporting those stallions as well, but we’re in danger of finding ourselves in a “chicken-and-egg” situation going forward. For any young stallion to reveal his worth, he needs opportunities, and he can only get those if breeders are prepared to seize the day and send their mares. Yet, there appears to be an inclination among breeders these days, when, having found it in themselves to patronise a young stallion in his opening season, they just as quickly abandon the ship in the second and third seasons, for fear of the market’s reprisal should the first crop not come off in haste. How does that young horse sustain his performance as a credible prospect against the established stallions whose books are filled to capacity season-after-season, and consistently have streams of representatives on the racecourse at any given time in any given year?

Remembering that any stallion prospect worth his salt in the modern idiom, is going to demand an investment of several million (most times in the neighbourhood of R10 million, and in some instances, beyond R40 million), and that somewhere, somehow, that investment has to be recouped, we nonetheless find ourselves in the vice grip of commercial imperative, and in a business in which the casualty rate is higher than most, you don’t need much more encouragement to send you packing back to the old “codger” who’s been around for a long time, and has just as long teeth. What’s happened, I keep asking myself, to the old-fashioned entrepreneurial verve that gave this country more world class companies than any other of its size? Certainly, none of that would’ve been possible without an element of risk-taking, a pinch of adventure and a determined spirit, characteristics we’ve long admired as a nation, but which appear to have deserted us in our dabble with horses.

Which brings me back to another matter of cost. If you’ve got a moment to go to the Hartford House site and scan the piece “You don’t have to be rich” on our blog, you’ll see how lucky we are in this country when it comes to the cost of food. I’m grateful then for the fact that Inglis & Son, the sales company that stages the Melbourne Premier sale, were our gracious hosts on this evening of information gathering.

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Summerhill Stud Logo

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Linda Norval +27 (0) 33 263 1081

or email linda@summerhill.co.za