Summerhill Stud CEOMany things go around in your head in the wake of a sale like the one we’ve just emerged from. How on earth, you have to ask yourself, could the turnover be up 32% and the average 29% in the world as it is. Just a while back, The Economist magazine, which claims to be Europe’s leading voice on global economic opinion, printed a foreboding graphic on its cover entitled “BE AFRAID”. Our own press have had us all on the edge of our seats with their obsessions on Marikana, the ANC’s leadership struggle and “Nkandlagate”, none of it designed to encourage investment in thoroughbreds.
Yes, some worrying things have happened in recent times, but we have survived much worse and much more, including the Boer War, two World Wars, apartheid, the Rinderpest, Ge Korsten and “Die Antword”. For as long as I can remember, there’ve always been people who think that South Africa has five years left before we go over the cliff. As Paul Harris, ex CEO of FNB says, it’s no change from when we were at school in the 60s. The five years went down to a few months at times in the 80s, but it seems the people who are the most worried live far from the cliff in places like Toronto, Auckland, London and other wet and cold places. Others occupy the glamorous slopes of St Ives and Rose Bay in Sydney, Dallas and Europe, and other “safe places” that are entangled in the grip of the global financial crisis, which by the way, is quite scary. Many of them have survived decades of rolling “five years left” since they left South Africa, so maybe they will get it right one day.
The message coming out of the Ready To Run though, is please don’t stress about us in South Africa. We’re fine. We’re cool. We know we live in the most beautiful country in the world, inhabited by a warm and vibrant people. There are many more here with smiles on their faces than any country I’ve ever been to, and our young people are returning in droves with skills and a positive attitude. Collectively we bumble along and mess many things up, while we let off a helluva lot of steam (have you heard of a chap called Julius Malema?) yet in between, our countrymen do some amazing things, like win gold medals, big golf tournaments, cricket and rugby matches. The South Africans we know, get off their butts and do things to build our country rather than whinge from a position of comfort. We actively participate in projects that improve the lot of our underprivileged communities, and I for one, would not trade anything for the events of last weekend, starting with the right Royal bash at Emperors Palace on Thursday evening, the “buzziest” race meeting I’ve attended in years on Saturday, and an equally “buzzy” Emperors Palace Ready To Run Sale flanking the races Friday and Sunday.
Of course, we have our challenges and more than enough surprises. In South Africa, you can never be just a little bit happy or a little bit sad. At one moment you can be off-the-scale browned off, frustrated, sad and fearful. The next there is exuberance, exhilaration, enchantment and inspiration, or you may be humbled by a generous deed or knocked over by something quite beautiful. It makes life interesting and worth living. At the end of the day, why do we have emotions? In this country, the standard deviation of our emotions is set at MAX.
We have passionate debates about the future of our country, helped of course by our red wine, which you must taste again as it’s getting better by the year. People like Clem Sunter make a great contribution to the debate, while Russell Loubser (ex-head of the JSE) made a feisty speech the other day, which whipped up emotions. Up to MAX on the emotion meter of the ANC’s Youth League, whose campaign for nationalisation of the mines was attributed to people whose IQs are equal to room temperature. Our politics have always been volatile, we have opinions that could not be further apart, and they invoke emotion on a massive scale. Interesting for those who want to take it seriously, but noise in the system for the bulk of us.
Fortunately, we’re rid of apartheid, which would definitely have pushed us over the cliff. These are the birth pangs of a new and unpredictable democracy. Our advice is to buckle up, and enjoy the ride.
Sadly, it’s true that the South African diaspora has a largely negative influence on confidence in this country. It would not be a problem if their fretting about how long we will last before we go over the cliff, was merely a reflection of their concern for us, their friends and families. The problem is that it does impact on foreign investment, which is critical for our economic wellbeing. People thinking of visiting or investing in this country, are often deterred by the stories of those that have left us. As you know, we’re also in the hospitality trade at Hartford House, which hosts many foreign visitors. I have yet to meet anyone who is visiting South Africa for the first time without being blown away by the beauty of this country and the warmth of its people. It’s not for nothing that South Africa has the highest ratio of repeat visitors of all long haul destinations in the world.
This was a long story in the end, when in truth, all I wanted to tell you about was one of the most thrilling racehorse sales in South African history, yet I think it was worth the telling. The reason is, it reminds us again why this country has produced more world class companies than any other of its size; our people are nothing if they’re not gutsy, adventurous and brimming with bloody-minded determination. And that’s why they were back at the ringside at this weekend’s Ready To Run Sale, all looking for that elusive creature that might take them to the Number One box at the Vodacom Durban July, the J&B Met, the Sansui Summer Cup or the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup. They know this country is not for the wishy-washy or the fence- sitters. You need to know who you are and what you stand for. It keeps you on your toes and holds your soul to ransom. And often on the edge of your seat. At the same time, it keeps you stimulated, driven, and bungey-jumpingly alive.
From a Summerhill perspective, there was also a reassuring message in the performance of our young stallions. This new generation is a collective step or two above anything we’ve had before, to the degree that at the sale, they were matching paces, stride-for-stride, with the tried and tested. At last, there was recognition in the marketplace for Admire Main, a world class racing son of one of the greatest sire influences in the world, yet he’s a horse who’s had to prove his own mettle in his adoptive home because too many had doubts about Japan, as well as Sunday Silence, if you can believe it. He averaged R204,000. Then there was his contemporary, A.P. Arrow, who had the benefit in his sire, of a recognisable colossus of American breeding, A.P. Indy. His youngsters had already caught the imaginations of our judges at the gallops, and his somewhat larger entry averaged a lofty R149,000.
Strongholdand Mullins Bay, with their second crops, were recognised for what their progeny had already achieved at the races, and it was such a tragedy that Mullins Bay was robbed of the hot favourite, Tinchy Stryder at the start of South Africa’s second richest race on Saturday. Her form in lowering the colours of Negevand Blue Ridge Mountain in her previous outing, was franked on the button by the former’s staggering closure in the Ready To Run Cup, and Blue Ridge Mountain’s short-head second in the Starling Stakes (Gr.3). While we all know there’s a long furrow to plough, these are the first signs of an emerging generation which could just be “the business.”
Yet another highlight totally unconnected with stallions, was the performance of a lady. By that, we mean a proper Lady. Judy Kensington (otherwise correctly known as Lady Kensington) has been consigning horses to our sales for decades. She’s bred many a decent runner, yet she’s never been successful in the salesring. So when her Mullins Bay filly out of the Stakes-winning mare Sugar Biscuit, made R450,000, it was enough (I have to confess) to make grown men cry. As well as a whole lot of ladies.