Viewing entries in
South African History



Horse and Lady
Horse and Lady

(Image : The Write Sisters)


“Service, Courtesy and Generosity”

mick goss
mick goss

Mick Goss

Summerhill CEOMost times, headings like this in these columns have to do with a great race filly or a venerable old broodmare, but this one isn’t. It’s about a lady who was there when I was a trustee of the Racecourse Development Fund in the mid 1980s, she was there when the elders of racing approved my submission for the establishment of a breeders’ premium fund, she was there for its implementation and she was there for its administration, and for the past twenty-six years, Toni Dolstra has been there for the pay-outs to breeders.

A handsome, intelligent, engaging lady, Toni Dolstra witnessed the rise of KwaZulu-Natal as the destination of choice among breeding’s investors in the 90s; she saw the emergence of Northern Guest, Foveros, Secret Prospector and Rakeen among the elite sires of the country; she was there when Jet Master was born and saw him reach for the top of the mountain, and she was still there to see KwaZulu-Natal’s three race clubs merge into Gold Circle, under the urging of our former Finance Minister, Peter Miller.

Toni Dolstra’s life has been one of service, of courtesy and generosity, and it’s fair to say there’s not a breeder in this fair land of ours who’s not known the kind touch of her hand which, I’m told, is deft at bridge. Toni’s retirement as the chief administrator of breeder’s affairs in the province marks the end of an era: it also signals the beginning of a new one, which we all should face with the faith and confidence that marked the closing decades of the last century. The foundations are good, and the history is eminently repeatable. As Toni goes, we will bid her well, as we do her successor, Candiese Marnewick. She has different boots to fill, in a new and complex world, but she has different tools at her disposal, and everything is possible.




Goodman Brothers
Goodman Brothers

The Goodman Brothers

(Photo : Sunday Tribune)

“The portents for longevity are good at Summerhill”

The portents for longevity are good at Summerhill. Old Colonel Richards, who once promised our racehorses would be good, lived well into his nineties. Raymond Ellis, who made sure they would be good, made old bones too. On the weekend, one-time Summerhill proprietor, Derek Goodman, reached the nervous nineties. Whilst the earlier generations survived despite the ravages of hard work and many hours at the grindstone, Derek is probably as good an advert as you might get for a leisurely existence and its value in promoting long life. “Colourful” would serve as the best description for the way he and twin brother Allan have celebrated their time on this planet. The Sunday Tribune says the rest.

“The brothers Goodman have very devoted and understanding spouses in Lynne (Derek) and Annie (Allan). The two understand that just because a man is no longer young, it doesn’t mean he can’t still lavish his charms on a single lady. After all, these are men who are on first name terms with royalty, have played the tables on the French Riviera with billionaires and swept Hollywood stars off their feet. No point in coming over all respectable now, is there?

And what delightful and surprising drinking companions they are, in the cosy bar of Caister Lodge (formerly the Caister Hotel) at 11.30 on a Saturday morning. Looking the very picture of old-school gentlemen, they are quick to whip out cigars - as quickly extinguished by the “smoke police” at the retirement home - as they reminisce about their youthful exploits.

Scions of wealthy parents, they were educated at the best private schools and are not a bit shy to admit that the only demand ever made of them, growing up, was that they become good polo players. They both duly made the Springbok team and played for Natal when they weren’t taking on the likes of Prince Philip in the Queen’s Cup at Windsor. “Philip sent us a jolly nice letter for our birthday,” said Allan. “He said he had many happy memories of playing against us. So glad to see he’s got over being piqued that we beat him to win his wife’s trophy.”

The brothers were volunteers in World War II - Allan flying a Spitfire and Derek tackling a job no less dangerous as a tank driver. Both had miraculous neardeath experiences, with Allan being shot down no less than three times, and taken prisoner in Italy by the Germans. “One does miss the war,” Allan reflected. “Nothing quite compares to the exhilaration of flying a Spitfire, although driving my Lamborghini came close.”

Back home they were welcomed with a string of polo ponies and the latest sports cars - Allan’s a Cadillac coupe - and a dizzying round of fun began. Despairing of what to do with them, their father nudged them into stockbroking. That, says Allan with a laugh, “we put up with for a couple of years and then went off to try stock farming”. Were they gentlemen farmers? “Oh yes! Absolutely. Never got our hands dirty. Never made any money either, come to think of it.”

Derek found time for a few more dalliances than Allan, and had a scandalous affair with Hollywood starlet Zsa Zsa Gabor “before she decided I wasn’t quite rich enough”. He finally married at 37, while Allan started rather earlier and produced five sons with his first wife, mining heiress Georgina Albew.

When the brothers join their many offspring today at the Simbithi Country Club, there is no doubt their exploits and derring-do will be feted in grand style, as befitting old school bon vivants.”





Johannesburg - Money Capital of the Continent

(Photo : SA Live)


TBA Sales Complex, Gosforth Park, South Africa

26 - 28 April 2013

Mick Goss - Summerhill Stud
Mick Goss - Summerhill Stud

Mick Goss

Summerhill CEOWherever there’s gold, there’s fireworks. Goldrushes spawn “wild wests”, and Jo’burg’s been that way since President Kruger was in charge. Remember the Jameson Raid, when Cecil John Rhodes and his cronies attempted a coup of Kruger’s government as long ago as 1896? The plotters were thwarted by a leak from within when the “putch” was postponed a week by the Randlords-cum-racecourse stewards, who feared it might interfere with the running the same weekend of the Johannesburg Summer Handicap (read Summer Cup these days).

This weekend, the Golden City gave birth to another form of fireworks, not only at BSA’s sales complex in Germiston, but right here at Emperors Palace, where anybody and everybody that matters in racing was resident for the sale. Jo’burg in April is as glorious a place as you’d want to be, and Sunday dawned bright and peaceful. The early rays of the autumnal sun had scarcely topped the façade of OR Tambo, when the soft drone of distant traffic was shattered by the clatter of automatic fire. Within minutes, the “Emperors” complex was crawling with the cops from Special Ops, and with the precision of a Rolls Royce motor, a squadron of helicopters was casing the joint from the air.

A replay of the Jameson Raid was in progress. Another leak, another combat-ready intercept team, and in a matter of moments, it was all over. Our cops come in for a lot of stick, but in this form, you’d have to say, all is not lost. This was as near as it gets to perfection: 15 of the continent’s “most-wanted” men incarcerated, no lives lost, a bit of excitement in the dining-room, no more than an hour sacrificed before the resumption of the sale, and we were back in business. Spare a thought for all our foreign visitors, particularly the Aussies and the Kiwis, who are not accustomed to these breakfast antics, and are woefully short on the bullet-proof armour South Africans greet these things with: one of our countryman was more concerned that his eggs were overcooked. The locals reminded our visitors that the gale in Christchurch was blowing up more of a storm in the game between the Crusaders and the Rebels, than this ten minute fiasco had managed. It was all over before the ref could say “crouch… touch… set”.

As for the sale, it was comforting for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the 44% increase in aggregate and a 27% increase in average. The latter figure is all the more laudable, if only because it was achieved in an enlarged catalogued, which generally makes for a longer tail, and usually mitigates against an increment. Remember this, too: averages give you bragging rights, but turnovers give you the bottom-line. We also saw two youngsters breach the R3million mark, and the welcome return of a deep middle market, evidenced in a 33% rise in the median. For Summerhill, we outperformed these numbers by a bit of a stretch, and at R1.6million, we sold the sale’s top filly for the second time in three years. Friday’s early start was probably not one of BSA’s brightest marketing strategies, and the result may have been even better with an evening session to relieve the tedium of two long days in the field, but let’s not spoil a good show with too many woes. It was a solid sale, and the numbers endorsed the upward trend in bloodstock markets the world over.

Strange in these times of global austerity, that the great luxury of owning a thoroughbred has not become exactly that: a luxury. Yet there are parallels in the stock markets too, where quite inexplicably, the Dow, the Dax, the FTSE and the JSE bring new highs both times you read the ticker-tape. Of course, “Q.E” has played its role, and near-zero interest rates in America, Europe, Japan and the rest, have driven cash surpluses into assets. So we need to recall that eventually, inflation is the inevitable consequence of Ben Bernanke’s money-printer, that a rise in interest rates will be just as inevitable, and that some of this cash will eventually find its way back into the money markets.

Meanwhile, horse breeders (in this country at least), will draw solace from the knowledge that the foal crop has been strangled by contraction, that racehorses will be in short supply, and that the lid on our exports is about to be lifted. That will soften the blow any rise in interest rates might deal, especially in this environment, where easier access to international markets will be the game-changer. There are some vital stirrings on the export front, and for a country which has for so long been hamstrung by technical constraints, that, and our annus mirabilis in Dubai, will make 2013 South Africa’s moment.

Speaking of which, I have a sense that the worm is finally turning here in the money capital of the continent, too. Increasingly, there is a feeling in the right quarters, that we should free ourselves of the notion that apartheid and colonialism are the reasons behind our ailments, that we need to get on with the job now, and that besides our problems, we also have a few things to brag about. Of course, you can’t just shrug off 300 years (or was it 3000?) of colonialism and oppression, but it’s surprising how “normal” we’re becoming. Colonialism and apartheid may be what we fight about a lot, but the fact we have something to fight about, is utterly normal.

And not everyone’s fights are as interesting as ours. Australian politics, for example, are a sort of sleeping balm. Argentina’s on the other hand, make ours look like, well, Australia’s. Like us, these two share a sense of community in horses. At the same time, we’re trying to get close to China without upsetting the West. We’re trying to settle our debts with our exports and we’re trying to make the poor less poor. That we argue about how to do it, is perfectly normal.

So why do we beat ourselves up so much? The poor, someone said, will always be with us. And we all have a duty towards them. But South Africa is a glory, nonetheless. We lead, or just about lead, the world in two sporting codes, we have natural resources, mineral, visual and physical, which are beyond comparison. We have a vibrant democracy, our courts uphold the rule of law, the press is free, our banks are stable and our currency still buys something. Our corruption is rotten, but by no means do we hold a monopoly on it.

Could we do better? You bet we can. But time will heal much of what is wrong. Better education, growing awareness and wider perception, will force the pace. It will also force the “delivery” hand of government. The world around us is changing too, and as it recovers, it will take us with it. Already, we see signs of an America busting out of its malaise with a new vigour. Biofuels will reduce our dependence on oil imports, fracking could change our lives unimaginably.

There is a sense here too, that the ANC is being pulled, kicking and wailing, into a world all the more real for its collective presence of Cyril Ramaphosa, Trevor Manuel and Pravin Gordhan. The President himself has become the promoter and protector of the National Development Plan; seeing off the unions and the communists on this score, could bring down Zwelinzima Vavi’s Cosatu career, if the fragmentation among workers hasn’t already done so.

There are those in this town who believe JZ will be true to his original intention of a one-term president, then whip a couple of the most unlikely suspects (Bobby Godsell, Tony Leon?) into his cabinet. And if we don’t get Cyril for some reason, is it so unthinkable that Zuma’s former wife, Nkosazana, might be the right girl for the job? Beats Addis Ababa, for sure.

Summerhill Stud Logo
Summerhill Stud Logo

Enquiries :

Linda Norval +27 (0) 33 263 1081

or email


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Hartford Estate Entrance
Hartford Estate Entrance

Entrance to the Hartford Estate

(Photo : Leigh Willson)

“Bred, raised and trained at Hartford were the heroes

of every major race on the South African calendar”

Mick Goss - Summerhill Stud
Mick Goss - Summerhill Stud

Mick Goss

Summerhill CEOI remember the first time I entered the Hartford gates, like it was yesterday. Here was the greatest private breeding enterprise in South African history, here was a driveway adorned with old flower pots dating back to the 40s, bearing the names of 48 gladiators, all champions or the next best thing. Bred, raised and trained at Hartford were the heroes of every major race on the South African calendar, their supremacy so marked that when he penned his treatise on the great private racehorse nurseries of the world, Sir Mordant Milner spoke of England’s Lord Derby and the Aga Khan; of Marcel Boussac, the founder of the Christian Dior organisation in France; of Federico Tesio, the doyen of Italian breeders; he spoke of Phipps, Hancock and Calumet Farm in the United States; and of A.R.Elllis of Hartford. I was in awe. And as my brother Pat and I wound our way down that historic road to the steps of the region’s most gracious homestead, we recalled the tenth of the Commandments against the coveting of “thy neighbour’s house”.

From the time I’d first fondled a Duff’s Turf Guide on the potty as a three-year-old, I knew of the Hartford legends, and as my capacity for the game grew, I learnt that if there was a horse in the parade in the green, black and gold, it was as good as money in the bank. Mowgli, Cape Heath, Salmon, Panjandrum, Ajax, Magic Mirror, Master Polly, Magic Cloak, Magic Charm, Sentinel, Hat Trick, Fantasma, Albion, Lavonia, Fantastic, Famulus, Masham, Sybil’s Nephew, Pussmoth, Preston Pan, Prestissimo, Visionary, Flaming Heath, Magic Link, Cosmonaut, Rudigore, Dazzle, Alyssum, Hey Presto, Royal Occasion, Derby Day, Alhambra, Wayfarer, Pinocchio, Pipes Of Pan, Miracle, Broken Spell, Gypsey Moth, Beacon Light, and Council Rock. The Durban July, the Summer Cup, the Met, the Gold Cup, countless Derbys, Guineas and Oaks, the Gilbeys and the Smirnoff Sprint; on the occasion of the Royal visit to South Africa, three King’s Cups in three different centres; and anywhere from a 1000m to 3000m.

Many of our readers know the story of how Summerhill came to acquire its neighbour, Hartford, through a handshake exchange in the toilet in those bleak days of 1989. If you don’t, it’s a story of its own, and it’s for another day. But the one thing that had always fascinated me was the story of Hartford’s phenomenal success, and I spent a week with Graham Ellis drawing it all out when the handover took place. His father, A.R. (Raymond) Ellis’ curiosity with horses was aroused by the presence on the farm of six Italian prisoners of war, who’d been captured during the 1940 Abyssinian campaign. One of these men was the ex head groom of the greatest European breeder of the era, Senor Tesio; and it was he that ignited the flame which found the motherload. His advice to the Ellises was “breed like you mean it”, and they did. That year Raymond Ellis bought two young fillies at the National Sale, and stabled them in the garden across the way from the old stone house, built by the family of the last Prime Minister of the Colony, Sir Frederick Moor. Those that frequent Hartford House these days will know the stable as Suite 7, named for one of those two fillies, Preston Pan. She was something of a terror, and kicked the hell out of her companion as well as the stable divide, so she was dispatched to a paddock adjacent to the Hartford chapel, from whence she was trained for the duration of her career. Enigmatic though she was, Preston Pan was brilliant to the degree that she remains the only two-year-old filly ever invited to run in the Durban July, the continent’s greatest horserace. Whatever she was as a racehorse though, she was even more as a broodmare. Of the 48 names that adorn the old pots on the driveway, no fewer than 18 trace their lineage to Preston Pan and her daughters.

What was it about the thoroughbred that penetrated the soul of A.R.Ellis and his family, that gave birth to this celebrated farm, to three champion trainers and five champion jockeys, all of whom resided at one time or another in homes and stables built by that handful of Italians?

In an oft-quoted response, Graham Ellis, one-time Chairman of the Durban Turf Club following a stint as trainer to the finest string in the game, reminded me that of all the species on earth, including us humans, the racehorse is the only one whose genetic history is tabulated right back to the original founding fathers of the breed. He recalled that the welfare of the thoroughbred had been in the hands of the British aristocracy for more than three centuries. From the outset, the sport was conducted as all sports should be, for the sake of the sport, and it was all about one nobleman beating another. Throughout this time, they selected their stock for the right reasons too, for their nobility, their grace and their presence, for their intelligence and courage, for speed, stamina, mental toughness and physical durability, all the traits we as a species would aspire to. And that’s why the racehorse is the good Lord’s greatest creation.

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summerhill stud

Enquiries :

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Pat Goss with St Pauls - 1946 Durban July
Pat Goss with St Pauls - 1946 Durban July

Click above to remember Pat Goss Snr’s victory in the 1946 Durban July with St Pauls

(Images : Summerhill Stud Archives)

“One horse he’d say, that’s all it takes.”

Mick Goss
Mick Goss

Mick Goss

Summerhill CEOPat Goss Snr was an unusual man. Firstly, in a family in which there was an anticipation you’d either be a devout Catholic or a confirmed alcoholic, he was neither. In fact, he was a tee-totaller, an enterprising man, a consummate stockman and a devotee, if ever there was one, of the affairs of the turf.

Secondly, he was the first, and as it turns out, the only, Pondo trader ever to own a Durban July winner. His love of the game was rewarded in 1946 when St Pauls led home a procession in record time from the outside draw. I wasn’t around then, but my forebears earned their place in history when this graduate of Pony and Galloway handicaps became the smallest winner in the annals of the continent’s greatest horse race. When Pat Goss wanted to emphasise a point to a press man or a racing man, he would squeeze his forearm in a gesture of sincerity. Pat was never short of hope and “as long as you are hoping, you’ve got a chance”. Then he’d grab the forearm again, and become a little fatherly. One horse he’d say, that’s all it takes.

His addiction to the ponies was not surprising. The Gosses have had an affinity for them dating back to the Battle of the Boyne when they fought alongside the Maguires, the former kings of Ireland. At the same battle, one of the founders of the thoroughbred breed as we know it, the Byerley Turk, took the field as Captain Robert Byerley’s charge, having been captured in the East at the battle of Buda in 1689. Just last week, we were reminded of this history by one of our Irish relatives, Andy Goss, who sent pictures of the home from whence the original settler, Michael Goss went forth on his way to South Africa in 1820. I’m lucky to have this intrepid man’s name.

In an episode which exemplified for me as I grew up, that Pat Goss was a man with a love for the game, it was the story about Giant, who cut his teeth on the humble circuits of Eastern Cape country racing. Giant grew up in the shadow of the First World War and the greatest depression the world has known, and he used to walk from my grandfather’s base in Lusikisiki to his next engagement. One of my most cherished memories growing up, was a photograph of Nelson Mandela’s mentor, Oliver Tambo (for whom Africa’s biggest international airport is named today) saddling my grandfather’s entry for the Bizana Cup, as a barefooted teenager.

Giant was no ordinary horse, but as a youngster he was certainly what the Aussies would describe as an “ornery” fellow. My grandfather rescued him as a two-year-old, when he was down to be shot on a neighbouring spread, if he’d only stand still for long enough. A big, fractious lump of a bay with a hunter’s head, he was running wild on the stockman’s property, but he must’ve been handled at least once, because he’d been gelded. No-one could catch him, and he was rumoured to be feral. The truth though, was that he was a grandson of the 1911 Durban July winner, Nobleman. An old strapper called Ndhlebende broke him in, and it was a riotous affair. His handler was a dyed-in-the-wool horseman though, and the horse soon settled. With time, he took a liking to racing, and it’s said he liked his groom, too.

Giant would set out fully a week before the next big meeting on foot, Ndhlebende on board, and by the time he arrived, he was “ready-to-run”. This was a foot soldier in the real sense, reputed to have walked more than 1600 miles during his career to these bush meetings, where he was something of a legend, not only for the distances he covered, but for the silver he took home. Pat Goss rewarded him for his exploits with a crack at the big time. It’s something of a fairy-tale that he wound up earning a cheque in Extinguisher’s 1938 Durban July. This man stood on the shoulders of giants.

Size never deterred Pat Goss, though it might have affected his judgment. St Pauls’ size (or rather the lack of it) prompted Pat to start him out in a maiden at a village meet near Kokstad. His trainer was a 76-year-old father of 13, and Duggie Talbot, as dapper as he might’ve been in the Durban Turf Club parade ring, was the owner of a badly scuffed float, which had been sighted carting horses to race tracks from Matatiele to Mthathta. Here was a battler since his first race ride in 1918, when General Botha was still Prime Minister, and Pamphlet won the first of his two Durban Julys.

Talbot was a little man with twinkling blue eyes, rosy cheeks and the cocky air of a bantam rooster. He had a rolling gait and a falsetto voice which people liked to imitate. The voice was somehow right: part of him would always be a little boy, full of hope and derring-do. Another part of him was granite hard: he knew the world would stomp all over you, if you lay down or showed fear.

He was like a man before his tenth birthday; he’d grown up on the Western plains of the Karoo, red dust, clay pans that gave off a hard white light, hardly a tree. He lived in a slab hut with an earthen floor, and rooms divided off by chaff bags, sewn together with baling twine. Kerosene lamps provided little pools of light. Before Talbot was ten, he was working the scoop behind a team of draught oxen, killing sheep for the butcher, breaking in horses and carting water. And here he was now, handling a live candidate for the Durban July. One horse, that’s all it took.

I was prompted to recall these stories about my grandfather by a letter received from a Hartford House visitor last week. Norman Herring is an old mate and a mine of information about the old days in East Griqualand, where my grandfather had his farm. Pat’s “home” racecourses, besides those in Pondoland, were Matatiele, Cedarville and Kokstad. Getting to any of these places from the farm was a mission, as he used to go by horse and buggy, like most of his neighbours. Coming home in the twilight one day with some forty miles to travel, he found himself alongside Alex Macdonald (father of the famous Springbok polo player, Doug Macdonald). I told you at the beginning that Pat Goss was a teetotaller, but that wasn’t the case with old man Macdonald. When they reached Alex’s farm, The Meads, Pat found his travelling companion fast asleep on his buggy, and if the truth be told, his faithful horse had probably brought his comatose corpse most of the way, without him even knowing it.

So as to ensure that the buggy did not stray too far with its precious cargo, Pat only outspanned the horse, walked him through the farm gate, passed the buggy’s disselboom through the fence, and inspanned the horse on the other side. And then went on his way.

Moral of the story. Don’t drink and drive.


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Reeva Steenkamp
Reeva Steenkamp

Reeva Steenkamp

(Photo : The Times)

“By this evening, we will know a little more, but by no means the full story.

By then, Reeva will have been laid to rest.

God bless her, and her family.”

There is an irony in the events of today. Reeva Steenkamp goes to her final resting place, and Oscar Pistorius enters the starting blocks for the toughest race of his life. On the way, some of our colleagues have become psychologists, judges and jurors, and Oscar in some quarters, is already a condemned man. When we penned our first piece on this tragedy, we had no idea that Reeva was a daughter of a fellow horseman, Barry Steenkamp. We can only imagine the desperate pain he and his family are feeling, and like all of us, they’ll all be searching for answers. From all accounts, she was a rare human being, beautiful, accomplished and greatly esteemed by her friends. You can ask no more than that from anyone.

The one thing the world appears to have overlooked in relation to the charges Oscar now faces, is the tactical element to the State’s case. Oscar has a lot of explaining to do, as he is the only witness to what actually happened, yet the State has a mountain to climb in proving pre-meditation in the murder rap they’ve laid at his door. On the face of it, it seems plain that there are only two possibilities here, and that alone. It was either a crime of passion, the sort of impulsive response that comes when human beings snap, alternately, from what we’ve learnt in the press, it was a terrible mistake, in the belief that Pistorius was dealing with an intruder. The point is, facing a charge of pre-meditated murder under the sixth schedule of the Criminal Procedure Act, he will have to commit himself at this early stage in the proceedings, to a revelation of the nature of his defence. That binds him going forward to that story, and limits the possibility of alternate options, whereas if he was charged under the fifth schedule, it would be in the interests of justice that he be granted bail as a matter of course.

The term “pre-meditation” implies an element of planning, and this does not look remotely like it. That’s the reason his defence team did not call for an earlier bail application, as they obviously needed time to probe the circumstances in detail, and to present the best case they could this morning. From a legal perspective, both sides have engaged some of the biggest guns they could find, and we are in for a battle royal. Again, we can only urge Oscar to tell it like it is, remembering how quickly public sympathy not only ebbs, but turns to hostility when their heroes avoid the truth. Racing does not linger on its fallen; it prefers to hail its survivors, and survival here, in the minds of most of us, flows from the sympathy which is associated with the truth.

Theories abound in the Twittersphere, some have already categorised him as having a particular disorder, yet none of us really know. One thing’s for sure, the answers cannot be found by pouring through old interviews with Pistorius, or from his now silent Twitter account. This is a murder investigation, not a guessing game. Something has gone horribly wrong, and whether it was psychological, drug-induced or otherwise, only his trial will reveal. None of us know how a man who lost his legs at 11 months of age feels about his relationship with women, for example; none of us know what his triumph over his disability, and his becoming the first man of his ilk to participate in a normal Olympics, did in forming his character, and none of us can predict with any certainty how these things have played themselves out in his behaviour, his relationships, and what brought him to this day.

What we do know, is that he had become a sporting hero, not only in this country, but across the world, and that this terrible event has elicited comments from the highest levels of his sport, Usain Bolt among them. By this evening, we will know a little more, but by no means the full story. By then, Reeva will have been laid to rest. God bless her, and her family.

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Igugu wins the SA Oaks and Triple Tiara
Igugu wins the SA Oaks and Triple Tiara

Click above to watch Igugu winning the SA Oaks and Triple Tiara (2011)

(Image : JC Photos - Footage : Tellytrack)

“Kings Pact, Dignity, Olympic Duel, Ipi Tombe,

Empress Club, Renounce or Igugu”

There have been numerous debates over the years as to who was the best horse ever to be bred in South Africa. However, the question of which was the best filly ever to race in this country has largely been overlooked.

Pedigree buff Sarah Whitelaw recently compiled her list of top fillies and mares for the Sporting Post based largely on their South African record, although Ipi Tombe’s feats both locally and abroad have made her a definite inclusion.

KINGS PACT (His Excellency - Magna Carta)

A truly great racemare, Kings Pact had to overcome a really tough campaign as a 2-year-olad which included a remarkable nine race winning streak. She won the Clairwood Winter Handicap (now Champions Cup) as a 2-year-old - an all but unheard of achievement. Kings Pact went on to land the Champion Stakes as a 3-year-old, winning the WFA race by nearly ten lengths in the process, and setting a new race record in the process. She went on to land the Natal Derby at the remarkable odds of 10-1 ON, but was beaten narrowly in the Cape Derby. Kings Pact also ran fourth in the Duban July giving the winner nearly two stone!

DIGNITY (Minor Forfeit - Stuck Up)

Not only was Dignity a champion on the racetrack, she is also the dam of champion racehorse and sire Dignitary. She was unbeaten at two in five starts, but was defeated, as the favourite, in the SA Derby. She won a Durban Merchants and put up a staggering display to win a Merchants carrying 9 stone 12! Her son, Dignitary, was the first South African bred horse to top the general sires list.

OLYMPIC DUEL (Dancing Champ - Mashka)

Despite being injured in a float accident, Olympic Duel recovered to establish herself as a true champion. She beat the colts in some of the biggest races, winning the J&B Met, Champion Stakes and Mainstay International. In the latter race, Olympic Duel had to tote top-weight, and still managed to defeat J&B Met winner Divine Master. In total, Olympic Duel won no fewer than seven G1 races, and was twice placed in the Durban July. She went onto become a successful broodmare. Her descendants include recent G3 Champagne Stakes winner, Northern Heritage.

IPI TOMBE (Manshood - Carnet de Danse)

The Zimbabwean bred overcame an ordinary pedigree to become a champion both locally and internationally. During her career, Ipi Tombe made 14 starts, and won 12 of them. She was unbeaten in her overseas campaign, winning feature races in both USA and Dubai - where her wins included a facile triumph in the Dubai Duty Free (where she thrashed subsequent Duty Free dead heater, Paolini). Ipi Tombe won South Africa’s most famous race, the Durban July, as a 3-year-old, and won four of her five starts in South Africa. Unfortunately, she is yet to replicate her success on the track at stud, despite being sent to some of the world’s top sires.

EMPRESS CLUB (Farnesio - Elysee)

The Argentinian-bred was a true superstar, and one of the best fillies ever to set foot on a South African racetrack. Nicknamed the “Galloping Goldmine”, Empress Club was unbeaten at two, where her wins included easy scores in the Smirnoff Plate and SA Nursery. At three she was named Horse of the Year, and beat colts in the Cape Guineas, SA Guineas and Administrator’s Classic. Remarkably, she then downed older males when landing the rich Administrator’s Cup. At four, Empress Club won both the Met and Queen’s Plate, beating champion Flaming Rock on both occasions.

A half-sister to champion Ecurie, Empress Club was later exported to the US, where she won the G3 Hillsborough Handicap. Retired to stud, Empress Club produced the minor stakes winners Azouz Pasha and Empress Pegasus. She died suddenly in 2004.

RENOUNCE (Arctic Flower - Cleanse)

One of the best fillies in a vintage era of great horses, Renounce had the misfortune of competing against the likes of Sea Cottage, William Penn and Java Head. Nontheless, this great filly managed to win both the Cape Guineas, Paddock Stakes and Met. She also landed the spoils in the Garden Province Stakes by a whopping seven lengths. Raced from two to five, the daughter of Arctic Flower won ten times, and competed against some of the greats of the sport.

Unfortunately, Renounce proved disappointing at stud, producing just a single winner.

IGUGU (Galileo - Zarinia)

One of just a handful of horses to win both the July and Met, Igugu did all that was asked of her during her South African campaign. The daughter of Galileo looked special right from the start, and was sold for R1million at the 2009 Emperors Palace Ready to Run Sale. Recently exported to Dubai, Igugu won ten of her 12 starts in South Africa - and looked slightly unlucky in her only two defeats. She is the first filly ever to win the Fillie’s Triple Tiara, and her six length romp in the G2 SA Oaks (over the very talented staying filly Princess of Light) was majestic. In her only two starts against older, open competition, Igugu proved triumphant - despite a poor prep for the 2012 J&B Met. She is expected to add to her trainer’s superb record in Dubai.

Extract from Sporting Post




Cyril Ramaphosa
Cyril Ramaphosa

Cyril Ramaphosa

(Photo : The Times)


“Elected ANC Deputy President”

South Africa’s story is a complex one, socially, politically and economically. Nobody is better placed to understand it than those of us that live in our region, because much of what we are as a society today is reflected in our turbulent past, most of which played itself out in the 19th century battles for ascendency in what is now known as KwaZulu-Natal. When all that was seemingly behind us, and South Africa for the first time embraced the trappings of a constitutional democracy in 1994, it was this country’s turn. The world wanted our nation to work, and we had the biggest chance any country had ever had with Nelson Mandela as our new President. And it did work, for a while at least.

But like most nascent businesses, we seemed to lose our way, and all that early promise washed itself away with a ruling party struggling to come to terms with the fact that they were no longer a liberation movement, but the governing element in Africa’s most advanced country. The ANC has been wracked by division and dissent, and went to their centenary year national congress just last week, amidst fears of even greater polarization than Polokwane had produced in 2007. But just as we’ve managed to do so many times before (remember the Zulu and Boer Wars, the Rinderpest, apartheid, Ge Korsten, Die Antwoord and the cricket test in Perth last month), we appeared to have pulled a rabbit out of the hat, leaving a bewildered country asking “what that was all about?”

One indisputable consequence of the new South Africa has been an emerging prosperity among the black and Asian middle classes, some of it gleaned from the exploitation of patronage and tenders, but the bulk of it through energy and honest endeavour. For racing, we have witnessed the arrival of an entirely new class of owners among the Indian population in particular, though that’s not entirely surprising considering it was India that gave racing the patronage of the Agas Khan. And when it comes to the big days of recent times, there is no sporting event, not a football final, not a rugby World Cup, nothing, that the African elite want to attend more than the Vodacom Durban July; just ask the organisers! That, surely, has to translate itself, sooner or later, into a desire not only to field a football team, but to have a string of ponies, too!

“So what was that all about? Many people are struggling to come to terms with what happened at the ANC’s Mangaung conference last week. The best starting point is to establish the incontestable facts.

The first of these is that in the face of a sustained year of the intense criticism by the twittering classes, Jacob Zuma remains the ANC’s first choice-by a long way-as leader. The second is that the party has shifted decisively back to its traditional centre, rejecting nationalism (even the use of the very word in a resolution was unacceptable) and populism. Julius Malema was the most notable casualty of the Mangaung conference. Far from being the “king maker”, he barely warranted a mention, and his plea to be allowed back into the organisation was ignored. This shift was reinforced by the election of the crafter of the constitution and iconic black economic empowerment businessman, Cyril Ramaphosa, as ANC deputy president. The return of Ramaphosa dramatically alters the trajectory of South African politics.

Prior to the conference, the ANC appeared to be heading into a future of muddled decline under a steadily disintegrating, shambolic populism. It now appears to have decided on its future by placing Ramaphosa in pole position to succeed Zuma. It wants to be seen as a party that is open to business and in touch with its traditional values of inclusivity and human rights. The ascent of Ramaphosa changes the game for the opposition. They have gained ground with the middle classes, who are disillusioned with growing financial burdens, the abuse of state assets for gain and the assault on press freedom under Zuma. But such low-hanging fruit will become harder to harvest with Ramaphosa in the mix. There will no doubt be a sustained effort to taint Ramaphosa by association with the faults of Zuma. This may work in the short term, but ultimately, he will make a more formidable enemy.

This is good for South Africa. Our political debate needs to shift from the mudslinging personality attacks that have become it’s leading feature to a more sober focus on charting the way forward in a competitive world. Economic growth and job creation are the most important goals for this country. They cannot be achieved with a failing education system and an incompetent state. if Ramaphosa is to emerge as the country’s “prime minister,” as has been suggested, he will face a daunting task.

But who would bet against the man who took the ANC and the National Party through the eye of a needle?”

“Extracted from Sunday Times - 23 December 2012”


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Alesh Naidoo - KZN Racing Personality of the Year
Alesh Naidoo - KZN Racing Personality of the Year

Alesh Naidoo receives the award for 2012 KZN Racing Personality of the Year

(Photo: Gold Circle)

“As a nation, Indians embraced the British sports

of polo and horseracing very early in the era of the Raj.”

mick goss
mick goss

Mick GossIt’s an awful long time since I was at school, and while that may be something of a disadvantage in terms of how many years I have left, the time in between has at least provided an opportunity to reflect. And how this country of ours has changed. Mind you, the whole world has changed significantly since then. When I first went to school, Winston Churchill had just led the Allies to victory in World War 2, and America was the unchallenged supremo of the international economy. There is something ominous though, about empires at their peak, and there is an inevitability about decline. In that scenario, there are opportunities for others to take their places, and that lot usually falls to those who’ve come from nowhere, have nothing to lose, and have aspirations of emulating the rich and the powerful.

When I was at high school, most of the academic prizes fell to boys from the Jewish community, who had the intellectual resources and the hunger to excel. Remember, it was the Jews who’d suffered most at the hands of Hitler and the Russians, and here they were making not only a new home for themselves, but a new name as well. About ten years ago, I was back at my alma mater, the speaker at their Speech Day, and it was noticeable how much the school had changed. Apartheid was gone, the entire demographic was different, and budding young stars like Imran Khan, Hashim and Ahmed Amla were bursting onto the cricketing scene. The quadrant in the old school hall where the prize-winners sat was packed with brown faces. Now it was the turn of the Indians, who’d taken up the running when it came to the top academic achievements.

These days we’re seeing it in the racing world, where the prosperity which flowed from liberty and opportunity, is evident every day on the racecourses of the country. There was an old saying in America, around the time of General Custer’s Last Stand at Little Big Horn, when, on the eve of a raid by the local Indians, the townsfolk would cry out “the Apaches are in town”. The truth is, in racing parlance these days that’s exactly what’s happened, our “Indians” have arrived, and there’s a great wave of fresh investment in racehorses in the community. Enterprising people like SunilandAshnee Devachander, Dayalan Chinsammy (the National Yearling Sale’s biggest spender this year), the indomitable Alesh Naidoo (recent recipient of KZN’s Racing Personality of the Year award), his partner Anthony Govender (Owner of the Month for November) and the irrepressible Satch Mathan.

These guys have sent out a veritable slew of top horses in recent times, Chinsammy leading the charge with Rock Of Art’s dramatic victory in the R2.5million Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup, while the Devachander’s Killua Castle was closing fast for third. Earlier that day, Naidoo and Govender’s Love Struck sailed home by 6.5 lengths in Durban, and followed up with a commanding performance in the KZN Guineas a fortnight later. A graduate of the Summerhill Yearling Draft of 2011, Love Struck has set sail for the R1million Cape Guineas (Gr.1) this coming weekend, and he’s said to be sizzling.

As a nation, Indians embraced the British sports of polo and horseracing very early in the era of the Raj. We shouldn’t forget that it was only when they sought refuge in India from the ravages of what was happening in modern day Iran, that one of the greatest racing dynasties of all time, the Agas Khan, was born.

Editor’s Note: Keep following us. We’ll give you the full story on the Agas.

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Hassan Adams, Mick Goss and Brian Finch
Hassan Adams, Mick Goss and Brian Finch

Hassan Adams, Mick Goss and Brian Finch

(Photo courtesy of Brian Finch)

“Seize The Day”

None of us need to be reminded about the days of apartheid; our politicians and newspapers do a good job of that every day. Yet racing has its own tales of those days, and there are a few whose rise to the summit is the best illustration of the blindness of hope and the madness of racing.

Colour has no part in people’s aspirations, and those of us who have the disease will tell you that once infected, you’re gone for life. One such fellow whose love of the game goes back to childhood, is now one of the nation’s biggest owners, Hassan Adams. He was one of those kids who was unlucky enough to be born when the laws of the land discriminated against people of colour. His lot was not the main stand, but the other side of the fence at the start of the races at Kenilworth. That was the sin of apartheid.

His Dad was an avid racegoer, and Hassan would accompany him to the course on Saturdays; while his father had access to the silver ring, Hassan’s age demanded that he stay outside the course altogether. The craving for the sport that has seen his investment in racehorses escalate to several hundred head these days, was alight and thriving long before he reached his teens, and he’s found no cure for the illness since then.

I remember very well, attending the parade for the Durban Gold Cup, South Africa’s most famous staying race, sometime in the early 80s. As I left the parade ring, an angry young man called from behind the bars that separated the silver from the gold ring. It was Hassan, infuriated by the thought that while he was good enough to have a runner in the event, he wasn’t good enough for the parade ring nor the gold ring, for that matter. That was the evil of apartheid, which demanded that he and I, good friends already, should sit on different park benches, catch different buses, occupy separate hotels and frequent separate pubs.

Some years later, and shortly after Northern Guest won his first Sires Championship in 1987, Hassan phoned me from his Hout Bay stronghold, where he was chairman of the local branch of the ANC. He wanted a Northern Guest service, the proceeds of which he would apply to the funds of what was then a banned organisation. While it got me into trouble with the stallion’s shareholders at a later stage, I was unhesitant in obliging. That story made the front page of the Sunday Times a year or two ago, though I should be quick to add that it wasn’t the main thrust of the story.

Hassan has since become one of this continent’s more prosperous businessmen, and his associations with the chairmanship of the Grand West Casino and the sale of the Waterfront, are part of the Cape Town legend. Heaven knows how many feature race winners have carried his blue and silver colours to that hallowed piece of real estate in front of the grandstand at Kenilworth, but certainly his outstanding performer is Gimmethegreenlight, who knocked off this year’s champion sophomore, Variety Club, in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate (Gr.1), the first three-year-old in 42 years to win our oldest horserace.

Another man who has emerged from the shadows of apartheid to become one of the nation’s most respected businessmen is Brian Finch, who’s quietly assembling an exceptional line-up of fillies for what will ultimately become a quality broodmare band. Brian commemorates a landmark birthday in a couple of weeks from now, and is at that point in life where his business acumen, sound judgment and a life that celebrates the adage “seize the day”, has led him to this day. He’s obviously had a good look at the numbers, and has decided to play the racing game just as he’s played his life, by stacking the odds as much in his favour as this game permits. We did much the same as Brian when we kicked off in the sport, and Summerhill is the result today. The difference of course is that, while there was no inheritance here to get this place off the ground, we never had to deal with the disadvantages that a sallow skin imposed on so many of our countrymen in those dark days. That was the tragedy of apartheid.

We caught up with these two legends recently in Cape Town, and it seems they’re missing out on very little in life these days. As you can see from the fellow in the middle, he’s among giants, and this picture was taken with a sawn-off iPhone!

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Northern Guest Stallion
Northern Guest Stallion

Northern Guest (Inset - as a foal)

(Photos : Summerhill Stud Archives)


Northern Dancer (CAN) - Sex Appeal (USA)

Mike Moon
Mike Moon

Mike Moon

Tab NewsNorthern Guest’s10th Broodmare Sire of the Year title was an outstanding achievement of the past racing season. It’s a modern-day world record, eclipsing even the nine titles of legendary USA broodmare sire Mr Prospector.

Northern Guest never set hoof on a racecourse, yet he made a titanic contribution to the racing game in South Africa.

He was well named for his role in life, being from the Northern Hemisphere and taking up residence in the South. But he was much more than a visitor. He founded a thoroughbred dynasty and his name will live on for decades, thanks to a happy knack of fathering superb daughters who, in their turn, produced champion horses. Golden Apple, the dam of 2012 Vodacom Durban July winner Pomodoro, is a daughter of Northern Guest. The great international sprinter JJ The Jet Plane is out of Mystery Guest, another of his daughters.

Not that the colts were bad - they include Angus, Senor Santa and Spook And Diesel, to name a few.

It’s often said that the performance of a stallion makes or breaks a stud farm and there is no disputing Northern Guest was the making of Summerhill Stud in the KZN Midlands.

Summerhill claimed an eighth successive Champion Stud trophy at the Equus Awards ceremony earlier this month. In the same 2011-12 season Northern Guest won an unprecedented 10th Broodmare Sire of the Year title.

Summerhill boss Mick Goss makes no bones about who he and his team have to thank for their bounty.

“Look around you at Summerhill… and you won’t find a windowpane, a pebble in the tarmac or a piece of roof sheeting that Northern Guest didn’t contribute to,” writes Goss on his website.

If Northern Guest built a farm, he also contributed large building blocks to the edifice that is South African racing today. His influence is everywhere in the game, his blood flowing in many of its protagonists.

Goss brought one of the great thoroughbred pedigrees of the world to South Africa, being a son of Northern Dancer - the world’s greatest sire of the 20th century - out of the blue hen Sex Appeal.

Other aspects of Northern Guest’s beginnings were auspicious. He was bred by EP Taylor, the Canadian who bred Northern Dancer himself. Businessman Taylor was recruited by Winston Churchill to co-ordinate Britain’s World War II supplies from North America. After the war he crafted a multi-faceted corporate empire and notably built Carling Black Label into the most ubiquitous beer brand in the world. An avid racing man, Taylor reshaped the game in Canada, consolidating small tracks in Ontario into a profitable industry focused on fewer venues and better horses. He stood Northern Dancer in the USA and top mare Sex Appeal was sent to him three times. She produced Try My Best, European champion two-year-old,Northern Guest and El Gran Senor, the highest-rated horse in the world in this three-year-old year.

Northern Guest grabbed headlines early when his blue blood saw him become the first horse to be sold for $1-million. He was just five weeks old. Ireland’s Coolmore team bought him and sent him to legendary trainer Vincent O’Brien. But Northern Guest would never be tested in a race. On the Ballydoyle gallops one day he crashed into a fence and a wood splinter skewered his foot. The wound healed badly and he limped for the rest of his life.

In the early 1980s brothers Mick and Pat Goss were trying to make a go of Summerhill, a small stud near Mooi River. Mick had given up a thriving legal practice in Durban to pursue his obsession, while Pat was keeping his hand in as an accountant.

Deciding they needed a top-class foundation mare, the Goss brothers spotted a likely candidate on the UK’s Newmarket December 1982 sale called Maroon and belonging to Queen Elizabeth II. Heavily in debt, the brothers borrowed more money to meet the £30,000 estimated price and jetted off to England.

Having bought Maroon, Mick and Pat took a trip to their ancestral homeland of Ireland, where they ended up visiting Coolmore’s Longfields farm. Stud master Tommy Stack, a former champion jumps jockey and pilot of Red Rum in his third Grand National victory, paraded before them Hello Gorgeous, a promising sire at the time.

“Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a horse being led past,” recalls Mick. “I turned and had a look, and he took my breath away! He had the look of eagles. Spectacular. Who the hell was this?” Stack replied: “Northern Guest. Not for sale.

But the Goss brothers would not be denied. They secured him for £200,000 - money they did not have and had no further credit line for.

“I was worried, but my brother - the accountant, the conservative one - said, “Don’t worry, we’ll syndicate him on the plane home.”

The target group of South African breeders on the plane returning from the Newmarket sale didn’t bite. Despite the horse’s pedigree, they curiously didn’t see benefit.

The brothers were stuck with a R400,000 headache, the landed costs of an expensive stallion. In today’s money, it would be more than 10 times that amount.

The 12 weeks it took for exchange control permission bought time. They came up with Plan B, a black-tie dinner at Durban Country Club for all the moneyed people they knew. Tommy Stack volunteered to fly out to help secure the syndication - and delivered a compelling speech at the do. It worked. Northern Guest was over-subscribed; the deal was done.

But the solution brought its own problem. Many of the new owners were not established breeders or even racing people and bought Northern Guest many sub-standard mares. Nay-sayers began writing off the stallion and the farm. To save its investment Summerhill started buying shares whenever it could afford them and within two years had a 70% stake. But the prospects for the early crops were not good and negative perceptions for a stallion are a kiss of death. But few people reckoned on just how good Northern Guest was at his job.

He’d left behind two dozen foals in Ireland. He never stood there commercially, with Coolmore not wanting to compete with his brother Try My Best who had a stellar racing record to market. Northern Guest’s Irish offspring were the result of coverings for friends and employees, all with mares of little account. That Irish handful produced five stakes winners - at a world-class 20% strike rate.

The first South African crop was not earth-shattering, the star being the excellent Naval Guest, winner of the Champion Stakes. But the second crop was another story: Senor Santa, 15 wins and five Grade 1 titles; Northern Princess, nine wins including the November Handicap; Gentleman Jones, seven wins including the Administrator’s Handicap; Rip Curl, five wins, and Target Five, nine wins, saw their dad on his way to fame and glory.

Northern Guest secured three Champion Sire titles in the 1980s on the back of these and subsequent brilliant horses. There were also two Champion Two-Year-Old Sire gongs. When the first award was collected, a dying EP Taylor sent Mick a photograph of Northern Guest, taken on that day in 1977 when the foal went for a million.

Good horses kept coming - Gun Drift, Northern Flame, Unaware, Spook And Diesel, Levendi, Royal Thunder, Dangerous Donald and Dance Every Dance among them.

Travel North won the 1994 SA Derby, Imperious Sue the 1997 J&B Met and Angus the 2002 J&B Met.

Northern Guest’s legend was secured among racegoers with the famous match race on New Year’s Day 1989 between his daughter Northern Princess and his son Senor Santa. The Germiston contest followed a dispute over Senor Santa being eliminated from the 1600m November Handicap on the argument that he would not stay the distance. Great jockeyship from Michael Roberts saw Northern Princess narrowly prevail. A year later, Senor Santa won the FNB Stakes over the gruelling Turffontein 1600m.

Northern Guest was extremely fertile into his old age and was still successfully covering mares in his mid-20s.

Fatefully, both his illustrious full brothers, Try My Best and El Gran Senor, proved low on fertility.

Several big-money offers came from overseas for the champion but Summerhill was prevented from cashing in for various reasons - the farm profiting in stature rather than cash.

Mick recalls Northern Guest having a “wonderful, wonderful temperament, which became a hallmark of the tribe”.

Consistent quality was another stamp. The daughters were particularly striking, with notable femininity and fertility. Even smaller specimens had good carrying room as broodmares and all were caring mothers.

They produced Bold Ellinore, Emperor Napoleon, Icy Air, Art of War, Vangelis, Amphitheatre and hundreds more.

Mick is fond of telling the story of how Northern Guest, on his way from barn to paddock each day, would stop outside the stud office and survey the farm scenery. Management staff would adjourn their morning meeting to go out on to the balcony and pay homage to their great benefactor. “He’d never look at us, just gaze out at the paddocks. And we’d stand cap in hand.”

Mick believes the stallion gave the whole Mooi River district a boost. With scores of mares coming in to visit the champion, a number of boarding farms sprang up nearby, many of which have endured, providing much-needed employment.

Northern Guest died at Summerhill in 2002 at the age of 25.

“He was the stallion of a lifetime,” reflects Mick. “Every breeder is looking for the next outstanding sire, but perhaps us more so now that we’ve seen the top of the mountain.”

Extract from Tab Online




Lords Test Match - England vs South Africa
Lords Test Match - England vs South Africa

A Magical Lord’s Test

(Image and Footage : Lords Cricket Ground)


You never want to be seen to be gloating in your moment of triumph, but you’ll forgive me in saying that yesterday’s victory by our cricketers over England was good. Firstly, it came at a good time. There was carnage on our mines this past week as union bosses fought out a turf war at a cost of 44 lives. The nation was bleeding, and God knows, we needed something to lift us. Yes, there was a recent series victory over England on the rugby field, Ernie Els hoisted the Claret Cup at the British Open, and our athletes earned gold at the Olympics. But there’s little more satisfying than when the lesson comes from the pupil at the expense of the teacher, and cricket came to the Empire from our Colonial masters. That’s why the Aussies call England “the old enemy” and here we were, taking on the number one rated team in the world for their crown, an English team which ranks with the best in their history. Savour the moment, countrymen, the margin was 2-0, and whilst credit should be given to England for a hard-fought contest, there was never a doubt about the supremacy of the Proteas.

I know this will sound like salt in the wound, but most of our English friends are of generous spirit and good humour, so I’m going to share a moment of amusement with you. Before I do so, let me confess to a generous flow of their blood through my own veins, yet I remain bewildered by the British psyche. Rewind to the 19th century, when the British held dominion over more than 40% of the earth’s surface, when they possessed the greatest fighting machine the world had ever known, and when there was no territory they’d entered that they’d failed to conquer. Yet they came to South Africa, to suffer the most humiliating defeats in all their military glory, at places like Isandlwana, Nkambule, Eshowe and Hlobane, the latter of which prompted Sir Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister at the time, to ask in the Commons: “Who are these people, who convert our bishops, defeat our generals, and this day have altered the course of European history forever?”. And then there were the battles (and the losses) with the Boers at Colenso, Vaalkrans and Spioenkop, as well as the battle that put an end to the first Anglo Boer War, Majuba.

Yet our British friends, (and thank goodness it’s so, because they fill our hotels and lodges!) come back year-after-year, in their thousands, to visit the sites of their greatest defeats. Of course, they do so for the big consolation as well, Rorke’s Drift, without parallel Britain’s most glorious moment on the field of battle. And they still return, their cricketers and their rugby players, to Newlands, King’s Park, Ellis Park and Loftus Versveld, to the Wanderers and Kingsmead, for hiding after hiding, year after year. And then they leave, chins up in the stoic British tradition, with a smile on their faces. And that’s why this little island, smaller than KwaZulu-Natal in extent, continues to wield such clout in the international world of finance, politics and let’s not forget, they’ve just celebrated their greatest year at the Olympics.

And then they have Frankel, and when the Irish send him to do battle, Camelot. And St Nicholas Abbey. Don’t forget tomorrow’s clash on DSTV Channel 232: you might never forget it.




Equus Champion Breeder Award
Equus Champion Breeder Award

Summerhill Stud - Equus Champion Breeder 2005 - 2012

(Image : Summerhill Archives)


1 August 2011 - 31 July 2012

Mick Goss, Summerhill Stud CEO
Mick Goss, Summerhill Stud CEO

Mick Goss

Summerhill Stud CEOThe Jockey’s Championship may still be hanging on a thread, but the Breeders’ version is done and dusted. Saturday’s racing finally put paid to any sniff any pretenders may have had to the crown, and so, at last, we can tell the printers to proceed with the 30th edition of the “Summerhill Sires,” including all references to “EIGHT CONSECUTIVE BREEDERS TITLES”.

There was a point in May, when Summerhill lagged Klawervlei by some R400,000, that we looked like “toast”, particularly considering that we were at a distinct disadvantage in terms of numbers, and there were more to come: the impis were lining up in waves!

It is a tribute to one of the best teams in the world, their sacrifices and their dedication, that the margin in the end will be close to R1,5 million in our favour. It is a tribute to those who support us, to the loyalties of those who keep their horses with us, who buy our stock at the sales, to those that train and ride them, and to our fans in the stands.

It is a salute to the uncertainties of the game, to the adage that inspires the belief that kids from the “sticks”, like us, can prevail against the odds. That you don’t have to own a fortune in order to know the top of the mountain. That hard work, obsession and the sheer love of the game can take you to new worlds of conquest. That “eight” is a brand new number in the modern world of breeding, and that it’s attainable by anyone with the will and the resolve to make it happen.

Yet in the end, it will always be a tribute to our horses. Mankind would do well to recall that our histories were written on the backs of these noble creatures in warfare, on the roads, in the workplace, on the sports fields. It is no different at Summerhill.

This is an enterprise unlike most others of its kind, built solely on the skills of its people and the achievements of its horses. It has given birth not only to the home of the champions, but to a world-class hotel, to the continent’s second largest equine insurer, to an elite horsefeed business and to the only school of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

To those of you who’ve made it happen, and to those that fought the good fight, thank you.

summerhill stud, south africa
summerhill stud, south africa

Enquiries :

Linda Norval 27 (0) 33 263 1081

or email





Mick Goss
Mick Goss

Mick Goss

Summerhill Stud CEOLong ago, before Ben Hur won the first Interdominion, the philosopher Diogenes envisioned a race as big as the Durban July. Clothed under various sponsor’s mantles since its inception in 1897, the great race is to Durbanites what the Melbourne Cup is to Melbourne.

For any self-respecting citizen of Durban, the July is a reference point. A few wounded, fresh returned from the nightmare of Delville Wood, limped around Greyville to see Pamphlet blast home in 1918. The year after the Second World War, the hero named for the cathedral which survived the “blitz”, St Pauls kicked the butt of Moscow, just as the Allies realised they’d licked Hitler, only to inherit Stalin. In 1966, the race was “robbed” of one of its most famous sons, Sea Cottage, through the treachery of a gunman’s bullet. In the same year, an assassin delivered a similar fate to apartheid’s principal architect, the Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd.

Yet it’s hard to explain the July to an outsider. The English and Kentucky Derbies are about the supremacy of genes and the buying power of the ruling classes. The public is allowed to join in for the crowd scenes. The best colt usually wins and is hurried off to stud for fear of losing his value.

Our July is quirky. Got up by the people, for the people. A cross between a horse race and a folk festival. It mocks convention because it’s a handicap, which means the outcome is not preordained. One of the cherished pieces of Durban’s folklore is that any battler can win the July. And a few have, though fewer than mythology allows. In 1977, Dessie Rich, a struggling dairy farmer from our village, turned history on its head with Lightning Shot. The stewards invited him to the committee lounge for a drink. “Thanks,” he said, but he had to rush home to milk the cows.

For the past 116 years, the Durban Turf Club has hosted “Africa’s greatest horserace” on the first Saturday in July. The Birch Bros of Doordrecht, who dominated the national breeding scene for almost half of the last century, produced six of its winners. We rank second, with four that’ve have tasted the green, green grass of home.

Which brings us back to St Pauls. The July was different in 1946, the first time the crowd numbered more than 100,000. These days, horses fly in for the contest with a personal dietician. St Pauls came by train with cattle and sheep, and they unloaded first. He was the pride of Pat Goss, a former stock inspector, who, like some of us, was quite at home with a pair of sheep shears in his hands. And that’s the part that tickles us. In Mooi River, a sheep shearer has always been thought as good as a Sheikh. Better really, because a Sheikh isn’t much use if your merinos need a clip. Mowgli, who was trained from the end box of the Hartford yard, as most of our top horses of that era were, was one of the all-time greats of the South African turf. He may even have been the greatest if it weren’t for a wind affliction which plagued him to death, literally in the end. When he settled the July field in ‘52, he collapsed within yards of passing the post. Minutes later, he rose, Lazarus on four legs, and walked away. Here finally, was proof that racing exists mainly to remind us of our fallibility. Here was the horse that took the round-they-go-again sameness out of the sport. Here was the horse who gave us not one, but ten undying moments.

Mowgli dominated the 50s the way Mohammed Ali dominated the heavyweights in the 1970s, and the analogy is not meant to be trite. Mowgli was that rare thing: a natural. He made the hard things look easy, the mundane look graceful. The qualities which, in any sport, separate the gifted from the sloggers.

Racing is good sport. It is great sport when you see an Igugu and a Pierre Jourdan in full flight down the Greyville straight, tooth-and-nail for the biggest prize in racing. It isn’t always good business, but when you win the July, it most certainly is. Racing is a way of living, and a way of thinking. It has its own language and its own humour. It is loaded with danger, physical and financial, and it comes with a hint of conspiracy. It doesn’t necessarily build character, but it throws up some great characters. Igugu is trained by one of them. Mike de Kock is the man everyone wants to know. He’s become the idol of a social set to which he never belonged, and to which, you suspect, he never wanted to belong. De Kock knows the rich and famous, he has himself become rich and famous. Yet fame has not changed him, not outwardly anyway. He doesn’t conform. He can’t; he isn’t like anyone else.

When de Kock entered the Summerhill box after the July, we asked him if he’d like a drink. “Or is that a silly question?” It was a silly question.

The above is an extract from the 2012/2013 Summerhill Sires Brochure to be released soon. Are you on our mailing list?

summerhill stud, south africa
summerhill stud, south africa

Enquiries :

Linda Norval 27 (0) 33 263 1081

or email




Bushman Paintings in Giant's Castle,Drakensberg
Bushman Paintings in Giant's Castle,Drakensberg

Bushman engraving at Giant’s Castle

Giant’s Castle, Drakensberg

Mick Goss - Summerhill Stud CEO
Mick Goss - Summerhill Stud CEO

Mick Goss

Summerhill Stud CEOOne of the aspects of thoroughbred racing in which the sport’s fans take pride, is the integrity of the breed. There is no species (ourselves included) on earth with a better documented genetic history, and it’s a matter of fact that there is not a horse on Summerhill (or anywhere in the thoroughbred world, for that matter) whose ancestry cannot be traced to the original three founding fathers of the breed, the Godolphin Barb, the Darley Arabian and the Byerley Turk. All of these horses were of Arab origin, two of them from what we know today as the Middle East (or old Arabia), and one a North African.

In the context of its domestic relevance, the Byerley Turk led the charge of Captain Robert Byerley at Ireland’s Battle of the Boyne in 1690, where the Gosses and the Maguires stood shoulder to shoulder in the nationalist cause.

History tells us too, that long before the Spaniards and the English began their human plunder of the West coast of Africa, the Phoenicians, the Egyptians and the Arabs were engaged in the trade of slaves on our Eastern seaboard. That they reached as far down as South Africa is evident in this engraving, found in a remote cave just a short drive from here, among the fabled ramparts of Giant’s Castle.

No, the image is not one of Shogunnar on his way to the start for Saturday’s Gold Circle Derby (Gr.2), nor is it one of Stubb’s elegant elongations of the horses’ form. It is an original Bushman engraving, thought to date before Biblical times, though we have no precise understanding of when it was sculpted. What we do know, is that the Bushmen captured the scenes of their day, and it predates the arrival of the amaXhosa, the amaTembu, the amaMpondo (the three tribes that gave us Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki,) and the amaZulu (from whence came Shaka and Jacob Zuma), whose arrival the anthropologists suggest dates back between 1400 and 2000 years.

Six or seven years back, Cheryl and I made our fourth journey to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe race meeting in Paris, as the guests of the late Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum. The “Arc” is Europe’s greatest horserace, and it has taken place at Longchamps in the Bois de Boulogne on the first Sunday in October since 1920. Paris is dressed in its autumnal finery in October, and if you are lucky with the weather, it’s arguably the best time to visit the French capital. On this particular occasion though, it was pouring cats and dogs, and on one of the days approaching the race, we did our usual thing by visiting the Louvre, where they had assembled the greatest collection of Impressionist art ever exhibited in a single location. The “Violets” and the “Sunflowers” were there, so was Monet’s Lily Pond, the best of Renoir etc, and while we had to endure the pouring bleedin’ rain for several hours and pay something approaching R500 at the door, it was the best spent cash I can remember. Sitting in the taxi on the way home, Cheryl and I could scarcely believe ourselves, that we should’ve been fortunate enough to be there to witness this work of 500 years ago. It might never happen again. It dawned on us though, as we alighted from the taxi at our hotel, just how lucky we are as South Africans, and especially in the context of this exhibition, to live where we do.

As dawn breaks, we look out from our bedroom, as I’ve recounted before, upon a canvas comparable to anything on the planet, where the shoulders of the Drakensberg stretch for hundreds of kilometres from north to south, with Giant’s Castle as its pinnacle. This is Southern Africa’s greatest mountain range, providing a spectacular backdrop to what we call our front garden.

Yet its influence on our lives is considerably greater than mere scenery. The withering effect of the weather on these peaks has witnessed their retreat over millions of years from Hilton near Pietermaritzburg to its current position, leaving in its wake a wondrous endowment of mineral riches in our valleys. These days, the towering magnitude of the Berg determines our weather, and guarantees us one of the most reliable climates in the world.

But it’s the history of the place that intrigues us more than anything, and the fact that it was once home to the most spiritual people on this earth, the Bushman. In ancient summers, five or six thousand of these fascinating people occupied the strongholds of the Drakensberg. With the onset of autumn, they followed the great herds of Eland, the Black Wildebeest and the Red Hartebeest across the plains of Summerhill and its neighbours, down into the bushveld of the Hlanzeni and the hunting grounds of the Zulu kings, where they spent the winter.

Tragically, these people who knew more of our origins and the world around us than we’ll ever know, were hunted out, literally, by the settler tribes of the era; we have much to account for in the fact that they are no longer, but that is a story for another day; we shall not dwell on it, as it’s more productive to speak of what they left behind.

The exhibition at the Louvre had triggered memories of the paintings and engravings in our mountain fastness. For R50, by contrast, and within a half an hour’s drive of Summerhill, you take your Land Rover, your family and your dog to Giant’s Castle or Game Pass Shelter, where the work is not 500, but 1500 and 15,000 years old; and unlike the Mona Lisa, whose mocking smile says “keep your 10 metre distance,” here you get personal at a few centimetres.

Wherever we live in life, we tend to take the things around us for granted, and South Africans are not exempt. Often enough, we dwell on the things that irk us, forgetting there’s a balance to life. Those of us who live where the “first people” once did, are also unbalanced. We tend to forget there are things that irk us.

summerhill stud, south africa
summerhill stud, south africa


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1946 durban july
1946 durban july

Please click above for a little racing nostalgia from 1946.

The presentation can be paused at any point using the navigation controls, bottom left.

It can be viewed full-screen by clicking the view button, bottom right.

(Photos : Summerhill Stud Archive)

“One horse can change everything.”

Mick Goss
Mick Goss

Mick Goss

Summerhill Stud CEOSuccess on the turf often has unpretentious beginnings. That’s part of the daydream that still tempts young people to persist with the prickly beast with bad legs that cost him a few thousand Rands, and arrived with a patched-up headstall and a torn rug. They remember the folklore, and are comforted by it. We should not be sniffy about these fantasies: racing runs on them. One horse can change everything.

The late great Sydney Laird trained seven “July” winners, more than any other man in history, yet for him the one that changed everything, that set him up for life, was probably the weakest of them. Kerason last-gasped the July at 40 to 1 in the 1961 edition, and everyone knew then that Syd had learnt his lessons well. He came up under the watchful eye of his uncle, the immortal Syd Garrett, and the ink under Left Wing’s name in 1960 (Garrett’s last July winner) was scarcely dry, when his apprentice handed the master a lesson in the art in what was his first year as a professional. I once asked an aging Syd over breakfast, whether the rumours about his tossing it in, were true. “I’ve got a number of youngsters in the yard, and nobody ever jumped from the top floor while he still had an unraced juvenile in his care”. That was Syd. Herman Brown Snr remembers Gatecrasher, while David Payne will tell you, his “one horse” was undoubtedly In Full Flight. Just one horse.

Dynasty” is a word reserved for famous successions, and in the world of racehorses, we have our share. Syd Laird’s son, Alec, was fired up by London News, his champion trainer cousin, Charles by Novenna, while Dennis Drier, another scion of this “manure-in-the-footsteps” family, says it was Sea Cottage. They all suffer from the disease for which there is no cure, and it’s all because of one horse.

Mike de Kock, who trained Horse Chestnut (the best horse since Sea Cottage,) and Igugu (the best since Horse Chestnut,) would surprise you that his jolt came not from those two, but from Evening Mist, who delivered up his first Group One, and gave notice to the world that here was a young man capable of filling the ample boots of his mentor, Ricky Howard-Ginsberg. De Kock has trained 87 Group One winners, and while he isn’t that sentimental about horses, you knew that Evening Mist was the one horse who’d wriggled her way into his heart. One horse.

For my own part, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the horse that got my juices going, had to be St Pauls, diminutive winner of the 1946 Durban July for my grandfather, Pat Goss. I wasn’t around then, but my forebears earned their place in history when this graduate of Pony & Galloway handicaps (reserved for horses under 15 hands) became the smallest winner in the annals of Africa’s greatest horse race, from draw 20. I remember making a collect call during my military training in 1969, when the operator, as he was wont to do, asked for my name. When I volunteered it, he enquired whether I was related to the “St Pauls” Gosses? The operator was one Nic Claasen, in his reincarnation one of those indestructible characters of the South African turf, a man inspired by the money he’d made on St Pauls to become a racehorse trainer. Later in life, when old Nic wanted to emphasize a point to a television presenter, he would grab his forearm and squeeze it in a gesture of sincerity. Nic was never short of hope, and “for as long as you’re hoping, you’ve got a chance”. Then he’d grab the forearm again, and become a little fatherly. “One horse”, he used to say, “that’s all it takes”.

But for me it wasn’t St Pauls. For me it was a horse called Dan, who cut his teeth on the humble circuits of Eastern Cape country racing. Dan grew up in the shadow of the First World War and the greatest Depression the world has known, and he used to walk from my grandfather’s base near Lusikiki to his next engagement. One of my most cherished memories growing up, was a photograph of the erstwhile mentor to Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo (yes, the man after whom Africa’s biggest international airport is now named), saddling my grandfather’s entry for the Bizana Cup, as a bare-footed twelve-year-old.

Dan was no ordinary horse, and there was no ordinary transport to take him to his next assignment. Not that it would’ve helped. Pat Goss rescued him as a two year old, when he was down to be shot on a neighbouring spread, if he would only stand still for long enough. A big, fractious lump of a bay with a hunter’s head, he was running wild on the stockman’s property, but he must’ve been handled at least once because he’d been gelded. No-one could catch him, and he was rumoured to be feral. The truth though, is he was a grandson of the 1911 July winner, Nobleman. An old strapper called Ndhlebende broke him in, and it was a riotous affair. For all that, his handler was a dyed-in-the-wool horseman; the horse became tractable, and with time, he actually took a liking to racing, as well as his groom.

He would set out fully a week before the next meeting on foot, his Dick King lookalike on top, and by the time he arrived, as one wag recently put it, he was “ready-to-run!” This was a foot soldier in the real sense of the word, reputed to have walked more than 1600 miles during his career to these bush meetings, where he was something of a legend, not only for the distances he covered, but for the silver he took home.

Dan’s reward for his all-conquering exploits on the country circuit, was a crack at the big time. In one of racing’s great fairytales, he wound up earning a cheque in the “big two”, the Cape Metropolitan and St Seriol’s 1945 Durban July. How’s that for killing the giants?

As for St Pauls, his size (or rather the lack of it) prompted the decision to start him out in a maiden at a village meet near Kokstad. His trainer was a 76 year old father of 13, and Duggie Talbot, as dapper as he might’ve been in the Durban parade ring, was the owner of a badly scuffed float, which had been sighted carting horses to race tracks from Matatiele to Mthathta. Here was a battler since his first race ride in 1918, when General Botha was still Prime Minister, and Pamphlet won the first of his two Durban Julys.

Talbot was a little man with twinkling blue eyes, rosy cheeks and the cocky air of a bantam rooster. He had a rolling gait and a falsetto voice which people liked to imitate, sometimes to his face, which never seemed to bother him. The voice was somehow right: part of him would always be a little boy, full of hope and derring-do. Another part of him was granite hard: he knew the world would stomp all over you, if you lay down or showed fear.

He was like a man before his tenth birthday; he’d grown up on the Western plains of the Karoo, red dust, clay pans that gave off a hard white light, hardly a tree. He lived in a slab hut with an earthen floor, and rooms divided off by chaff bags, sewn together with baling twine. Kerosene lamps provided little pools of light. Before Talbot was ten, he was working the scoop behind a team of draught horses, killing sheep for the butcher, breaking in horses and carting water. And here he was now, handling a live candidate for the Durban July.

A recent octogenarian visitor to Summerhill, Alistair Stubbs, reports that as a teenager, he was on hand at New Amalfi Station near the family farm, The Springs, when the owner was loading a rather non-descript little fellow onto a cattle truck, destined for Durban. “You’ve just seen the Durban July winner,” proclaimed the owner, a full four months before the race was due to get underway. Such was Pat Goss’ confidence that he booked out the Kew Hotel for the victory celebrations a few days later, and in one of those few stories in racing’s folklore that actually come true, he bolted home under Georgie Foster’s hands-and-heels urging in record time. The party, it is said, lasted two days, and within a few more, The Kew was a smouldering ruin. The little horse, who was named for the London cathedral that withstood the blitz of the Battle of Britain, had brought about, it seemed, the destruction of one of Durban’s most famous landmarks. But it wasn’t before every Durbanite who shared Pat Goss’ reverence for the Durban July, had joined the revelry at this queen of hotels.

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Sentinel Racehorse
Sentinel Racehorse


(Photo : Summerhill Stud Archives)


No Reprieve (USA) - Winter’s Eve (SAF)

The Sentinel Stakes, contested recently honours an extraordinary racehorse. The colt raced in an era when South Africa was blessed with dozens of exceptional thoroughbreds - and he emerged as the supreme sprinter-miler among them.

Mike Moon - The Times
Mike Moon - The Times

Mike Moon

The TmesThey dubbed SentinelThe Iron Horse because he was the toughest and most enduring of characters.

The statistics tell the story of resilience, bravery and versatility. From 56 starts, he recorded 29 wins - with 12 Grade 1s and 21 places.

Racing from two to seven years of age between 1971 and 1975, he travelled throughout the country and won at eight different racecourses from 1000m to 1600m. There has been no other South African horse with a record like that at the top level.

“He was a real toughie, that’s what I remember most about him. A phenomenally strong horse,” says Michael (Muis) Roberts, the jockey who partnered Sentinel to many of his successes. “He was massive, at least 17 hands, and weighed about 600kg.”

Sentinel was bred by the Ellis family on their Mooi River farm, Hartford, which is now part of the estate of South African champion stud Summerhill. Ray Ellis had started breeding and racing horses in 1940 and moved quickly into the top rank of the South African turf with horses like Cape Heath, Panjandrum, Ajax, Magic Mirror and the great Mowgli.

Much of this success was built on the stallions, Sybil’s Nephew and Masham. Well-bred USA stallion No Reprieve was intended as Hartford’s next in line to these titans, but didn’t quite live up to expectations - though he did throw a handful of stakes winners and forged himself a special place in thoroughbred history, thanks to a bay son with a white blaze called Sentinel.

Sentinel’s mother was Winter’s Eve, a two-time winner by the Oppenheimers’ standout stallion Wilwyn and from the same crop as King Willow, Smash And Grab, Rarin To Go and Tragallian.

When Sentinel went into training as a two-year-old in 1970, he joined another beginner in the game, a tiny apprentice jockey nicknamed Muis. The latter remembers riding the horse in work for Joe Joseph, trainer to Ray Ellis and his son Graham.

“He showed huge promise right from the beginning,” recalls Roberts. “But his first race, in which he was ridden by George Davies, was very poor and he finished way back. I galloped him a few days later and couldn’t believe this horse hadn’t won by miles. But it was a different story in his second race, and for a few years after that!”

As a juvenile, the colt shed his maiden tag over 1000m at Clairwood, then won the 1400m Natal Breeders Stakes and the 1200m African Breeders Plate. He finished second in the Grade 2 Smirnoff Plate at Scottsville and fourth in the Grade 1 Champion Nursery.

Davies was in the irons for all the early wins, but Roberts increasingly got the nod from Joseph as the young rider’s talents emerged. “Maybe Uncle Joe thought I wasn’t strong enough to start with. He was such a massive horse, I must have looked like a pimple on him,” says Muis.

The future South African and British champion jockey’s big chance came in 1972 after Sentinel turned three. Muis particularly remembers the Christmas Handicap at Clairwood, a prelude to a planned Cape Town campaign. “He was completely unextended. I never moved a muscle on him and he cruised in.”

Sentinel is often mentioned in the same breath as In Full Flight, for theirs was an epic rivalry that stirred the blood of racegoers in the 1972-73 season.

Their first encounter came in the 1600m Bull Brand Jockeys International at Scottsville, a contest that boasted some cracking three-year-olds. In a quagmire, In Full Flight won from Elevation and Sentinel.

In Cape Town for the summer season, In Full Flight prevailed over Sentinel by a short head in the 1400m Swazi Spa Stakes, setting the scene for a showdown that is still talked about today in awed tones.

The publication “Thoroughbred News” described the 1972 Cape Guineas: “The sharp Milnerton 1600m was the mile that suited Sentinel. In Full Flight came for him, and Sentinel was ready. They turned for home even, and they stayed that way. First the blaze was in front, then In Full Flight held a narrow advantage. Whips flashed, sides heaved, heads nodded, and neither great horse gave an inch. At the line no-one could separate them and the judges put up a dead heat.”

One of the few people not bowled over by this momentous result was Muis, who reckons his horse actually won. “Sentinel’s white blaze cost him the race. The line on the photo finish picture covered the very tip of his nose, which was ahead. That’s what I believe anyway!” he laughs.

There’s a reference to this great race in “The South African Racehorse” of July 1972: “Sentinel… was ridden by little apprentice Roberts, to the great credit of Graham Ellis, who refused to replace the youngster with a stronger boy though he had the chance.”

Next up was the Queen’s Plate over the Kenilworth 1600m, a trip that was to prove to be at Sentinel’s limit. In Full Flight stayed better to take it.

Back in Durban, Sentinel gave weight and a beating to Elevation in the 1200m Rupert Ellis Brown Memorial.

The next instalment in the on-going thriller was the Grade 1 SA Guineas at Greyville, with the betting showing that an enthralled public favoured In Full Flight to triumph again. But the Greyville 1600m was right up Sentinel’s street and, with Bertie Hayden up, he left Elevation and In Full Flight trailing with a blistering turn of speed.

It had become clear that Sentinel was the supreme sprinter-miler and his two great adversaries were more in the miler-stayer mould - confirmed by In Full Flight winning the Durban July before his premature death and Elevation landing a Holiday Inns (Summer Cup) treble.

As for Sentinel, he went on to dominate the shorter features year after year, eventually becoming the country’s leading stakes earner with the princely sum of R207,390.

As a three-year-old he won eight times in 15 starts, at four it was another eight wins, at five two wins, at six three wins and at seven five wins. No sprint in the country was safe. The Cape Flying Championship, the Drill Hall Stakes, the Newbury, the Concord and the Woolavington Cup were some of the titles he accumulated.

An adventurous entry into the 2000m Champion Stakes at Greyville in 1973 had the gladiator drawing on his class to run second to Force Ten - over a distance way beyond his comfort zone.

On his first trip to the Highveld, in November 1972, he tackled the tough Turffontein 1600m to take the Grade 1 Hawaii Stakes. The following year there was another brilliant effort over the same course and distance to claim the Transvaal Champion Stakes.

Gosforth Park was the scene of a popular 1000m victory over Pyrmont and Elevation in the 1974 Joseph Dorfman, and a month later a powerhouse display to beat the formidable Sun Monarch in the Grade 1 National Sprint.

Every year there was a jaunt to Cape Town - though the Queen’s Plate remained elusive. A second runners-up spot as a six-year-old was the best he could muster.

Joseph and the Ellis’ weren’t averse to trekking to unfashionable Port Elizabeth to plunder more honours. The July 1974 “The South African Racehorse” reported: “Never in the 117-year history of racing at Fairview has a single horse attracted so much money and so many people as did Sentinel in the R10,000 Fairview Stakes over 1600m. A field of 13 took on the champion but they had as much chance of beating Sentinel as a drop of water had of surviving a bush fire.”

The Iron Horse was unbothered by the thousands of miles of travelling.

John Ellis, son of Graham and Moira Ellis and a schoolboy in the time of Sentinel, recalls his parents often commenting on how relaxed and easy-going the big fellow was.

“Before a race he used to lie down and take a nap in his box,” says John. “When my mother first saw this she was alarmed and thought he was sick. But he obviously wasn’t, because he just woke up, went out and won again.”

Muis also remembers the equine professionalism. “He was as tough as nails, but not at all aggressive. He knew what he had to do and got on with the job. There was no fancy footwork with Sentinel. He was a real soldier and put heart and soul into his work.”

It wasn’t his swansong victory, but the 1975 Jack Stubbs Memorial over 1000m at Milnerton was a cherry atop a fabulous career. On a perfect Cape summer day, seven-year-old Sentinel whipped talented speedster Harry Hotspur, with two other precocious youngsters way back in third and fourth - Archangel and Yataghan. The “Thoroughbred News” picture of this finish was captioned, “The result that says it all”.

Sentinel was retired to stud at Hartford, but proved to be low on fertility. Seven of his progeny made it to the racecourse and only one failed to register a win. The best was the filly, Protectress, who ran second in the 1979 SA Oaks.

The Iron Horse lived out his days as a galloping companion and lead horse for the Hartford foals. Could a young horse have had a better mentor?

Extract from The Times

Editor’s note: These are powerful words from Joe Joseph, about Cosmonaut. He was an extraordinarily talented stayer who won the Ellises a third Durban Gold Cup, in those days one of the nation’s most prestigious races. That he could sprint a mile (as Joe suggests) and stay two miles better than anything else in the land, says volumes for this horse, but to be rated better than Sentinel in Joe’s eyes, is a telling statement. Sentinel must be one of the all-time great milers of the land, as you can judge from the remarks of Bernard van Cutsem, one of England’s best trainers of his era. Joe struggled with Cosmonaut’s soundness however, and his was a career of unfulfilled promise. When you think of the other extraordinary horses who came off the old Hartford property, Cape Heath, Mowgli, Panjandrum, Magic Mirror, Alyssum and many other Derby, Oaks, Guineas, Gilbey’s, and Smirnoff winners, to name a few of the big ones, you begin to get an inkling of why Sir Mordaunt Milner included the Ellises of Hartford alongside the Lord Derby and the Aga Khan, Marcel Boussac and Federico Tesio, Calumet and Claiborne in America among the world’s greatest owner/breeders of their eras.

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Winston Churchill escapes from Boers
Winston Churchill escapes from Boers

Winston Churchill looks pleased with himself - dressed in civvies astride a horse. And, he probably has every right to be, after making a daring escape from Pretoria to Lourenco Marques, now Maputo, at the height of the Boer War.

(Photo : Sunday Times)

“A unique photograph of Churchill after

he had escaped from Boer captivity,

surfaced in the Sunday Times”

Farm tours at Summerhill and Hartford House are popular items. Students of history, fans of racing and those who are mesmerized by the Midlands and the mystique of our sport, travel from as far afield as Johannesburg for the day, take in the tour and a bit of lunch at the nation’s Number One restaurant, before they are back on the N3 northbound.

Others prefer to do it the leisurely way, and they check in for a couple of nights at Hartford. While we’d recommend the latter for its relaxation, we’d not want to deny you the pleasure, either way.

If you’ve done the tour, you’d know that in the summer of 1899, a young Winston Churchill was a visitor to the Moors of Hartford. We all know too, of his capture up the road from us, and his presence at the mother of all battles, Spioenkop. Remarkably, on Spioenkop that day (just 45 minutes from us,) and drawn together by dint of the peculiar attractions of our region, were five of the most influential people of the 20th century. Louis Botha, the first Prime Minister of South Africa, (who together with Hartford’sSir Frederick Moor and his brother, John (the former a colonial Prime Minister, and the latter a senator in the first South African government, attended a class of just 10 students at Hermansburg Junior School;) Deneys Reitz, former Deputy Prime Minister of South Africa and later a Field Marshall in the British army, he was there; our man, Jan Smuts, the man the world chose to write the charters for the League of Nations and the United Nations after the respective World Wars, and the man Churchill appointed as his successor in the war cabinet should anything have become of him, he was there. In the pantheon of great South Africans, you’d have Smuts up there with Nelson Mandela, who ironically was captured just to the south of us seventy two years later; Winston Churchill himself, later to become Prime Minster of England and arguably the greatest Englishman of all-time, he was on Spioenkop that day; and amazingly, the man who liberated India in 1947, Mahatma Ghandi, was there as a stretcher bearer.

Just recently, a unique photograph of Churchill after he had escaped from Boer captivity, surfaced in the Sunday Times. It’s apparently coming up for auction in England shortly, and there’s been a bit of a story about it. It turns out the picture was taken in our immediate vicinity, after Churchill’s escape from Boer custody.

From 1896 to 1897 Churchill served as a soldier and journalist in India. In September 1898 he fought at the battle of Omdurman in Sudan, taking part in what is often described as one of the last true cavalry charges. In 1899, he resigned his commission, and was assigned to cover the Boer War for the London Morning Post.

In October that year he accompanied a scouting expedition in an armoured train near Ladysmith, in what was then Natal, but was captured by the Boers. Although he was a war correspondent, he was armed with a pistol when captured, so was treated as a prisoner of war and held in what had been the Staats Model Skool in central Pretoria.

Churchill managed to escape, and the Boers put a £25 price on his head. Travelling by foot and train - where he hid under coal sacks - he eventually reached safety, 480km away, in Portuguese-controlled Lourenço Marques. The escape made him a celebrity back in Britain and he was elected to parliament in 1900.





Power In The Blood

(Painter : Rick Timmons)

An appreciation of

the “Higher Things” in life.

Unlike motor racing, when the winner most times, is a foregone conclusion long before the chequered flag, and where “short heads” and “noses” are seldom descriptions for the margin of victory, never a week goes by that horseracing is without the thrill of a punishingly tight finish. The dross and the boredom of a motor engine wailing its way round and round the same old circuit, can never invoke the emotions a great ride and a great horse can for anyone with an appreciation of the “Higher Things” in life.

What inspired these feelings for me was the memory of the finish to the Champions Cup, in the year of the epic duel between Wolf Whistle and Yard Arm, when Strydom and Shea, Olympic class athletes if ever there were any, and horsemen at the world class end of their profession, bumped and bored and bollocked and bit their way to the line. I recall it especially well, because we ran third that day with an unwanted urchin of two sales rings, a millionaire racehorse who’d never missed a cheque in 33 starts, and who could’ve been anyone’s horse for R30,000. His name was Amphitheatre.

In the end, the race went to Wolf Whistle, the first horse owned by a long-time school and varsity pal, Paul Harris, (a fair hooker in his time, and later CEO of First National Bank), and to yet another fellow who had to overcome an education at Maritzburg College, Peter Seargent. That day at Turffontein reminded me again of the appeal of racing. Everything about Wolf Whistle had been so wild and improbable. He had been up against a horse of impregnable talent, a shoe-in for Horse Of The Year. While it turned out to be one of the great battles of all time, my own interest centred as much on the finish, as it did on Amphitheatre. As a five-year-old gelding, he’d been the subject of an enormous offer from Dubai, and I had insisted he take his place in this race as a swansong. In the end, he came out of it with an injury, and that was the end of the deal, a mortal blow to a Zulu farmer who could’ve done with the cash.

In the end, the gyrations of the crowd and the pulse of the chase, impaired my vision of the race, but what I did see was the bit that counted, and it was right up close. I saw Wolf Whistle’s eye when he got to Yard Arm’s girth, and he as much as told him “I’ve got you, pal”. As the American novelist, Cormac McCarthy wrote in a slightly different context, it was “a hot globe, and all the world burned in it”. The whips were flaying, elbows were flying, foam spewed from the gladiators’ mouths. In the heat of battle, none of these heroes felt any pain.

It was so obvious, so simple, I thought as I drove away. As our Aussie pal, Les Carlyon, once reminded us, horses and people, are the only things in racing that count. The rest is immaterial. Anyway, if racing were anything more, if it were a matter of business, its interpreter should have been Karl Marx. As a financial proposition, racing is about the re-distribution of incomes. It’s about socialism in a form so natural you’d hardly notice it. Hundreds of millions of Rands are each year supplied by businessmen from Dubai to Durban, by doctors and lawyers, by owners of car dealerships and merchant bankers, and by tax avoiders from all over.

The treasure they contribute is then re-distributed, slowly, a little each month so the trick doesn’t look too obvious, to trainers and jockeys, track riders, farriers, vets, clairvoyants, chiropractors, grooms, the bottlers of magical elixirs, owners of feed stores, horse psychologists and float drivers. When the cycle is over, the working classes have acquired most of the surplus capital of the bourgeois. The cycle then starts again with new players on the supply side, and the same clairvoyants and float drivers on the other side. Someone once said, the horsemen provide the experience, and the owners, the cash. When the cycle is over, the horse people have the cash, and the owners have the experience.

Racing is good sport, great sport when you see a Yard Arm or a Wolf Whistle in this kind of combat. It’s occasionally good business, but not often. Racing is a way of living, and a way of thinking. It has its own language and humour. It’s loaded with danger; physical and financial, and comes with a hint of conspiracy. It doesn’t necessarily build character, but it throws up some great characters. And that’s why, despite the recessions, the stock market crashes, the natural disasters, it survives year-in and year-out. The lure of the big horse and the prospect of grabbing the big one, the irrepressible dream.

Thanks for reminding us, Graeme Hawkins, with your presentation at our Winter School.


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South African Thoroughbred Breeders Championship
South African Thoroughbred Breeders Championship

South African Breeders Championship

(Photo : iKind Media)


Summerhill’s ascent to the summit of Thoroughbred breeding in South Africa for the seventh consecutive year, was complete Sunday with the conclusion of the 2010/2011 racing season. No team in our sport has ever visited the victor’s podium at the Equus National Racing Awards seven times in a row, and this lot deserve the highest praise. It’s a privilege to get up in the mornings and go to work with achievers of this magnitude, and just as great a pleasure to do so in the knowledge that we’re working with the noblest creature in the world, in one of the earth’s great environments. It’s more than fifty years since the Birch Bros strung together this number of championships, and they set the benchmark for the world. Even they though, would concede that it’s a very much more competitive world today, and while the margin of this championship is not quite what it’s been in recent years, we’ll take it, with both hands!

The indomitable Mike de Kock emerged once again as the Champion Trainer with a runaway win, while Anton Marcus (234 wins) turned the tables on Anthony Delpech (225) in what turned out to be one of the tightest jockey’s championships in recent years. Delpech was quick to quip Sunday evening in the Greyville parade ring, that his stakes earnings were well ahead of any of his adversaries, and he’d settle for that, if consolations meant anything!

The race for Champion Sire was a straight and equally tight contest between Jet Master and Captain Al going into the final week of the season. Jet Master held a slender R75,000 lead, and sealed the deal as Jet Jamboree annexed the prize in the penultimate event of the season, the Darley Arabian, at the expense of Solskjaer’s accomplished son, Ice Axe, who ran a great race (as a late December foal), conceding 2kgs to the winners. Charles Laird has some big plans for Ice Axe going forward, which include a crack at the R2million Summer Cup (Gr1) in November.

In as perfect an evening for racing as you could wish for, the Canon Gold Cup (Gr1) meeting was a triumph for trainer Sean Tarry (as Aslanbeat his stable companion Kolkata for line honours in South Africa’s greatest staying race), as well as for Gavin van Zyl who “exacta’d” the Champions Cup with The Apache and Bulsara, in all likelihood crowning the three-year-old Champion of his generation. The winner was bred down the valley from us by the Scott Bros as was last year’s hero, Orbison. The Scotts have been around since Rip van Winkle, and are honoured as the breeders of one of the game’s greats, Politician. Summerhill client, Wincy Chow, is the deserved owner of the winner, which was denied the opportunity to display his abundant talents in Hong Kong earlier in the year, when his departure from our shores was denied by the outbreak of horse sickness in the Western Cape.

In other related Group Ones, Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifah Al Maktoum was once again in the headlights with the Mike de Kock-trained Amanee, a spectacularly bred daughter of the leading English sire, Pivotal, out of a half sister to none other than Kingmambo. If she never does anything else, she would be a highly prized broodmare in any band anywhere in the world, including that of the Niarchoses, whose family Kingmambo hails from.

Finally, the R3,6 million yearling, Potala Palace, paid tribute not only to his purchase price, but also to his underrated sire Singspiel, as he waltzed off with the honours in the Premier’s Champion Stakes for among others, the Olympic champion, “blade runner” Oscar Pistorius, and Michael Azzie, whose second victory it was in the race, following the Summerhill-bred Imperial Dispatch well over a decade ago.

Finally, Captain Al was a deserved champion among Juvenile Sires for the third time, while our own Northern Guest fell just short of taking his world record-breaking 10th consecutive Broodmare Sires title as Aslan’s win in the Gold Cup drove the final nail into those aspirations. That Northern Guest was still second to Elliodor is a tribute to a horse who, in his early years served very little in the way of quality mares, and whose first daughters at stud made it as broodmares despite his opportunities, and mainly on account of the genetic potency he imparted to them. There is little doubt of his contribution to Summerhill’s seven championships, and his place of reverence in our history will be forever enshrined.

summerhill stud, south africa
summerhill stud, south africa

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