Aug 27, 2018

WHISKY Baron (Met Winner, nearside No.5) contested a super finish to the Celebration Mile at Goodwood on Saturday.

IT’s psychosomatic. The sound of rain on window panes sends millions of British people to “put the kettle on”. It happened yesterday for almost the first time for (seemingly) months, bringing on a nation’s worth of ironic smiles.

Actually there was a little UK rain around when your correspondent was in Johannesburg and elsewhere on the Highveld for an arduous week, but the sheep grazing on the reservoir banks adjacent to the motorways near Heathrow were still crunching, not slurping, when I drove past them in early morning sun last week, rushing back for the best Race Meeting of them all, The Ebor Meeting at York – more of that anon…

What they (= occasional overseas bloodstock visitors to Joburg) rarely say is how awful it is possible to feel after a week marching about at altitude when not used to it. Getting in and out quickly does help, but a full week can leave one staggering. I know some who simply will not try again.

South Africans from sea level seem to cope well. With liberal use of lip salve to prevent cracking and bleeding (thanks Equine) their physiology clearly can adapt.

Wings of Desire by Pivotal, Dante Winner and 2nd to the wonderful Highland Reel in the King George.
Stands at Heversham Park Stud.
Wings of Desire by Pivotal, Dante Winner and 2nd to the wonderful Highland Reel in the King George.
Stands at Heversham Park Stud.

The key factor is “marching about” e.g. long days on the sales ground, as opposed to holidaying in the Kruger (sadly no time for that) or catching my
breath – as I did – during an excellent, welcoming visit to Heversham Park south of Joburg where Wings of Desire and Moofeed represent enterprising investment bent on overcoming current horrors, along with Great Britain who is siring winners now as a member of the brilliant Balidaress family should.

It was both refreshing and bloody good fun to share views with progressive minds while so many of us are brow-beaten having been battered half to death by 2017/18 sales results in South Africa.

The National 2 Year Old Sale has, over many years, been a reliable event. Until a few years ago when the then TBA/BSA regime employed a Marketing Manager too late to do anything (whatsoever) about promoting the sale. Catalogues were late and that particular renewal was pretty awful. But nowhere near as awful as what was yet to come.

On 16th/17th August, we saw published figures a little higher than the pits of the year before. Credit where credit is due. But how much does it cost to
present a thoroughbred yearling/2 year old? Pick a 3-figure number. 80% made R100,000 or less. 42% made 25,000 or less. Quod Era Demonstrandum.
That (might as well be) Latin for let’s jump off the cliff.

Of course there were some strong prices achieved and very Good Luck to those concerned. And if a big price is an undeclared buy-back, let’s not get into a muck sweat. Provided that there was a real under-bidder, the sales company’s arithmetic would not change a great deal, whatever purists may prefer. There are more real under-bidders in the current new era.

For those breeders and other vendors recording staggering (that word again) losses, the soulsearching department amounts to “What am I doing?”
whereas the progressive department – admittedly with a huge cash flow question – amounts to “What can we do because the market will turn at some point?” In another column, we may address all of that…..

Of course we all know that something else that is “staggering” is the cost of selling in South Africa.

Grassy banked, sheep-grazed Wraysbury Reservoir next
to Heathrow.
Grassy banked, sheep-grazed Wraysbury Reservoir next
to Heathrow.

Hell’s Teeth, you try justifying to an overseas investor two entry fees instead of one (and one of them nonrefundable “up front” whether you get in or not) and a commission over 5 times that charged in Europe where the few remaining sales races cost vendors nothing and only cost buyers on a voluntary basis, staggered in optional forfeits over 6-9 months.

While “New” Bloodstock South Africa has made considerable improvements in its short tenure and cannot be blamed for “where we are”, and the CTS team held its nerve last January admirably, it is impossible not to lie back and think what might have happened if an international tender had been held. If any of those northern hemisphere sales companies had a look they would not have believed 8% commissions never mind the rest of it, even taking into account economies of scale. Having – shall we say – kept one or two of them simmering, I know.

By “simmering” I mean ready to consider cooperation with existing entities here, not competing aggressively which is not in anyone’s interests.

Meanwhile, one wonders about marketing policies. The National 2 Year Old Sale was surely a candidate for squads of university/college students to be shown round – as one sees on the quieter days at major sales in Europe – with explanations as to how these prices (“high” to most visitors) are justified, how careers under half a dozen different headings are available, and how it is endlessly possible to bond with 450-500 kg of thoroughbred. Whether this is a TBA or BSA or RA or Racing It’s a Rush or …….? matter is to be judged within a few months from now.

Catherine Hartley of the TBA has brought in groups under what is potentially an enlightened TBA budget. Half a dozen Catherines of whatever background with knowledgeable passion for the racehorse would benefit us greatly. Racing is not a Rush, whatever that even means, or a pole dance, it is a relationship with a fabulous equine athlete.

Which takes me all the way back to last week’s column about SA flag carriers in Europe. As noted by one or two correspondents, my point was that tilting at the Group 1 windmill is not the be all and end all.

Some time ago, I sat with SA friends watching a “SAF” filly run in a Group 1 in England. She did not win. My companions were shattered, or at least very disappointed. I was very proud of her run in that company and hoped for steady acclimatisation and improvement.

WHISKY BARON won The (inaugural) Sun Met in 2017 with a Racing Post rating of 112. In another sporting effort, arriving the “long way round”, he ran eight months later at Newmarket looking massive and not remotely coping with The Dip. Sent off to Meydan he did run to 108, but probably felt like “ess aitch one tee” and ran below par next time.

Bless ‘im. Having gone to William Haggas in Newmarket – trainer of the Kieswetters’ Group 1 winner Urban Fox – Whisky Baron ran an absolute blinder at Goodwood on Saturday finishing a very close 2nd (race rating 112) in a brilliantly contested finish in the Group 2 Celebration Mile, a seriously prestigious event. The Kieswetter family’s Barnane Stud colours flashed home going very close.

It is not my business, but having thought after Meydan grogginess that this might be a swan song, what about another effort? What stories to tell the next generation in South Africa?

But who will tell them? – tt.