Thoughts provoked by a TDN article – Turf Talk: 30 January 2017

Our horses are raised by professionals, and they compete successfully around the world. (Wayne Marks).

Our horses are raised by professionals, and they compete successfully around the world. (Wayne Marks).

IN the Thoroughbred Daily News (TDN) on Saturday 21 January – the day of the first evening session of the Cape Premier Yearling Sale – an American agent named Justin Casse wrote an article. It is a diary-type of piece about his visit to South Africa. Initially Mr Casse dwells very enthusiastically on the industry as it is practised in Australia – no doubt with good cause.

Moving from Australia on to South Africa, he continues: “There is a great disparity from the horses you will find in South Africa and there is nothing wrong with that. These aren’t professional sales horses in Cape Town; they are au natural. The amount of money they will bring and the amount of money that they will run for is considerably less than most places in the world (especially Australia). Sales horses in Australia, Europe and in North America are for the most part ‘professional’ sales horses, but in South Africa I believe the market of raising race horses is more of a hobby than a business.”

At the Allan Bloodlines table at the sales, we had people from Ireland, England, Scotland and South Africa. There was a howl of outrage at the article from one UK citizen (breeding in South Africa) not only on her own behalf but also on behalf of the studs at which she boards mares. The Scot, in perfect characterisation of the breed, muttered very darkly rather than howled. Someone sounding like me said “Screw that!”

Mr Casse is clearly not sniping with malicious in-tent, however he or his editor might have made it read as such in the particular paragraph. He sets forward arguments for doing business in/with South Africa that reflect his catching up with events and developments in the country – which is one of the intended effects of invitations to visit for the Sales.

And he signed for a Frankel at 4 million and a Trippi at 2 million which is a lot more than I did. (In defence, our 2 million budget was not enough for the several that we valued at that level and our purchase for a few hundred thousand was – I would say wouldn’t I ? – bloody good value).

Nevertheless, the South African stud farms with which we work and the stud farms whose owners and managers we know well are not hobbyists. They have bottom lines to which to work which are alarmingly, scarily threatened through disappoint-ing results at the dissipated run of too many (other) sales.

Farm cash flow is assisted by side businesses – perhaps flowers or meat or grapes or shavings – indicating enterprise, energy and a dedication to making it all work (to the bottom line).

If today were Day 1, sales reform and export/import flow would be described as two of the most excit-ing prospects in our industry and sport. But it is not Day 1, so a more apt description might be: two means to redress negative balances and get us back on (professional) track. Many are holding not only thumbs but also their breath.

From 2015 to 2016, no less than 11 consign-ors disappeared from the National Yearling Sales catalogue. There might have been one new one. That probably means the with-drawal of net 10 breeders who couldn’t make it work, not hobbyists who couldn’t be bothered any more.

Mr Casse may well be offering a compliment, unintentionally back-handed, by saying that the yearlings on offer at CPYS are not professional sales yearlings but are “au naturel”.

One would guess that means less intensely prepped. To some, that is a matter of considerable merit.

I happen to think that a certain Silvano colt at CPYS was/is one of the best colts in the sale but compared to others, he was, whilst gleaming with health, considerably underdone and more suited to a later sale. Buyers did not agree with me, wanting some-thing “earlier”.

In Australia, where Magic Millions has been offering yearlings at this extraordinarily early time for years, but also elsewhere at CPYS, there were earlier sorts aplenty.

But hang on a minute! If our SA yearlings are not professionally prepared, why are we even comparing? Are we operating in an isolated set of standards that is behind other nations? No.

“Buyers” visiting CPYS from overseas are generally agents/consultants with or without clients in attendance. Those people inspect top and middle range yearlings around the world and would all say this “When good SA horses have the opportunity to compete internationally, many of them do so very strongly”. And they might add “Having gone through a hell of a trial to get there in the first place”. How much higher would the flag be flown if they did not have to loaf around in lengthy lock down?

JAY PEG was raised on Hemel ‘n Aarde land. ASHAAWES at Oldlands Stud coincidentally in the same valley. Raised by hobbyists? Nope. Without being professionally prepared? Nope. Just start with the attention to soil and nutrition (without the benefit of Irish carpets of grass) and work from there.

Of course we must listen. We must compare. There is always room for improvement/development/staff training/experience/new kit but when we consider the lack of international interaction brought about by distance, AHS isolation and a weak currency making personnel ex-changes difficult, SA is producing proudly.

With streamlined sales and protocols facilitating exports that finance imports and exchanges, that great big African sky is the limit! – tt.