Q & A

Arising from a Racing Minds article also published in Turf Talk on 20 August 2020 under a different headline.

Thanks for a good article on breeding hurdles facing the SA racing industry. What is your comment on the new export levy that has been imposed on breeders whether they export or not?

For breeders, I think there is every justification for us to make a contribution but not breeders alone. SAEHP had to adjust itself big time with the exit of M Jooste and the removal of Chris van Niekerk, urged by other SAEHP members on the grounds of his association with M Jooste (old wars). Not long after, its sources of income dried up. So someone/something had to keep it going because – win, lose or draw – its work is at a way higher quality level than anything pre-2017.

Whether a given breeder exports or not (and only a minority will do so if EU lifts barriers, and – the next “if” – we can later export directly to Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore etc in the future), any positive impact on the market of increased demand from overseas should, in theory, benefit all commercial sellers, and would certainly boost prices of some non-exports.

More broadly, the biggest boost from EU audit approval will be in horses in training, not yearlings. Not only that, SAF bred horses will be able to compete at high levels overseas (and come back home, all in the same sort of time as for any other racing nation) thus flying the flag more effectively than the (waning) presence in Dubai. That will create all sorts of interactions, all of which should enhance the attraction of buying baby racehorses (from breeders).

Also an improved move although one poorly explained, is the latest figure of R1645 incl VAT. This is less than the combination of R878 (ERC) and R1150 (SAEHP) that we all paid in 2019. The on/off/on again management of the whole thing is undiplomatic (although it includes COVID-related relief efforts) but the levy has come down a little which deserves recognition.

Finally, why breeders only? The argument (and the valid point that you make) is that non-exporters are paying for exporters. I am saying that there is an overall benefit as there is in any racing and breeding nation especially UK where over 30 nationalities attend (or buy through agents at) the biggest horses in training sales and other sales, thus making the market for an array of domestic sellers and lifting the market for domestic to domestic transactions. When I am buying for South Africa or Central Asia, I am competing with Australians, Americans, Middle East for the Carnival and UK jumping trainers.

The big SA battalions are the more likely exporters but they also have the most foals to register thus contributing more. It is very difficult to argue that “richer” breeders should pay more per foal.

However, SA racehorse owners will benefit in revenues from (some of) their good horses sold overseas (and thus lift the value of those that stay at home but could still be sold). In years gone by, several UK jumps trainers would focus on SA stayers to take north to go hurdling – a very nice little earner. However, racehorse owners in SA are not a pro-active, cohesive body. And in general, they leave way more to their trainers than owners elsewhere who are, after all, the bosses. But owners and/or trainers should have to help this cause in some way as well, perhaps via the RA.

My opinions only.  – DA

Question for you. Would it be wrong to refer to Elusive Fort as a ‘filly sire’? Although he has a decent strike rate with his colts, all but two of his stakes winners have been fillies. He’s such an underrated stallion, pity our breeders have neglected him.

As his Syndicate Manager, I suggest that it is wrong to call him a filly sire and only perpetuates a popular conception (in a market place in which the people rarely change their minds). On the contrary, in many markets, he would be treasured because he sires good fillies thus counterbalancing the usual bias against fillies at the sales.

His colts v fillies career statistics are almost identical. He has sired 3 x Grade 1 winners (all young horses by the way, not 5-year-old geldings) of which 2 have been fillies and 1 a colt (actually a gelding but a 3yo gelding).

In his early crops, the stakes winners were mostly fillies but more evenly shared  recently.

I wouldn’t say our breeders have neglected him – until last season – but “our breeders” then “neglected” a long list of stallions in favour of just a few favoured at the sales more or less irrespective of matings analysis. The polarisation or what I call “sire-centricity” towards a few is a chickens and eggs situation of buyers only wanting a few and breeders thus queueing up for a few. I exaggerate a little to make the point.

SA uniquely having trainers as selectors and buyers pushes us towards even greater polarisation. Some are indeed expert selectors, some not. They have their own opinions. Many say “my owners only want one by …..” (even if only 3 legs) or “I can’t put one together unless it’s by …..”.  There is no layer of bloodstock consultants doing all the selecting and buying for owner clients with or without the involvement of a trainer (or if the trainer is leading the purchase, acting for such a trainer who is too busy training to visit sales more than quickly). That layer – which looks at every single yearling in every single sale – is far more likely to treat (on a given budget) each individual on its own merits.

Elusive Fort, having covered books in the 60s then 82, had 3 x Full Books years of 118, 112, 106 mares covered (the third of those years would have also been 112 but for late dropouts). Then while those products were on the boil on the ground or in utero, he did indeed slip back with this “sire of fillies” label which I would regard as a positive assessment of siring good fillies rather than the glass-half-empty merchants who interpret it as not a sire of colts without looking properly at the sample, just the best of the fillies.

His 34 winners since the restart are a good mix of juveniles or just turned 3 of both sexes and some older ones still going.  The reason for him being No1 in this young season and having finished last season so strongly is the better mated ones amongst those Full Books coming through.

The drawback with him and with a few others is that he is not seen as a sire of 2-year-olds i.e. there will be a long wait – especially in South Africa where (in a normal year) yearlings are sold much farther in advance of being in full training than elsewhere. That being said, there are trainers who love their Elusive Forts and are happy to wait – with the support of owner who are either expert themselves or accept the recommendation for patience.

Now we can see that a larger proportion of his recent winners have been juveniles (or just turned 3 this month).

Sorry…more words than you bargained for….but I go into bat for our boy and am especially looking forward to his success as a broodmare sire down the line with Sadler’s Wells, Fall Aspen (therefore Fort Wood) and that E family going the job.

The Cape Breeders survey shows that 400 mares less than last year will be covered in 2020. The SA foal production figures have been falling rapidly from around 3,000 in 2016 to around 2,000 born in 2018 suggesting maybe 1700 born in 2019, 1500 in 2020 and ?? born in 2021.  (There are only 547 2019 foals registered so far – in August – which is dealt with in my article in Turf Talk yesterday http://www.turftalk.co.za/newsletters/ttnews20200820.pdf. (Headline not mine but…). It also deals with my pet hate – Annual Mare Registration an uniquely SA feature.

With or without (but likely with) EU’s removal of the ball and chain, and with a new administrative approach after the destructive Phumelela years, it is surely the time to be building up as a breeder, not cutting back as so many are. Including by sending several to Elusive Fort. – DA

Dear Mr Allan. You said once on TV that in South Africa running in maidens is bad for owners. What did you mean?

Not “bad” as in awful, I did not mean to say that. But I do mean that it is a recipe for disappointment more often than not.

If you run in maidens until you win one or give up, you can be waiting a long and expensive time. I have seen plenty of cases of owners getting disillusioned with not winning and “finishing with” young horses whose lack of performance is also a great disappointment to the breeder.

Once a horse has a merit rating (= handicap mark), it should be used if it is fair or advantageous. If that mark is high, it should mean that you can win a maiden fairly soon anyway. But most marks are not at the top therefore a horse entered in a maiden will automatically have other better rated horses against him or her at level weights. That is a depressing prospect and contradicts the art of good placement. So many times one looks for an entrant in a maiden and know that there is no chance at all, other than by surprise development or better rated horses running disappointingly – i.e. a lottery.

The majority of horses winning for the first time in (say) UK do NOT do so in maidens. They do so in handicaps or Classified Stakes. Coincidentally our 3 year old did exactly that this month. He needs a long trip so his efforts in early maidens were way off the pace and we got him out as soon as he got a handicap mark (after three maidens). He won in his fifth race with a low mark and is improving for greater distance.

Trainers in South Africa tell me that (a) the handicap system is not to be trusted – well fix it! Plenty of countries bring in overseas professional handicappers to organise their ratings systems if the local talent really is below par and/or (b) with a low (advantageous) mark, you often cannot get into races.

That point (b) is of course unarguable by me or anyone else. But – again – is that not fixable? Wouldn’t a racing programme with lot of competitive handicaps (including maiden handicaps) with moving form figures be more stimulating for racegoers and punters rather than maiden after maiden after maiden? Anything is better for (say) a filly with a decent page than “Ran 22 times (all in maidens) placed 6 times”. With a revamped programme, surely she could be a winner and give greater delight to racing’s stakeholders all round.

A really positive aspect of SA racing – especially for fillies – is the respect given to multiple winners. In many places with strong stud books, one win is enough and no point in going on. Either go on to get black type or stop there if going to breed because otherwise you prove she cannot get black type. In South Africa a three or four times non-black type winner is afforded good respect which is a nice feature. As an outlook or philosophy, it fits with the need (under international pressure) to reduce the high percentage of black type races available in SA, and encourages selectors to look hard at the ratings in the pedigree. A three times winner in the 90s is a lot stronger than a filly who has fluked black type in some sort of strange Listed handicap off bottom weight.

Running in handicaps instead of maidens is surely an earlier path to success for many.