Feb 25, 2011


International racing and stallion shuttles have advanced from "wave of the future" to a new way of doing business. After decades of isolation South Africa wants in.

As an invitee to Cape Town's finest hour of sales and graded racing I was duly impressed by the quality of the runners and the enthusiasm of the 50,000 odd patrons who cheered them on.

Scotch distiller J&B sponsored the racing at Kenilworth, a world class facility a few miles from downtown Cape Town. "The Met" is contested over 10 furlongs of turf and was taken down this year with a gritty performance by 20-to-1 chance Past Master, a son of the prolific Jet Master. Jet Master is a grandson of Northern Dancer and he came to the fore in part by accident as happens on occasion in Thoroughbred breeding.

Jet Master was the subject of a difference of opinion between a husband and wife when sent through a yearling sale. The man did not wish to own the horse but the wife did. He put a $10,000 limit on the bidding, the wife went to $15,000 and secured the horse and he wouldn't speak to her for a week, so the story went on S. Africa television.

Jet Master won 17 of 24 starts to earn a chance at stud and he has flourished at distances from six to 10 furlongs.

TBA officials deemed the week a smashing success in the sales ring and at the track.
Hopes are high that administrative issues can be resolved soon that will reduce lengthy quarantines of up to 90 days trimmed to a fortnight. Horsemen there support creation of a $1-2 million US international race once protocols are in place to eliminate the scourge of African sleeping sickness.

The sale was a two day affair and most folks seemed optimistic about its maiden voyage in the indoor arena of a convention center. Close attention was paid to the progeny of Trippi, a bonafide success in America who figures to show his stuff early as a son of the speedy End Sweep, himself exported to good effect in Japan.

The bidding took some time to heat up but John O'Kelly arrived on the rostrum to show the way. The Brussels resident is a fixture at European auctions and I consider him the greatest showman cum salesman in the game. I was selling horses at Newmarket under our Four Star Sales banner when John continually pulled rabbits from hats.

On one occasion he plied bids from a trio of buyers, a Frenchman, an Argentine and an Englishman, all in their native tongue and without missing a beat. Whoever signed up O'Kelly ought to get a medal.

Past Master has been dominant sire for a number of years in S. Africa, accounting for no less than 31 yearlings catalogued at the sale put on for the first time by the Thoroughbed Breeders Association.

Golf great Gary Player had three by Jet Master and another by Fort Wood (sire of Horse Chestnut) in the sale. A regular visitor to Lexington over the years due to his passion for Thoroughbreds, he was not on the premises due to a golf commitment in Abu Dabhi.

A former Lexingtonian named Rachel Harrington looks after the Player yearlings.
A mare bred by Player won the last race on The Met card with a 6-year-old mare named Sangria Girl who captured the G II Reserve Stayer. The winner was sired by onetime US stallion Wolfhound who once stood at Lane's End in Kentucky

As we boarded the bus to leave I congratulated Rachel and berated myself that I had let a longshot get away. Enough J&B clouded my mind enough
to miss the fact that Sangria Girlwas 20-to-1

"All you had to do was ask,"said Rachel. " We won this race last year and had pointed her for this race."

The day concluded with some intramural festivities whereby a sizeable portion of the crowd doffs their kit (that's the way they talk) and sprint (if you could call it that) down the stretch to the winning post. Merciful darkness fell.

My travelling companion was Pam Parker, a noteworthy artist and photographer back in Seattle. We spent the next three days sampling the South African culture in 80 degree weather while the US was in a deep freeze. We puzzled over penguins walking along the beach in such heat. The horses were impressive, as was the wine, the food, the hospitality, mountains, beaches.

Some business was done. I made a fairly limp bid on Hip 126 because I used to own her kin Mille et Une. She brought $90,000 US.

Countryman Barry Irwin bought seven for his partners and Irish horsemen Ben McElroy bought a pair meant for Irish interests.