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Winning Choices

John Slade's less scientific approach certainly works


John Slade

Maine Chance Farms stud manager John Slade was a speaker at the Summerhill Winter Workshop held in at the stud farm’s renowned School Of Excellence this week, a few days after the farm achieved an international rarity by breeding the one-two-three of the country’s premier race, the Vodacom Durban July.

Furthermore, all of Power King, Punta Arenas and Tellina were by Maine Chance Farms’ champion stallion Silvano.

Slade has sometimes been driven to distraction by trainers who have pushed progeny of Silvano too early and by others who have given up on them too soon. He emphasised that they needed time and the dividends would then be reaped. All of Power King (four-year-old), Punta Arenas (six-year-old) and Tellina (four-year-old) have proved his point.

Slade admitted that delving deep into pedigrees to discover such elements as genetic siblings was usually above his head and he preferred a less scientific approach. He takes note of obvious nicks but a lot of his mating selections were simply based on it “feeling right”.

He is unmistakably a fine horseman and quickly learns which types of mares suit a particular stallion.

However, even a farm as professional as Maine Chance can make mistakes and their most famous one was when a particularly meticulous breeder sent two mares to be covered by Victory Moon and Silvano respctively. Slade knew well that on conformation the “scrawny” mare would suit Victory Moon and the “big” mare would suit Silvano. This coincided with the breeder’s reams of notes explaining why Victory Moon and Silvano would be perfect matches for her respective mares.

However, just after the first mating was completed, Slade suddenly realised that they had somehow got the mares mixed up. The mare was soon shown to be in foal, so the error could not be rectified. For some two years the breeder was unable to forgive Slade. However, the Silvano foal turned out to be Vodacom Durban July winner Heavy Metal.

Maine Chance scene

Slade with Glen Kotzen and Peter De Beyer at Maine Chance

Slade, like many breeders, has his own ideas on conformation. He is not too bothered by “offset knees”. He explained a trip to a game park will show that all impala have a knock knee look, meaning the knee can support the bodyweight from underneath. In his opinion an offset knee is often achieving the same thing. However, he regarded back legs in a straight line to be of importance. He concluded this section by saying, although perhaps slightly tongue in cheek, that due to all the power a horse with perfectly conformed hindquarters generated, the front legs would be going so fast they hardly touched the ground.

Slade regarded Maine Chance’s racing manager Justin Vermaak as a valuable asset to the farm as he was very much in touch with the modern world and was a dynamic type of a person and also more of a people’s person than himself.

Slade will soon be retiring and will be replaced by Tim Bootsma, who is currently stud manager at Highlands Farm Stud.


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2 comments on “Winning Choices

  1. Ian Jayes says:

    Since when has breeding thoroughbreds been an exact science? While there is a disproportionate amount of prizemoney for two- and three-year olds, with breeders and sales companies promoting it, how will the situation change? A lot of potentially good horses are messed-up before they are four-year-olds because of it.

  2. Louis Goosen says:

    Ian is correct, imho. Another growing trend is the Ready to Run concept which simply requires a rushed prep. Many Horses are forced into “flight mode” rather than brought along gently , within themselves. Whilst this results in a great gallop/breeze up, with an eye towards a bigger price at sales or greater profit to the “pinhookers” these horses are difficult to work with and often less successful racehorses due to their temperaments and long term soundness issues.

    Ultimately time is money for Owners and more so nowadays than in years gone by. The difficulty for Trainers will lie in exercising their judgement when it comes to allowing most horses the necessary time to develop and in communicating this to their Owners whilst also identifying the early types in time for the rich pickings of the 2 and 3 year old races.

    And most important will be the fact that we do not run livery yards, don’t just keep horses for the sake of filling stables. It’s all about a balance.

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