Drakenstein Stud Farm scheduled their annual stallion viewing for 31 August 2018. As such, last Friday found me staring into my cupboard willing inspiration (or failing that, clean laundry) to strike.
Spending the bulk of my life behind a desk means that I’ve had rather less time to develop my skills of selecting the right outfit for the various social occasions that life throws my way (why can’t everyone just wear jods?) and it’s been my experience – fanciful or not – that certain places confound the weatherman and seem to have their own weather.
Drakenstein Stud Farm is one such place. By that, I don’t mean that the weather is necessarily always mild – it isn’t – but it certainly always manages to be spectacular. Ah well, they do say there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes!
Jack Frost attempted to throw a grey blanket across the skies and a light drizzle followed us up the N1, but with the snow gone from the mountain tops, the mercury crept up to a comfortable 14 degrees and it was clear winter had lost its teeth.
Winds of Change
Someone recently sent me something of a treatise on change – or disruption – as most people are referring to it these days. While I do welcome new things, I don’t always like old ones changing. Particularly once one has got used to places and people and horses and they have become friends, because Lord knows there are few enough of those around. But life only has space for so much, so change they must. Which was part of the reason for the visit. As winter gives way to spring, the old makes way for the new and while my charming friend Kingsbarns was no longer in residence, we were there to celebrate the arrival of Gold Standard.
The day is one of my favourites on the calendar, probably because despite officially being classified as ‘work’, it feels like a Proper Day Out from start to finish. It’s just up the road from where I live (hurrah), it’s a pretty drive and in addition to the lovely horses and scenery, there are always lots of favourite people in attendance too and perhaps the best compliment that I can pay the very fabulous Drakenstein team, is that it is a day I ALWAYS look forward to.
The first day at school vibe starts in the Franschhoek Motor Museum car park with hugs and hellos and chats that continue in the tram all the way up to the stabling complex, where we’re greeted by the lovely Drakenstein team to collect our name badges and offered the opportunity to nail our allegiances to the mast and select a cap bearing the name of our favourite Drakenstein stallion (or for more serious collectors, a chance to procure any missing ones from their set). Then it’s a short walk up to and through the covering barn to join the assembly and continue our conversations over warming cups of coffee and rusks. No bluster, no extravagant tinsel or fuss – just a warm, South African welcome, presided over by Nic Fiddian Green’s gorgeous Roman Horse bronze.
The format is a simple, but a winning one – provide the platform and let the horses do the talking. It is part showcase (of course), part celebration and part thanks, but as always, it is 100% wonderful. It is hard to believe Drakenstein has only been breeding for 15 years and in an industry that does not easily embrace newcomers (perhaps I’m not the only anti-change agent after all!), the stallions, their achievements – and more importantly, the contribution they represent – are the real testament to just how far they’ve come. There is no question they are family and that’s exactly what the gathering feels like.
First to greet the audience was Philanthropist, who seems to grow more elegant and balanced with every passing year. With Singapore Sling adding the Gr1 Hong Kong Classic to his CV, gone the horse of a few years ago, nervous, sweaty and unsure of his new surroundings and in his place a confident, internationally recognised sire, secure that he has fully justified his slot on the Drakenstein stallion roster. The imposing son of Kris S stands for a cover fee of R30k.
Duke Of Marmalade
Next on show, Duke Of Marmalade. It is fitting that this horse comes with a title built in, as he has a demeanor to match. As a racehorse, the Duke won 5 consecutive G1’s in his 2008 term, earning him praise for his toughness and strong constitution, with the racing press referring to him as the “Iron Duke”. Trainer Aidan O Brien concurred, offering the wonderful soundbyte that “if good horses were made of concrete or stone, this one is made from something harder.” The Duke has proven himself on the track and he’s proven himself in the Coolmore breeding shed and what his piercing stare tells you is that frankly, that ought to be enough. But with his first runners hitting the South African market (often a far more capricious mistress), he has fired some serious shots across the boughs – with his 2yo’s, if you please. He commands – and I use the term deliberately! – a service fee of R80k.
2015 Horse Of The Year, Futura, is now an 8yo and has let down into a worthy contender as a successor to his multiple champion sire, Dynasty. With his first crop now officially yearlings, and nothing but praise rolling in from those shrewd enough to have supported him from the first bell, it will be exciting to see them led through our sales rings next year. There is no such thing as a racing certainty – and less so when it comes to the breeding game – but if they run as good as they look, there are exciting times ahead. He is still available at a very attractive R20k.
What A Winter
SA Champion sprinter, What A Winter’s first two crops have landed running and catapulted him to the echelons of the top10 ten sire rankings. He is good looking, he is speedy and as his progeny attest, he does what it says on the tin. I loved his feat of producing the winners of both the colts and fillies Cape Nurseries earlier this year, and with What A Winter doing some of his best work as an older horse, there promises to be plenty more to come from his progeny. As an added bonus, his get come with his hallmark temperament so in addition to being profitable, are just plain nice to be around. Grab him – if you’re quick – at R75k live foal.
With Horse Chestnut tearing sods down the racetrack in the sky, Trippi is Drakenstein’s senior statesman and he wears his office well. At 21 years old, he is only just starting to mellow, and even then, is not making too many concessions to age – and even less to his neighbours in the stallion barn. As Kevin Sommerville noted, a lot has been said about Trippi over the years, and he’s proved most of it wrong. He was expertly led out by Schedrick Oerson, who handled Horse Chestnut for all those years, and it clear the two share a similarly good rapport. Trippi paused to pose regally for a few moments and allow us to take in his lovely head and large, knowing eyes. ‘Big’ horses know they are special and it is always a privilege to be in their presence.
I noticed a few small patches where the coat on his face is so fine, it looks worn through and it reminded me of the Velveteen Rabbit and how one becomes real. “It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.” Drakenstein’s big little horse has ‘become’ in no uncertain terms. Named SA Champion sire for 2015/16 and with the stakes winners still arriving on a regular basis, Trippi pretty much sells himself – although you’ll need to apply to the DFS team to enquire about his fee and availability. Which brings us neatly to Gold Standard.
While the tried, tested and established are vitally important, it is the future that occupies so much of our thoughts. Every year, breeders put the best to the best in the hopes of breeding a better horse than last year. The odds are against us, and the statistics show that for the most part we fail, but we keep trying in the hopes that the gods will smile and we’ll produce a horse as good as the sire – or possibly better. While I might shrink from making extravagant predictions, Drakenstein are made of sterner stuff. They are throwing their weight behind the 115 rated Gold Standard, not only as a sire in his own right, but also as a potential successor to Trippi. They’ve even trusted him to Schedrick to care-take too. It is a bold move, as Gold Standard promised much on the track, but lacked the bit of luck and fair wind required to garner the record everyone so fervently believed him capable of. However, as we know, fortune and the racing gods in particular, favour the brave.
Gold Standard is certainly attractive to look at. Taller and standing over more ground than Trippi, he also has a longer, more ‘English’ head, evoking comparisons with New South Wales, who was statistically speaking, one of the most successful sires to grace a breeding shed in South Africa. Fresh from the training yards and unacquainted with his new job spec, he stood equitably to be looked over and measured at close quarters and seems to have a good temperament. For those who like tilting at windmills, his T’s & C’s are available on application.
For those who wanted to have a closer look at their favourite favourite, there was a chance to look the stallions over at close quarters in their stables and then we all boarded the trams and adjourned to the admin buildings for one of Drakenstein’s famous hearty lunches. The Graaff Reinet venison pie alone is Once Upon A Time in Mexico, shoot-the-chef level excellent, but with favourites like malva pudding on offer for afters, again, it felt like coming home for the holidays.
Gaynor – and the entire team – are incredibly warm and generous with their hospitality. There was a brief welcome, a fabulous stallion video and Gaynor’s thanks to everyone for attending was rounded off with the invitation to enjoy and stay as long as you like. So we did.
This is a very special time of the year – with the new crop arriving and the next one being planted, the world seems alive with possibility and promise. It always puts me in mind of that wonderful Ed Dunlop quote that, “It’s always possible – it is not LIKELY but it is unquestionably possible – that one of them, almost any one of them, could be the greatest horse that has ever set foot on a racetrack. You know that almost certainly this will not be the case. But you cannot say it is impossible.”
Pondering those imponderables as we made our way reluctantly home, it seemed prescient that the sun broke through the clouds to see us out through the gates.