David Allan on the Cape Premier Sale

It doesn’t take much to make this grown man cry.  Land of My Fathers in Welsh at the Millennium Stadium –  Apollo 13 after the 4th re-entry minute – Angela Gheorghiu singing Vissi d’Arte – Kramer v Kramer the ultimate Dad’s film – Aldaniti’s Grand National – you name it…….BLUB!

So it was no great surprise, with South Africa under my skin since the 1960s and a huge sense of commitment to our SA bloodstock industry, when I welled up watching the Opening Ceremony at the inaugural Cape Premier Yearling Sale (“CPYS”) within the International Convention Centre bang in the middle of Cape Town on 27th-28th January.  After a statesmanlike but thoroughly unstuffy address by the Provincial Premier, Helen Zille, the videos of South African horse after South African horse scoring heavy duty international success took me to the brink and the beautifully sung multi-lingual national anthem – which unlike many of its genre is a lovely song – pushed me over the edge.  Songs do that.  BLUB!

But as I snatched up and shook my head, I caught sight of some companions.  At the Allan Bloodlines tables were a dozen bloodstock professionals from the UK and USA whom we had convened after meetings with and support from the CPYS Task Team and brought to the country, nearly all for the first time.  Why were some of them wiping away tears as well?  One summed it up later:  “What the hell was I doing getting emotional??  But you could feel the pride in the room”.

The pride in the room was indeed palpable. But the pride beyond that was justifiable pride in the realisation of a vision.  In the middle of a substantial city, in air conditioned comfort, 270 largely very well behaved yearlings were stabled.  This writer skipped the sponsored trip up Table Mountain, one of a series of extraordinarily generous events that had newcomers in a state of delight.  Yoshi went with our group and took another hundred photos but I wanted to reconnoitre the venue.  What good is a tour guide if he doesn’t know his way around?  And, anyway, it was a great way to greet good friends amongst the early arriving consignors.

Having half-expected to find a quart squeezed into a pint pot, I grinned broadly on seeing not alleys between facing rows of stables but boulevards.  Eight metres of yawning gap – more flat surface than at the Nationals unless you are on the front of H Block or Scotts or Wilgerbosdrift – and with rubberised matting over carpet tiles.  Pride indeed!  Here was something to report to our group who all mouthed their own version of “Wow” on arrival.  And as befits an international convention centre, the café area, booths, be-curtained cocktail party space and the enormous sales arena itself were high tech and high quality.

The investment of money, time, energy-in-design and logistics that brought about the CPYS and the week of events around it must have been colossal.

It was fascinating during viewing to see how the various studs, with whose drafts we are generally familiar, had approached the equivalent of a Northern Hemisphere yearling sale in June when none takes place before July (considered very early), and most are September/October.  Magic Millions in Queensland is earlier and provides the model.  And in any event, horsepeople can “look through” the time of the year to see what they believe a horse will be like when started perhaps a lengthy six or seven months later.

Consider this.  Some of the yearlings on sale were only 14 months old.  One we bought was 15 months old.  This filly out of a full sister to Champion and Breeders Cup winner Sheikh Albadou, with a black type sibling, will change three times over before we get to grips with her.  Yet arguably the bedrock of British and Irish sales are the foal (weanling) sales when 1600 youngsters (in a year of reduced production) went through the ring at Tattersalls and Goffs in November.  The eldest are nearly 11 months old.  Perhaps 90% are bought by pin-hookers in pursuit of their main business – to resell as yearlings 9 or 10 months later and then spend the proceeds on the next round of foals.

And all 1600 of those foals have been prepped to stride out, turn and stand and made strong enough to go in and out of their box rapid fire during inspections, vettings and scopings by endless squads of pin-hookers in the most workmanlike of all sales. The Magic Millions model aside, Northern Hemisphere eyes are cleared and brains are enlightened when absorbing the fact that not only is the CPYS midway between a foal market and a later yearling market, but also that in this case there is no foal market in terms of sales prep.  Some would argue that is better for the horses.  Others might encourage more pin-hooking to give the resultant increased investment an “out”.  Either way, a nice horse is a nice horse and it helps to know the background.

After “working the sale” and taking all this into account, our short lists were about the same size as they would be at other high quality sales.  We then run the genetics of the best individuals thus cutting down the numbers again.  There were some very nice horses to see, resulting not only in plenty of seven figure prices including from overseas but also a very solid looking feel for the sale once it got into its stride.

The nice horses were no surprise to us but we have been around for a good long time….

Bear in mind that one USA-based visitor whom we met had barely known that there was a breeding industry in South Africa.  Consider the extent of the impact on him, as achieved by the promotion.  From Zero to Triple Wow in one move.  This is the essence of the marketing.  Our group of people trusted Allan Bloodlines’ enthusiasm having heard it and seen it on the website for years and came to witness it.  Others knew about Jay Peg and the other boys and girls, but not a lot more.  Now they know.

The auctioneers had never worked the room before.  Actually not “room” but yawning hi-tech cavern of dozens of generously stocked tables.  Alcohol is not allowed in other sales arenas, but that’s a moot point when it is available elsewhere on site.  It is tricky to wait until after the sale when the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinotage are delicious, and naturally the sales company would like buyers to get carried away as would some table hosts.

Some sales companies plan for post-racing evening sessions in the hope that attendees are well-oiled and others often have rip-roaring evening sessions anyway, so it is tantamount to the same thing.  But the auctioneers coped well, rightly warning beforehand that people must bid clearly because (in so many words) the coverage area was vast.  The cry from a strong bidder against us of “Wrong horse” brought wry amusement and adroit recovery, and other glitches were remarkably few.  On the first night, the festival feeling and unfamiliarity made for a sticky start as all concerned wrestled with that word “inaugural”, perhaps on occasions clouded by a potential passport to the Nationals for those not reaching their reserves.  If that was one of a thousand decisions made in translating the vision to reality, it was one of very few indeed that bears review.

Soon the auction settled, becoming far more pacy on the second night and impressing all in attendance with the proceedings.  The brilliant John O’Kelly was back on the Tattersalls rostrum a few days later with no shortage of remarks about this writer’s gaudy Bloodstock South Africa hat as Allan Bloodlines bid for plenty and bought eight.  Many people on the Newmarket sale ground had something to say about having been to Cape Town or having not been to Cape Town!

The Cape Premier Yearling Sale was a vision that has been brought to impressive reality by a Task Team that included the visionaries and other energetic contributors seconded to it becoming its core driving force.   With Bloodstock South Africa appointed to support the effort and run the auction, that Task Team’s achievement in entering a new, bare boards city venue a couple of days before selling, undertaking a major internal construction exercise complete with all the logistics of bringing in and stabling 270 baby horses, showing them, not letting any loose, seeing most of them very relaxed in the unique environment, selling them and getting out of there is surely unsurpassed.

David Allan – Allan Bloodlines
UK tel: 01932 350660
UK cell: 07774 697640
SA cell: 072 740 9061 (or Joanne on 083 399 6353)

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