ANTON SHEPHERD was born into the racing game on the breeding side of the business. His father was one of the founder members of Knavesmire Stud and he grew up watching greats like Prince Florimund, Hawkins, Wichita, Last Dance and War Ribbon. He makes no secret of the fact that he is absolutely thrilled to have bred a horse of VARIETY CLUB’S class. From the moment Anton saw the colt he knew he was something special and immediately phoned Pippa Mickleburgh to tell her about the lovely colt. It has been a fairytale for him from that moment onwards. Although VARIETY CLUB should still give Anton, and all racegoers, many a thrill starting with the Gold Challenge this Saturday, it is certain that Anton’s ambition is on breeding many more ‘VARIETY CLUB’S’. South Africa is blessed to have many wonderful breeders, of which Anton rates amongst the best.
What is your name and age? Anton Shepherd, I am 42 years of age.
What is your star sign and birthdate? Capricorn, 25/12/1969.
Where were you born? Stellenbosch.
Where do you live? Beaumont Stud, in Paarl.
Tell us about your family? Dominique is my wife and I have three kids, India-15 years old, Cameron-13 years old and Arabella-6 years of age.
Do you have a ‘nickname’? Sheppie.
Favourite food? Curry.
Favourite drink? Red wine.
Favourite music? 80’s music.
Favourite sport? Rugby, cricket and horse racing.
Are you interested in soccer and if so, which is your favourite soccer team? Growing up I loved Man United (they weren’t as popular as they are now).
What is your favourite holiday destination? Thailand, Zanzibar and Kleinmond.
Which school did you attend and how keen were you on schoolwork? Paul Roos Gymnasium, Stellenbosch – just did enough to pass.
Which sports did you play and which did you excel in? Played rugby, cricket, tennis, but unfortunately, not golf. Loved all sports and all lower teams, however!
As a youngster were you more interested in horse racing or the breeding of racehorses? Loved them both, you can’t have one without the other.
Do you have a favourite Durban July winner of all time? Politician beating Beau Art. I know it’s not the July but Mark Anthony winning the Met by 7 lengths. My grandfather who wasn’t meant to bet slipped me R500 to punt him.
Tell us about some of the top horses bred at Beaumont Stud when you were a youngster? My dad was one of the founder members of Knavesmire Stud so I grew up watching Prince Florimund, Hawkins, Wichita, Last Dance, War Ribbon, etc. Later Ilifa, Bishop of Bombay, etc.
Did you start working full-time on the stud after you left school or did you study for a while? I did two years in the army with 1 SAI BN. Stellenbosch University of 4 years where I stayed in Wilgenhof res, which was special, my son must go there! I did a three year course studying Business Economics.
Who had the biggest influence on you as a breeder and what are some of the more valuable lessons you have learned about breeding? Obviously, my dad and also Godfrey Gird. My mom was always passionate about breeding, always reading catalogues. Bill Nelson later in life also taught me a lot. Take nothing for granted, my first year after varsity with my first crop I topped the nationals averages and Stanley Bennet told me how well I had done, but to enjoy the moment as it probably wouldn’t last. I really thought it was easy, but next year I averaged 25K! Take nothing for granted!
Is it safe to say that VARIETY CLUB is the best horse ever bred at Beaumont Stud. His success story is a book on its own. Would you say that it could be down to the fact that you are a big fan of Secret Prospector? I loved Secret Prospector. Had he not died prematurely, he would have been a legend. He does throw temperament though, so you have to be careful. He is certainly the best I have bred. For my dad, Prince Florimund was brilliant, I think we still have a way to go, but Variety Club is only a three year old, so things are looking good.
Adding to the story was the fact that you were able to buy VARIETY CLUB’s dam, La Massine, at a Maine Chance broodmare sale. Do you consider it a really lucky break that a mare of La Massine’s pedigree came up for sale? Absolutely, she is a ¾ sister to Secret Rites as well as being a granddaughter of Novenna, who has scope and is classy to boot.
After producing Rhythmically (Mauritian Horse of the year) by Joshua Dancer, and La Destina, by Restructure, you sent La Massine to Avontuur where she was covered by Var. At that stage Var was still relatively unproven as a sire. What made you send her to Var? The mare always threw lots of scope. If you put the two of them together you could imagine something good coming out.
Legend has it that on the birth of VARIETY CLUB you immediately phoned Pippa Mickleburgh at Avontuur to tell her that the colt was something special. What made you think he was special directly at birth. Was it all plain sailing for him, from that point onwards? The really good ones are different from the gun, stronger, full of class they even stand up quicker!
VARIETY CLUB was catalogued on the 2010 Equimark Vintage Sale and caught the eye of trainer Joey Ramsden. His sale price was R425 000 and he went to trainer Joey Ramsden for owner’s Ingrid and Markus Jooste. Going to a top owner and trainer must have given you great hope for his future. How closely did you monitor his progress from that point onwards? We always thought he would be a top horse so it was with great excitement that we followed him. We have always seemed to do well with Joey. Bill Nelson had bred and bought a lot of good horses from us that went to Joey, Kipketer, Steiger, etc. so Joey always came back to the well. It is wonderful having horses with top owners and trainers as you know these horses want for nothing and have the best chance of making it.
He went on to win his debut on 12 February 2011. Were you on course to see him win and what was the feedback from his trainer and jockey? Unfortunately not, but I spoke to Joey and Glen Hatt soon after and Glen told me he thought he was the best 2 year old he had ever ridden.
After winning his second start he took on Gimmethegreenlight and Depardieu in the Somerset Stakes and ran third, beaten just under two lengths. He then started having starting stalls problems. Whose decision was it to use the ‘horse whisperer’ Malan to work with him to overcome this nasty habit that could have had a really bad effect on his career? Once again top owner and trainer, their horses have the best of everything.
Is it safe to say that VARIETY CLUB is playing a very big part in your life right now? Would you be asking these questions if the mare aborted to Var in 2007!
He recently won the KRA Guineas at Greyville and contests this Saturday’s Gold Challenge, also over a mile. Victory in this race will surely prove that he is the country’s top miler. How is his well-being and do you make him the horse to beat? I sincerely hope so, as at this level every race is hard, so many proven top horses in the race with good Gr 1 form.
Which other horses from Beaumont Stud do you think the public can follow with interest? We have a good 2 year old in Durban with Gavin van Zyl, called Lizzy Grey who looks very promising as well as a couple of unraced babies to look forward to.
Luck surely plays a big part in breeding. However, science has a lot to do with it. How big a part do you think breeders’ instincts play into breeding a champion? I like to breed a horse that looks like it can run more so than “paper” breeding. If your instinct tells you that a certain mare needs something from a stallion you must go with that.
How many mares do you have on the stud right now? 28, at the moment.
Do you ever travel overseas in search of broodmares? No.
Is it feasible to buy mares overseas, considering that the rand is so weak against the dollar? No, not if you are trying to do this on a commercial basis.
How many Group 1 winners have you bred? 4.
Who was the first horse to win a Group race for Beaumont Stud? Brave Voyager in the SA Nursery.
How many winners have you bred at Beaumont Stud? I have no idea.
What was the first winner for Beaumont Stud? Witch Hunt – first runner and first foal out of Wichita by Dowdstown Charley.
Do you have a favourite stallion? Dynasty.
Do you have a soft spot for any broodmare in particular? Yes, the first mare I ever bought with money given to me by my grandmother (she raced Last Dance), a mare called Queen of Swing, growing up an old grey mare called Fleur.
Which stallion in your opinion will fill the gap that is left by the passing of the great sire Jet Master? Dynasty.
Which stallion would you say is the best that has ever sired yearlings in South Africa? Royal Prerogative.
How many of your mares are in foal right now and which of the big name stallions are they in foal to? 25, we like to spread them out a bit.
Do you have any promising foals that the public could look forward to seeing on the racetrack? Of course! A very nice Dynasty colt, a Count Dubois filly and some Seventh Rocks that look like they can run.
Do you sell all your fillies or do you race some of them in your name with the view to bringing them back to stud, if they are successful racehorses? Mostly sell, buy later what I want. I do like the old families, there is nothing better than looking at a 5th generation family mare.
At this stage has the very restrictive import-export controls had any effect on your breeding operation? Yes, it is much harder to sell our product than it should be.
Apart from seeing horses you bred winning and giving pleasure to owners, what other aspect of horse racing gives you the most pleasure? Good horses and good people doing well.
Did Beaumont Stud have any horses at The National Yearling sale? If so, what was your most promising yearling and what was your top price? R230 000 for a Dynasty colt to Mike Bass who has also been a very loyal supporter of the farm for a long time. We had a lovely Windrush colt at the Cape Premier Yearling Sale, sold to Fred Crabbia for Greg Ennion.
With regards to the Cape Premier Yearling Sale, do you think it has had a positive or negative impact for breeders and what damage do you think it has done to The National Yearling Sale? Short-term pain,
long-term gain. Competition has always been a good thing.
What is Beaumont Stud’s record sale price? 800k.
In the current KZN Winter Season what horses would you say other than VARIETY CLUB will play a big part? Jackson and Ilha Bela.
With feed costs, stallion fees and the prices of things in general rising dramatically, how tough is it for breeders to produce the best yearlings? There are 1/3 less breeders than there were 10 years ago, extremely difficult.
You have been on course most times when VARIETY CLUB has won. When you go to the racetrack do you like to have a punt? Yes, but not bigger than R200.
Have you any ideas as to how to bring more people, be they owners, punters or generally just those who like to watch horse racing, back to the racecourses? I must be honest, no. I thought the craft market idea at Turffontein the last time I was there seemed to work quite well. Maybe we should try and piggy back off something else.
Your involvement in your breeding probably takes up most of your time but is there anything else you are passionate about? Love diving for crayfish and trying to beat my friends at golf. All sports in general.
Lastly, but certainly not least. The saying is that “Behind every great man is an accomplished and great woman” Does that apply to you? Imagine if someone is married and they say no, of course my beautiful wife and great mom Dominique.