Normandy Stud’s Oscar Foulkes recently completed the personal milestone of a second Cape Epic. The triumph comes weeks after his horse, the home-bred Sergeant Hardy, won the Gr1 Cape Flying Championship on Sun Met day 2018 and Oscar jokingly said Sergeant Hardy was his Cape Epic sponsor.
While Oscar prefers marathon events and Sergeant Hardy is a sprint specialist, the two have had to do more than simply beat the competition as each has a significant breathing impairment.
You Get The Horse You Need
Oscar refers to the horse as his ‘laryngeal brother’ and the two have walked an interesting and emotional journey together.
Sergeant Hardy went through the ring at the 2015 Cape Premier Yearling Sale and knocked down to Oscar’s younger brother. Unusually, he was found to be suffering a paralysed right vocal chord – the condition normally affects the left.
Oscar’s impairment came courtesy of his long-running battle with throat cancer and scarring from the numerous operations and treatments. Tragically, they lost his younger brother in 2015.
Offered again on the 2015 Ready To Run Sale, Sergeant Hardy found no takers, so Veronica bought him back for R70k and Oscar begged to get involved.
Despite his physical drawback, Sergeant Hardy flourished in the hands of Snaith Racing, achieving 8 wins and 5 places from 17 career starts for earnings of R1,823,375 and culminating in that scintillating Gr1 Cape Flying Championship victory.
“It’s wearing your heart on your sleeve, it’s living the brand and somewhere in the middle is the Sergeant Hardy / Hoarse Power theme to my mountain biking. I’ve always believed he had a WFA Gr1 in him. In everything he does, there’s something special about him – he’s just that kind of horse. If you look at his 2yo form and his early 3yo form, that’s the kind of merit he has. It was great to have him demonstrate what he was capable of.”
The performance earned him a tip of the hat from the Longines Worlds Best Racehorse Rankings Panel who rated him joint 12th in their first rankings for 2018.
Summarising the lead up, Oscar comments, “Firstly I think the programme for sprinters over the Cape summer season is a bit cockeyed. He ran in everything – he had no choice. In October, he won a 1200m Pinnacle Stakes, then there was a big break to 2 December and the Cape Merchants, which is a handicap and exactly the sort of race you want to try and avoid with a horse like him. On 23 December, he won the South Easter Sprint (also a handicap) – and I think he won it pretty impressively. Then it was the Diadem on 13 January, which is run at Weight-for-Age plus penalties. It’s the kind of race that suits him, but it’s just 2 weeks before the Cape Flying Championship which is Weight-for-Age.”
“There are only 3 WFA sprints in the country – the Cape Flying Championship, the Computaform Sprint and the Mercury Sprint – so the few horses at the top of the ratings are basically stuffed and then they go and put in a programme where two ideal races are spaced 2 weeks apart!” he exasperates. “He couldn’t go from the Merchants to the Cape Flying without a run, so from 23 December to 27 January he ran three times. The timing really wasn’t ideal, but it all worked out well in the end and he came through the season with a Gr1 to his name,” he says proudly.
Asked what was going through his mind on Met day, Oscar admits, “It’s a big thing to have a runner in that whole theatre, but to be honest, I was working, dealing with crises and putting out all kinds of fires, so I was a bit distracted. One thing I can tell you vividly is it had been a stressful few months leading up to that day, but the moment Sergeant Hardy was leading the field, nothing could detract from it. I recall Hymie Maisel quoting Rothschild – it’s the moment the owner becomes one with the horse. That moment transcends anything.”
“For me, Sergeant Hardy is talismanic for so many things and this has just been intensified by adopting him as the theme for our Cape Epic efforts. As much as one needs to try to keep emotion out of something that has so big a financial element, I can’t avoid emotions when it comes to Sergeant Hardy. However, it’s an emotion and feeling that money cannot easily replace. It probably explains why so many men and women pour millions into chasing that dream – and we’re living that dream. We don’t know where it’s going to go, but for me it’s living the dream and giving rein to it whatever direction it’s going to go.”
Currently, that direction is Durban where Sergeant Hardy is settling in at Summerveld in preparation for Champions Season. He will have a prep in Durban before heading to Turffontein for a tilt at the Computaform Stakes and then the Mercury Sprint.
Oscar cycles with Piet Viljoen as the two man ‘Hoarse Power’ team in pink colours to match Sergeant Hardy’s racing silks. Poignantly, the first three nights of this year’s Epic were spent camping in the paddocks at Normandy, where Sergeant Hardy was born.
“My breathing is still impaired, but it’s not as bad as last year,” continues Oscar. We were fitter and stronger and every day of Epic was better than the day before. Our coach, Erica Green, has represented South Africa at the Olympics and she was amazing. To draw a parallel on the experience, Justin gave Sergeant Hardy a massive amount of work to get him as fit as possible and basically Erica did the same to me – she worked me to death!” he says cheerfully. “On Monday I could have got on my bike and done it again.”
“Another bit of cross over is on Sunday, we started with climbing from Wellington to Du Toits Kloof Pass and it’s an hour and a half of pain. The day before Justin had sent a video of Sergeant Hardy rolling in the sand at Summerveld. Riding up the hill, I replayed this video in my head. He was so happy, having a roll, looking around, freshing. It took my mind off what I was doing.”
“Piet crunched some numbers on our performance from last year to this year and it’s interesting. The improvement came down to marginal gains having a big effect when repeated over 8 days of riding.”
“It’s not dissimilar to the pursuit of breeding and owning race horses. On average, 3% of horses will be stakes winners. One foal in 500 will be a Gr1 winner. My mother outperforms that by a very wide margin.”
“One of the strengths of the way my mother runs her operation is that she works with families that produce good individuals. It can take more than 10 years to work out if a new mare in the stud is consistently producing the kind of individuals you want. Most of the families at Normandy have been in the stud since the 70s and 80s. Not only has a lot of winnowing taken place over the decades in the form of an ongoing selection process, but developing an intimate knowledge of the families is a big advantage. I think this is part of the reason why she gets a high percentage of winners from her mares and if you can do things that skew things in your favour and instead of 3%, get that up to 8, 9 or even 10%, you’re still going to fail 90% of the time, but you’ll be right three times more than the average.”
For anyone who fancies taking on the odds, Normandy field a 20 strong draft for the CTS April Yearling Sale on 12 & 13 April.
“We have quite a few from the first crop of Wylie Hall. They’re nice individuals. Someone called them trainers’ horses. Everything is put together nicely and they give the impression they will turn into decent horses. We have a couple of Queraris as agent, quite a few Philanthropists and Pathforks and all out of really nice mares.”
Asked to name a few highlights, he selects Lot 109, the half brother to Crowd Pleaser, as likely to draw attention.
“Lot 180 is a Philanthropist colt out of Royal Jubilee, a young mare we’re optimistic about. She’s a daughter of a Gr1 winner and sister to Peggy Jay.”
“Lot 260 (Philanthropist – Centre Court) is from a family founded on Lese Majesty, a Royal Affair mare my parents bought from Mordaunt Milner back in the 80’s. This is not a smart damline like Mother Russia, but has always produced speedy horses and has been in the family for the best part of 40 years now.”
“These are not big ticket horses and we have realistic expectations of what they will fetch in the ring. While no-one makes money selling a horse for R50k, if you buy a decent individual at that price, you have half a chance of making your money back.”
“If you look at Sergeant Hardy’s catalogue page, by no means was Hard Lady the most glamorous mare covered by Captain Al that year. She was a 4 time winner and the granddam only produced 2 foals, but it’s a family we’ve had from the Jan de Clerq days – not smart, but plenty of winners that’s eventually going to crack something. Not dissimilar to the families of quite a few we’re selling here!”