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Pippa Mickleburgh

Make It A Double!

Pippa Mickleburgh (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Pippa Mickleburgh (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Avontuur are the breeders responsible for producing last season’s Gr1 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate winner, Champion Miler, Champion Older Horse and Horse of the Year, Legal Eagle. Last Saturday, he added a second Gr1 Queen’s Plate on the trot to his trophy cabinet. As the most coveted trophy in South Africa and a huge feather in his breeder’s cap, we caught up with Avontuur GM Pippa Mickeburgh to see how she’s feeling.

“I can’t complain,” she grins. “We’ve had a wonderful start to the year. Tevez won the Listed Southeaster Sprint, Rivarine won the Gr3 Lebelo Sprint, last Friday Live Life won the Gr2 Cartier Sceptre Stakes and then on Saturday Legal Eagle wins a second Gr1 Queen’s Plate. Var’s had 3 individual juvenile winners already this season, which puts him at the top of the log – I know Captain Al will probably catch us, but we’re there for now! Oratorio has had his first juvenile winner which is pretty exciting. His job is to produce Derby, Met and July winners; horses that train on and go 2000m plus and stay sound till 7 and 8, so it’s great that he’s got a juvenile showing some toe.”

“The Queen’s Plate is a race I always wanted to win. As a purist you grow up knowing that the Met and the July are big days, but you judge excellence on the Guineas, the Derby and the Queen’s Plate. I thought Var would battle and after Variety Club won the Langerman I went up to Joey and said ‘please win the Queen’s Plate for me’ and he did. For Variety Club to do that was a heck of a thing. And now we’ve produced a horse that wins it twice in a row – how lucky can one get?”

Young Sensation

Asked to tell the story behind Legal Eagle, Pippa says there isn’t really one. “We bought the mare out of Sean Tarry’s yard. She won two for us and then retired to the farm. She wasn’t a big mare and tended to throw foals that looked like her, so it was difficult to get good sales yearlings out of her. Her first two foals by Var were very average. They still fetched around R400k, but while that’s nothing to be sneezed at, it’s average by the farm’s standards.”

“She’s got a strong female line, but in terms of producing ‘wow’ physical specimens it just wasn’t happening. And it wasn’t her fault – she was going where I was sending her, so I had to do something different.”

“At the end of the day I’m a stockman – I know my mares, foals and stallions and I know my stock. When you see that mare 365 days a year, particularly when I’ve often made her myself, you know what they need.”

Greys Inn

I had a strong feeling that Greys Inn was what she needed

“She’s obviously quite a dominant mare and kept throwing these very refined foals and we needed to add a bit of coarseness. I plan my matings first physically, then on temperament, I check the genetics on the computer programmes and then we look at the commercial aspect. I had a strong feeling that Greys Inn was what she needed to ignite the female line that had gone quiet and I believe if you see mating you really want to do, must do it.”

“I get a feeling with matings in the same way I get a feeling with mares I want to buy. You’ve got to have the courage of your convictions. I’ve just done another to Greys Inn now, so we’ll see how that turns out.”

“We have shares in Greys Inn and it looked a wonderful mating to me and when I put it onto the mating programme the computer went mad. It’s a bloody long drive to get to Greys Inn. You’ve got to go all the way there, the road is awful and then turn around and come all the way back again. You won’t just do it unless you really believe in it. One jump and she was in foal, but again she produced another mini her.”

Legal Eagle

Legal Eagle – Everything just aligned for him

“People ask me ‘why does he run?’ It was a wonderful mating, but all I can do is raise a horse to the best of my ability and on what I’ve got in terms of the soil and the pasture, which at Avontuur I think I have the best – even now with this drought we’ve still got pasture. I do the best mating I can and give them the best care and after that it’s out of my hands. Everything just aligned for him.”

“I didn’t expect fireworks, but when a trainer like that buys your horse, you know they’ve got a chance. I think Sean bought him on spec after having trained the mare. And then he was bought by Jooste and that was another box ticked, because you know they’re going to get the best of everything. It’s a great training feat by Sean and Markus is a great supporter of the farm and puts a lot into the industry and it’s great that he’s got another champion.”

Any more in the pipeline?

Rivarine as a yearling (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

When the first foal produces black type, you know it can only get better from there – Rivarine as a yearling (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Unfortunately Avontuur no longer own Young Sensation. Pippa says, “They say you shouldn’t sell your mares, but my job is to produce a high percentage of feature stakes winners. When you’re constantly buying in top mares every year and your farm can only sustain so many horses, you have to sell at the bottom end to maintain the numbers. It’s hard to balance sales success with racing success, but look at River Jetez – Rivarine has just won the Lebelo Sprint. When the first foal produces black type, you know it can only get better from there.”

“My main objective is to produce a racehorse, but they have to sell and for me and with that mare, it was not easy to produce good sales yearlings. Perhaps it was unfair of me to expect her to produce anything else, but I did. We did sell Legal Eagle for R425k, which made him one of the most expensive Greys Inns at the time, but I had to work bloody hard to get it, so I felt she’d had her chance with me and I don’t regret selling her. My job was done.”

“We sold Young Sensation to Paolo Do Carmo and she was in foal to Philanthropist at the time. I foaled her down for him and she produced a filly, which I believe has been sold to Susan Kalmanson. She was bred to Pomodoro the following season and I’m not sure what she’s got coming next. Paulo is a great supporter of the farm and I wish him well with her.”


If you’re looking for your next Avontuur champion, Pippa is taking a 9-strong draft to the 2017 Cape Premier Yearling Sale on 21 & 22 January, including a Master Of My Fate, two Oratorios and 6 Vars. Asked for her picks, Pippa says, “We’re starting off with Lot 1, which is a really attractive, pretty filly by Var called Little Sparrow out of Bambina Stripes. Her first foal was by Oratorio, which we’ve kept for the farm to maintain the bloodline, so this is the first foal available for public auction and she’s a nice filly and will have good paddock value. It’s always difficult to go first, but hopefully we start the sale with a bang! Lot 210 is an impressive, big strong Var colt. He’s a first foal out of Torra Bay, who is by Cape Cross, the broodmare sire of Ouija Board, so that’s a lovely pedigree. Lot 24 is a lovely big, strong Master Of My Fate filly and we’ve got an Oratorio filly (lot 218) and colt (lot 224), who are both nice horses too. You’ll have to come and have a glass of wine with us and have a look!”


Avontuur lead the way in sponsoring our jockeys and have Greg Cheyne, MJ Byleveld and got rather a scoop in securing both Callan Murray and Lyle Hewitson for the Avontuur brand. Pippa says, “Greg and MJ are absolute stalwarts. They work while I’m picking grapes, delivering foals, etc and do a fantastic job. It took a bit of doing to get Callan and Lyle, but they’re both doing very well too. They’re great on social media and are both terrific young guys. All four work really well together, they get on well and help motivate one another.”

Miss Frankel in training (photo: Avontuur)

Miss Frankel in training (photo: Avontuur)

Of course, the jockeys aren’t the only ones keeping the Avontuur brand in the spotlight – a certain flashy chestnut filly has become something of a celebrity in her own right. South Africa’s first Frankel out of Avontuur flyer Val De Ra, Miss Frankel, has joined Dennis Drier’s string in Cape Town for the season. She’s also joined by her older sister, Dream De Ra, by Oasis Dream. Pippa says, “Miss Frankel is doing very well. She’s a really laid back character and had her first gallop at Kenilworth recently. They had all the Queen’s Plate tents up and everything and she just took it all in her stride, I was really chuffed. Dream De Ra is quite a different horse and is very much like Oasis Dream, speed speed speed. Unfortunately she got a minor self-inflicted injury – she freshed in work and managed to stand on her coronary band, so had a bit of an interrupted prep, but all being well, we can look forward to seeing them both debut towards the end of January or early February.”

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