Selling A SA-Bred Gr1 Winner Across The World

A happy story for the festive season

South African bred Gr1 winning filly Vernichey appeared in the Tattersalls December Sales on 4 December 2023 and sold for 250,000 Guineas (R6,2 million) to the bid of Kia Ora Stud, Australia.

She was the first South African bred to be sold at Tattersalls since Sweet Sanette (SAF)(f. Jallad-Scented Samantha)  went for 240,000 Guineas in 2011, writes Robin Bruss.

Top class Vernichey – world traveller! (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

It’s a sweet tale of success in the rarity of export sales as South Africa has long been constrained by the suspension of the EU Protocol in 2011, thereby halting direct travel to Europe from Cape Town.

It’s been 12 years of stop-start negotiation to try and reinstate the EU Protocol, and although hopes are high that 2024 will finally see resolution, its stoppage curtailed the global racing stable of Mike de Kock in Dubai and the trail of monstrous success of Barry Irwin’s Team Valor with South African fillies on three continents.

With that success during the first decade of the new millennium, the set-up of Racing South Africa as a registered Trade Council under the DTI provided a ‘two-for-one’ matching grant, which meant that horse industry funding of R500 000 was matched by R1 million from the DTI, thereby providing an annual R1,5 million promotion fund to encourage foreign participation in the yearling sale and to buy horses to export.

Sadly Phumelela withdrew their funding of Racing South Africa as an ‘unnecessary expense’, and when this was followed by the RA, then the TBA, Racing South Africa closed, and the face of South African horseracing abroad in outward missions to Great Britain and Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia arranged by it’s CEO Peter Gibson, sadly came to an end.

South Africa does not have a global racing face at present.

An illustration of the consequence is that in 2010,  when the first Cape Premier Yearling Sale was held in the Cape Town Convention Centre, there were buyers from 18 countries in attendance and 60% of the sales aggregate spend was in forex.  By 2023, the forex spend had dribbled down to 5%.

Its pretty obvious that the global outlook needs to return and this ought to be an agenda item for both the TBA and the Racing Association.

Against this background, the news of Vernichey (SAF)’s auction at Tattersalls comes as a momentary shining star of what is possible, and therefore it’s a tale worth telling.

Like all good bedtime stories, the tale of Vernichey is an intrepid one, starting with the  adventurous spirit, then hopes dashed, a season (or two) of despair, and ultimately, in  another leap of faith – a tortuous journey across two oceans, and twists and turns in between, to ultimately arrive at the select Sceptre session of Tattersalls, one of the World’s great auction houses and a global audience – and then SUCCESS!  Finally!

It was two and a half years ago that the enterprising veteran bloodstock man, Alistair Brown of Equarius Bloodstock constructed the sale of Vernichey to Dr Alan Bell of Australia at a ‘substantial figure’ at the higher end of the South African bloodstock market, connecting to him through Neil Bowden, an associate and friend for over 25 years.

Alan Bell, a qualified vet, racehorse owner and breeder and pharmaceutical company founder is a game and savvy investor in bloodstock and he recognised value in Vernichey, whose main performance was to win the 2020 Allan Robertson Fillies Championship (Gr1) for Kenneth Pillay’s Kestorm Investments Pty Ltd, when trained by Gareth Van Zyl.

The deal was struck in August 2021 and the plan was to send Vernichey to England in order to be mated in a 2022 southern hemisphere time to the world champion racehorse and sire Frankel before onward shipment to her ultimate home in Australia.

It wasn’t the first time that Alistair Brown and Alan Bell had teamed up to hatch such a plan,  for they had bought the 2019 Cape Guineas Gr1 winner Missisippi Burning the year before and she had shipped out via Mauritius and all gone smoothly.

She had conceived to Frankel and was offered at the Magic Millions Sale 2023 where Yulong Investments Pty Ltd acquired her for A$800,000 (R9,9 million).

However, this time around, Vernichey was caught up in a variety of disasters which beset trade deliveries, from the global shipping crisis, movement controls, bottlenecks, and testing issues and she remained stuck in South Africa, missing the booking to Frankel in 2022 and infuriatingly, missing it again in 2023.

Finally, in August 2023, she began her journey – she had to do 40 days quarantine in Cape Town and then fly to the island of Mauritius so as to be ‘out of Africa’ and do 70 days more in quarantine, then another flight from Mauritius to land in Liege, Belgium.

Then by road to Calais in France, crossing the English channel in a ferry, then hastily by road to Newmarket and finally arrived at her stable in the famed Tattersalls grounds 3 days before the auction.

If her arduous journey had sapped her strength and energy, she did not show it, for her condition was great and her summer coat shone like a new penny in a sea of winter coated English and European fillies and mares.

“Magnificent filly” said the auctioneer “ and she is by V…” he paused not knowing how to pronounce champion sire Vercingetorix… “err… a top class sire” he continued.

Tattersalls had a double page colour section of their catalogue reserved for elite Group winning mares known as the Sceptre session, commemorating the champion racemare of 1902 and Vernichey was one of them.

See catalogue page: https://www.tattersalls.com/sales/december-mare-sale/4DCGI/Sale/DEM23/Main/Overview

The bidding was spirited and Vernichey was knocked down to the Kia Ora Stud Ltd, the famed Australian farm that has been breeding successfully for over 100 years.

Whilst 250,000 Guineas is a very good price when converted to R6,2 million, and would have given the shrewd Alan Bell a profit, and notched up another success for Alistair Brown as agent, it was some way off the top priced lot, Teona (GB), winner of the Prix Vermeille Gr1 and by Gr1 winner Sea The Stars from  Gr1 Winner Ambivalent, in foal to Frankel.

She was bought by Juddmonte Farm UK, for 4,5 million Guineas (R110,4 million).

It ended well enough, but for a foreign client to endure a two and a half year wait in order to achieve the delivery of his horse, is pretty much unacceptable for anyone.

We are dogged by movement controls and when the world is your oyster, buyers can’t be blamed for not wanting to run the rapids of South Africa’s tortuous systems.

As for Alistair Brown, here is a quiet but persistent man that deserves notice for his contribution to the breed and the breeding industry.

Alistair Brown (Pic – Supplied)

Now 71, Alistair started out on a practical basis, working on the stud, and over time developed an expertise and depth of knowledge on bloodstock and the people around the world.

He started Equarius Bloodstock Consultancy in 1989.

He became instrumental is sourcing and selecting some of the most important stallions that have shaped our breed and so it was a pleasure to ask him about them.

FORT WOOD (USA) was my most important deal” he says, “for he became champion sire very quickly. He sired 81 Stakes Winners and started a sire line which includes champion sire DYNASTY (88 SW), ELUSIVE FORT, HORSE CHESTNUT, FUTURA and LEGISLATE.”

Fort Wood (Pic – Supplied)

“It was a privilege to offer him to Mr & Mrs Oppenheimer for he was the perfect horse to revive their stud.

He had won the Grand Prix de Paris (Gr1) at Longchamps in record time, and he was by Sadlers Wells, the great champion sire of his era, from the Gr1 winning champion broodmare Fall Aspen.”

“I described him as the most desirable stallion prospect in the world and had to pinch myself when the deal was done. Sheik Mohammed had agreed to sell him as he had cracked a sesamoid, and we were in the right place to do the deal.”

“Mrs O said he was the one horse that changed their lives – and that is the greatest satisfaction one can say in horse racing”

AL MUFTI (br.h.1985 by Roberto – Lassie Dear) was the second great stallion sourced by Alistair, going to stand at Rose and Ashley Parker’s Ascot stud in Port Elizabeth.

Al Mufti (Pic – Supplied)

“He wasn’t as  good a racehorse as Fort Wood, Timeform 112 and Gr2 placed for Sheik Hamdan.

Rose gave him to Terrance Millard to train for a year and he almost won the Durban July Gr1 being beaten a nose.

But his pedigree was absolutely top drawer, being by the Champion Sire Roberto, who won the Derby, and out of the great mare Lassie Dear.”

Al Mufti sired 51 SW before his death but his most enduring son was Captain Al, a chef de race of the breed in South Africa, siring 105 SW himself and several times Champion Sire

And has created his own dynasty which will be felt for generations to come.

“I bought GOLDKEEPER (b.h. Mr Prospector – Chapel of Dreams) for Geoff Armitage of Zimbabwe. He was an above average racehorse  but had a world class pedigree, for his dam was a half sister to Storm Cat.”

Goldkeeper produced 32 SW, amongst them, five Grade 1 winners.

Later on, the Oppenheimer’s acquired both STRIKE SMARTLY and IDEAL WORLD through Alistair for their Mauritzfontein Stud.

STRIKE SMARTLY (b.h.1997 by Champion Sire Mr Prospector from Champion racemare Classy and Smart) was a Gr2 winner over 2400m, a lengthy, high quality  colt, who would die young, but sired 13 SW and three Gr1 winners.

IDEAL WORLD (b.h. 2005 by Kingmambo – Banks Hill) was a Gr2 placed horse who was the product of two Gr1 winners from one of the best Juddmonte families.

Alistair has continued to sell fillies and mares and sources bloodstock internationally from time to time and the legacy of his choices remains uppermost in his mind.

“Selection is the first and most critical choice you make when you start breeding” he says, “I’m a strong believe in great families, and if there is a pattern to the champion sires I selected they all have powerful champion dams from good families”

Now 71, Alistair has no plans to retire soon and will continue to trade and dispense his wisdom and experience.

“They say the best adverts aren’t written… they are running!” he says with a smile “and that’s always been true for me too”.

The Author

The Sporting Post is proud to  host Robin Bruss as a guest columnist. Robin is a widely respected industry expert and a man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of horseracing and breeding. He has been involved with the sport all of his life, as a Gr1 winning owner and breeder, agent, auctioneer, journalist, television presenter, researcher, administrator and consultant.

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