Dream Big

Road To The LQP - Silicone Valley

Silicone Valley (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Silicone Valley (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

As far as racing goes, the big horses that win the big races for the big names are all good and well, and in many ways, they maintain life’s balance and prove that logic and planning and sound investment do pay off.  And perhaps that is as things should be.

However, if life – and racing – always followed the script, it would be very boring indeed, so I for one, am grateful they don’t, because it is evidence of the very thing our industry is built on – hope and the fact that sometimes dreams do come true and that little guys with little horses do get to win big. And when they do, you get a little bit of magic.

Silicone Valley is the sort of horse that epitomises that magic in racing. He was bred by a Grooms Co-op, by a first season sire, out of a moderate mare and he didn’t cost a bomb. He’s not trained by one of our ‘marquee’ trainers and he’s not owned by anyone particularly rich and famous. In fact, all those factors probably count in his favour, because had he been in a bigger yard, or belonged to bigger, more important people with bigger, more important horses, it is entirely possible he would have fallen by the wayside. But he doesn’t and he hasn’t and so, to borrow a phrase, ‘we got ourselves a game’.

Lucky find

Ian Robinson and his wife Judy own Silicone Valley in partnership with Christian Bester, Francis Carruthers, Piere Fourie and Glen Puller. Silicone is from the first crop of Jay Pegs and is the last recorded foal from the Model Man mare, Prize Collection. He was consigned by a Grooms Co-op and sold c/o The Alchemy at the 2012 CTS Cape Premier Yearling Sale. Ian remembers, “We actually bought three horses at the same time. We pooled our money and split it across the horses and the same guys got involved in all three. Ken Martin was also initially involved, but he stopped racing, so Glen took his shares and that’s why Glen’s now involved.”

As picking yearlings goes, it turned out to be a pretty smart selection as the team came home with Silicone Valley, Strongman and Skabenga – spending an even R150k on each. They democratically decided to run each of the horses in a different partner’s colours, so Skabenga ran in Ian’s silks, Silicone Valley in Piere Fourie’s black and white colours and Strongman campaigned in the silks of Christian Bester.

Ian continues, “Skabenga we retired because he cracked a pedal bone, Strongman (now racing as Horse Of Fortune) turned into a very good horse and he’s won R13 or R14 million in Hong Kong.” The last of the trio is Silicone Valley, who possibly looked the least promising of the three, but has 6 wins from 20 lifetime starts. He has only finished outside the money twice in his career and has never finished more than 4.5 lengths back. In short, he’s the sort of horse most people would give their right arm to own, but it hasn’t been easy, meaning the rewards – when they do arrive – are all the more sweet.

Ups and downs

Karl Neisius rode Silicone Valley on debut over 1200m at Kenilworth and they won by the best part of 3 lengths. “Karl came back and said he was a bit sensitive on his front legs. He ran again and Karl rode him again and Silicone finished 3 lengths off, but out of the places. It was one of the few times he ever finished out of the money,” notes Ian.

Upon investigation it was discovered that Silicone Valley had chipped both front knees. “We did a double op and from memory he was off for 9 months.” Commenting that it’s quite an investment in a one-time winner, Ian agrees but says that Karl had been instrumental. “He’d ridden Silicone and Strongman and felt Silicone was better. Also, with Glen’s eye for horses, he convinced us that we should try and luckily there were enough of us to carry the burden.”

A double procedure is major surgery though. “I’ll never forget,” muses Ian. “I think it was his first week – I went to see him and he was such a sorry sight. He had bandages on both front legs, he’d suffered a bout of colic and he had an abscess in his hoof – all of which happened within two or three days of his op, so he was taking major strain. It was sad to see him like that, but Glen’s learned how to handle him.” The team also opted for IRAP treatments, which entails drawing blood and treating it to create IRAP serum, which can be injected into the joints to treat inflammation.

The advice was sound and Silicone won first time back, beating Roaring Wind by 2.5 lengths on 29 October 2014 with Chris Puller in the saddle. He ran again on 31 January 2015, after which he chipped a knee again and required another op and another long break.

He was back in work by November 2015, finishing 2nd first time out, posting another win and then finishing 2nd to Heartland in the Jet Master Stakes in late December. Fortunately his 2016 and 2017 campaign has been a lot smoother.

“Although he’s a 6 time winner, he’s only had 20 starts – most of the time has been spent in his box with those damn knees,” grimaces Ian. “As he’s got older, he seems not to suffer as much. He does come back from races a bit sensitive, but within a few days he’s alright again. Glen’s very protective of him and is very careful with everything. When he runs, we run him away from traffic just to try and avoid any possibility of him getting hurt. It’s probably counted against him winning more races. If you look at his record, he’s run 12 places, many of which are 2nd and 3rd. He’s been very unlucky, so that’s why we were so happy when he won the Merchants, because he really deserved it.”

Calm under pressure

The Gr2 Cape Merchants, run on Cape Fillies Guineas day on 2 December 2017, was a nerve-wracking one for the team as Anthony Delpech had been booked for the ride, but had to stand down after a medical emergency. It was shades of 2016 when the same stable and a very similar team of owners faced the same dilemma when Weichong Marwing was indisposed ahead of Illuminator’s run in the CTS Million Dollar race. “If you recall, we only confirmed Heavelon just before 9am that Saturday morning,” says Ian. Crises like these are the last thing one wants just ahead of a big event, but Ian just shrugs equitably in the best ‘that’s racing’ manner.

Donovan Dillon had ridden Silicone in the 2017 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate, so he was selected for the Merchants ride. As with Illuminator, opting for someone that knows their horse well paid off and they beat Dutch Philip home by 0.75 length.

“Donovan will ride him in the Queen’s Plate,” confirms Ian, “but if we go to the next one, which is the Met, Donovan already has another engagement. Who knows, it’s early days. He first needs to do the job in the Queen’s Plate.”

Ian and the rest of the owners are very hands on at the yard, making the success a real team effort. Silicone is treated with kid gloves, regular ice to keep his joints in good shape and frequent breaks to spell at Kim Bosman’s Rodeo facility. It makes his success even more special as it comes with so much patience and dedicated care.

“The rest he had at Rodeo was really amazing,” enthuses Ian. “Kim does a great job. It’s so interesting – another horse of ours, Purple Mountains, had won over 1400m in Durban with Garth Puller last year, but hadn’t won again since. We sent both horses to Rodeo for a break and both of them won their first run back off the farm. We were hoping to send Silicone to the farm again for a few days, but it would have interfered with his training schedule for the Queen’s Plate.”

Silicone Valley

Silicone Valley is a relatively unprepossessing looking horse. He’s a slight, mealy-muzzled, dark bay with the tiniest of white dots high on his forehead and no distinguishing markings to make him catch the eye. Yet one can’t help being fond of him, because he is so genuine and never, ever runs a bad race. “Before the Merchants, both Judy and I said he looked dwarfed by the other runners, but he’s such a wonderful horse,” says Ian fondly. “We all love him to bits and think he is beautiful. He is so athletic and his gentle demeanour has endeared him to all. He knows what he has to do and he just goes out there and does his thing.”

Silicone Valley (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Team Silicone Valley – ‘We all love him to bits’ (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

The L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate is a tough ask, particularly against the might of Dual Horse of the Year, Legal Eagle. How do they feel about his chances? “Piet Botha does all the work on him and he’s smiling. I have to say, he deserves a lot of credit – he’s done a wonderful job. He’s so sad he’s not riding him, but his instructions to Donovan for the Merchants were spot on. Silicone comes on very quickly, so we’re hoping for a big run in the Queen’s Plate and he’s certainly earned his place, but I think it’s going to be very difficult. But he’s very athletic and this guy has shown tremendous heart. He never lays down, he’s just unbelievable.”

Horses don’t know how they’re bred or what they cost, which is just as well, as races are run on the track, not on paper. And of course, because they can’t read, horses don’t know who they’re running against, or how they are bred or what they cost either – and that’s also just as well because defying the odds is probably easier when you don’t know what they are.

So here’s to ignoring the script and running anyway. Here’s to little guys and little horses and winning big. Here’s to hope.


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