Happy news story – remember that?

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A group of humble stable grooms sold a racehorse at the weekend for a whopping R1.2-million.

Predictions for the delayed and downscaled 2020 National Yearling Sale were gloomy, to say the least, courtesy of coronavirus restrictions and fears.

But … silver linings and all that. And horses have a way of cheering up humans, often when they least expect it.

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Firstly, South Africa’s besieged thoroughbred breeders would have been cheered by better-than-expected results at the two-day sale in Germiston, highlighted by a stunning R7-million lot – the second highest auction-ring bid for a racehorse in the country.

Secondly, there was elation as the grooms from Cheveley Stud in Western Cape’s Ceres Valley pocketed a seven-figure sum for a colt they’d bred themselves.

Britain’s esteemed Racing Post website headlined this achievement “A fairytale comes true” and quoted Cheveley’s owner Vaughan Koster saying: “R1.2-million is way beyond what our expectations were. The guys are so super-chuffed and I don’t think the reality has really kicked in yet.”

Koster added: “This goes such a long way to uplifting their lives and uplifting their families.”

The yearling colt by Futura out of the grooms-owned mare Siena Star was bought by trainer Andre Nel for well-known owner Sabine Plattner.

The mare, by Argonaut, was gifted to the grooms by Koster and the workers have taken decisions about her stud career in democratic fashion, including sending her to Futura, who stands at Drakenstein Stud in the Franschhoek Valley, a 100km drive from Ceres.

Futura was South Africa’s 2015 Horse of the Year after stellar racing season.

I got more excited about their horse selling for that money than my own horses,” declared Koster. “I’m extremely chuffed for them – it’s a fairytale and a wonderful realisation for them. Let’s hope it culminates in him being a talented racehorse!”

Stoffel Mouton, representing the Cheveley grooms, told television interviewer Neil Andrews: “Next year, we decided she will be going to The United States (a newly imported sire), who is a son of Galileo, and we hope that she will produce another beautiful foal.”

Incidentally, Mouton himself carried off the best groom award at the 2020 NYS.

This is not the first groom ownership initiative in South Africa, but is one of the most lucrative thus far.

Various co-operative schemes have been started on stud farms throughout the country in an effort to get staff more invested in the racing industry. These programmes sometimes include ownership of mares, with offspring being sold at auction. Profits from sales are increasingly being used by the co-ops to re-invest in bloodstock.

Perhaps the most successful co-op has been Riverside, which sold brilliant racehorse and now emerging young stallion Vercingetorix for R1.4-million at the NYS in 2011.

The co-op bought the Silvano colt as a weanling and sold him on later – a horse-trading technique known as “pinhooking”.

Vercingetorix was trained by Mike de Kock for Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa al Maktoum in South Africa, Dubai and Hong Kong, with his biggest win coming in the Grade 1 Jebel Hatta. He now stands as a stallion at Maine Chance Farms in Western Cape.

Another notable success was the staff at Jessica Jell’s Mauritzfontein stud selling a colt for R800,000 in 2018.

The Racing Post report reveals that NYS vendor Bloodstock SA waived entry fees and commissions on the sale of grooms’ horses.

The aforementioned Silvano was the star of the weekend action at the TBA Sales complex at Gosforth Park.

The five-time national champion sire, a son of Lomitas and a sometime Arlington Million champion, fathered the five top lots sold.

As expected, his colt from “super mare” Halfway To Heaven was the headline act at R7-million. Named Celestial City, this full brother to five-time Grade 1 winner Hawwaam and half-brother to Rainbow Bridge and Golden Ducat, was bought by Henning Pretorius, the new owner of Summerhill stud in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

Another son of Silvano, Pyromaniac, was knocked down to Antony Beck to top the second day of the sale at R2.3-million.

Silvano had seven lots fetch R1-million-plus, with his 26 lots sold grossing almost R27-million at an average of more than R1-million each.

Bloodstock SA said the sale “took place in hugely difficult circumstances, with Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, a large number of withdrawals and a tough market”.

Most of the year-on-year statistics took a knock, though fewer horses failed to make their reserves, with 46 horses not selling this year – a drop from 79 lots in 2019.

Wilgerbosdrift, who consigned three of the top five lots, including the sales topper, were the top vendors – selling 18 of their 20 lots for a gross total of R16.655-million, while Form Bloodstock topped the national sale’s buyers list, purchasing 26 thoroughbreds for an aggregate of R18.895-million,” said a press release.

A full list of prices and statistics for the sale can be seen at www.bsa.co.za.

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