IN life, timing is everything. Whether it’s a multi-billion dollar Warren Buffet acquisition, the capture of Osama bin Laden or the winning of the Kentucky Derby, you need to get it right. Summerhill Stud recently announced the arrival of a new stallion prospect, especially one associated with the biggest event in American racing, Team Valor and its always-colourful principal, Barry Irwin.
It’s also universally known that besides the Derby, commonly known as the “best two minutes in American sports”, the most celebrated stallion-making races on their calendar are the King’s Bishop (Gr.1) and the Met Mile (Gr.1). For these purposes, we’re going to confine ourselves to the former, because it’s the here-and-now from a South African perspective. Anyone who attended the 2008 staging of the King’s Bishop at fabled Saratoga, couldn’t help recalling one of the most famous stretch runs in the history of this great event.
Considering it is the traditional gathering ground of the fastest three year olds in the United States, and that there’s only 350 metres from the final bend to the post, the closing run of the victor that day is part of the folklore of the King’s Bishop. Still last as they entered the bend, Visionaire’s demolition of a field described by the Blood Horse as “real good with big numbers”, resembled the big boy in the kindergarten. Whatever we have to say about it here, you’d need to see the movie to understand (go to www.summerhill.co.za and click blog).
The good news for us as a country, is that in his determination to use the type of stallion he’d like to breed his own select band of broodmares to, Irwin has sent Visionaire to Summerhill Stud, where he arrived a fortnight ago. In the last decade alone, the King’s Bishop has spawned the celebrity stallions Distorted Humor, More Than Ready, Forestry, and top five American sire last season, City Zip, none more impressive on their day than the handsome Visionaire, who hails from the Gone West male line. Besides South Africa’s Champion sire, Western Winter, Gone West has left his own big mark on the international stallion scene through Elusive Quality, Mr.Greeley, Zafonic, Zamindar, Speightstown and Visionaire’s own sire, Grand Slam.
Visionaire was no one-race wonder though, his earlier achievements making him and Pyro the “talking” horses going into the Kentucky Derby of that year. It was his complete dominance in his two opening gambits that pricked Team Valor’s interest, and within just two more starts, they had secured the winner of one of the principal Derby trials, the Gotham Stakes (Gr.3), remembered for another stand-out performance from the all-time legend of Stateside racing, Secretariat.
“I can understand now why Mr Irwin wanted so badly to bring this horse to South Africa. He’s as big and strong as any horse I’ve had in this barn, and he’s just about the best looking, too. He’s wanted to breed his mares in South African to a horse like this for years”, according to Greig Muir, whose 24 year tenure at Summerhill includes vigilance over the top stallions Northern Guest, Home Guard, Liloy, National Emblem, Rambo Dancer, Kahal and Muhtafal.
Knowing that Visionaire was Summerhill-bound, Maine Chance’s Dr. Andreas Jacobs recently lamented the fact that Europe, England, Ireland and Australia had largely missed the Mr. Prospector-line boat, whilst the Champion stud farm had obviously been building its concentration of his blood. And here we have the full circle: the Kentucky Derby winner was bred by Team Valor, out of a German mare acquired from Dr Jacobs!