Of Mouse and Man: The rollercoaster of owning a racehorse

Owning a racehorse will provide twists, turns, thrills and spills.


There’s a racing adage that proclaims no one with an unraced two-year-old has ever committed suicide and it’s a phrase that proffers why so many folk look forward to a racehorse auction with unbridled enthusiasm.

This Sunday, 22 October, at Durbanville the Cape Racing Sales Ready to Run & Unbroken Sale offers the latest opportunity for us to buy a ticket for a ride on sport’s ultimate Big Dipper – owning a racehorse.

I use the word ‘us’ because I am no stranger to the rollercoaster of emotions that bidding on, buying and racing a thoroughbred will assure.

Twists, turns, thrills, spills. I’ve had my fair share.

The Mouseketeer

Owning The Mouseketeer was undoubtedly the biggest thrill. Bred by Bush Hill and trained by Sean Tarry, he won us nine races including Africa’s richest race on sand, the Emerald Cup. But if the son of Kahal was the zenith, then the nadir was most certainly a Brazilian tortoise masquerading as a racehorse. I can’t remember whether I bought him at the sales in Sao Paulo or the following year in Rio but I know this much, they named him incorrectly.

Instead of Folklore he should have been called Lesma.

Lesma is Portuguese for snail. He was expensive – the cost of getting him to South Africa astronomical – and he was so slow that he could barely get out of his stable let alone see a racecourse.

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No racing certainties

Purchasing a racehorse at the sales is not an exact science. Anything but.

Had Mrs Gump owned racehorses then there’s every conceivable chance that Forrest might have proclaimed “my mama always said buying a racehorse was like a box of chocolates”.

There’s no blueprint for success, zero rules and if you’ll excuse the pun, no racing certainties. An ugly duckling that nobody wanted can become a swan and yet the perfectly conformed specimen with a purple pedigree that experts are touting as another Pegasus can turn out to be slower than a sloth.
You never know what you are going to get, and therein lies the dream.

So what about Sunday’s sale?

Well, for starters with Greg Bortz and Justin Vermaak driving and navigating Cape Racing Sales, I strongly suspect it will run super smooth and be a commercial success. I personally love the fact that it’s returned to Durbanville, perhaps that’s personal bias as I grew up and was schooled in that neck of the woods but there is no denying the homely appeal of Durbanville as a countryside venue.

Commentator Alistair Cohen is the man tasked with calling the gallops and coordinating the online platform so I gave him a call. He is hopeful that Sunday will produce even better results than the lofty standards set at previous sales and he gave me a takeaway from last year and some positives for this.

Miss Hannigan was a graduate of the sale and she won about a month later giving her connections a fast return on investment.

The Cape Racing Sales bonus scheme is refreshing and will appeal to any owner and trainer who see precocious types with speed pedigrees that could deliver a quick profit.

Horses to look out for

Cohen is excited to see Lot 44, a half brother to Hollywoodbets Durban July winner Winchester Mansion, and Lot 17, who received a serious form update with his half sister, Red Palace, winning on Monday and giving the impression that she is group race material.

He also believes the progeny of Master Of My Fate, who leads the way on the sires log at this early stage of the season, will be in demand while some value might lie with Legislate who trades at a high percentage of winners to runners.

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In closing, do I have any advice to give those rolling up to board the equine amusement-ride?

Some might argue that on balance I’ve been pretty lucky with the racehorses I have owned so perhaps that qualifies me to give my 10 cents worth.

I would suggest that whatever good fortune came my way was borne by surrounding myself with knowledgeable horse folk who I liked and trusted.

I believe that’s paramount for those descending on Durbanville on Sunday with the purpose to purchase. Choosing your racing confidant wisely, whether he or she be a friend who owns horses, a bloodstock agent or a trainer is arguably more important than choosing the correct Lot number. The best you can do is ensure that the human dynamics around owning your racehorse feel comfortable, from there just cede to the fickle fancies of the racing gods who will fly with you or flunk you.

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