Dinner at Hartford House is a spectacular five-course affair, served in the grandeur of a timeless dining room, or in the candlelit splendour of one of Africa's great verandas.Read More
Filtering by Tag: Stud Farms in South Africa
"What was it about the thoroughbred that penetrated the soul of A.R.Ellis and his family"
I remember the first time I entered the Hartford gates, like it was yesterday. Here was the greatest private breeding enterprise in South African history, here was a driveway adorned with old flower pots dating back to the 40s, bearing the names of 48 gladiators, all champions or the next best thing. Bred, raised and trained at Hartford were the heroes of every major race on the South African calendar, their supremacy so marked that when he penned his treatise on the great private racehorse nurseries of the world, Sir Mordant Milner spoke of England's Lord Derby and the Aga Khan; of Marcel Boussac, the founder of the Christian Dior organisation in France; of Federico Tesio, the doyen of Italian breeders; he spoke of Phipps, Hancock and Calumet Farmin the United States; and of A.R.Elllis of Hartford. I was in awe. And as my brother Pat and I wound our way down that historic road to the steps of the region's most gracious homestead, we recalled the tenth of the Commandments against the coveting of "thy neighbour's house."
From the time I'd first fondled a Duff's Turf Guide on the potty as a three-year-old, I knew of the Hartford legends, and as my capacity for the game grew, I learnt that if there was a horse in the parade in the green, black and gold, it was as good as money in the bank. Mowgli, Cape Heath, Salmon, Panjandrum, Ajax, Magic Mirror, Master Polly, Magic Cloak, Magic Charm, Sentinel, Hat Trick, Fantasma, Albion, Lavonia, Fantastic, Famulus, Masham, Sybil's Nephew, Pussmoth, Preston Pan, Prestissimo, Visionary, Flaming Heath, Magic Link, Cosmonaut, Rudigore, Dazzle, Alyssum, Hey Presto, Royal Occasion, Derby Day, Alhambra, Wayfarer, Pinocchio, Pipes Of Pan, Miracle, Broken Spell, Gypsey Moth, Beacon Light, and Council Rock. The Durban July, the Summer Cup, the Met, the Gold Cup, countless Derbys, Guineas and Oaks, the Gilbeys and the Smirnoff Sprint; on the occasion of the Royal visit to South Africa, three King's Cups in three different centres; and anywhere from a 1000m to 3000m.
Many of our readers know the story of how Summerhill came to acquire its neighbour, Hartford, through a handshake exchange in the toilet in those bleak days of 1989. If you don't, it's a story of its own, and it's for another day. But the one thing that had always fascinated me was the story of Hartford's phenomenal success, and I spent a week with Graham Ellis drawing it all out when the handover took place. His father, A.R. (Raymond) Ellis' curiosity with horses was aroused by the presence on the farm of six Italian prisoners of war, who'd been captured during the 1940 Abyssinian campaign. One of these men was the ex head groom of the greatest European breeder of the era, Senor Tesio; and it was he that ignited the flame which found the motherload. His advice to the Ellises was "breed like you mean it", and they did. That year Raymond Ellis bought two young fillies at the National Sale, and stabled them in the garden across the way from the old stone house, built by the family of the last Prime Minister of the Colony, Sir Frederick Moor. Those that frequent Hartford House these days will know the stable as Suite 7, named for one of those two fillies, Preston Pan. She was something of a terror, and kicked the hell out of her companion as well as the stable divide, so she was dispatched to a paddock adjacent to the Hartford chapel, from whence she was trained for the duration of her career. Enigmatic though she was, Preston Pan was brilliant to the degree that she remains the only two-year-old filly ever invited to run in the Durban July, the continent's greatest horserace. Whatever she was as a racehorse though, she was even more as a broodmare. Of the 48 names that adorn the old pots on the driveway, no fewer than 18 trace their lineage to Preston Pan and her daughters.
What was it about the thoroughbred that penetrated the soul of A.R.Ellis and his family, that gave birth to this celebrated farm, to three champion trainers and five champion jockeys, all of whom resided at one time or another in homes and stables built by that handful of Italians?
In an oft-quoted response, Graham Ellis, one-time Chairman of the Durban Turf Club following a stint as trainer to the finest string in the game, reminded me that of all the species on earth, including us humans, the racehorse is the only one whose genetic history is tabulated right back to the original founding fathers of the breed. He recalled that the welfare of the thoroughbred had been in the hands of the British aristocracy for more than three centuries. From the outset, the sport was conducted as all sports should be, for the sake of the sport, and it was all about one nobleman beating another. Throughout this time, they selected their stock for the right reasons too, for their nobility, their grace and their presence, for their intelligence and courage, for speed, stamina, mental toughness and physical durability, all the traits we as a species would aspire to. And that's why the racehorse is the good Lord's greatest creation.
"Good Conversation, Fine Wine and Classic Horses"
Mick GossThere've been all sorts of predictions on how 2012 would turn out, not the least of which is the foreboding suggestion that the world will come to an end on the 21st December. By our calculations, that leaves most of us with about a week to live, but if you believe the movie "2012", there is salvation for anyone living within reach of the Drakensberg mountains. In that context, it's comforting to know that we're just over half an hour from Giant's Castle, and if what they have in mind is a flood of proportions to which only Noah can relate, there'll be time enough for anyone booked into Hartford House to make it up there as well. The point of my note is that if you don't already have a reservation at Hartford, get one because, in the same instant, you can enjoy a "Last Supper" before the curtain call at what is now officially KZN's Number One restaurant!
From an operational perspective though, we'd have to say that the outcome of the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Sale last month, is the principal reason why twenty twelve won't be 2012. By any stretch, the sale was a miracle, a tribute to good horses, good people and great customers, a convergence of all the ingredients in serendipity, and an alignment of the stars. Unless the Mayans had something else in mind, it seems that what they were predicting was that 2012 would be not so much the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. In that case, we have much to look forward to in 2013, particularly if the market's assessment of our young stallions is any kind of yardstick. When it came to the Admire Mains, A.P. Arrows and the Mullins Bays, Ready To Run buyers voted with both feet, and the gratifying thing is that they had the benefit of hindsight at the gallops before they did so. For now, we can at least approach the New Year with positive anticipation. Despite a fairly significant reduction in broodmare numbers around the country, we've had an excellent season in the stallion barn, with encouraging demand for the new boys Visionaire, Golden Sword and Traffic Guard, while the vibes on the first of the Brave Tin Soldiers augurs well for their market debuts in the New Year.
Besides the frentics of the Ready To Run, 'tiz the season for awards, and the number of occasions we've had to don our dinner jackets in the past few months has me wondering whether there is time still for a final investment in a new tuxedo. Last time out, I was astonished to discover in my inner pocket, an invitation from the former Administrator of the old Natal, Stoffel Botha, to a function at King's House in 1983, and while that may be a compliment to the jacket's longevity, it's probably more an indication that this Zulu farmer either wears these things as little as possible, or that we just haven't won enough awards in the interim!
We never take these things for granted though, and they always come as a wonderful surprise. Often enough, they are a tribute to two great teams: an eighth Breeders' Championship, an award from each of Highveld and KZN Racing, and a string of podium visits at the KZN Breeders night out; for Hartford House, another national Top Ten Restaurant award, a sixth American Express Fine Dining accolade, the number one spot on the Top 100 SA Wine Lists and a Diamond class certificate from Diners International. That means those of us with a foot in both camps, have attended a lot of dinners lately. None of it possible without the support and encouragement of great friends and wonderful customers.
'Tiz also the season of many visitors, and this is the time when we top up our reserves of good conversation, fine wine and classic horses. If you're passing this way, please join us: we're bound to have other good friends from the neighbourhood. If not, this note comes with the best and the most grateful wishes of two of the best teams in their businesses.
As always, warmest regards,
SUMMERHILL STUD & HARTFORD HOUSE
Sentinel Suite 6
This suite is named after one of the greatest racehorses in South African history, Sentinel. In an age when six to ten victories would often be sufficient to proclaim a champion, Sentinel won 30 races, carrying welter burdens to victory against some of the most famous horses in South African history. He is remembered principally for his rivalry with the immortal In Full Flight, and his dead heat with this revered animal in the Cape of Good Hope Guineas (Gr.1).
Sentinel was a spectacularly imposing specimen, who towered majestically over the hallowed turf of South Africa's principal racecourses, Greyville, Turffontein and Kenilworth, and there were great expectations of him as a stallion when he returned to Hartford at the end of his career. Alas, Sentinel produced just one foal as he struggled with fertility issues, and this turn of events was probably the first portent of the decline of one of the greatest racing dynasties in African history. The Ellis family'sHartford Stud had reigned supreme for almost four decades over the national racing scene, and their exploits are ranked in Thoroughbred lore alongside the famous international racing stables of the Aga Khan, Lord Derby, the Sheikhs Maktoum, Coolmore, Marcel Boussac, Senor Tesio, the Phippses, the Hancocks and the Inghams of the Untied Kingdom, France, Italy, the USA and Australia respectively.