Hartford House

The Home of Good Conversation, Fine Wine and Classic Horses.

Award-winning hotel and restaurant situated at Summerhill Stud on the picturesque KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Meander, South Africa.

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THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE...

Al Maktoum School Of Management Excellence / Summerhill Stud (p)

Al Maktoum School Of Management Excellence / Summerhill Stud (p)

Winter School Of Excellence
Summerhill Stud, 4 - 6 July 2011

The Al Maktoum School of Management Excellence is the only one of its kind in the World. The first students, representing some of the Nation's top farms, are already ensconced, though for the formal opening, we shall have to wait for the KZN Premier, Dr Zweli Mkhize, to do his thing on Investec Stallion Day, Sunday the 3rd of July. Already, there

are of the order of 17 different countries represented, an indication of the significance of the occasion in the pantheon of the racing industry's great events. The upliftment of people and the opportunity to become what few had ever believed they could, is a crucial element in the future of our business, and this school marks a watershed moment in Racing's distinguished history.

Summerhill Stud has solicited the services of some of the World's leading authorities on their respective specialities for a Winter School, beginning the day after their stallion day, and this column will be providing readers with weekly flashes of what's on offer. A visit to "Winter School of Excellence" will provide you with details right away of the full panel of lecturers, their topics and the programme, but for today's purposes, we're going to focus on the presence of Professor Justin Craig, who heads up the faculty on Entrepreneurship and Family Business at Australia's Bond University. This is a subject that touches almost every one of us, and Professor Craig is one of the World's two authorities on family-run enterprises.

His PhD in Behavioural Science, Masters Degree in Counselling and Psychology Honours Degree all explored challenges faced by individuals involved in either a current or future ownership capacity in a family-controlled business. His subsequent family business and entrepreneurship research, which has examined a wide range of topics including individual valued outcomes that drive behaviour, trans-generational entrepreneurship, strategy, innovation, governance, public policy, branding, and managerial attitudes towards the natural environment, has appeared in leading international academic journals. He leads the entrepreneurship and family business group of scholars and instructors at Bond University and teaches subjects at undergraduate and graduate levels. Dr Craig has also jointly developed Bond University's Executive MBA in Family Business and is engaged with the family business practitioner community through his work with Family Business Australia (FBA), where he has jointly developed and delivers the FBA Family Business Directors' Course and the Strategic Planning for Family Business Leaders Course.

Imagine for a moment, a three-day seminar embracing the world of finance and economics, investment in Thoroughbreds, Mike de Kock on his international escapades, the country's leading exponent on Bio-farming, and any number of the most recognisable figures in our industry, and you soon understand the heading to this column. The Memorial Theatre's capacity is limited though, so if you're an aspirant attendee, please get in touch with Heather Morkel on heather@summerhill.co.za, as soon as you can. There is accommodation available at Hartford House, though the organisers can arrange alternatives in the district once Hartford is fully booked. The daily rate includes a luncheon prepared by Eat Out's Most Popular Restaurant of 2011.

AN EXCERPT FROM ABROAD

Alan Sutherland / Summerhill Stud - AB/Epitaph (p)

Alan Sutherland / Summerhill Stud - AB/Epitaph (p)

ALAN SUTHERLAND

This excerpt speaks of our neighbour, Alan Sutherland, one-time All Black rugby player and husband of one-time Miss World aspirant, Vera Johns. As we’ve so often said before, he’s a stayer of note, and outperforms even Solskjaer’s multiple champion brother Yeats, anytime of the day, and especially the night.

”Suthers had settled in for the night! His tenacity reminds me of Geoff Boycott – difficult to get out”.

Wayne Aldridge

VISIT TO DRAKENSTEIN STUD AND L'ORMARINS WINE ESTATE

horse chestnut drakenstein stud

Horse Chestnut
(Photo : Drakenstein Stud)

OF HORSE CHESTNUT AND PRIVATE WINE TIP

Tuesday, we undertook the traditional pilgrimage (for us at least, as they’ve been with us at Summerhill  since the gates opened 30 years ago) to Gaynor Rupert’s Drakenstein Stud, which shares one of the most spectacular pieces of real estate with the L’ Ormarins wine estate. So that you can understand the place, husbandJohann Rupert has the wine side as his “baby”, while Gaynor jumps out of bed in the mornings for the horses.

We’ve said enough in these columns about their fine stallion Trippi, so while seeing him was confirmation of the wisdom of participating in his shareholding, it was Horse Chestnut that we needed to renew our vows with.

We last saw him in the flesh, burying a high class field in the J&B Met on his way to international fame and glory, and we remember the day he demolished the best of our Three Year Olds in the Derby at Turffontein. His victims that day included second placed Summerhill-bred Dangerous Donald, whose heart was irretrievably broken after a ding dong 300 m tussle up the murderous Turffontein straight. So this for us, was a moment for the ages.

Stud Manager, Ross Fuller swears he only stands 16.1 hh, but to our minds he has at least another inch on him. He’s in great shape, and you only have to see him walk to recognise the fluidity of his movement in his heyday. A grass horse in a “dirty” country, Horse Chestnut might well have been better off at stud anywhere else but in the United States, yet his record out there (and abroad) was not without distinction. Let’s hope, for the sake of our local breds, that he can get up and salute as Jet Master, Captain Al and National Emblem have done in recent times, and deliver the goods as he delivered at the races.

Oh, and by the way, let’s not forget the lunch. Gaynor, as gracious as every, is a wonderful host and we were lucky this time to be joined by a long-serving member of the Rembrandt board, Jennifer Preller, who happens to have graced the portals of Stellenbosch University in an era concurrent with my own. Little doubt, if Drakenstein Stud were to get into the restaurant business, we’d have a devil of a time at Hartford taking home the accolades that’ve befallen us in the past few months. And a very private tip: the L’Ormarins Sauvignon Blanc, 2007. Like the rest of the place, in its own class.

Thanks Gaynor and Ross, as always, for a class act.

Jonsson Family's 80th Birthday Celebration

IT'S NOT ONLY TOUGH HORSES:
IT’S TOUGH HUMAN BEINGS, TOO

The celebration by Summerhill this past weekend of the two most victorious racehorses of the past 50 years, Sentinel and Hear The Drums, coincided with the celebration of a quite remarkable triple 80th birthday for the Jonsson family.

In all its history since its establishment in 1875, only four families have darkened the front door to Hartford House, namely the Moors, who produced a Prime Minster and a Senator (1875-1937), the Jonssons, (1937-1939), the Ellises (the most successful private racehorse owner/breeders of their era), and the present incumbents, the Gosses. It was rare in the 1920s, for any family to remain intact from birth to 80, yet the Jonssons with their history of longevity, produced triplets which this weekend accomplished that milestone against all medical odds from those days.

Ben, Jeremy and Felicity showed us the ultimate honour in celebrating their 80th birthdays at their old home this past weekend, and each of them brings an enthralling tale to the table. Besides that, they’ve spawned a family of great diversity, spread across an enormous landscape, and despite their geographic spread, nothing has happened to diminish the calibre of their assembly. We were privileged to be of service to this unusual gathering, and sharing some wonderful yarns and a host of new insights on the history of our property.

“Benjy”, as he’s affectionally known to the racing fraternity of South Africa, served for many years as chair for the local executive of the Jockey Club of South Africa, and among his achievements in racing was his custodianship of the South African Jockey’s Academy. Under his stewardship, South African graduates of the Academy captured 17 of the last 18 jockey’s titles in Hong Kong, an extraordinary achievement unlikely to be repeated ever again.

Jeremy has been a mentor of ours ever since we made our first investments in the KZN Midlands 30 years ago, as the best property man in our area. Since then, we’ve never ventured investment here without either his or the counsel of his sons James and Andrew.

Not to be outdone by these two achievers, Felicity, the third of the triplets, married beyond our borders into the Wills family of cigarette fame, and in a second life she became the wife of Henry Douglas-Home, brother to the erstwhile Prime Minister of Britain, Sir Alec, but in his own right, famous for being the Royal Ornithologist.

As colourful a family as any to have occupied these historic acreages, this was a singular honour for the Hartford team: the tapestry of our lives has been enriched substantially, for which we give thanks.

Ardmore Ceramic Art - The Summerhill Collection

summerhill stud ardmore ceramic collection

Summerhill Stallion Day
"The day after the Vodacom Durban July"

What has become as much a tradition as the Vodacom Durban July itself, the annual Summerhill Stallion Day dubbed "Racing's Greatest Day Out", is always a grand occasion where the who's who of racing descend on Summerhill Stud to pay homage to some of Africa's most exciting Thoroughbred Stallion prospects.

Quite fitting then that this year's event will witness the teaming up of two formidable forces in their own fields, in a celebration of excellence and dedication.

South Africa’s premier ceramic studio, Ardmore Ceramic Art, and South Africa’s Champion Thoroughbred Breeder, Summerhill Stud, will unveil an exciting new Ardmore ceramic collection inspired by the horses, people and nature at Summerhill.

The Ardmore artists have created Staffordshire-like everyday farm scenes including Summerhill Stallions walking the lands, yearlings being bandaged, foals being born and Ready to Run graduates galloping to victory.

Most of Ardmore’s 80 artists live in the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal steeped in tradition, where music, song and dance prevail. After two successful London sales held in 2004 and 2007, Christie’s labeled Ardmore “a modern day collectable”. Collectors around the world love Ardmore’s distinctive style - a fusion of African, Western and Eastern form and design embellished with sculptural African fauna and flora and painted in a kaleidoscope of colour.

Ardmore’s talented artists create with passion and freedom and many have intuitively found their own style. The decorative collectibles have an elegant charm as has the work of the realists who are inspired by nature. The exotic naturalists add an artistic fantasy to their painting. Then, there are the free spirits whose sculpture and painting is expressive of their imagination and is without inhibition or apology. Lastly, the ‘Storytellers’ incorporate the human figure as they sculpt and paint Zulu cultural and social events.

A percentage of Ardmore sales is contributed to The Excellence Fund, a non-profit organization that also receives donations from many people worldwide. The Excellence Fund assists the artists to advance their education and skills training, and provides health care. In the current economic situation marked by rising unemployment and health care costs, the role of the Excellence Fund is critically important.

The artists are proud of their achievements and are known amongst their community as the “isgwili” (fortunate ones).

So if you’re going to be at the Summerhill Stallion Day on Sunday, you’re in for a real treat... where the ceramicists have traded in their zebra stripes for the racing thoroughbred.

Marsh Shirtliff, Mike and Carol Bass make the Pilgrimage

mike and carol bass with marsh shirtliff at hartford house

Mike and Carol Bass with Marsh Shirtliff pictured awaiting their famous
Hartford salmon omelettes
(Photo : Leigh Willson)

With the 2009 renewal of Africa's greatest horserace, the Vodacom Durban July, now just a few days away, we have already welcomed an array of racing's eminent personalities through the gates of Hartford.

One of whom is Marsh Shirtliff. Marshis not a superstitious man, not as far as we know, yet he does know that there hasn’t been a July winner in the past twenty years whose connections have not made it to Summerhill for the July, or at the very least, for our Stallion Day on the Sunday afterwards. The trick is either to make it beforehand or to make sure you’ve accepted the invitation in advance for Stallion Day, otherwise you risk taking on history. So Marsh dragged Mike and Carol Bass to the farm on a spectacular Sunday morning, and they took up their lodgings in the Inkanyezi and Nhlanhla suites while the Bass stable was cleaning up in the big events in Cape Town.

Logic tell us Pocket Power is a shoe-in for the big race, but Mike Bass (and you’d better be listening, if you intend having an interest in the big event next Saturday) thinks River Jetez is twice the filly she was last season. Let’s not forget what a big race she ran in the 2008 Vodacom Durban July, and if she’s twice as good as that, Pocket Power himself will need to have made some improvement to keep her out. And that he undoubtedly has, having had a trouble free “prep” for the first time in his life.

Of course, with three of our own in the line-up, it would be uncharitable of us not to wish them everything of the best, but we really hope that if either of them fluff their lines, the gates will open for Thandolwami, Outcome or Catmandu.

Country Life features Summerhill Stud

summerhill stud south africa

Autumn evening in KwaZulu-Natal
(Photo : Summerhill Stud)

Country Life is a fresh, invigorating publication that captures the essence of life in the South African countryside. The pages entice readers with an armchair escape to a quiter, simpler life; an exploration of South Africa's natural beauty, delightful dorpies, passionate people, artists, crafters and the discovery of our bountiful Nation's fascinating heritage.

Country Life recently featured Summerhill Stud in an article written by Olivia Schaffer entitled "In a league of its own", an extract from which follows :

Summerhill Stud in the KZN Midlands is a thoroughbred establishment in more ways than one.

Countless rural folk seek better jobs in the cities, often overlooking the wonderful opportunities country life can offer. For instance, horse handlers in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands are given unique opportunities to travel abroad on the Summerhill Stud educational programme. Following an intensive three-year life skills course on the farm, they are rewarded with working scholarships on the American and European farms of the horses’ owners.

Elliot Bhengu, a broodmare handler, and John Motaung, a work rider, were the most recent horse handlers to secure a place on the programme, and I happened to be on the farm when they returned.

“I have learnt so many different tasks,” said Elliot, still beaming with enthusiasm, “and it has made my work back here easier.”

John’s excitement was equally contagious, even though it was the second time he’d been chosen to go to America. “I learnt so much,” he says. “Now I look forward to sharing all that I’ve picked up with the other guys at Summerhill. I’m very grateful to Summerhill for what it’s done for me.”

Velaphi Mbanjwa, Siyabonga Mlaba, Robert Mbhele, Richard Hlongwana, Thulani Mnguni and Mali Zuma are others who have enjoyed work experiences abroad and who have thus benefited from the programme. They chose to remain in rural KwaZulu-Natal rather than seek jobs in the city and have reaped the rewards of their decisions.

Summerhill Stud, with its undulating emerald-green pastures in the foothills of Giant’s Castle, is as picturesque as it is unusual. As national Breeder of the Year for four consecutive years, and the only racehorse stud in the world boasting a five-star country house on its estate, it is one of a kind. Uniquely, it’s also home to stallions owned by the Rulers of Dubai, the world’s most powerful racehorse owners and breeders.

“Of all the studs in the world, apart from their own, Summerhill is the only one where the sheikhs stand their stallions,” says Mick Goss, the CEO of Summerhill.

As Mick drives me around the estate, he tells me there are between 700 and 800 thoroughbreds here. I’m also reminded that activities on the farm are determined by the changing seasons. It’s autumn, with the lush green of summer turning to shades of yellow and red, and the foals are being weaned from their mothers.

“We leave a herd of about 20 weanlings with an adult horse to ensure discipline is maintained,” Mick explains, adding that necessary procedures such as worming and hoof trimming ensure the young horses are handled extensively.

He tells me the more mature and better-bred yearlings are taken to the National Yearling Sales and that they are sensitively introduced to human contact so the handler can show them in the best light. “This is a vital process,” says Mick emphatically. The yearlings have never been ridden (the training starts when they’re about 20 months old) and they are sold to the highest bidder, who could be a trainer, a bloodstock agent or an owner who sees their potential.

The less advanced foals are kept for the Ready to Run Sales in October. These potential racehorses know what’s expected of them by the time they are sold because they’ve been taught the basics on tracks that have produced countless winners.

Winter in the racehorse industry also has its charm. Though it’s the time of the Vodacom Durban July, Africa’s greatest horseracing event, contested at Greyville Racecourse in Durban, things are quiet on the farm. Lands lie fallow, the veld takes on a golden hue, and although prospective young racehorses are being put through their paces, a certain peace prevails.

“With spring comes new life,” says Mick. “The trees burst forth with fresh greenery and budding flowers herald the return of warmer weather. Mares take on a nurturing role with the dependent foals and stallions go about the stud duties for which they are kept.”

Summer, I gather, is a busy time. It’s when international owners take up residence at Summerhill’s award-winning Hartford House “toescape the cold in Europe and the UK, to absorb the gentle Midlands sunshine as the lazy days drift by, and to visit the offspring their mares have produced.”

There’s lots of youthful activity, with newly independent foals frolicking in the fields as the guests look on in admiration. It’s also the rainy season, with balmy days ending in exhilarating thunderstorms followed by mild evenings under a star-studded sky. And so the cycle continues.

Summerhill’s horses are bred and reared as naturally as possible. They graze on pastures of erogrostis, rye, cocksfoot, clover and kikuyu, supplemented by Vuma Horse Feed, a commercial product manufactured on the farm.

This labour-intensive industry is an important job creator and Summerhill has a dedicated workforce, many of whom are the third or fourth generation of their families on the farm.

An exciting new project is the Al Maktoum School of Excellence, planning for which is at an advanced stage. “We see it as providing top class training for management candidates in the South African thoroughbred breeding industry,” explains its co-ordinator, Barbara Meier. “Our mission is to identify, train and develop the industry leaders of the future.”

The school’s first intake is planned for this month.

Whether its stallions, brood mares or people, all have played a role in the success of Summerhill. All are woven into its colourful tapestry.

THE TREASURED GETAWAY

Panjandrum Dam / Hartford House

Panjandrum Dam / Hartford House

Life in Africa really is a paradox. Every evening at home, we tune into Sky channel to catch up with what’s happening elsewhere in the world. The talk is quite depressing, and if it’s not war, it’s the financial crisis. On the other hand, we look at our guests at Hartford House and we see people from England, California, Scotland, Ireland, the USA and Australia, and we’re heartened that they take such trouble and travel so far to visit us. Truth is, more than ever, international travellers are looking for value destinations these days, and with the Rand trading in the vicinity of 10 to the dollar, you get no better bang for your buck than here in South Africa in general, and at Hartford especially.

In the last fortnight, we were honoured with the visit of an octet of some of the world’s top businessmen, who flew in from three different countries on three different private jets, and while the nature of their visit was private to the degree of their remaining largely anonymous, they proclaimed Hartford one of the best hotels in the world. Coming from people who can obviously afford to stay anywhere at any price, this is as rich a compliment as any hotel could wish for. It says something for our people, where they come from, and where they still have go. Hartford is very much a work in progress as far as its people are concerned, and the exciting thing is, we’ve still got so much to learn and so much to give.

At least one of them though, the celebrated anchor of NBC’s Nightly News, Tom Brokaw, broke (excuse the pun!) his veil of secrecy when his account of their African pilgrimage was posted on YouTube (click here to watch). Here’s a man who’s traversed the length and breadth of the planet, spoken to kings, queens and presidents, yet had the time to reflect on his “Zulu” experience.

We have some treasured friends in residence as we write, one of whom, Angus Gold, is the personal emissary of the Rulers of Dubai. Angus was instrumental in bringing about Sheikh Hamdan's substantial investment in bloodstock at Summerhill two decades ago this year, and he is one of our firmest friends. Our lives light up when he gets here, and his departure leaves something of a hole, though for those who’ve had to stay up at night, it’s an opportunity to catch up on some much needed sleep!

Also aboard at the moment is a legend of the South African business environment in Freddy Hirsch, arguably South Africa’s best known dealer in spices. Freddy is here as the guest of Eskort Bacon factory, celebrating his 80th birthday, and he’s in remarkably good shape. He survived a primary school education in the company of another of our great friends and horse racing colleagues, Graham Beck, (who’s lived life to a degree few of us could imagine,) and Freddy’s built a business empire of astounding proportions. Interestingly, the founders of Hartford, the Moor family (who spawned the last Prime Minister of the Colony as well as a Senator in the first South African government) were also co-founders of the Eskort Bacon factory and what is now known as NCD Dairies, the biggest dairy business on the continent. The visitations by Arnold Prinsloo, CEO of Eskort, and his cohorts are something of a homecoming for us.

OF CAMPANOLOGY AND FRIENDS

Church Bell / Neil Gould (p)

Church Bell / Neil Gould (p)

"For whom the bell tolls..."

We have as guests at Hartford House a rather rare species, in the form of a church bell ringer. Commander John & Mrs. Anne Ford have been clients of Summerhill for more than a decade now, and they’re residents, in their normal lives, of a small village called Blakesley in Northamptonshire, UK. They’ve kept mares with us for throughout this time, and they make an annual pilgrimage, having a deep and lasting affinity for this part of southern Africa.

However, it is in another of her capacities that we pen this note, as Anne teamed up with a compatriot from the same village in a bell-ringing exercise at St.George’s Cathedral in Cape Town last Sunday. Her fellow campanologist was no less than the Honourable Gillian Foster, wife of yet another very long serving client of Summerhill. Alec Foster has been associated with us for just about all of the thirty years we’ve been in business at Summerhill, first as a client of Mick Goss’ law practice, and for at least the past two decades, as a keeper of his mares on the farm.

At this time of year, our friends come in every shape and size and from every corner of the world, yet this was an unlikely duo, in an unusual exercise at the southernmost tip of what the civilized world still calls the “Darkest Continent”.

Could this be the Great Trek?

the great trek

The Great Trek?
(Hartford House)

Anyone visiting Summerhill this week could be forgiven for thinking they were witnessing a pilgrimage. While there will no doubt be others who pitch randomly, already we are expecting visitors from several different directions of the world.

The English are here in force, headed by Sir Bruce and Lady Hester Martin, Stuart and Adele Silvey, Commander and Mrs John Ford, while the Welsh, who lowered the English flag at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, are represented by the Mercers and the Dawsons of Usk Valley Stud Farm. Gold Circle are here with an Mpumalanga delegation on Thursday, local trainers Mike Miller, Garth Puller, Dennis Drier and their respective spouses were here on Monday.

Riding legend Michael Robertsand his wife Verna were diners at Hartford the same day. Summerhill stalwart Steve Sturlese was accompanied by his racing manager, Peter de Marigny and his newly acquired son-in-law, top jockey Brandon Lerena, whilst shipping supremo, Brian Roux, Arthur and Vynettevan der Heijden and Standard Bank will all have darkened the portals of the farm before the week is out.

No wonder we know so few people in the neighbourhood! Yet we wouldn’t trade it for anything: these are the people that bring the colour to our lives.