Breeding breakthrough


TBA’s chief Callaghan says thoroughbred export breakthrough just months away


Markus Jooste of Steinhoff is one of the smartest guys I’ve met. Ditto Investec co-founder Bernard Kantor. Both are self-made billionaires who know about buying at the bottom. Both are also huge investors in SA’s thoroughbred breeding sector. A fresh arrival in my inbox suggests their bet (and mine) is about to come good.

Tom Callaghan, CEO of the Thoroughbred Breeders Association, has made my day. In his end of the year email that just arrived, Callaghan tells his members their financial dawn is about to break. He predicts by mid-2013 export protocols will be normalised. Opening the door to explosive revaluation of an industry whose exclusion from global markets depressed values to a third of the international average.

Racing SA’s efforts have been hamstrung by a lack of resources; infighting locally and the politics of the international racing industry. Callaghan says not just the TBA, but “other stakeholders” have agreed to kick in more money. That tells us the long-absent united front has finally arrived. And given the extent of the funding hike, Callaghan is not alone in believing the walls of the export protocol Jericho are about to crumble.

South African bloodstock, in which I’m a substantial investor, has been bedevilled by antiquated protocols around African Horse Sickness – a dreadful disease passed by midges between zebras, donkeys and horses. AHS has a 90% fatality rate among horses and is highly contagious (donkeys and zebras are immune) so it’s hardly surprising other countries are concerned about allowing infected horses into their realms. But the disease is only a threat during short periods of the year (parts of summer when the midges are active) and as every SA horse is required to be vaccinated, is aggressively combatted. Although AHS is unlikely to ever be eradicated, scientific advances mean it is no longer a threat to the potential export of thoroughbreds. Modern quarantine stations also means horses earmarked for export can be tested and guaranteed AHS free before they leave the country.

A new export protocol would recognise this, speeding up the quarantine period from many months to just a few days. The impact on the South African thoroughbred industry would be profound. Where they have persevered through arduous export protocols, racehorses from this country punch far above their weight on the global stage. Especially during the Dubai season where for some years now SA Champion Mike de Kock and his SA-borns have taken on and often beaten the best in the world. Locally-bred horses have also landed the biggest prizes in the Far East and in the years before export protocols went overboard, SA-born horses flourished in the USA. Because at the upper end the blood of local thoroughbreds is of the highest quality. Conditions in parts of SA are ideal for raising of tough throroughbreds able to handle the rigours of top class racing. And they are grown at a fraction of the cost in most other major racing jurisdictions.

In his letter to members, the self-proclaimed perfectionist Callaghan allows himself to dream: “Imagine the day we can export horses freely to the world, race internationally on a fair basis, and enjoy other benefits such as shuttle stallions and being able to import bloodlines into the country easily. This is our holy grail and we have to crack the code at all costs. My prediction is that we are in for a special year: (by mid 2013) We will start exporting horses with relaxed protocols and Mike de Kock, the Great South African Racing Ambassador, is going to clean up in Dubai with some of the great horses in his string over there.”

As we say in the racing industry: Tom, from your lips to God’s ears!