The week of the Cape Yearling Sales arrived after nearly 10 weeks of hearing about it. It had particular significance for Annabel and my Dad because they were due to be selling their best ever yearling and were hoping for 1,000,000 Rand for him!
Each horse presented at the sales (all one year olds as indicated by the title) had to be vetted and inspected for conformation, etc. That meant that from Sorrento Stud there was unfortunately only 1 horse taking part. There were due to be 3 but the other 2 didn't pass the inspection. One because the guy thought the horse would end up sway backed despite my Dad saying there was no chance! It's a very strict policy! All 3 are owned by clients.
The horse that was owned by them wasn't being sold by them. Instead Drakenstein Stud were selling it on their behalf. There are 2 reasons for this. One because the stallion is from Drakenstein and two because the stallion is currently the best in the country, as is the stud, meaning they are much more likely to earn big bucks selling the horse under that name! The Manager of the Stud is also a family friend so was willing to do Annabel and my Dad a favour.
Monday to Wednesday the horses are all at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) where the event is being held. There are hundreds of temporary stables set up and all the horses and grooms are there. This allows all potential buyers to walk around pre-sales and inspect any horses they are considering buying from the huge printed schedule. It also gives the horses time to settle into the strange and noisy environment.
Thursday evening was the main event with the first 200 horses being auctioned that night. The sales then continued on Friday with the whole event being packed up and cleared out before the following Monday.
We first went on the Wednesday afternoon and wondered around the horses and various private areas set up by the various studs and associations where we could have complimentary drinks and snacks! By now we were getting to know quite a few people in the industry and were able to walk around and chat to each of them from the various studs which was nice. I also enjoyed checking out the horses and picking which ones I would buy if I could… the standard was very high and many were extremely nice looking horses!
We had arrived in two separate vehicles as my Dad went down in the morning in the baccie (pick-up) which was lucky because by early evening Adam wasn't feeling at all well, and no it wasn't horsey overdose! So he drove home early leaving the rest of us, including Justin to go over the road where a big cocktail party was being held for the event in a nearby hotel! We had a very enjoyable evening!!!
The following day we returned again at around 9am but this time we had a plan and after dropping everyone at the CTICC, Adam and I drove on to Table Mountain.
By this time we had been in South Africa for about 9 weeks but hadn't yet managed to visit one of the main attractions! So planning ahead we took our cameras and headed off through the centre of Cape Town to the cable car.
It's lucky we arrived so early because already people were taking advantage of the bright clear day and queuing for tickets. It's often very hazy from the heat around Cape Town and the Mountain itself often has its table cloth on, meaning it's got a big white cloud hanging around the top. Obviously those conditions aren't exactly brilliant for a trip to the top and this is one of the reasons why we hadn't been previously.
The bottom of the cable car is already at some distance up the side of the mountain and the angle of the sun at that time of the morning meant the whole mountainside was completely bathed in unrelenting heat. There was very little shade and what there was, was already filled with hundreds of tourists from all over the world. There was some quite funny banter from the English who were getting annoyed with all the other nationalities who were pushing and queue jumping. It was a very entertaining wait. Still, it took us just over an hour to get from the car to the top of the mountain and considering the cable car only takes about 3 minutes that's quite a long time!
The cable car itself is huge and takes up to 150 passengers each time! It is also circular and does 1 complete rotation in the time it takes to get from bottom to top, or vice versa, meaning that everyone gets an opportunity to see the best views on the way. Many people didn't know this before entering and were quite disoriented when the floor started moving!
Once at the top we headed straight for the café for brunch where I promptly got told off for feeding the birds! I hadn't been feeding them at all but one had managed to steal a bit of food from another table and then flew over my head dropping it on our table. The waitress only saw that part and instantly blamed me for feeding it! I set her straight!
Afterwards we headed off to take in the various walks and views. At the "front" of the mountain looking approximately northeast you have a view over all of Cape Town to the distant mountains that are probably around 100 miles away (given that they are quite a way past the farm which is 60 miles away)! Walking over to the other side you can look down on the hotel where Badger stayed with his family and up above that are a series of twelve peaks known as the Twelve Apostles. Following along behind that you can just make out Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. To the northwest is the sea with Robben Island just off the coast and over to the southeast is the rest of the mountain. You can only walk about a 1/3 of it on concrete tracks though as most is closed to the public as the whole area is a protected national park.
One of the things I was looking forward to seeing was the Dassies. These are like overgrown Guinea Pigs in appearance but according to their DNA their nearest living relative is the Elephant! They live on the rocks all over the mountain and laze around in the sun for most of the day. I had told Adam all about these Dassies and how they are often the size of a large cat or small dog but we were really disappointed to only see a few that weren't very big. They also weren't very close to us so it was hard to see them clearly. I think Adam thought I was imagining what they were like or that my memory of them from my last visit nearly 10 years ago wasn't very clear!
Once we had taken in all the possible pathways and views we headed back to the top of the cable car and just in time! Once we got there we saw the cloud rolling in from the southwest and by the time we were in the building it was flowing over the sides like an immense waterfall that evaporates a third of the way down. It was quite a sight but not much fun for the people on their way up or those still walking around unable to see their feet! We picked the right time to leave!
Once at the bottom it was hot and sunny again but it was clear that the mountain would be wearing its table cloth for the rest of the day.
Back at the CTICC we spent a couple of hours visiting all of our friends before heading to the main hall where the stage and tables were set up for the opening ceremony. The huge circular tables were set up like a 5 star restaurant with elegant decorations in the middle. It was almost like being at a wedding. The stage was surrounded by bales of straw and the horses are lead up a ramp and circled in the middle. I couldn't imagine the straw being much of a barrier from the edge if a skittish yearling got a bit close!
The opening ceremony was basically an introduction to Africa via a video shown on 2 huge projector screens and a performance from Freshlyground. They are a band made up of performers from South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe and they performed the 2010 FIFA World Cup song Waka Waka (This is Africa) with Shakira. They performed the same song for us but without Shakira and it was an excellent performance.
After this the auction started and within about 20 minutes one horse had already thrown his handler into the flimsy barrier that nearly resulted in him getting hurt. The horse got away but was caught by one of the many people standing at the entrance and the handler was fine but I heard they changed the barriers for the following day. This was the only incident though as they had a little pony standing at the back of the stage all evening who is apparently used for a lot of these events as he's so calm and will stand completely still all night, totally unfazed by the action going on around him. He acted as a calming influence for the youngsters.
Thankfully we didn't have to wait too long for the auction of James Blunt!!! I haven't mentioned his name yet but the horse being sold by my Dad and Annabel is registered in the name James Blunt, they also have a signed letter from the singer giving them permission to do this. The reason is that their friends son-in-law is James' best friend and was in the Army with him. He set up the contact with James and told him all about Sorrento Stud and the fantastic breading of this little horse and James was more than happy for it to be named after him. Annabel hoped this would attract more buyers but I'm not sure that it made much difference in the end.
James Blunt is a chestnut colt out of Aretha by Trippi. Two fantastic racehorses who both have proven offspring. James' half-brother out of the same Dam (Aretha) is also currently very successful and is due to race in the World Cup in Dubai and everyone was thrilled that the owner and trainer of that horse had both flown to Cape Town especially for the sales.
This bidding started off well and it was clear that the men from Dubai had some competition from the start. The other bidder is a very successful trainer who was buying on behalf of one of his owners. A man with a lot of money to spend!
It was a very intense time and Annabel couldn't sit still. She had phoned Ants who was listening to the commentary over the phone and had run to the back of the room hardly able to watch what was happening. To cut a long story short though, James Blunt sold for 1,400,000 Rand (around £111,000…). Not bad for an unproven horse that may end up a complete failure! Everyone was ecstatic and we all missed the next few horses being sold as half the room seemed to converge on the table to offer their congratulations. To put the icing on the cake the trainer of the new buyer (not the guys from Dubai unfortunately) came over to ask my Dad to keep James Blunt on the farm until he was ready to go into training. Meaning that he would be coming home and it would also mean more income in livery fees. My Dad may also get to break him, more money!!!
Eventually the horse they were selling came round and just prior to this some of us went to rub golden glitter in his coat across his back to make him sparkle under the lights. He looked really well but his breeding was nothing special and he ended up unsold. There is a reserve on all horses for 50,000 Rand set by the auction and he didn't quite meet this. The owners later agreed to sell him privately to one of the bidders though and everyone was happy with the result.
It had been a very long day and everyone left quite late at night (after a lot of celebratory drinks) completely exhausted. It was ok for us because we wouldn't be coming back again but my Dad had to get up early the next morning to return to the sales for the last day. Although he had no more horses to sell he likes to be at all these events to keep in socially. It worked out well for him as he ended up bringing a number of horses back for livery until they would be ready to go into training. Not bad business really.
The next morning Adam and I went down to the stables to see James Blunt back on the farm where he belongs. He had settled in and was happy chilling out in his stable looking like he had never been away!