THE 2019 Equus Awards Function will be held at Emperors Palace on Tuesday, 13 August and if ever there was an automatic choice for Broodmare Of The Year, it is Wilgerbosdrift’s Halfway to Heaven, the prolific producer of champions. ANDREW HARRISON tells her story in Turf Talk’s daily Newsletter.
Behind every racehorse there is a story. Whether it be heartache or success it is always fascinating to go behind the scenes. Gavin Walker, the original owner of Bush Hill Stud in the KZN Midlands, is now retired and living in Porteville in the Western Cape, but was the man who beat the odds and was originally responsible for the recent success story of Sun Met winner and Vodacom Durban July runner-up Rainbow Bridge (Ideal World) and sibling Hawwaam (Silvano), winner of the Gr2 Dingaans, the Gr1 SA Classic and Gr1 Daily News 2000.
Walker recounts the story of Halfway To Heaven, the dam of these to champions.
“At a race meeting at Scottsville in 1986 the filly Our Elegant Girl, by Our Casey’s Boy (the Sutherlands Somerset Stud), was running and ridden by Guillermo Figueroa and trained by Jane Thomas. On the way to the start she unseated ‘Figgy’ but instead of galloping off she stopped, turned around, and went back to allow him to remount.
“I had never seen a racehorse behave inthis manner and decided that she was a must to add to my broodmares and entered into negotiations with Jane successfully.
“Our Elegant Girl was an easy mare, docile, good looking and fertile. Most of her coverings where to Summerhill’s Rambo Dancer, her colts I sold at the National Two-year-old Sales, two of her fillies I raced.
“Interestingly, after viewing one of her colts, St John Gray quietly asked me why I bred from Our Elegant Girl as she had no pedigree and her chances of success were poor.
“I went on to put her daughter Pas DeBasque, by Rambo Dancer, into training with Gavin Smith and she won eight for me. When she was due to have her first run, I was told by Gavin not to bother to come racing as she would “need the run.” Sitting in my lounge 120kms away I quietly watched her win and pay R54 on the tote.
“After she finished racing, I was fortunate to get a covering to (KZN-bred) Jet Master as I had known Mr and Mrs Divine for over 30 years. The stud fee was R65k. She duly foaled Halfway To Heaven, a very good looking foal, who grew into a most beautiful race mare, never weighing less than 500kg.
“Born in 2008, she was weaned on a small farm which I had bought bordering the 24 Rivers near Saron in the Tulbagh area of the Western Cape.
“When the first horse sickness vaccine became due, Dr Trichaardt attended. In the melee that developed trying to catch the three fillies in the paddock, Halfway To Heaven ran headlong into a timber upright and collapsed unconscious.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever felt more trauma as the wound was front of face and the scar can still be seen.
“Thanks to Dr Trichaardt being there, we were able to treat her with no apparent side effects. I took slightly longer to recover!
“In the winter of 2009, horse paddocks that I had laid out were all on fields in an area recovered from the 24 Rivers, one of the farm’s boundaries.
“In early August, the weather deteriorated and it rained heavily for four days and local farmers now agreed thatthis was the infrequent floods, referred to as “one in fifty years.”
“The dyke holding back the 24 Rivers began to show signs of instability. To complicate matters, late that Sunday we were contacted by a ‘Flood Emergency Group’ and told that a dam upstream had burst and the waters would reach us in 20 minutes.
“The water took 10 minutes to reach us at which stage we had only just secured the three yearlings and they were removed with the floodwaters up to their knees.
“As my paddocks had been decimated with not one workable, arrangements were made with The Alchemy, and they were moved.
“Shortly thereafter, Halfway To Heaven was found to have fractured her off-hind in the paddock and owing to the severity of the injury she was box-rested for six months with no concentrates.
“Visited during the latter periods of her rest, she was a really disheartening proposition, but it saved her.
“Now sound and apparently ready to be ‘backed’, I arranged and sent her to Lisa Humby where I knew she would get the physical and mental TLC she needed.
“She thrived under these conditions but owing to the depth and softness of the sand and her six months of box-rest she was developing a tendency for sore shins which was to give Eric Sands some nightmares.
“Moved to Eric, she now needed to show us that she deserved all that she had survived. It didn’t work. Everytime Eric put in some fast work, she went severely shin – sore. She was again going to need medical treatment as ‘fire-and-blister’ were (correctly) outlawed.
“Veterinary help was deemed necessary and she eventually made her racecourse debut at Durbanville on September 24, 2011 as a four-year-old.
“Her best run in a Grade 1 was in the Majorca Stakes where she was baulked for a run on the rails and finished beaten four lengths by the top rated three- year-old filly in the country, Blueridge Mountain.
“Halfway To Heaven won the Gr3 Prix Du Cap beating Frequent Flier and Hammie’s Hooker who had run second and third in the Majorca Stakes. She was a nervous filly and was shadowed by a ‘horse whisperer’ in the paddock and at the start.
“I then sold her to Mary Slack for whom she won the Off To Stud Stakes, her seventh victory, before being retired to Mary’s Wilgerbosdrift Stud. When Jehan Malherbe, who transacted the sale, was shown the full pedigree he called me to say that he thought I had been very “cheeky” sending Pas De Basque to Jet Master – but the rest is history.”
*Halfway To Heaven has a weanling and a yearling by Silvano at Wilgerbosdrift farm, a two-year-old byPhilanthropist in training and she’s in foal to Querari,and due soon.
-Andrew Harrison for Turf Talk Newsletter