|Breeding Season 2014: Ato Arrives At Summerhill Stud|
The arrival of a new stallion at Summerhill always stirs the juices. We like to think that to get through the eye of the stallion barn’s needle, takes a racehorse of extraordinary quality and exacting standards. Form, physique and family are the fundamentals, and they need to represent the top half percent or so of the best of the breed. The boss in our stallion barn is a man whose years in the trade embrace stints at the famous Irish nurseries, Coolmore and Airlie, and some twenty-seven seasons at Summerhill; when Greig Muir puts the word out to the farm that the float carrying the new arrival is 15 minutes out, you must know that desks, tractor seats and bakkies are quickly vacated. All roads led to the offloading ramp outside the Vuma office, and by the time I reached there, the parking “full” signs were already up.
Any racing fan worth his salt knows the Australian star Black Caviar; grandstands and bars bear her name, some as far afield as England. Her granddad was the regal racehorse, Royal Academy, whose glittering stud career left more than 170 Stakes winners, 27 of them at the highest level. The search among studmen for that elusive beast with speed, substance and superior genes is never ending, and as a top-of-the-sale dual Group One winning son of Royal Academy at six furlongs and a mile, Ato is the complete package. His six length demolition of globe-trotting Krypton Factor, hot off his own crowning moment in the world’s richest sprint, anointed Ato the “Prince of Speed”. It was the final act for a tribe celebrated in South Africa for its champion stallions, Silvano and Dancing Champ, coming as it did just months after he’d annihilated Asia’s best milers in the Group One Patron’s Bowl.
John Slade’s been around horses for just about as long as he’s been breathing, and much of what you see around you at Summerhill these days in the way of landscaped beauty was inspired by John during his tenure here as General Manager. Today he is chief honcho at Maine Chance Farms, which not only retains an investment in Ato, but sold him at the National Yearling Sales in 2009. John’s admiration of the horse has no bounds, and when Ato marched off the transporter yesterday, he made a legion of new fans in that instant.
The modern thoroughbred is a culmination of more than three centuries of meticulous selection, and this fellow embraces every facet of the work that began with the early custodians of the breed, the English aristocracy, all those years ago. There’s no horse with a finer head, a more generous eye or a greater presence. His first steps across the lawn outside his new home were announced with a trumpeted whinny, and the jaunty, arrogant swagger of a man who knows his purpose. His neck was craned, his body sprung for action, and you sensed as he stepped into the shed row that there were no inhibitions about the company he was about to join, as elite as it may be.
The “Prince” has already brought countless thrills to his connections, Dennis Evans, Andreas Jacobs, Myron Berzack and Pat Shaw, yet we can’t help thinking that the best of Ato is still in front of him. Maybe the search stops right here.