Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

With two Durban July victories in the past decade and numerous grade 1 trophies in his cabinet, one might say Chris van Niekerk could be ready to take his foot off racing’s accelerator pedal.

Not so. SA’s leading owner is embracing the challenge of Klawervlei Stud — of which he is chairperson — as it prepares for the country’s first farm online sale.

Asked whether Klawervlei was adopting the strategy of Inglis in Australia who held their Easter sale online on April 7, Van Niekerk said: “We were partly influenced by the Inglis experience, but more importantly in these extraordinary times we had to think outside the box to help ourselves and other breeders. We have to save animals, generate some cash or at least reduce costs. We are looking forward to the project.”

Originally a total of 160 yearlings — exclusively from Klawervlei — were set to be sold on June 21 with prospective buyers submitting their bids for four days from the 17th.

“This is a firm date but the number will now be bigger as we have invited other Cape studs to enter yearlings on the sale,” said Klawervlei MD John Koster. “I guess we are the guineas pigs as far as this type of sale is concerned but we don’t mind that.” 

Grant Knowles, sales and marketing manager for Klawervlei, said the stud would be partnering with New Zealand-based gavelhouse.com for SA’s first online farm sale.

“With so much uncertainty in the world, we felt an online approach may be the way forward. We are excited to have entries from leading stud farms in the Western Cape and look forward to partnering this initiative with them,” said Knowles.

New Zealand Bloodstock subsidiary Gavelhouse  MD Haylie Martin said: “We are excited to be showcasing our platform in another jurisdiction. Going global is something we’ve wanted to do for some time.”

Earlier this year before the Inglis sale, Gavelhouse achieved an Australasian online record by selling grade 1 winning mare Hasahalo to China Horse Club for $670,000 (R12.3m).

The big task for Knowles and his team will be to encourage vendors to put realistic reserves on their yearlings. Before the Covid-19 pandemic they would have journeyed to the National Yearling Sales with some optimism. It’s a different story now.

It is interesting to hear the view of Australian breeder Tony Bott ahead of the Inglis sale: “We are in uncharted water and I’d probably rather be a buyer than a vendor at this stage. But this is what it is and we’ve got to make the most of it.”

He added: “We are adopting an attitude of what we said three months ago and we are probably marking them down somewhat and that is anything from 10%-40% depending on the individual animal.”

With no horses at their Riverside complex, Inglis understandably made great play that they sold an I Am Invincible colt for $1.17m and that the sale average was just slightly lower than 2019.

However, a closer look at the statistics makes interesting reading. A bid of $650,000 for a colt by the same sire was turned down, but, more importantly, 279 of the 514 lots catalogued were either passed-in or withdrawn.

Van Niekerk said: “Owners and trainers in SA are astute people and many may consider this a chance to get a quality yearling at a realistic price.”