Racing all rounder Justin Vermaak’s chief occupations these days are Bloodstock Agent and syndicate manager and in his opinion horseracing in South Africa is still in good shape “considering.”
Vermaak flies between bases in Singapore and South Africa and made headlines at April’s BSA National Yearling Sale, where he bought 19 horses.
Fifteen were for prolific Gauteng-based owner Laurence Wernars, two were for his Green Street Bloodstock syndicate and two were for Paul Matchett and his clients.
Vermaak’s sales partner, trainer Johan Janse van Vuuren, was out of action at the Nationals after a back operation, so Vermaak was left alone to do initial selections and specimens, although he had help from Wernars and Janse van Vuuren on pedigrees and evaluations.
He said. “We buy whatever drops in what we think is the right price. I am more worried about the performance of the mare than stallions. Obviously, you try and get good stallions where you can, but generally then you have to pay a lot more. We’ve done very well with horses who are by good stallions but not by those top two or three. We don’t follow fashion because it just effects the money. This year we bought Gimmethegreenlights and they cost us barely anything. We got two really nice Gimmethegreenlight colts, both for R225,000, and a filly for R325,000.”
Vermaak added, “We are not scared of first season sires, definitely not.”
Consequently, he has some unraced two-year-olds in his camp by Silvano’s son, Vercingetorix, who has quickly proved himself to be an exciting sire prospect. He picked up another Vercingetorix at the Nationals and said, “The surprise is that Vercingetorix has been throwing all of these two-year-olds. He is a horse who went 2000m and he never ran at two, so they should improve and improve and improve, which is big.”
One of Vermaak’s unraced Vercingetorix colts, Prince Of Venice, caught the eye in a Greyville poly barrier trial recently, doing it effortlessly with a nice big action. He is one to look out for.
Wernars also has a big breeding operation.
Vermaak said, “Johan and I work with all of his mares and the stallion we supported heavily was William Longsword. He was expensive for a first season sire, but he was a brilliant racehorse and I think he is the best Captain Al to have gone to stud. Johan and Laurence have a good working relationship with Anton Marcus and Anton speaks the world of that horse. Then there is a new stallion at Maine Chance called Erupt. He is a Group 1-winning Dubawi, so we supported him as well.”
Speaking of the equine export protocols, Vermaak said, “I know the guys are doing as well as they can but we have been hearing for years and years that in a few months it is going to open up and it just never does. For my personal career and the management of my clients, we’re carrying on with the expectation that it is not going to open. If it does it will be an added bonus, because we are racing in Singapore too, so we would then be able to send our own horses to Singapore and I wouldn’t have to fly to all of those places halfway across the world to buy horses.”
There is no breeding in Singapore and no sales, so Vermaak buys mainly out of Argentina, “where the value is so strong”, and also out of Australia.
He has also bought out of Argentina for Wernars in the last couple of years.
Vermaak races in Singapore through his Green Street International syndicate. The initial members were the like of Marsh and Guy Shirtliff, Bryn Ressell, Lindsay and Kathryn Ralphs, Wehann Smith, and a bunch of his Green Street owners.
“We now have a lot of local Singaporeans involved and some English guys, one guy from Qatar and some Aussies. In Singapore half the people are ex-pats so it’s a big mix.”
Vermaak tries to attract a young crowd and continued, “Of our 20 owners in Singapore, at least half of them are what you would call young. We had a horse in the Singapore Guineas, he ran poorly, but he cost Aus$25,000 and he has earned Aus$100,000. It is a place where the prize money is brilliant, a maiden win pays for ten months keep, unlike here where it’s only three-and-a-half months, so you need a horse to win once a year and some places and you also get an appearance fee. You get about a third of your training fees back as a rebate everytime you run so financially if you crack a half decent horse you can do alright there, you can pay for the slow ones with some change.”
Part of the package Vermaak sells to SA-based clients are the fun weekends to be had in Singapore, a remarkable city in many respects.
Racing is a great leveller and Vermaak said some of the new clients take to it like a duck to water, while others battle to understand the difference between class and divisions. He said, “I find you have to be strong with the guys, either they will stay or they will run and the ones who stay are the ones who want to.”
He continued, “Our best horse at the moment is Herodotus, who finished third in the Grade 1 Cape Derby. He is a smart horse but he needs gelding. We are targeting him at his four-year-old season.”
Vermaak spoke of a downward trend in racing worldwide at present, even in Hong Kong, where illegal bookmakers have become a big problem.
However, he concluded, “But the prices here are still strong. There have been a lot of dispersal sales recently and mares were not easy to buy, weanlings were not easy to buy either, so there is still money around and I think the industry is still in good shape considering.”
By David Thiselton