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A tale of two Johns as Freeman and Ferguson link up in Johannesburg

Leading agent spent R12.62 million at the National Yearling Sale

John Freeman: "the big challenge is to find the next champion sire"
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Few agents at Bloodstock South Africa's National Yearling Sale in Johannesburg last week can claim to have been as busy as John Freeman, who signed for 16 lots at a total spend of R12.62 million (£742,870/€842,700) over the three days of selling.

And Freeman also found himself with a notable new client, with former Godolphin chief executive John Ferguson utilising his expertise to find a horse for a new syndicate whose members include the Duke of Richmond, owner of the Goodwood estate.

"John Ferguson put the party together," explained Freeman, who selected Silver Sky, a son of Silvano who cost R750,000 (£44,220/€50,080), for the partnership.

"The colt will be trained in Cape Town by Justin Snaith. I'm just an ordinary bloodstock agent from South Africa so I'm very flattered to have been asked to buy a horse for such a famous guy," he added.

John Ferguson studying the National Yearling Sale catalogue

And for Freeman, the sale was the culmination of weeks' worth of planning and preparation, as evidenced by his heavily annotated catalogue that looked more like the Encyclopedia Britannica than the pedigrees of over 500 yearlings.

"If you open my catalogue it looks like a fly has jumped into a pot of ink and danced all over the page!" said Freeman as he ran his finger over another colour-coded page littered with his observations.

"You have to do your homework. My team put together all the research so I know exactly what the first dam's progeny have achieved, what they sold for, how many times they raced, who they were by and so on.

"I haven't bought champions without doing a lot of homework."

All the hours of homework put in by Freeman and his team have resulted in an impressive roll of honour. Among a lengthy list of names Freeman has had a hand in selecting are champions such as Enchanted Garden – the first mare to be named South African Horse of The Year – National Emblem, breed-shaping sire Dynasty, Legislate and Futura.

"The work begins as soon as the catalogue arrives," he continued. "People expect you to do it online but I'm a hard copy guy, I haven't really got into digital technology yet. I was five years old when I attended my first sale - that was 59 years ago now - and I've still got that catalogue with my childhood scribblings in!

"The amount of energy and effort that goes into preparing for a sale like this is immense. After all the catalogue work I might see a horse four or five times, and then there's vettings and x-rays and then you doubt yourself and bring in others to give you an opinion."

Among Freeman's other notable acquisitions during the sale were a Silvano colt bought for R2.6m on behalf of Jack Mitchell and Nick Johnson, and a Dynasty filly for R2.m.

"Wow - what a horse. I thought he was a very impressive individual, very athletic,” he said when asked for his thoughts on the Silvano colt named Silver Host, before swiftly moving on to sing the praises of a Flower Alley yearling - Bayberry - he signed for at R1m.

"I'm not always keen on buying first foals, but this horse is about as nice a first foal as I've ever seen," Freeman said excitedly. “He has so much quality and class. I don't know whether Flower Alley will work in South Africa, I know he's produced good horses overseas, but it's still early days. But this colt was a superior-looking individual and is from a heck of a family so I'm hopeful."

Silver Host in the ring before fetching R2.6 million

Away from his yearling selection work, Freeman also manages an impressive portfolio of stallions, including leading lights of the South African scene Dynasty and Trippi, as well as promising young names like Gimmethegreenlight, Querari, What A Winter and Wylie Hall.

"Buyers were all looking for Dynastys and Captain Als but the big challenge is to find the next champion sire," he says. "I'm in a very good position because I'm a shareholder and manager of some very exciting young sires so I'm very encouraged by what's going on."

And Freeman was also heartened by the events that unfolded at the Johannesburg sales complex over the three-day auction, as trade generally proved strong and the air of positivity undeniable, something that was not entirely expected given the turbulent times the South African industry has experienced of late.

"The National Yearling Sale has always been the heartbeat of our industry - the breeders like to come here and there are a lot of people who feel very strongly affiliated with it," he said.

"The signs coming out of this sale are incredibly positive. The attitude is good and business confidence is high. Generally I think it's a strong market. I didn't expect records to be broken and we've been beaten several times, and I'm happy about that - obviously I'm sad to lose the horses but it means the industry is in good nick."

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I'm just an ordinary bloodstock agent from South Africa so I'm very flattered to have been asked to buy a horse for such a famous guy

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