A Champion and a Gentleman

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The announcement that Silvano had retired from stud duties produced a flood of emotions. There was sadness that the production line had stopped and relief that it was ‘just’ retirement. Mostly, there is gratitude, for the tremendous privilege of knowing this exceptional horse, and for everything he has meant to so many participants in the breeding and racing industry, around the globe.
Silvano’s story is a collection of events, all stacked up in just the right order, for him to have accomplished so much, and to have reached his immense stature.

At this milestone moment, we reflect on Silvano’s life and his journey to pasture at Maine Chance Farms.

Silvano’s history is inextricably linked with that of  the Jacobs family and Gestüt Fährhof, where he was born. The stud farm is known for producing top class horses and it is well-established as a leading thoroughbred stud.

Silvano’s sire, Lomitas, himself a product of Gestüt Fährhof, had been a promising 2yo and there were high hopes for his 3yo racing career. When Lomitas suddenly developed a severe phobia of the starting stalls, so severe that his career hung in the balance, his trainer, Andreas Wöhler, was advised to consult Monty Roberts, an American trainer who had been applying his techniques of natural horsemanship to starting young horses. He stepped in to help the colt to overcome his fear, and Lomitas went on to win five of his six starts that season, including three Group 1 races. Lomitas became German Champion 3yo and Horse Of The Year, an undisputed star of the German racecourse.

Gestüt Fährhof purchased 12 mares from the USA to inject some speed into their traditionally classic pedigrees in Germany. One of the mares, Spirit Of Eagles (Beau’s Eagle), was a recommendation by Monty Roberts. Spirit Of Eagles’ 1996 colt by Lomitas initially did little to distinguish himself from his peers, but he showed class and quality and was named after Silvano Beltrametti, a successful Swiss downhill skier.

Monty Roberts’s success with Lomitas brought him close to the Jacobs family and he was called upon to start all the Gestüt Fährhof yearlings. He considered Silvano to have an amazing willingness to learn, based on a huge trust in humans. It is perhaps this characteristic that has been the key to Silvano’s phenomenal success. He got a pass from the sales and graduated straight from the stud farm into training with Andreas Wöhler.

Federico Tesio said “a horse gallops with his lungs, perseveres with his heart, but wins with his character”. Silvano was certainly blessed with the very best of characters. His boundless generosity, kindness and above all, willingness to give his unreserved best every time he was required to, earned him the affection and undying loyalty of all who have had the privilege of working with him.

Silvano made his racecourse debut on 11 September 1998, taking on a field of nine, over 7 furlongs on soft going at Bremen. Sent out as the stable’s second choice, he surprised everyone by romping home an easy winner and was put away for the winter. He returned to the track in April as a 3yo, stepping straight into Group company with a victory by a length in the G2 Oppenheim Colonia Union Rennen over 2200m at Cologne. He finished his German racing career as a 4yo before having his passport stamped and setting off to conquer the world.

An international racing campaign is never an easy task. Travel takes a tremendous toll on horses, but Silvano took it all in his stride. His trademark good nature was supplemented by a rare work ethic and physical constitution to give his best, every time he faced a starting gate.

He was catapulted into international G1 status in the 2001 Singapore Cup. Andreas Suborics settled him off the pace towards the back of the six-horse field, and as a gap opened when they rounded the turn, Silvano dropped the hammer.  Accelerating in electrifying fashion, he “absolutely brained them” – to quote the race caller – winning by a widening 5,5 lengths, setting a new track record.

At the Dubai World Cup Carnival Silvano finished two lengths back for a 3rd place in the G2 Dubai Sheema Classic. In Hong Kong, for the 2001 G1 QE II Cup, he took the lead 1,5 furlongs out and won by the best part of two lengths. After a spell in Singapore, he travelled to the USA for the 2001 G1 Arlington Million, which he won most impressively by three lengths.

Silvano’s final haul was 7 wins from 15 starts, ranging from 1400 – 2200m, across six different countries, German Horse of The Year honours and a Timeform rating of 126.

Andreas Jacobs reflected: “For the team, including myself, it was a great adventure, since we had no experience in sending a horse around the world. Silvano’s kindness and trust made it a success.”

Silvano retired to stud at Gestüt Fährhof in 2002 and, being the first German horse to have travelled the world, he was warmly received by the German breeding industry. In the same year, Andreas Jacobs purchased Maine Chance Farms, near Robertson, and decided to shuttle his star to the Southern Hemisphere for the 2003 breeding season. “I just felt that he was ideal for South Africa – a 2000 metre horse who liked fast ground, and also a complete outcross.”

It was here that fate stepped in. Having completed his South African stud duties, Silvano’s intended return to Germany was ultimately cancelled when an outbreak of African Horse Sickness grounded his plane for good. It was a bitter pill to swallow, particularly when Silvano received Germany’s Champion Freshman Sire accolades in 2005 and was named second leading European Second Season sire behind none other than the mighty Galileo – an achievement that truly isn’t made enough of, given Galileo’s own achievements.

Silvano did make it back to Germany for the 2009 season, to honour the commitments from the 2004 aborted trip, but by then it had been decided to have him settle in South Africa on a permanent basis.

It can never be overstated just how much Europe’s loss was South Africa’s gain.

Hawwaam, Summer Pudding, Marinaresco, Vercingetorix, King’s Gambit, Bold Silvano, Aslan, Field Flower, Bravura, Seal, Flirtation, Martial Eagle, Heavy Metal, Happy Valentine, Al Sahem, Power King, Wavin Flag, Do You Remember, Silver Mountain, Orchid Island, Nightingale, Silvano’s Pride, Zilzaal, Kilindini, Janoobi – a glance through Silvano’s best progeny reads like a who’s who of feature races and nearly everyone sparks a trip down racing’s memory lane.
Who could forget the first three past the post in the 2015 Vodacom Durban July?

Silvano celebrated his first sire’s championship in 2013 at age 17. Given that it came about while the mighty Jet Master, Captain Al and Dynasty were all at the height of their powers, was no mean feat. This achievement was remarkably escalated. Rather than winding down towards the end of his career, Silvano only improved with age, claiming the Sires Championship for the past four years in a row, aged 21, 22, 23 and 24, respectively.

Silvano has left an extraordinary and impressive stud book legacy. Silvano’s son Vercingetorix stands alongside his sire at Maine Chance Fams, and with him having recently been crowned the Leading Sire of 3yo’s in South Africa, the perpetuation of Silvano’s male line is assured.

The late Prince Ahmed bin Salman once said, “Winning races is easy. Just buy a horse and send it to Henry Cecil”. With Silvano’s statistics of 70% winners to runners, it seems winning races is easy – just buy a Silvano.

To have achieved a glittering globe-trotting racing career, multiple international Group 1’s and Horse of the Year accolades is hard enough. To follow that with nearly two decades at stud in two hemispheres, ranking consistently at or near the top of the sires log, five sires championships, producing multiple champions, a Triple Tiara winner and Horse Of The Year, a most-worthy sire son, and apparently gaining momentum the older he gets, is remarkable. Fortunately no-one told Silvano that it was supposed to be hard.

Silvano is ever the gentleman. Maine Chance Farms’ previous Stud Master, John Slade, managed Silvano for 11 years and describes him as “everyone’s friend and father and the sort of horse you tell your secrets to”.  In June 2016 Monty Roberts made time in his busy South African tour schedule to spend an afternoon with his old friend. In 2018, Bianca Wachter, the racing groom who accompanied Silvano on his international campaign, made a special trip to South Africa, to visit him ahead of his 22nd birthday.

One seldom has the privilege of being able to retire a stallion that is still in good health. To have an international superstar retire sound, from a globetrotting campaign, says much about the horse and the breeding principles that went into producing him. For a stud stallion to be in active service until the age of 24 and still occupying the top of the sires log is a huge testament to the stud staff and the team who manage him and take care of him on a daily basis.

Stud Manager Tim Bootsma confirms that Silvano is still every bit as enthusiastic and professional about life, and for the retired stallion it will be business as usual. His daily routine of stretches and a morning session on the lunge, will remain. After that, Silvano will spend the day at leisure in his paddock before being brought into his stable for the night.
While the announcement was tinged with sadness, it is mostly with pride and immense gratitude that the Silvano Syndicate is able to retire this champion gracefully, to live out his days under the African sun.

The saying goes that racehorses carry everyone’s dreams on their backs. Silvano surely lived up to fulfilling the dreams of his breeder, trainer, supporters, shareholders and caretakers.
Happy retirement, Champ!