The first Thoroughbreds were imported into South Africa in 1792 and informal races were held at Green Point, Cape Town from September 1797. The British governor of the colony, Lord Charles Somerset, imported a number of English stallions and mares in 1814 and encouraged other wealthy settlers to do the same. A government stud was established at that time.
By 1825, racing had spread to the Eastern Cape and Natal. Horses were bred locally, usually by crossing Thoroughbred stallions with Caper or half-bred mares, and most of the stud farms were situated close to Cape Town. However, the quality of the horses began to deteriorate by the middle of the century due to the limited number of breeding stallions and poor stud management. The fledgling industry was rejuvenated by the wool boom in the 1870s, when farmers realised that the soil of the Karoo, particularly between the towns of Colesberg, Middelburg and Cradock, had the perfect ratio of calcium, protein and phosphorus to produce quality horses with good bone. This became a prime breeding area, and those who had made their fortunes from the diamond fields of Kimberley and gold on the Witwatersrand invested their wealth in the racing industry. They imported superior Thoroughbreds from England and France and became the founding members of the Jockey Club of South Africa, which was formed in Port Elizabeth in 1882.
The most influential breeders:
- Charles Southey was one of the first to import quality mares to his stud Culmstock, located near Middelburg. He dominated breeding in this country for 30 years with his imported stallions Whack’um and Pearl Diver.
- Owner, breeder and trainer Alex Robertson bred five early South African Derby winners at his stud Stormfontein near Colesberg. His son, Allan, continued to breed winning horses well into the 20th Century.
- Hilton Barber bred the first and many subsequent South African Derby winners at his farm outside Cradock.
- Randlord Abe Bailey established Clewer Stud in Colesburg and imported Dark Ronald from England. Champion stallions of the 20th Century, Sunstone and Pietri, also stood at Clewer, where his grandson still breeds winners.
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