Simon van Zuydam, Mark Rutherfoord, Marcus Nel, Greg De Marigny, Brett Hagen and Charles Hiten are all equal shareholders in the Yataghan Racing Syndicate. Simon, Greg and Marcus go back a long way as teenage friends who love horse racing and used to hang out and party together at the Durban July during the 1980’s.
Those special bonds of friendships have endured together with their shared passion for horse racing. On Tuesday, this tight-knit group of mates were able to celebrate when their homebred, Gallic Dream won a strong Maiden at Hollywoodbets Durbanville. Greg de Marigny and daughter Teagan (on only her second visit to the races) led the two-year-old colt in.
“We knew he was taking on a strong field, and though trainer Eric Sands said he’d come along nicely since his debut and expected a decent run it was still unexpected and so exciting.” said Simon of their 20/1 victor who showed a zippy turn of foot and gameness to resist the challenges of highly touted, market principals.
There is a fascinating back story to Gallic Dream, by Vercingetorix out of the Dynasty mare, A Time To Dream, as well as to the origins of the Yataghan Racing Syndicate.
The friends have harboured the dream of owning a Durban July winner and the name Yataghan was chosen for the syndicate due to his gutsy fighting spirit and determination to win. Remembering Yataghan winning the iconic race back in 1973, Simon, then a ten-year-old recalls, “I think what appealed most about Yataghan was that he was smaller than many of his top rivals such as Elevation and William Penn, but just such a fighter – and he was a relatively cheap purchase, too!”
Over the intervening years, as their professional careers developed and they moved from Durban to elsewhere within South Africa and abroad, the guys, as well as enjoying a punt, also dabbled in individual horse ownership. Fast forward across the decades to properly formalising their partnership, (including introducing new friends to the game,) agreeing on their joint vision, naming the syndicate, and choosing colours. The group wanted to keep that historic Yataghan connection as close as possible, hence the predominantly orange colours, with the added twist of peach epaulettes.
The syndicate also made three pivotal decisions. Firstly, to invest as shareholders in a properly constituted Pty Ltd. Then, to source a mare with potential and go the breeding route, rather than buy youngsters at the yearling sales. And thirdly, just as they’ve done in other successful business ventures, a strategic call was to align themselves with industry pros recognised as experts at their craft.
The syndicate all bought into the “Moneyball” factor, from the Brad Pitt movie, “Moneyball.” They knew they could not compete with the big guns and match top stud farms budgets, so they needed to be smart, choose wisely and find value that others may not see.
Knowledgeable and trusted horseman, Eric Sands and Soetendal Stud’s Julia Pilbeam were chosen. Both know the intricacies of the racing game and can provide invaluable counsel on horse management. Simon states, “We have total confidence in great people like Eric and Julia – they are transparent, hard-working and exude positive energy.”
Sands is a wizard on horse’s conformation and goes to the stud farms frequently to monitor the physical development of the foals before advising his patrons. It was Sands’ recommendation that the aptly named, A Time to Dream be purchased out of a mare dispersal sale, though the syndicate also credit the wise assistance they received when starting out from thoroughbred breeding guru, Robin Bruss.
A Time to Dream won six times, when trained by Justin Snaith and might even have won the Grade 1 Majorca Stakes that went instead to Nightingale in 2017, but for a horrid trip she suffered when repeatedly blocked down the straight. Simon references that if she’d won we would not be having this interview, acknowledging that she would likely be with a leading stud farm.
Maybe she was commercially under-valued by the bloodstock market for being unplaced at G1 level, (though she earned Black Type in other Listed races) yet none of that might even have mattered as she could not come into foal at the beginning of her breeding career and her prospects seemed hopeless. However, scans arranged by Eric Sands suggested she was fertile enough to produce, so the syndicate forged on with their plans.
The group burned the midnight oil debating subtle nicks and pedigree crosses that might work, eventually deciding on Soft Falling Rain as their mare’s best option, only for the ill-fated stallion to die two weeks before the scheduled service.
Flower Alley became the substitute stallion, with a diminutive filly called A Time to Flower the outcome. She won a race in October 2022 at the Vaal when trained by Crawford Racing up in Joburg and there is hope she will win a few more.
Meanwhile, back at Soetendal Estate, Julia Pilbeam has been overseeing the development of both an Oratorio yearling colt ex A Time to Dream called Bel Canto Dream (the syndicate reckons Oratorio does well with Sadlers Well’s progeny,) and her most recent foal, a Master of My Fate filly. This year their mare will be covered by Hawaam.
In 2020, they were thrilled to secure a service at a competitive rate with Maine Chance’s, Vercingetorix, who is poised to take over the great Silvano’s mantle as the farm’s outstanding stallion. Gallic Dream is the product of that shrewd mating.
Simon is a corporate executive with a financial background. Tellingly, he also compiled a Stellenbosch University MBA thesis about Western Province Racing’s demise and offered solutions back in 1996.
Now based in Switzerland, he still follows the SA equine scene closely, and this avid fan imparted sage advice to fellow syndicate shareholders from the get-go.
“We are in it to enjoy the journey and have fun along the way, knowing that there will be highs and, inevitably, lows too. You can increase chances by breeding the best to the best, yet the gene pool remains part art/part science and there are no guarantees. “
Such level headedness is an essential trait in racing. It’s one tough game for all, be they voluntary participants like owners, or industry professionals such as commercial breeders, jockeys, and trainers. Not to forget the beleaguered group of die-hard punters.
Everybody, however, is united by an inspiring dream. Be it that massive betting plunge that connects or the often- times serendipitous and fortuitous association with a champion racehorse that is truly life transforming.
The friends have been in racing for many years, yet home breeding is a new venture. Just having an entry in the Durban July is a rare feat, never mind leading in the winner, but that remains the Yataghan Racing Syndicate’s ultimate vision.
They remain inspired by Yataghan’s exploits – wizened racing fans will remember when Syd Laird’s turf legend was putting together a formidable winning streak, the newspaper headlines would trumpet “Yataghan – yet again!”
Fortune can be fickle and fleeting in racing. Who knows how many “yet agains” there will be for Gallic Dream, or indeed for future progeny of A Time to Dream?
As a collective group, the Yataghan Racing Syndicate are under no illusions. They bring racing passion, business savvy and friendly enthusiasm to the six- strong partnership, backed up by supportive family members. All are now relishing an exhilarating phase to their well-conceived, home-breeding venture.