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(SA) DS Tomcat Brings Unique Bloodlines to USA

By Ann Bullard

Six months … thousands of miles … spent in containers, on airplanes, in trucks, strange stalls … separated from the people he’d come to depend on. Finally, on January 21st, (SA) DS Tomcat and his co-owner, Pieter Hugo, came together again at Singing Hills Stable in Shelbyville, KY. His partner in the stallion, Lauren Smith, remains in South Africa.

Tomcat stepped off the truck and into the Kentucky snow, a somewhat strange experience for a stallion raised in the warm South African climate. Those who saw him take those steps on the strange, white-covered ground had the first glimpse of what arguably is one of the most beautiful American Saddlebreds in the country today. The following day, Saddlebred enthusiasts met the six-year-old during the All American Cup Stallion Auction. One comment heard over the enthusiastic crowd’s applause as the chromed up chestnut stood with his head held high and ears pricked, "Wow!"

One would expect such a reaction to the line-bred grandson of Scandal’s Last Tango. Tomcat’s grandsire is best known in the United States as the sire of (SA) Arborlane Tangos Wee Pee, a champion in the three-gaited and fine harness divisions and sire of, among others, the 2010 World’s Grand Champion Fine Harness horse, Lace’s Last Tango.

Certainly South African judges recognized Tomcat’s beauty and presence on the two occasions he showed in-hand. He won the South African Yearling National Championship and, four years later, the South African National Grand Champion Stallion title.

"I saw Tomcat several years ago and wanted to bring him [over] then," said Gene van der Walt, who is handling the stallion’s training and breeding careers. "Pieter was kind of stingy with him. Pieter kept the horse under wraps until he could see what he would produce. He wanted a horse that would be perfect."

With eight registered get on the ground in South Africa, the oldest, two-year-olds, just entering their performance training, Hugo knew he had the horse he dreamed of. All have their sire’s qualities, chrome and attitude. It was time to make the move.

"Tomcat spent 60 days in quarantine in Cape Town [SA,] said Hugo. "We just put him in a box and off-loaded him there. I wasn’t allowed to see him again. After he cleared Cape Town, he was flown to England, and taken by road under the sea to Germany."

A flight to New York followed the 60-day German quarantine; after five days there, Tomcat made his last stop on the way to Kentucky … a sport horse barn in Ohio where he spent 21 days undergoing tests and observation to prove him safe to breed to American mares. His only exercise during this whole trip: being hand-walked.

"He was out of my hands completely," Hugo said. "I did get three pictures someone took on a cell phone. They showed he was alive, doing well – and where he was on his journey."

A most-excited Pieter Hugo joined van der Walt to greet and unload Tomcat at his Kentucky home. The stallion stood the journey well, although he had lost weight and muscle-tone. With van der Walt’s daily training, he will regain his sculptured form.

At 16.1 hands, a neck that seems to go on forever and loaded with chrome to match what van der Walt calls his "look at me attitude," Tomcat brings some unique qualities to the U.S. Saddlebred scene. While his first and second-generation pedigree may not seem familiar to many in the States, when you study their breeding you will find names breeders today seek.

Scandal’s Last Tango is by the imported Vanity Sensation of Crebilly son, Vanity’s Scandal, who had four Hall of Fame broodmares in his pedigree. Scandal’s Last Tango’s dam, Gifted Pearl, boasts six Hall of Fame broodmares. She had several crosses to Edna May’s King, through his two most prominent sons, Anacacho Shamrock and Anacacho Denmark, and to Bourbon Genius.

In South Africa, Tomcat was bred to mares that go back to imported bloodlines such as Longstreet, Oman’s Desdemona Denmark, Trojan (grandfather of War Image) Rosemar Highlander and Indiana Ace mares. Hugo says they all turned out to be exceptional-looking babies.

Van der Walt pointed out that Tango bloodlines, through Tango Wee Pee, have crossed well with Santana Charm mares in the U.S. While Tango Wee Pee’s dam, High Amaryllis, was a three gaited mare, which may account for the strong three-gaited genes in his offspring, Tomcat carries strong five-gaited genes as well. His sire and grandsire both were successful in the five-gaited division.

"Tomcat will put a lot of leg on any horse," van der Walt said, "and probably a lot of chrome as well. He should nick well with any kind of mare."

What does the trainer think of his latest charge? "I think he’s wonderful. We’re so used to South African horses being big-hearted with a lot of go-forward. They’re very brave but a lot of time we find they lack quality," he responded. "That’s what’s amazing about this one. He may be the most beautiful stallion I’ve ever laid my eyes on."

And, as for Tomcat’s personality … "He’s a very kind horse, with a great disposition," van der Walt said. "He’s very quiet for a stallion. When we work him, he’s so quiet we might think of him as a gelding. But put a halter on with a chain over his nose and show him the breeding shed and he becomes all stallion. I think Pieter had a lot to do with that. Pieter set clear boundaries … Tomcat knows when he’s breeding and when he’s working."

Tomcat’s American career will be more than in the breeding shed. Van der Walt is working him for the Fine Harness division.

"He has a lot of hock and carries himself beautifully," van der Walt said. "And he oozes with quality. Tomcat has a brilliant work ethic and is very game."

While van der Walt has the responsibility for Tomcat’s day-to-day routine, Hugo is helping plan his career – and the Shelbyville farm that will house some of his offspring. Hugo and his friend, Francois Dercksen, have begun construction on their Far Away Farm in Shelbyville, Ky. It’s a logical next step for the man whose grandfather purchased Sparkling Cardinal (Sparkling Waters x Ky. Cardinal Belle, BHF by King’s Genius) who was bought from Dodge Stables in 1955.

"When I opened my eyes, there were Saddlebreds all around me," Hugo said.

He certainly took to Saddlebreds and the sport in which they compete. When he came home from boarding school on weekends, he devoted his time to what he calls "my one true passion – horses.

"My father used to send all the nice ones to outside trainers to be worked and sold," Hugo told Jane Simmons in a 2009 Saddle and Bridle article. "I’d get the second selection and sometimes the wild ones. Even at my young age, however, I had already decided that I wanted to live in Kentucky and become a horse trainer."

He took a somewhat circuitous route. Following his basic schooling, he served two-years compulsory military service. Upon discharge, he entered the University of Stellenbosch. Seven years later, after obtaining five different degrees including an MBA, he put his studying behind him and took a job as financial director of a healthcare company. But working for someone else wasn’t his dream.

In 1999, he started a management consulting company focused on healthcare. After his father’s death, he also took over the management of the family game, sheep and cattle farm. However, the lure of working with horses remained strong.

In 2000, Hugo opened his own barn in the seaside town, Hout Bay in Capetown. Working his horses, he was able to maintain his status as an amateur owner and trainer. He preferred to compete in the open division to test his abilities.

Hugo’s Saddlebred enthusiasm and marketing talents took him into yet another direction. In 2004, he launched The South African Show Horse Magazine. More recently, his company, Silvermane Media, expanded into television. It has provided South African, sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the Middle East with more than 80 hours of television time, covering 12 different Saddlebred shows, through the pay channel, M-Net Supersport.

With Far Away Farm under construction, and Tomcat safely housed at Singing Hills, Hugo has time to plan and dream. Earlier he exported Tango To Die For (Wee Pee’s Lover x the dam of WC CH (SA) Nelmar Tango 4 Ever) which is currently in training with Neil Visser. He plans to bring two of his Tomcat offspring, (SA) Tom Hanks and (SA) Streetcat, to the States this year. The exciting harness horse, Trojan’s Gypsy, is already in quarantine en route to Kentucky.

It should be quite a season!

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