Wehann Smith interview

Wehann Smith interview

CTS News

WEHANN Smith, the new CEO of Cape Thoroughbred Sales, gives his views on all things racing and breeding and provided us with insight into his new role, in this interview with SAHorseracing.com

What can patrons look forward to at CTS over the next few months? We are currently planning a breeder road show to be combined where possible with the selection process for the increasingly popular Cape Premier Yearling Sale. This will give Kerry Jack and myself the opportunity to engage with breeders and communicate our strategy around the 2018 Sales dates. Next on the sales calendar is the 2017 CTS Ready To Run Sale presented by Lanzerac Hotel & Spa, to be held on the Friday evening before the Lanzerac Ready to Run Cup scheduled for Saturday, 18 November.

What do you expect the change of sales to bring to the auction calendar? I believe the markedly reduced number of Sales will be a huge positive in 2018, and enable us to better retain the attention of buyers. The fact that we are now having a premier auction in April, will certainly provide breeders with the opportunity to sell their later developing select yearlings in Cape Town. We also believe that we will be able to attract international buyers to this later Sale, as we have been able to do at the Cape Premier Yearling Sale in January. The third session in April is also a new offering, allowing breeders to sell horses while avoiding the relatively higher costs and race levies associated with the other sessions. From a buyer’s perspective we believe this session will offer excellent value.

What will your new team composition look like over the next few months and can we expect changes in both structure and personal at CTS? We have appointed Kerry Jack as Bloodstock Manager, and I am very excited about the role she will play in managing our vendor and buyer relationships. We have a strong admin team in place, and while we are reviewing many of our processes I don’t expect any significant changes over the next few months.

What will Kerry Jack be bringing to the table in her new job? Kerry will be managing both vendor and buyer relationships. Her experience in the industry and existing relationships will certainly stand her in good stead. The challenge for Kerry will be to manage often conflicting objectives in order to ensure that we have the best horses on our Sales, and thus attract as wide as possible an array of local and international buyers.

Where and when will you and Kerry be commencing on the national road show in September and what do you hope to gain from this? We are busy planning the roadshow, and will need to combine (at least to an extent) with the Cape Premier Yearling Sale selection process as this is also scheduled for early October. We want to engage with breeders to better understand their needs, and also use the opportunity to communicate our strategy, particularly with regards the new Sales calendar for 2018, but equally importantly our longer term thinking.

How much of an advantage will the potential new changes to the export protocol prove to CTS- in principal the Premier Yearling Sale? The whole industry is all too aware of the massive cost of isolation to our industry. Being able to export horses more easily will have the immediate impact of making South Africa more attractive to international buyers. We must however not underestimate the secondary impact on local buyers though. Being able to more easily send proven horse overseas to compete in international races, or to sell our better horses internationally will have a huge impact on the local market’s willingness to invest. It gives the local buyer the chance of buying a yearling locally, and then suddenly having a hard currency asset should your horse perform well locally.

It has been mentioned that CTS are planning to find a permanent new Cape venue for future auctions. Are there any areas in particular sited as likely sales venues? We are exploring a number of options, but nothing concrete to report on yet.

What can buyers expect at the upcoming Ready To Run Sale and when will the catalogue be available? Entries have been excellent, and we are very excited about the quality of the catalogue. Catalogues will be distributed from the second week in October.

With the economic climate remaining difficult, do you think the thoroughbred auction place will remain by and large a buyers market? The economic climate obviously has an impact, but at the same time there always seems to be good money around for good horses. The Cape Premier Yearling Sale has gone from strength to strength each year, and we are confident that this trend will continue. Similarly, our ability attract a strong catalogue for our April Sale will have a major impact on our result for 2018.

How have the new sales dates been received by breeders? We have had a lot of positive feedback, particularly on the reduction in the number of Sales. There does however still seem to be some uncertainty amongst some breeders, and this is to be expected given the fairly significant changes communicated. We are certainly looking forward to getting individual feedback when we visit breeders in the next few months.

In terms of leadership style, what would you say are your strengths? I think my ability to select and invest in people has been a big part of our success at Kuda. Kuda, much like CTS, is a service business and it’s all about relationships, backed up by service excellence. I will certainly be aiming for the same in my new role at CTS, and am very excited about the people already involved.

You come from an actuarial background and successful start up development, has this combination redefined the way you do business in the very difficult horseracing and breeding sectors? Who would have thought that I would end up in the racing industry! It certainly hasn’t been the natural career path for an actuary, but I truly love my job at Kuda and do believe my professional background and experience of building Kuda will stand me in good stead in my new role at CTS. 

 There are challenges of working in a perceived closed and cliquey environment of horseracing and breeding, can you make positive changes to bring new blood into the game, not just new owners but younger people with fresh ideas and passion, not necessarily connected with the sport? I know there are so many people in the racing and breeding industry that are hugely passionate about the industry, and I include myself in that group. We often have great ideas, and the challenge is to take those ideas away from the social conversations we have at Sales and industry events, and turn them into action. There are many barriers, but we need to break down these barriers if we want the industry we love so much to flourish. 

Photo: Wehann Smith (right), with Chris van Niekerk. (Brent Abrahams).