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Klawervlei on a High

Author: David Thiselton
Source: www.goldcircle.co.za

Klawervlei Stud are only the seventh entity in history to become Champion Breeders of South Africa and it was after referring to this fact yesterday that part-owner John Koster commented, “It means a great deal to us.” Koster was the sole owner of Klawervlei at the time it moved to the farm Wagenboomheuwel on the banks of the Breede river east of Bonnievale, a village in the BAR valley (Bonnievale, Ashton, Robertson) in the Western Cape, in the 1980s. South Africa’s perennial champion owner Markus Jooste became a partner in Klawervlei in 2004, together with Johan du Plessis and Danie van der Merwe, and hence the four leaf clover of the operation’s emblem. Subsequently, Frikkie Nel and Jan van der Merwe joined in 2005, while Bernard Kantor and Chris van Niekerk joined in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

Koster in his acceptance speech at last week’s Equus Awards paid tribute to the horses and the large team of highly dedicated personnel that had made the championship award possible, but that was not before magnanimously lauding Mick Goss on his Summerhill Stud farm’s nine year reign at the top. He added yesterday, “If one relates it to blood, sweat and tears, it feels great to have achieved this in such a short time. Of course, the backing, support and vision my partners have given me have been paramount to the success. We prefer to be low key regarding titles, but it does mean a lot when one is with international racing and breeding folk and they refer to your stud as Champion Breeder.”

Koster has in fact won the award before as a member of a former multiple times champion breeder, the Koster Brothers, and he recalled in his speech that on one of those occasions back in the late 1980s he was unable to afford the cost of the transport to the awards. That emphasises what a tough industry thoroughbred breeding is and it was clear at last week’s awards from the celebratory togetherness of John and his cousin Vaughan Koster, whose Cheveley Stud operation bred the Horse Of The Year Legislate, that no achievement in this game comes lightly.
Koster made special mention in his speech of his grandfather Ralph, who was responsible for the family’s entry into breeding.

Ralph founded Klavervlei Stud, spelt with a “v” and not like today’s “w”, in Beaufort West in 1943, starting with six mares that he had acquired from Allan Robertson. His sons Peter (John’s father), Wilfred (Vaughan’s father) and Werner (father of Graeme of Rosedene Stud) continued the tradition. John revealed in a recent interview. "Being the eldest of my generation of Kosters, I was very close to my grandfather and would spend time during most holidays with him. He instilled my love of the thoroughbred and my father taught me about nature and farming. I used to write all our pedigrees by hand and I never considered anything else except farming and breeding thoroughbred horses.”

John after leaving school worked six months for Peter and Wilfred, before two years of national service in which he achieved the rank of captain, and he then worked for eight months for Paul and Dan de Wet of Zandvliet Stud (breeders of the great Pocket Power), before spending two years at the world’s leading breeder Coolmore Stud in Ireland under the tutelage of Tommy Stack (the rider of the immortal Grand National hero Red Rum). Upon his return from Ireland, Peter purchased the Bonnievale farm and set him up there. At the same time John’s younger brother Charlie took over the farm at Beaufort West, which is today a stock producing operation.

The reason for the move to Bonnievale was in order to be closer to the region’s stallions as well as to all of the Western Cape racing infrastructure. The initial strategy when joining forces with Jooste et al was to have a boutique stud of 30 mares only. Hence 20 of the 50 that Koster had at the time were sold. However, this strategy changed due to the demand for the farm’s stalwart stallions National Emblem and Captain Al. Consequently, the broodmare band was expanded in 2008 and has continued to grow.
Koster initially brought Captain Al to “the pot”, while Jooste brought National Emblem.

Koster paid special tribute to Captain Al in his Equus Award speech, admitting that it was due to this great thoroughbred that he was where he was today. Klawervlei will have a phenomenal 14 sires on duty this season. Captain Al, Count Dubois, Curved Ball, Dan De Lago, Dupont, Jay Peg, King’s Apostle, Lion Tamer, Oracy, Pomodoro, Rebel King, Seventh Rock, Twice Over and Warm White Night, although not all of them stand on the Bonnievale farm. Koster explained the expansion of the stallion band. “It sort of evolved as we went along. Captain Al and National Emblem were our flag ship sires and Markus was buying yearling colts with stallion pedigrees, who deserved going to stud once their racing careers were good enough. By that stage we had acquired High Season Stud (all the of the horses, but not the land), so expanding the stallion division became necessary and important. Markus was very keen on this as he saw the advantages of a strong stallion division.”

Seventh Rock has joined Captain Al and Count Dubois as a Gr 1 producing stallion after just one season, while the progeny of the four-time European Gr 1 winner Twice Over and others are much awaited. Klawervlei have a very powerful base to work from and the passion that their whole team pours into the effort will likely see them go from strength to strength.

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