The Professional Team at Varsfontein Stud

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© Jeremy Nelson

THE PROFESSIONAL TEAM Nelson’s In this article I will explore Column the backgrounds of some

© Jeremy Nelson

of the outstanding team brought to you by at Varsfontein - Carl de Varsfontein Stud Vos, Jaco and Carolyn Erasmus, Frikkie Basson and Hennie Diedricks.



Varsfontein's Stud Manager Carl de Vos spent his formative years in Beaufort West on the family farm, Welgefonden, where he was the youngest of six siblings. Growing up, Carl's father, Pierre, focused on breeding Arabian horses and Marino sheep, while his mother, Jane, established herself as a prominent show jumper in South 1

Africa. Eventually, the family switched from breeding Arabians to Saddlers. Carl's father and three brothers all became judges at Saddler horse shows. Notably, Carl's uncle, David de V illiers, played a pivotal role in importing the first Hackneys into South Africa. Horses were always in Carl's DNA, with his early exposure to riding shaping his connection. As he immersed himself in the equestrian world, Carl developed a profound interest in the breeding aspect of the horses on the family farm. The tale of how seven-year-old Carl acquired his first horse unfolds with the sighting of a beautiful grey mare pulling a donkey cart. Intrigued, Carl inquired about the mare, only to discover that the owner was in need of a radiator. Seizing the opportunity, Carl proposed exchanging the radiator from an old W illys jeep beneath a pepper tree - a vehicle that had long been out of commission. A deal was swiftly struck, contingent upon Carl confirming the arrangement with his father, who happened to be enjoying his


Sunday after noon nap at the time. Upon waking his father and seeking approval, Carl received a somewhat nonchalant yes, with his father not fully grasping the details of the exchange. Carl christened the grey mare 'Radiator,' and she swiftly gained recognition among the show crowd for her remarkable jumping abilities. In his junior school days in Beaufort West, Carl actively participated in Gymkhana, ear ning his provincial colours and proudly representing the Easter n Cape. Moving to high school in Paarl, Carl embarked on a train jour ney to become a boarder at Paarl Gym, a prestigious institution with familial ties - his father, uncles, brothers, and youngest sister (when the school became co-ed) had all attended. At Paarl Gym, Carl emerged as a stand-out athlete, particularly excelling in rugby in a school renowned for its exceptional achievements on the rugby field. Next on the horizon was Carl's military service. He received the call to join the Equestrian Centre in Potchefstroom, where his exceptional marksmanship skills ear ned him a spot on the shooting team under Major Starke. Recognizing Carl's talent, Major Starke selected him for the 'M Course' show jumping and dressage team, a formidable ensemble that included SA showjumpers Paul Garlicki, Lachlan Maclachlan and Barry Taylor. Together, the team achieved remarkable success in various competitions. Subsequently, the navy expressed an interest in establishing a riding school in the Cape, and Carl was chosen to head down to Cape Town to play a pivotal role in developing and setting-up the school. Carl's lifelong aspiration was to be VARSFONTEIN TEAM - by Jeremy Nelson


involved in horse breeding, and following his military service, he secured a position with Dr. Frank Freeman at Boland Stud. Frank quickly became Carl's mentor, and their strong connection endures through regular contact. During his tenure at Boland, Frank recommended that Carl participate in the new Yearling Preparation Course at The Valley Stud in De Door ns, under the guidance of stud manager Derek Southey. This unique course drew inter national trainees, including Ben Sangster and V ictor Connolly. Notably, Carl played a crucial role in facilitating communication in Afrikaans for his fellow trainees. This marked a significant moment in apartheid-era South VARSFONTEIN TEAM - by Jeremy Nelson




Africa, as it was the first instance where a group of white youngsters collectively groomed and prepared yearlings for sale. Following this, Frank Freeman arranged for Carl to join Mill Ridge Farm in the USA, where he worked for Dr. John Chandler, a South African-bor n veterinarian (and Racing Manager for Juddmonte Farms) who was married to the owner, Alice Headley Chandler. During Carl's time at Mill Ridge, the farm housed the stallions DIESIS and GONE WEST. These stallions both exerted significant influence Worldwide, as sires

of successful racehorses, sires, and broodmares. Carl then moved to Gainesway in Kentucky to work for John Gaines, a pioneer in the American thoroughbred breeding industry. When John Gaines brought his Gainesway operation to Paris Pike in 1974, he owned 14 stallions. By 1982 his inter national stallion roster numbered an unparalleled 52, including BOLD BIDDER, LYPHARD, RIVERMAN, SHARPEN UP, and VAGUELY NOBLE, thanks in part to his many business partners and syndicates. He tur ned Gainesway into a flourishing and renowned breeding operation that paved the way for Kentucky becoming the thoroughbred breeding capital of the World. Adding to his legacy, Gaines conceived the idea for the Breeders’ Cup, a championship event for horse-racing that was first held in 1984. When John Gaines mentioned to Graham Beck that he was considering selling Gainesway, the South African coal magnate and Thoroughbred breeder was all ears. In February 1989, Beck purchased


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MILL RIDGE FARM IN KENTUCKY Gainesway’s 489 acres and the rights to 36 syndicated stallions, including LYPHARD and BLUSHING GROOM, for $7.5 million. Quickly enamoured by Central Kentucky, Beck acquired the adjoining Greentree Stud in May of that year for $5.4 million and leased Whitney Farm until 1998, when Marylou Whitney sold him the majority. The three farms, totalling 1,500 acres, now compose Gainesway. Carl then managed to get a job with top American sale consigner Tom Gentry. In 1988, Gentry sold the highest-price yearling offered at public auction for $3.5 million, who was 1990 European Miler Champion ROYAL ACADEMY. Then in 1990, he sold a filly for $2.1 million to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas - the only yearling filly that Lukas ever scored as a perfect 10 out of 10 at a sale. Carl worked with the likes of Ted Voute, now one of the leading sale consigners in the UK. Founded in 1986, Voute Sales Ltd has become one of Europe’s leading consignments, breaking records along the way with the likes of Ramruma becoming VARSFONTEIN TEAM - by Jeremy Nelson

the most expensive broodmare sold in Europe at the time of sale. Voute Sales has sold a staggering 114 Stakes winners across both sides of the pond, 21 of which are individual Group 1 winners. Carl then worked at The Alchemy in America for Ronnie Rosen and therafter he spent a season at Fasig-T ipton Sales, working with the selectors. On arrival back in South Africa, Frank Freeman got him a position as stud manager at Hymie Maisel's Hyjo Stud in Philippi. This is where Carl met his wife Amanda.





"We had many parties on the farm in those days, all the jockeys and racing people used to attend - it was a memorable time in my life". "One day Ronnie Rosen drove into the farm and invited me to join him for the day as he was interested in purchasing a stud farm in Robertson". The farm was Wedge Stud, owned by Piet Nel. Rosen purchased the farm and re-named it The Alchemy after his American operation. Carl became the stud manager and helped to tur n the farm into a leading producer of top class thoroughbreds. Here he bred the likes of Flobayou, Mythical Flight, Ethereal Lady, Shoe Shac, Glamour Boy, etc. During his time at The Alchemy, Carl and Amanda got married, Ronnie Rosen sold the farm to the Kahan family, and Carl was offered the job as Stud Manager at

Varsfontein. "Susan and I clicked at our first meeting" says Carl who moved to Varsfontein in 1988. "In the first year, I foaled down less than 20 mares and in 2023 the farm foaled down 130". "Susan, John and Mrs Kalmanson (Groot Madam) built this farm up over many years and have made a considerable impact on the South African Racing and Breeding Industry. We are enormously grateful and proud to have been a part of it" says Carl. "Amanda was initially employed by the farm and was a huge help to us for 23 years. She is a highly intelligent individual and was extremely good with clients. She now has her own businesses in Hermanus". In the early days, Carl formed a syndicate with Jehan Malherbe, Alan Hodson and Karl Neisius - which they called the JACK



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TOM GENTRY Syndicate. They purchased a mare named PARK WALK (IRE) (by Green Dancer) from the Sangster Dispersal Sale from Price Brothers, at the Goodwood Sales Grounds. She produced a filly to COMIC BLUSH named SPOOK EXPRESS which had very bad legs, but persuaded their friend Henry Mansel to purchase her for R30,000. SPOOK EXPRESS went into training with Mike de Kock, who was initially embarrassed to show her off in the parade ring, and sent her straight down to the start. She won her first race by 3,25 lengths over 1000m and went on to win 8 races from 9 starts in SA (placed 2nd once) and was awarded

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ARCSA Champion 3YO Filly in 1997. SPOOK EXPRESS was then sold to connections in America where she raced with distinction - she won a further 5 races and was 2nd in the G1 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Belmont, where she was beaten by BANKS HILL (by Danehill) - Cartier A ward, European Champion 3-year-old Filly (2001) and Eclipse A ward, American Champion Turf Female (2001). BANKS HILL is the dam of the stallion IDEAL WORLD, standing at Mauritzfontein. During the 2013/14 season in SA, Carl and Amanda were the breeders of two G1 winners on one day - ASH CLOUD and YORKER and received the Equus Outstanding Breeder Of The Year award for the season. Yorker won the Champion Older Male award after a season that saw him win three G1 races. The FOVEROS mare STAR OF ARCOLE (dam of Ash Cloud) won the Champion Broodmare award - “she has given us three Oaks winners as she also produced SA Oaks winner ARCOLA and Gold Circle Oaks winner, PRINCESS OF LIGHT.”



Equus awards 2013/14: CHAMPION OLDER MALE - Yorker CHAMPION BROODMARE - Star Of Arcole BREEDER OF THE YEAR - Mr & Mrs Carl de Vos. Carolyn comments "Standing a Champion Sire has been a huge milestone for Carl, and he is very grateful to be able to 'tick it off' his bucket list. Another notable accomplishment is how Carl has built and developed the farm over the years. I’ve seen pictures of how the farm looked back in the early days, and for me it has been an amazing visual transformation. "The farm buildings and grounds have been developed over the years into such a beautiful and high class establishment. The manor-house, the stallion stables and covering bar n, the entrance gate, the yearling bar n and horse walker, and the newly renovated main stable block. Carl's meticulous attention to detail and determination to 'do it right' is the reason the farm looks the way it does today". "It has been an amazing jouney with Susan and John, and I developed a very close bond with Mrs Kalmanson, I miss her dearly" says Carl, who is the longest serving manager in SA on a single stud farm. His only regret is not meeting Anthony Kalmanson, the founder of Varsfontein - "I think we would have got on very well" says Carl, "our vision for the stud would have been very similar". Carl and Amanda have 2 sons, Pierre and Ben - both studied at Stellenbosch University. Pierre is the youngest Associate Director at Deloittes in Johannesburg, while Ben is a lawyer working in Ireland. Assistant Stud Managers - Jaco and Carolyn Erasmus Jaco Erasmus first entered the world in Bethlehem, situated in the Free State, and 8

spent his early years amidst the captivating landscapes of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, nestled at the base of the Maluti Mountains. Growing up, Jaco's father was employed by the National Parks Board, and the park rangers, astride Basuto Ponies, diligently patrolled the border with Lesotho. From the tender age of 6, Jaco eagerly joined these excursions into the Lesotho mountains, finding joy in this favourite pastime, especially given the limited activities available within the park. At the age of 9, Jaco's family relocated from Golden Gate to Langebaan in the Cape, where his father assumed the role of manager at the West Coast National Park. Jaco attended Paarl Gym school until the age of 15 when another chapter unfolded in his life. His father's transfer to Tsitsikamma National Park in the Easter n Cape prompted Jaco to conclude his schooling in this new setting. Here, his interests expanded to include scuba diving and spear-fishing. Despite losing touch with horses since departing Golden Gate, Jaco harboured a clear aspiration to eventually work with these majestic animals.


Following his graduation in 1998, Jaco opted for a gap year and ventured to the UK, where he secured a position managing a production line in a factory. While the financial rewards were satisfying, the inclement weather left him disenchanted. On his way back to South Africa, Jaco, accompanied by friends, embarked on a memorable jour ney. Their destination was the Red Sea, and en-route, they explored Cairo, marvelling at the Pyramids at Giza and immersing themselves in the treasures of the Egyptian Museum. Navigating the Sinai Desert, they finally reached the Red Sea, indulging in three weeks of extraordinary diving, including a week spent aboard a charter boat, creating unforgettable memories. Upon retur ning to South Africa, Jaco took the next step in his jour ney by enrolling at Pretoria Technicon, where he embarked on a comprehensive 3-year program in Equine Sciences. It was during this period that Jaco and Carolyn crossed paths, finding themselves on the same academic trajectory. The initial two years were spent on campus, laying the theoretical foundation, while the culminating year was intended for practical experience, delving


GOLDEN GATE HIGHLANDS NATIONAL PARK into the hands-on aspects of working with horses. Carolyn Erasmus (nee Bowker) was bor n on her parent's farm near Grahamstown in the Easter n Cape, where her affinity for horses developed organically. The farm's working horses and the practice of farm workers carrying out tasks from horseback immersed Carolyn in equestrian life. Her grandmother, who owned the neighbouring farm, played a pivotal role in fostering Carolyn's passion for riding and horses in general. Upon entering high school, she acquired her own thoroughbred, engaging in lessons and delving into activities like jumping. Owning her own horse gave Carolyn independence, allowing her to explore the surroundings, visit neighbours, and connect with her grandmother. The allure of horses persisted, leading Carolyn to pursue studies in Equine Sciences at Pretoria Technicon in 2000, where she fortuitously encountered Jaco. Their shared interests, forged a strong friendship, and being natives of the Easter n Cape, they often travelled together during breaks, and eventually started dating. Fate took a favourable tur n when Jaco secured his practical year at Varsfontein in 2002, while Carolyn was able to carry out her practical at a warmblood stud and riding school for the first half of the year. 9


JACO AT THE ROWLEY MILE RACECOURSE IN NEWMARKET, UK Encouraged by Jaco, Carolyn secured a position at W ilgerbosdrift for the breeding season, where both found themselves enamoured with the professional and dynamic environment of a thoroughbred stud. Carolyn’s position at W ilgerbosdrift


allowed the couple to see each other over weekends and gave Carolyn the opportunity to visit Varsfontein and get to know the farm. This experience solidified their shared aspiration to further their careers in the world of thoroughbred breeding. Following their practical year, Carl facilitated a joint opportunity for Jaco and Carolyn at Cheveley Park Stud in Newmarket (UK) for the year 2003. Their time there was immensely satisfying, as Newmarket's rich history in thoroughbred


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racing and breeding provided an immersive experience, with a majority of the town's residents being part of the industry. Upon retur n to South Africa Carl was instrumental in helping them secure a job at Lammerskraal where they worked for 3 years. The years at Lammerskraal proved to be an educational period for Jaco and Carolyn. Wester n W inter and Rakeen were already part of the farm when they arrived, later joined by Parade Leader. Their responsibilities spanned breaking-

in and pre-training horses, with active involvement in various facets such as foaling, stallions, and sales preparation. Amidst the bustling activities at Lammerskraal, Jaco and Carolyn's personal jour ney reached a significant milestone they got engaged and subsequently tied the knot. In 2007, an opportunity arose at Varsfontein for an assistant stud manager following Hendrik W interbach's departure. Seizing the chance, Jaco and Carolyn applied jointly, and were accepted as a married couple. Initially, Carolyn didn't have a defined job description, but she actively immersed herself in the role, taking on responsibilities and excelling in every task she undertook. Over time, her role evolved into Assistant Stud Manager (Horses & Admin). Jaco assumed Hendrik’s position from the start. His assistant manager position encompasses a much larger spectrum and not just the

VARSFONTEIN TEAM - by Jeremy Nelson



© Jeremy Nelson

horses, whereas, Carolyn's role is more specific to the horses with emphasis on veterinary work, foal care, client liaison and administration. Jaco is passionate about yearling preparation and sales and this forms quite an integral part of his role. It is very much a team effort where their strong and weak points complement one another. Jaco takes the lead role when it comes to assisting Carl to run the farm, while Carolyn's role is also supportive. In 2008, when offered the mare STAR DEPUTY (NZ), Jaco eagerly seized the opportunity. The following year, he arranged for the mare to visit the stallion VICTORY MOON. This union resulted in the birth of



© Jeremy Nelson


WAR HORSE, a G1 winner. Subsequently, Star Deputy's next foal, a colt sired by BLACK MINNALOUSHE, went on to secure five victories. In 2011, Star Deputy was paired with JUDPOT, leading to the birth of DEPUTY JUD, who claimed victory in the 2015 Supreme Cup. Fast forward to the 2023 November 2yo Sale where Jaco and Carolyn sold a Vercingetorix 2yo filly to trainer Michael Roberts. The filly, an own-sister to G2 winner GLADATORIAN, claimed the highest price at the sale, marking yet another triumph in their flourishing jour ney in the world of thoroughbred breeding. Carolyn and Jaco are proud parents of two children. Their first-bor n, Liam, bor n in 2009, a year etched in memory as it coincided with the birth of Master Of My Fate and marked the success of War Horse, their first G1 winner. In 2012, Emma joined the family. Both children share a profound passion for horses and actively engage in equestrian pursuits, each riding their own horses. Liam, displaying an early interest in the industry, has taken the opportunity to help and gain experience by helping on the farm during some of his holidays.

Hendrik's example, the younger boys started assisting with the horses during after noons and school holidays. Hendrik, also known as 'Langbek,' has been associated with Varsfontein for most of his life but is no longer working on the farm. Karel lear ned the trade at Varsfontein before moving on to W ilgerbosdrift, where he now holds a managerial role. Pieter, nicknamed 'Plastic,' began his career at Arc en Ciel and currently works at Hemel 'n Aarde Stud. Simon completed school and was the only son to pursue higher education. He eventually joined the police force in Wellington. Gert commenced his career at Arc en Ciel before joining his brother Karel at W ilgerbosdrift, where he now serves as the head driver. Emily retired at the age of 66. Her husband Gert passed away in 2010, but still resides



VARSFONTEIN TEAM - by Jeremy Nelson

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Frikkie Basson - Labour Management (Horses) and Hennie Diedricks - Labour Management (General). Frikkie Basson attended school in Paarl and lear ned to work with the horses from the age of 17 and soon became a "natural horseman" says Carl. Frikkie comes from a family of horsemen and has attended many courses on Stud Management and has excelled in all of them. He has become an extremely valued member of the Varsfontein team and is in charge of all the grooms and is very much a role model to all of them when it comes to handling and 'showing' horses to clients. Frikkie's mother Emily was bor n on Dagbreek farm in the late 1940s in the Wester n Cape. She married Gert, and the couple made their home at Vrede en Lust. Emily worked in domestic roles, while Gert contributed to the farm's operations. Shortly after their marriage, Hendrik, their first son, was bor n, and Karel, Pieter, Simon, Gert (jnr), and Frikkie followed. Hendrik spent much of his time with his uncle and grandparents, who worked at the nearby Varsfontein Stud. Encouraged by her family at Varsfontein, Emily secured a job at the farm, becoming part of the de Vos family household. She cherished her time with the de Vos children (Pierre and Ben), while her own children thrived on the farm. Following




HENNIE DIEDRICKS Shellrane. Harry serves as a supervisor at Airtech Services, specializing in evaporative cooling, air conditioning, heating, and ventilation systems. Shellrane holds the position of training manager at Checkers in Paarl. Expressing gratitude towards Carl and Susan, Hennie concludes with heartfelt appreciation, saying, "Carl and Susan have been very good to us, and I would like to take this opportunity to say 'thank you' to them both." "The growth and success of Varsfontein is all due to the fantastic team who can justifiably have enormous pride in Varsfontein and themselves. Carl and his team have enabled us to carry out our dreams for Varsfontein. The Equus Awards for 2023 empowered us with a Champion 2yo and a Champion 3yo, as well as a Champion Stallion. "It also gives us great pleasure to get feedback at the sales from owners and trainers complimenting Varsfontein on its draft AND the professionalism of the team 'showing' them" - Susan and John.

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© Jeremy Nelson

at Varsfontein. Frikkie Basson has become an integral member of the Varsfontein team and has ascended to the position of Labour Management (Horses). In the main house, Emily's role has been succeeded by Frikkie's wife, Sophie. The couple has two children, Headley and Frankwin-Gilbert. Headley, with many years of experience at Varsfontein, recently moved to Maine Chance Farms in Robertson. FrankwinGilbert is employed by Reliance, a compost company situated at Corona Farm near Paarl. Hennie Diedricks, a native of Porterville, situated 113 km from Varsfontein, embarked on a jour ney that led him to his current role as the Labour Manager (General) at Varsfontein Stud. His educational foundation was laid at W illems Vallei Primary School in Porterville, but his professional path diverged into the building industry, where he honed his skills over nine years. Hennie then moved into the Water Affairs sector, where he dedicated six years to the organisation before fate intervened upon lear ning that Varsfontein Stud sought a driver. Seizing the opportunity, Hennie applied and was accepted for the position. Upon setting foot on the farm, he felt an undeniable connection, expressing to his wife a desire to "grow old here." Hennie's wealth of experience in building and water affairs proved invaluable as he swiftly became the go-to person for farm maintenance and problem-solving. When questioned about his daily routine, Hennie remarked, "I am responsible for everything on the farm, except the horses." Family plays a central role in Hennie's life. He is happily married to Sent, and together they have two children, Harry and

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