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When Laurence Wernars granted a rare interview to Lyall Cooper after Saturday’s G1 Betway Summer Cup at Turffontein, he praised his bloodstock manager Justin Vermaak for finding the winner, Puerto Manzano, in Argentina, and convincing him to buy it. “Justin has changed my racing career,” said Wernars.

Vermaak, now the Head Of Racing Operations for Cape Racing, started assisting Wernars in the acquisition of his thoroughbreds in 2017 and he told Turf Talk: “We’ve had 17 stakes winners this season and I am proud of that. All five our imports from Argentina have won and they include two stakes horses of which Puerto Manzano is now a G1 winner.”

Vermaak recalled how his original interest in South American bloodstock came about. He’d been friendly with the manager of Haras La Providencia, a stud farm that owned Kanonkop (Pure Prize) the former champion two-year-old filly of Argentina. With the help of Form Bloodstock’s Jehan Malherbe, a deal was brokered with Coolmore and in 2016 Kanonkop was sold to the Irish bloodstock empire.

“I actually bought a yearling out of Kanonkop with Mike and Mathew de Kock for Griffiths De Kock Racing. He has been syndicated and Laurence and partners have taken a share,” Vermaak said.

He returned to Argentina in 2017 to investigate further buying opportunities. “People were saying that the Argentine bloodstock industry was weak and their stallions were average. But Treasure Beach was there, a son of Galileo, and also Orpen, a top sire in his own right, especially on the broodmare side.

“I did my rounds on the various stud farms, really on a wing and prayer, and I was truly impressed with what I saw. Gavin van Zyl and I went back in 2018. He was keen to put some partnerships together and . he, too, was blown away with the quality we encountered. We tried to buy a filly called Nastia at a dispersal sale, but she was sold to French trainer Andre Fabre. He won the Argentine Oaks with her and sold her on to Japan.

“In 2018 I returned again. I found Kay Tee Perry (Orpen) and Mohican (Campanologist) and we twisted Laurence’s arm to get involved. I’m so glad he did. They were both decent, Kay Tee Perry ended up earning black type and Mohican would have won more than two races had he not gone in the wind. But Laurence and Johan (Janse van Vuuren, trainer) had recognised the opportunities by then so when I went back in 2019, I had their full backing.

“We bought Kay Tee Perry’s full brother and needed an extra horse to fill up the shipping pallet. I was dead keen on Puerto Manzano, from Haras Carampanque. He was by Seek Again (Gone West), a stallion who had disappointed and wasn’t in favour, but from a mare by Orpen – and he was an absolutely magnificent specimen we could buy for the equivalent of about R550,000. Laurence agreed, and the smashing Puerto Manzano took their breath away when he stepped off the float in South Africa.”

Vermaak said there is great value still, at the top end of bloodstock auctions in Argentina. He explained: “In South Africa, the major buyers go up to between R2-million and R4-million, even higher, to secure the top colts. It’s hard to compete here. Puerto Manzano would have been in the same high bracket if he was sold in SA at the time, but in Argentina we picked him up as a relatively speaking ‘cheapie.’ And there will be more from where he comes from!”