When it comes to horseracing and sport, on South African screens, there can be very few sport lovers who don’t know the face and name, NEIL ANDREWS. He is the ultimate professional, absolutely at ease in front of the camera and knows his facts like the back of his hand. He has the knack of making his guests relax and his programmes are a joy to watch. Neil has taken his love of horseracing all the way and is the proud owner of some very nice horses.
This Saturday, at the Vaal, his horse, THE MOUSEKETEER, defends his title in Africa’s richest sand race, The Emerald Cup worth R600 000. His task this year is tougher but with Piere Strydom in the saddle and his trainer, Sean Tarry, riding the crest of the wave we could again see Neil proudly leading in a big winner. It is the likes of Neil Andrews who helps to keep the South African racing public interested and involved in the game.
What is your name and age? Neil Stephen Andrews. I am 47.
What is your star sign and birthdate? Gemini – 16th June 1965.
Where were you born? Farnham, Surrey, England.
Where do you live? Fourways Gardens, Johannesburg.
Tell us about your family? I have been married to Natalie for 20 years and we have a 15 year old daughter, Melissa Jade and an 11 year old son Gregory Scott.
Do you have a ‘nickname’? “Chunky”, on account of my slender physique!
Favourite books? Anything by authors Michael Connolly, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry and my favourite author Ian Rankin.
What are you currently reading? Two books: Hank Haney’s “The Big Miss”, Haney coached Tiger Woods for 6 years. Also “No Regrets”, Ace Frehley’s Autobiography. Frehley was the lead guitarist of the rock group KISS.
Favourite movies? “Cider House Rules”, “The Notebook”, “Dead Poets Society” and more recently “War Horse” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”
Favourite food and drink? Sushi and Cider.
Favourite music? Keane, Jane Olivor, Barclay James Harvest, Toby Keith and Don Henley.
Favourite sports? Golf and football.
You are very interested in soccer. Which is your favourite soccer team? Tottenham Hotspur FC . . . Come On You Spurs!
Do you have any role models and if so, who? Michael Parkinson and Larry King. They were both consummate professionals in the art of interviewing.
You were born in England. How old were you when you came to live in Cape Town? I was 10 years old.
Which schools did you attend? Durbanville Primary and then Fairmont High.
What were your main interests at school? Mostly mucking about and playing the fool.
What sporting interests did you have at school? I got colours for athletics and football. Believe it or not I was a half decent 800 metres runner. I was a better footballer though. I began life as a right winger and ended up as a left back, captaining both my club (Durbanville) as well as my school side.
You are a very talented presenter. Were you always a good speaker and did you take part in debates at school? As previously mentioned I had no focus in the first few years of High School but I came good in my matric year and won the awards for both “Best Actor” and “Best Speaker”. Remember though, this was Fairmont, not Hollywood High!
While at school were you interested in horseracing? Passionately! I spent every study session with a race card hidden below my text book. It drove my parents mad, especially when I’d spend hours and hours drawing and colouring-in jockey silks or scrap-booking horseracing stories from The Cape Times or The Argus.
You hold a Bachelor of Arts degree and HDE which you obtained at the University of Cape Town. Tell us about these achievements? When I matriculated I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do. Sports broadcasting wasn’t an “accepted” career so I kind of meandered towards varsity. On completing my BA I remained clueless so I drifted toward the teaching profession and completed my Education degree. I was an average student but excelled at the old, The Pig & Whistle!
Where did you start your working career? At the Western Cape TAB. I was employed as the “Announcer” for all their audio transmissions to their network of off-course totalisators. This was in the days before television, so punters across the country relied exclusively on ‘the blower’ to bring them betting, commentary, results and dividends. Before long I graduated to on-course announcing and then to race commentary.
What year was that? About the mid to late 80’s, back then Sandy Bickett was the Senior Race Caller and Jehan Malherbe was his assistant. JM and I have always gotten on and he was a superb role-model for me. These were the best of times, from playing “ching chong chow” to see who would have to call a 20 horse maiden field up the Milnerton 1400m straight, without a racecard, to lowering the commentary-box microphone 50 foot into the Kenilworth grandstand, so that I could call a race from among the crowd without binoculars (both very bad ideas!). Jehan and I could regale many a tale that, combined, would out-perform a Dick Francis novel.
How soon after starting your business career did you become involved in racing particularly as an owner? I was racing under-the-lap whilst studying at UCT. My first horse was called Gay Shenanigan, trained by Michael Schuleman. It won its maiden ridden by Kenny Michel and I called the race. It’s the craziest thing you’ve ever heard, the way I was screaming it home in the commentary you’d swear it had won the Breeder’s Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park and not shed its maiden certificate at Milnerton.
Was there any one person who influenced you to become an owner in the racing industry? In that sphere of my life there’s no doubt that my biggest influence has been Robert Bloomberg. As a punter, owner and form-analyst you’d be hard pressed to find a more astute mentor than “The Ringer”. Again, I could fill another 300 page book with stories and anecdotes from my experiences with Robert and to this day my best moment in racing was being alongside him when we screamed home Dunford to win the 2005 Vodacom Durban July. I’ll never forget the shiver I got down my spine when I saw the Mike Bass trained son of Shalford cruising under Anton Marcus as they began the turn for home. I dropped my binoculars, turned to Robert and said “matey I don’t want to bad luck you but you’re going to win the July!” It just doesn’t get better than that.
What other “big race” memories do you have? I consider it a great honour and a privilege to have been taken to the 2011 Investec at Epsom. To just be a small part of the sensational job that Bernard Kantor and ‘Team Investec’ are doing with the English Derby was a phenomenal experience. That and presenting and producing one of my “Mind The Gap” shows live from Goodwood Racecourse on the day the mighty Frankel won this year’s Sussex Stakes. Being allowed in the winners enclosure when the great horse was returned was most memorable.
On completing university what business did you go into? I first completed my 2 year National Service and then joined the M-Net Group in Johannesburg in 1991. I was a horrendous soldier and rather than send me to the border to fight they ended up posting me back to Cape Town as the VIP Tour Guide at The Castle. Mind you that was only after being Court-martialed for going AWOL from Kimberley so that I could commentate the 1991 J&B Met (won by Olympic Duel) for SABC radio. Needless to say, I was found Not Guilty and the firing squad had an afternoon off.
For a short time you were involved in bookmaking. Tell us about that part of your life? Part of my work with M-Net’s IGN brand (International Gaming Network) was to investigate and research Spread Betting. It wasn’t really bookmaking but it took me around the world, to the United States, Australia and Great Britain. The project led me to launch the TV show “The Ruling Price” (the fore-runner to Super Saturday) and the knowledge I gained eventually led me to being called home from Peru to act as the First Witness at the King Commission of inquiry into Hansie Cronje in June 2000. Interesting times!
You started your public career with M-Net in 1991. How did you get your position as IGN’s programme manager? When we launched the horseracing channel I was employed as the first ‘to-camera’ presenter. The channel quickly proved popular and because of my grounding as a horseracing commentator I soon took on a management position with responsibilities relating to content and expanding our pool of talent. In due course I employed and brought up to Johannesburg Shaheen Shaw, the late Terence Kirchner and finally Nico Kritsiotis. All three are top men who have, in their own right, contributed greatly to what is now the TellyTrack brand.
People still talk about your show Super Saturday, it’s almost legendary! Ha ha, yes, thanks. Over the 10 years of going live every Saturday morning we developed a loyal cult following. I am very proud that the show accumulated 11 SAB Sports Journalist of The Year Awards and that in 2006 I was named the Overall Sports Journalist of the Year but you’re correct the real measure of Super Saturday’s popularity is that a day doesn’t go by when somebody doesn’t tweet me or come up to me and inquire when the show is returning to SuperSport screens.
Outside of Super Saturday, what would you consider as career highlights? Going to the Laureus Sports Awards in Monaco and being sent to this year’s London 2012 Olympics to anchor the daily “Mind The Gap” show.
And away from SuperSport? Being a house-mate in South Africa’s only “Celebrity Big Brother” which raised over R3 million for charity. Winning the Racing Masters twice and thus owning two Green Jackets. And more recently trying to cook for three ladies on “Come Dine With Me” and not killing any of them with my Copacabana Cheesecake!
You have done practically everything that can be done on TV when it comes to sport presenting, commentating and compering. What are your long and short-term ambitions? In the short-term I’m excited about the changes at SuperSport. The vacant position of CEO has been filled by the charismatic and dynamic thinking Happy Ntshingila and he has promoted the much respected Alvin Naicker to Head of Production. I’ve always worked well with both men and so perhaps, after a 4 year hiatus, the time has come to consider the return of Super Saturday. Long-term, once my children have completed their education I might explore some work opportunities internationally or perhaps rent a beach house on a remote island and write those memoirs I’ve been alluding to.
Your love for horseracing is obvious for all to see. How early in your life did you become passionate about racing? When I was 8 my parents allowed me to have 50p E/W on Crisp in the 1973 Aintree Grand National. Carrying top-weight and ridden by Richard Pitman he was a fence and a furlong clear with two to jump but a certain Red Rum nabbed him late to win his first National. My mum said I cried for 2 years until I backed Grundy to win the 1975 Epsom Derby!
How many horses do you own at the moment and are they all in partnership? I’ve really cut back on my racing and breeding interests. At one stage I had shares in over 15 racehorses and/or broodmares scattered around the country and stabled with different trainers. I’ve downscaled to only three. These are Cufflinks, The King and I and of course The Mouseketeer. All are owned in partnership with Francois Diedrechsen and all trained by Sean Tarry.
Your horse, THE MOUSEKETEER, won Africa’s richest horserace on sand last year, the Emerald Cup. He will be back to defend his title on the Vaal (sand) on Saturday 22nd September. At this stage how well is he doing in his work and how confident is your trainer, Sean Tarry, about him winning? I’m not convinced he’s as good as he was last year but he’s cracked a good enough draw of 7 (thanks to Alistair Cohen) and off 56kgs he’s not without a prayer. Sean seems more up-beat than I am, which is a good sign and he’s at pains to point out that his last few starts in Durban were merely warm up runs.
Was winning the Emerald Cup your biggest win to date as an owner? I would say that it shares pride of place with when my wife and I led our horse Eurovision into the Winner’s Enclosure having won the 2006 Gold Bowl at Turffontein. Racing in partnership with Robert Bloomberg he was trained by Geoff Woodruff and ridden by Anton Marcus.
At this early stage which horses have you earmarked as his main dangers? The draw is a massive factor in the Emerald Cup. We benefitted from pole position 12 months ago, and taking this year’s barrier positions into account, I would suggest that Captain’s Secret is the horse we all have to beat. The fact that Anton has opted to ride In A Rush for Joey is significant. He beat Horse Of The Year, Variety Club, as a juvenile so if he or a horse like Astro News can find their best form on the surface we’ll be chasing home a few shadows.
Mention some of the better horses you were involved in early on in your racing career? Eurovision, Dell-boy, Howdoulikemenow, Kipketer, Keen to Crest, Lily Jane, Livelikeurdying, Mill Reef, Naval Attack, Siberian Queen, Speedy Doll. Did you spot the odd one out?
You own a few horses in partnership with Francois Diedrechsen. What field is your partner in and tell us about the partnership? FD, as he is known to his friends and colleagues, serves as the Finance & Commercial Director of Raubex Group Ltd. Raubex is a construction company that offers road infrastructure construction, rehabilitation and development in South Africa. FD was a big fan of Super Saturday and I met him when he hired me to MC his daughter’s school function. Since that evening we’ve become good mates, our daughters have become friends and we play golf when we can. When he’s not in London, New York or Monaco I try to get him to attend racing and watch our horses run. The Mouse’s win in the Emerald Cup last year was unforgettable and we’ll be there again on Saturday re-living those memories!
Has your passion for horseracing and sport in general, rubbed off onto your wife and children? No, they remain refreshingly immune. Just as well, one fanatic per family is more than enough.
You have been quoted as saying that your most precious and valuable possessions are your children. What are some of the most important lessons you are trying to teach them? Patience and a balance between humility and self-belief.
During your shows you and your guests appear to be having great fun. Is the atmosphere really as relaxed and easy as it looks? Yes absolutely. I don’t believe in scripting my shows. As with Super Saturday, “Betting World with Neil Andrews” is all impromptu and off-the-cuff. I believe that the key is in the mix of personalities. My talent is merely to facilitate good conversation and once I get the blend of guests right, then that normally produces entertaining television.
One of your popular guests is Terry Paine. Apart from being a regular on your show it also seems he is a particular friend of yours. How did this friendship come about and tell us about Terry? Dr. Terry Paine MBE is an absolute legend. Apart from boasting a World Cup winning medal from when England lifted the trophy in 1966, he played an incredible 713 games for Southampton. I met him through our shared work on SuperSport and we’ve become very close. Despite being unbeatable on the golf course I enjoy his company and find his never ending passion for football complemented by his infectious sense of humour, hugely refreshing. I suppose you could say he’s a Grandfather figure!!
Terry is also involved in horseracing and owns a few horses of his own. Do you guys go racing together? I try not to go racing with TP. He makes Jonah appear lucky! How our filly Speedy Doll ever managed to win 7 races is a tribute to Penny Kimberley.
Elaborate on your Poker experiences? Ah, another book! I knew nothing about the game when I started (most people say I still know nothing) but from the moment I played in the inaugural All Africa Celebrity Tournament in the Penthouse atop Sandton’s Michelangelo Towers in 2006 – where Danny K beat Alex Jay and I finished last! – it began to open up a new world for me. Apart from my hosting many Piggs Peak Tournaments in Swaziland, for five straight years, All Africa flew me to Las Vegas to play-in and anchor their poker channel’s television coverage of The World Series of Poker. I’ve been fortunate to interview and play against the world’s best poker players, legends like Doyle Brunson, Chris Ferguson, Gus Hansen, Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu and Scotty Nguyen.
So tell us about Las Vegas, or does what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? For the most part! One of the weirdest things that ever happened to me was that I wound up keeping wicket for Shane Warne in a charity cricket match. It wasn’t pretty and the soaring 42 degree Nevada heat didn’t help matters! Personally I was pleased to support Don Cheadle’s (“Hotel Rwanda”) “Ante-Up For Africa” Charity initiative every year I was there. The celebrity tournament raises funds and awareness for the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan and allowed me the unique opportunity to meet, interview and play alongside the likes of Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Martin Sheen and even Ron Jeremy! Anyway they were wonderful times and my relationship with Howard Berkowitz and his Piggs Peak team went from strength to strength and culminated in my taking our entire Super Saturday team to Melbourne to play in The Aussie Poker Millions and filming two full shows out of the Fox Studios in Sydney.
If any young man or woman asks you what it takes to make a success of a job such as yours what advice would you offer? I believe it’s like any job, 10% Aptitude, 90% Attitude. The first piece of advice I impart to all budding presenters is to be yourself on-air. I believe there’s nothing worse than trying to be something you’re not and with live television you’ll risk humiliation if you take yourself a little too seriously.
Which famous people have you had the pleasure of meeting? Seriously! Do you want more name dropping? Okay well here goes but I’m ignoring the advice of actor Will Smith who once winked at me and confided “Nelson Mandela warned me, never name drop!” Ha, ha that’s a double whammy! Truthfully though, one of the real perks of my career is that it has afforded me the opportunity to meet and interview many well-known and interesting personalities. Even removing all football players, horseracing folk and South Africans, the list below is testament to what a dinosaur I’ve become! Andre Agassi, Laila Ali, Boris Becker, Sir Richard Branson, Will Carling, Michael Douglas, George Foreman, Morgan Freeman, Carl Lewis, Nigel Mansell, Jack Nicklaus, Pele, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Brooke Shields, Jerry Springer, Lee Trevino, Chris Tucker, Catherine Zeta-Jones. Shame, Rod McCurdy is going to be fuming I left him off that list.
So who would you still like to meet? I’d like to meet Oprah Winfrey and interview Tiger Woods.
Finally, if you were asked for some suggestions as to how to get the crowds back to racing what would you say? That’s such a tough ask but I can’t help thinking that a paradigm shift is needed. Our world isn’t what it was a decade ago and with the advances in social media and technology ensuring an ever changing landscape, a quantum leap in the marketing of our sport is imperative if it is to flourish.