“As an owner, if you don’t get a thrill out of owning a racehorse you’re missing the plot.” That’s was the view of Anton Procter (76), one of the doyens of South African horseracing, who died on Saturday after a short battle with cancer.
Gold Circle’s Andrew Harrison writes that Procter was not a man to let the grass grow too long under his feet and moved house and stud probably more often than wife Judy would care to remember.
Procter eventually settled at Burwell Stud just outside Howick in KZN, where he kept a small but select band of broodmares.
Marching to the beat of his own drum, Anton lived by the motto of his old high school, Kearsney College – Carpe Diem – seize the day.
An agricultural adviser in his youth, he was cattle farmer, bookmaker, stud manager, owner, trainer and stud owner during a career in racing spanning over 50 years.
While still working as an agricultural adviser Procter was a keen participant in a thriving amateur horseracing circuit in the sixties where many trainers on the professional circuit cut their teeth. Richmond was a particularly strong centre and Anton was secretary of the Richmond Gymkhana Club. But in those days racing was held in many rural areas and Anton recalls “raiding” Umtata from his then home base of Donnybrook.
The transition from agricultural agent to bookmaker was sudden.
Anton recounted; “I was stationed in Noodsberg doing a “time-and-motion” study for the sugar industry and it was extremely boring. One day I heard that the bookmaking rights in Greytown were for sale. I said to Judy, ‘when you go into town this morning, find out how much they want’. As it turned out it was part of a deceased estate and was for sale for R1000. I happened to know the executor who said they already had a bid but I could have it if I offered more. I offered R1020 and went into business even though I didn’t have a clue about bookmaking.”
“We only raced on Saturday’s and Wednesday’s in those days and the first day was hectic. When I finally tallied up, I had made R35 profit but it was a start.
“After ten years in the business bookmaking was becoming boring but in 1970 he had a stroke of good fortune. Naval Escort was favourite for the July and somehow it happened that if he won Procter stood to lose a fortune. “On the morning of the race I told Judy to get ready for a busy day. She said to me before I left, ‘You know what I dreamt; I dreamt that Court Day won the July.’ I took no notice. Later that day she told me, ‘You know what I drew in the tennis club sweep, Court Day’”.
It proved prophetic.
“It was a hell of a busy day and when we closed up I was knackered and just stuffed all the money into a bag and went home and I asked the kids to count the takings – R35 000.”
“It was enough to buy a farm and the end of bookmaking.”
“I was always desperate to get into the breeding side and it was about this time that I got a call from Robin Bruss and Peter Lovemore with an offer to manager Stapleford Stud, then one of the biggest operations in the then Rhodesia, for Rob Davenport.
“We spent three years there but it was a steep learning curve.”
From Rhodesia, Anton got an offer to manage the fledgling Summerhill Stud, and he pulled up his grub stake once again and he and Judy headed back home. He managed Summerhill for eight years before moving on to Aldora Stud owned by Guy Landon where Anton was instrumental in buying the top stallion Rakeen for the Tawny Syndicate while the ill-fated Secret Prospector also stood at Aldora.
Being a highly personable character with an inquiring mind, Anton had mixed with the best horseman in the world and gained a vast knowledge of the industry and horses. Burwell today is more a “boutique” stud in the larger scheme of things but with a high quality broodmare band going to the best commercial stallions.
Anton was outspoken on many industry issues but one of his more strongly held beliefs was that owners do not get their due recognition. “In the post-race TV interviews on Tellytrack we get the jockey and the trainer first and the owner as an afterthought. The owner should be the first to be interviewed.”
“Watching your horse win is a thrilling moment. It’s what keeps people going in this sport and they need to be given recognition.”
It was horses that got Anton up in the morning. “I eat, dream and sleep horses. I have travelled to America, England, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. I have had the privilege to have mixed with the best horsemen and women around the world. Everything I own is due to the racehorse.”
Anton leaves his wife Judy, married for 52 years, daughters Mary-Anne and Laura and grandchildren Andrew, Olivia, David, Brett, Gina and Ross.
A memorial service will take place after restrictions have been lifted.