Big. Memories of a legend

Sunday 3 July

Big July 2009. We will remember him this way.

Horseracing  has been betrayed yet again by the mainstream media. The picture of the tragic end of former Vodacom Durban July winner Big City Life  moments after they passed the post, on the front page of the Sunday Tribune on 3 July, is as much an indictment of the media’s entitled age-old  greedy  clamour for sensationalism, as it is a manifestation of the poor relationship that exists beween the sport and the media in general. It will strengthen our resolve rather than  destroy our memories of a great horse, though.

Nobody wishes to labour the point of horseracing’s ugly side. Thoroughbred racehorses are tough yet fragile creatures  and accidents and breakdowns will happen in the hurly burly fast-paced demanding action of the race.  The causes are wide-ranging and can be anything from an awkward step, uneven ground,historic injuries or even unforeseen genetic deficiencies, amongst others.  Nobody condones it. Nobody ever wants to see it or experience it at first hand. It is every trainer’s and owner’s worst nightmare  and we are not even considering the potential fatal implications for the rider.

Yesterday’s tragedy  is sadly compounded by the enormity of the day and the passionate following that the son of Casey Tibbs enjoyed amongst our community. Greyville Racecourse  was the scene of his greatest triumph  and knowing the brave warrior, if this was to be his destiny, then he may just have chosen to fall in battle at his favourite hunting ground.  It wasn’t dignified,  but he died doing what he loved and did best.

Special friendship. Big and Assistant Trainer Frikkie Greyling.

We don’t know of any other racehorse that has his own Facebook page and had so many fans following his fortunes on the racetrack. His dramatic win in the 2009 Vodacom Durban July was the highlight in the professional and family lives of so many people. The picture of that great finish has ironically served as a symbol for promoting so many positive aspects of this game. Named by his trainer, Glen Kotzen’s eldest son   Kuyan, after the Mattafix hit song , he was a dashingly handsome  horse of outstanding ability and great character , who captivated and charmed so many of us. That was  from the day that he first saw daylight on Woodhill Farm  right through to his final charge at Greyville  yesterday.

The  build-up to what was probably going to be his final tilt at  immortality as a dual winner in the annals of this great race, was marked by disappointment and uncertainty. He ran way below-par  in the Gold Challenge, where he didn’t appear to enjoy the underfoot conditions.  His jockey took it easy on him that Monday, in anticipation of the bigger fish he was set to fry yesterday. His official gallop a week and a half ago, for the first time in blinkers, was unremarkable,   but he was by then a wise old warrior who played poker with the  smart observers in the sticky buns and coffee gallery. The bluff was on. He was  reserving his real effort for the big day.

His biggest fans. Kuyan, Kathi and Glen Kotzen.

Under deep blue African skies yesterday, he moved through at the 300m marker  and looked to have those around him stone cold. Momentarily the  dream double was on. It looked to have the makings of one of the great fightbacks in South African horseracing history. But it was not to be. He stumbled meters before the line as the brilliant Igugu tore the hearts out of her opponents.  Big City Life hung on for sixth place on pure guts. He finished just 2,25 lengths off the winner.

The big plans for him as a stallion will never happen. We will never have the pleasure of following his progeny on the racecourses of South Africa. But the thrills and fond memories that he left us will gallop around our minds for decades to come.

Cheers Big. A legend of the turf rests in peace.

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