Buy a Lifestyle

I often try to start my articles with a snappy or interesting quote from some famous or learned person, but I’m pleased to say that today’s quote is 100% Robyn Louw.

“Where there’s life there’s hope, but where there’s love, you’ll usually find a horse.”  

JJ The Jet Plane & Lucky Houdalakis

JJ The Jet Plane & Lucky Houdalakis

I’ve just taken my leave of Johannesburg after a whirlwind visit to the National Sales and Champions day and it has been an interesting and thought-provoking few days.

Wilgerbosdrift put on the most sumptuous gathering on Wednesday evening. It was an elegant and relaxed evening and we were thoroughly spoiled with the beautiful food and wonderful atmosphere – surely one of the most sought after social invites on the entire horsey calendar.  It was a great opportunity for renewing acquaintances, making new friends and re-telling and embellishing stories.  And a reminder of what an incredible bunch we all are.  Where else can one rub shoulders with an Oppenheimer, a world renowned beauty queen, an international rugby star and just about everything inbetween?

I chatted to Yogas Govender for a bit and debated what makes a champion.  One can evaluate pedigree and conformation all you want, you can scope and measure and prod and poke and still get it wrong.  Or right !!  It was an interesting conversation and one I thought about a lot over the next few days.


National Virgin

It was my first visit to the TBA and the National Sales (a friend kindly christened me “A National Virgin!”) and with flights and transport being what they are, I got to the complex for the first time on Wednesday evening.  I’m not sure what I was expecting exactly, but it wasn’t this!  There may be gripes about the location and it admittedly does feel a little isolated and incongruous with the absence of Newmarket and Germiston, but I loved the solidity and formality of it all.  The admin block is very user friendly and with the interior bursting at the seams with imposing trophies and photos proudly celebrating our turf greats, well, it makes you damn proud of our local history and industry and what we have built.

And at the centre of it all, the sales ring.  It was in darkness on my first visit, but one could see just enough to get a sense of it and feel a little of the breathless anticipation, nerves and anxiety of what was to come.  The romantic in me wanted spit and sawdust, but of course these days it’s elegantly roped off with a rubberized floor, but either way, the hallowed ground remains a theatre of hopes, dreams and heartbreak.

I slipped out into the night to have a look around the stables.  Sales complexes have a very peculiar smell.  It’s part stable yard, but sharper and more raw and it’s instantly recognisable.  Being used to the pre-fab stables from the Cape sales, the lovely, established neat brick stable rows were a wonderful surprise and the horses all seemed quiet and very much at home.  I loved the rubberized walkways and exits from the stables.  A lot of the top doors were shut for the night to protect the babies from the cold, but we peeked into a few.  With all the hype I just had to go to Block G and see Gran Blanco.  Unlike the rest, he was not asleep and immediately popped his head over the door to say hello.  His snow white coat was luminous in the half light and he really is quite special in the flesh.

The next day I got to see the complex in daylight for the first time.  Each stud personalizes their area to stand out from the neighbours – be it trees, hanging baskets, pots of King Proteas or ornate name plates on the doors.  Regular vendors have created little entertainment lounges which become social hubs during the day and without the pressure of picking a yearling on a budget, it was lovely wandering around and visiting everyone.  The stables were a Quality Street assortment of old favourites and new curiosities and there was a formidable collection of horseflesh to absorb.

Moutonshoek arranged a parade of all the Mambo In Seattle progeny on Thursday afternoon (I’m told it is the first time this has been done since London News’ first crop).  Seeing the full offering assembled in one place gave a really good insight into the quality of the stock that he is putting on the ground and they are attractive, well-made individuals.


Kick off

The first day of the sales was kicked off with a tribute to the late, great Jet Master.  Mrs Devine had everyone surreptitiously wiping their eyes with her heartfelt words – ‘I put my hand on my heart, because that is where my Jet Master is.’  We were then treated to a Bon masterpiece with a video montage of Jet Master’s greatest racing triumphs, followed by the legion of champions he has left in his wake, including those immortal moments from Hong Kong when J J the Jet Plane galloped into history in the Al Quoz Sprint.  If there was still a dry eye in the house, the appearance of JJ in his jaunty green Cathay Pacific blanket with John Denver’s Leaving On A Jet Plane in the background finished us all off completely.  There really is just something about a good horse.

The sales got under way promptly at 10 and the ring became a revolving kaleidoscope of horses of all colours and sizes and brisk business was done.  John Freeman put in a determined and unrelenting early effort to secure Jackson’s beautiful sibling from Highlands for R2,2 mil.  There was appreciative applause when Mike de Kock went to R3,4 million for Klipdrif’s Jet Master colt, Master’s Spirit.  A limited edition member from Jet Master’s last crop, this colt comes with an intriguing story too.  The day after Jet Master’s funeral, the Klipdrif staff were working with his dam in the crush.  The colt broke free and ran off, only to be found standing quietly at his sire’s grave.  No sooner had they rounded him up and returned him to his mother, than he broke away and made a beeline for the grave for a second time.  Shane van Zyl tells me it made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.  If karma likes a good story as much as I do, then Master’s Spirit should raise gooseflesh on the racetrack as well.


Champions Day

It was a treat to have the sun shine down on Champions Day and the crowds responded in kind and turned up in droves.  And little wonder – with the exciting programme of races and horses on offer, the trestle table was literally groaning under the weight of the assorted trophies.  The day lived up to its name and dished up an entire race card of superstars.  We got to see Summer Cup champion Wagner in the first, a small stable runner winning the Fillies Nursery in smart fashion and the much vaunted Cape challenger held at bay in the SA Nursery.  The Camellia Stakes was a triumph for the Kjell / Ferreira / Bouwer team, who produced the first two (full siblings) past the post.  Not only that, but the team have another full sister currently in training!  Despite mutterings about past ‘failures’ in the Computaform Sprint, What A Winter was in no mood for opposition and when asked the question, he made the rest of the field look like they were nailed to the ground.  It was one of the most devastating turns of foot I have ever seen.  Cherry On The Top produced a command performance to clinch the SA Oaks, giving Mrs Oppenheimer a Tiara to go with Horse Chestnut’s Crown and another Oaks trophy for her well stocked cabinet.  The crowds went wild, shouting and cheering the magnificent filly all the way into the winner’s enclosure.

Interestingly, Do You Remember has been Cherry On The Top’s bridesmaid in every Triple Tiara race, in much the same way as Pablo Zeta was in Horse Chestnut’s Triple Crown.

Those who had heeded Sean Tarry’s pre-race advice about the Champions Challenge were richly rewarded when S’manga Khumalo piloted Heavy Metal home in fine style.  Breeder Lyth Orford related that the beautiful Silvano colt should have been by Victory Moon, but for the hand of fate and a muddle at the stud farm, but with a Grade 1 in the bag, there were broad smiles all round.

Tellina was expected to avenge his Triple Crown second leg rough-housing, but Wylie Hall landed the spoils for Michael Leaf and Weiho Marwing.  Cherry On The Cake delivered a nail-biting and gutsy performance in the Gerald Rosenberg Stakes, but was ultimately outgunned by Checcetti.  Guest commentator David Raphael delivered one of the most interesting and informative race calls I’ve heard in a long time and I can only echo Mike de Kock’s sentiments that I wish he would visit more often.

With a dearth of good staying races, it is sad to see the illustrious Gold Bowl somewhat reduced to a Gr 2 and tacked on at the end of a race day, instead of being a feature event as it used to be in the OK glory days, but nonetheless, it was an epic.  Seal is without a doubt one of the bravest and gutsiest horses to grace a track and it was a privilege to see him in the flesh.  I noticed Robin Bruss taking photographs in the parade ring and wandered over to find out what his connection was.  “Nothing really,” he replied, “I just love stayers and this is such a good horse.”

One of my favourite press privileges is standing at the post to photograph a race finish.  The photo finish reel makes a loud whirring noise, which makes your tummy flip and sets the adrenalin going.  The Turffontein finish post interestingly features a brass plaque bearing the inscription “To all the champions who could not conquer the king”.  The bell clanged and the whirr of the photo reel was drowned out by the thunder of hooves as the field swept past the post for the first time in a blur of sweat and flying turf.  I do not wish to take an ounce of glory from Canterbury Tale, but given that Seal was giving him 9.5 kgs (20 lengths) and managed to finish only 1.25 lengths second, well, I suspect most people didn’t realize that his was perhaps the performance of the day and he will always be a champion in my book.


Shoot Out at the Emperors Palace Corral

Sunday broke in rather dramatic fashion when Emperors Palace hotel guests woke to the sound of gun fire and a real life cops and robbers shoot-out.  Being a fairly robust lot, we were less perturbed by the fireworks than the fact that we might miss the opening sale lot, but the TBA delayed the start by an hour and eventually everyone made their way to Germiston.  Day 2 ran smoothly and produced a few more big prices, but nothing to match Friday’s R3,6 mil sales topper, procured by Mayfair Speculators after spirited bidding.


What’s It All About

I fell into conversation with one of our administrators and was rather taken aback when he opined that racing is all about the stakes.  We are obviously all entitled to different opinions, but I like to think that racing is about a little more than that and wandered outside to digest this rather disagreeable point of view.

There under the floodlights I bumped into Robin Bruss again.  He pointed out a colt that he said he’d been waiting for all weekend.  He showed me the catalogue page and explained that it was a stout pedigree that would need patience.  “I know I really should just stick to my own mares and foals, but I just love this pedigree,” and he stared thoughtfully at the colt again.

And with that, he rather saved the day for me.  Horse breeding, racing and well anything to do with horses really involves extraordinary emotions.  You either LOVE a pedigree, a conformation or a colour or you hate it.  There is no middle ground.  No room for ambivalence.  I think that’s why we’re call ourselves horsemen.  Horses are not something we buy, they are something we ARE.

For me, the 2013 NYS was bookended by Mrs Devine’s opening speech and by that floodlit conversation with Robin Bruss at the end.  Because they prove that picking a champion can sometimes depend on sheer dumb luck.  But always it depends on love.

I have include a pdf of this years National Yearling Sale prices for those interested.

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