Designed To Explode

The 2022 Equus Awards - an observation

There is a quote by pre-eminent local owner and breeder Sir Abe Bailey that “It’s said that all those who go racing are rogues and vagabonds. That may not be true. But it is true that all rogues and vagabonds go racing.”  

If he’s right, then it surely follows that the opposite is also true and that the racecourse also attracts the very best the world can offer – heads of state, captains of industry and wonderful people from all over.  

Robyn Louw writes that because they are clever and brave and don’t know how not to try, for millennia horses and the Thoroughbred in particular, have attracted both ends of the spectrum (and everything in between) because no matter who we are or where we are on our journey, they inspire us to be our best selves.  And perhaps the best thing about racing is that there is room under the sun for us all. 

It was with these thoughts chasing through my head that I joined the elegant throng at the Emperor’s Palace Convention Centre for the 2022 Equus Awards.  

Every racing season flies by at such breakneck speed it’s hard to keep track, but it would be fair to say the 2021/22 season dished out more than the usual share of adventure.  

Racing is still blinking uncertainly in the glare of the strange post-Covid world and while we have been able to welcome the crowds back, there have been the extraordinary additional challenges of economic constraints, load shedding, fuel price hikes, the Durban floods, racing’s restructure, new sponsors, new partners and new operators to absorb and contend with.  And perhaps it was this backdrop that made the season’s achievements all the more remarkable.   

Racing is an exhilarating, heart-breaking, utterly crazy pursuit and I found some stats that help put it into perspective:

  • The average race-horse is a 1,000 pound container of bone and muscle, supported by respiratory and cardio-vascular systems. 
  • Coming out of the starting gate, the horse will get to 40 miles-an-hour in six strides. A Ferrari accelerates from standstill to 60 mph in 5 ½ seconds; a horse can reach 42mph in 2 ½ seconds. 
  • The force on a horse’s front hoof is at its greatest at about 2,500 pounds as it hits the track.  
  • The force on its front cannon bone has an impact of 10,000 – 12,000 pounds. The bone breaks at 18,000 pounds. 
  • A horse inhales and exhales once every stride. At 0,42 seconds per stride it completes 2 ½ breathing cycles a second. 
  • At full gallop, the horse takes in five gallons of air a second. From that air it extracts one quart of oxygen through its lungs, transmitting that energy as fuel through its bloodstream. 
  • From rest to top speed, a horse’s heart-rate increases by a factor of 10, a man’s by only four. 

Or, as Dr George Pratt put it so aptly: “So the horse that walks around, eats grass, looks at the view and gives every appearance of tranquility was, in fact, designed by God to explode.” 

Simply working with them requires courage.  The fact that we tilt at excellence in the face of such ridiculous odds probably sums up our community better than I ever could.  But it is this extraordinary creature that binds us all together and at a time when the stakes have never been higher, our horses and our people shone brighter than ever.  

It has been a few years since circumstances permitted a formal gathering and the ROA’s Equus Team went all out in all the right ways to ensure the focus was firmly on the wonderful horses that always carry us through.  

In addition to the smart Equus staging (useful for interviews and selfie hunters), there were wonderful warm touches like having JC Photographics (who supply most of our Highveld racing photos) in the foyer to snap Polaroid-style red carpet keepsakes, enlisting Alistair Cohen, currently home on holiday from his Dubai stint, as part of the MC team alongside Racing Today’s new anchor Benni Langa and incorporating the silks of the outgoing Horse Of The Year into each year’s colour scheme is particularly gracious and always hits one firmly in the feels. 

In the foyer, Brandon Bailey asked me for my highlight of the season.  How does one possibly choose?  

There was a second Queen’s Plate for Jet Dark, that wonderful hometown Met win for Kommetdieding and his fabulous connections, a Triple Tiara star in Rain In Holland, the incomparable Captain’s Ransom with her back story of Chris Gerber and Moutonshoek and the farm dispersal sale (as well as the seemingly indefatigable Justin Snaith keeping both her and Jet Dark at the top of their game all season).  

The Hollywoodbets Durban July always throws up an incredible story, but after everything that’s happened for it to be Sparkling Water this year of all years, and her connections and that race was indescribably fitting and special.  

There was Canadian Summer delivering the first Gr1 for Preggie Somasundram, Darryl Moore and new dad Jason Gates; the riveting Cousin Casey and the generous Ravi Naidoo and the feel-good factor of Glen Kotzen and the Big City Life connection, the breakout year for Drakenstein Stud Farm (I don’t think enough has been made of this, but EIGHTEEN.INDIVIDUAL.STAKES RACE.WINNERS), the excellent results from Narrow Creek Stud, Rachel Venniker as our first female Champion Apprentice, Paul Peter setting a new bar for number of wins …. 

And that is just the highlights reel and only the very tip of the very top of the iceberg.  Of course true sportsmanship is knowing that you need your opponent because without him or her, there is no game and for every horse that made it into the winner’s enclosure, there were scores behind them providing the backdrop and putting their achievements into perspective. 

 And all their support teams.  And their stories and hopes and dreams and triumphs and setbacks.  And all the hardworking folks behind the scenes, producing veritable rabbits from hats on a daily basis in order for racing to keep going – a very big thank you to each and every single one of you. 

On that note, perhaps my favourite moment from the evening came when I congratulated the Alistair Cohen (to borrow a phrase from his co-host) on a job well done on the rostrum and he replied what he’d been most nervous about was ensuring it went smoothly for co-host Benni Langa who was making his Equus Awards debut.  It wasn’t a big, flashy, on-camera moment and would probably barely register for most, but to me it brought home the way in which – at its best – racing somehow always pulls together for each other.  Which is why it remains the greatest game on earth. 

Earl Warren said that because the front page of the newspaper reports on people’s failures, he always turned to the sports pages first because they record people’s accomplishments.  It was an honour and a privilege to share a stage with so many of the wonderful folk who make up our crazy, colourful, incredible community. 

With the last of the awards formalities concluded, the trophies filed and the paraphernalia cleared away, the hourglass is already running furiously on the new racing and breeding year and its 365 opportunities for chasing new rainbows.  Congratulations to all and may I wish you a happy and successful 2022/23 season. 

Ed – images for illustration and by kind courtesy of Candiese Lenferna and JC Photos

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