We just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. We have the horses, we have the programme. We have got to grab this opportunity with both hands.
My first story is about a little colt I recently sent up to run in PE. I’ve been spoilt so far and been able to keep and run my horses close to home. I love going to the gallops on weekends, chatting to the grooms and work riders, watching my horses work and being able to give them a pat and a carrot afterwards. So it was a pretty tough decision to send my boy so far away and be reduced to an absentee parent, forced to follow his progress by phone and email. Apart from missing the fun of watching him run, like any overly protective mother I worry whether he’s eating enough, whether he’s happy in his new environs and of course whether he misses me and wonders why the carrot deliveries have stopped.
‘You know we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. Back then I thought, well, there’ll be other days. I didn’t realize that that was the only day’ – Dr Archibald Graham
He ran well on his PE debut and then won on his next outing. I snuck out of the office and watched his triumph on the big screen in a local bar. Much to the bemusement of the other patrons, I yelled the place down (it was my first win in my colours). I blew my budget phoning to tell the world, but despite the excitement and euphoria, it was a bittersweet moment – I had had to watch the race on my own and had missed being there to watch my boy win, lead him into the winner’s enclosure, shed a few tears and give him a well-earned pat.
Because the meeting took place on a Friday, my little high carried me through the weekend and well into the next week. I had just about come back to earth by Tuesday, but then received the following email from Carol Janse van Rensburg, from the East Cape chapter of the RA –
Congratulations from the Racing Asscociation – East Cape Chapter on Sergeant At Arms’s win at Arlington on Friday 7 October 2011.
And not only that, she included a couple of photos from Wally Strydom as well. What an incredibly kind and thoughtful gesture! Being a girl, I promptly burst into my belated celebratory tears.
When I rang Carol to say thanks, I asked whether this was something they did for everyone and how it worked. She said that it had started out as a little service for local folk, but with PE having grown to include horses and owners from all over the country, it’s become a little more tricky as they don’t have everyone’s contact details, but she tries to email everyone she has an email address for.
It is easy to complain when things don’t go our way, but we seldom give praise where it’s due, so a huge big up to Carol, Wally and the PE team. I’ve said before how much fun it is to race in PE and receiving this sort of service just reaffirms my affection for the place.
My second story is about Ebony Flyer. As most people know by now, Cape Town’s first lady made her long-awaited return to the track at Durbanville on Saturday when she triumphed in the Diana Stakes. I’m a huge fan of this classy filly and when I heard she was running made sure I planned my day so that I could watch her run. The SO (and all his posh camera kit) were inconveniently at the far end of the country at the time, so I had to fly solo. I managed to assemble a passable bit of equipment and locate the spare batteries and was feeling pretty chuffed with myself, but then realized there were no spare chips (what on earth ever happened to good old film?). Anyway, with the clock ticking I raced off to my local photo shop to purchase a chip and bully the assistant into helping me make sense of the long list of complicated instructions about ASA’s, ISO’s and F stops. He paled somewhat when I handed him half my body weight in expensive dials and glass, but we finally managed to get the job done. Anyway, the reason I relate all this is that I went to all this trouble because I wanted to see Ebony Flyer run and I wanted some pictures to take home with me. Sitting and watching on the TV was simply not going to cut it. I wanted to stand there, feel the sun on my back and hear the hooves crunching on the parade ring grit. I wanted to see those vibrant green and red silks, the gloss on her dark coat, watch her walk around the parade ring like she owned it, make her sensational comeback without even breaking a sweat and be able to say I was there. And I did!
Big Horses, Big Dreams
While I did my best railbird impression, watching the lead-in and post race interviews, a neighbouring racegoer remarked dismissively, ‘Pah, bring out a big horse and suddenly everyone wants to be on the course’. And how right he was – there were people lining almost the entire length of the parade ring. It was great! There was a real buzz and air of excitement, people craned their necks to try and catch one last glimpse of her. You simply don’t get those sights and sounds and feelings sitting in front of the TV.
Last year we saw a near mass hysteria in the US over Zenyatta. People turned up in droves to watch her work and just before the Breeders Cup simply to watch her graze!
In the UK, Frankel helped draw in huge crowds for last weekend’s British Champions Day at Ascot.
And in Australia, Perth Racing has said they will be forced to cap attendance at 30,000 patrons if Black Caviar makes an appearance on 19 November. Perth Racing’s general manager of racing and vision Marty Young said ‘What people really want is to see her’. Asked if they would set up an overflow area with a giant screen, he said nothing had been ruled out.
Imagine having such a demand that you have to turn people away!! Incredible ! But that is the power of having real track super stars.
I am terribly sorry about the recent African Horse Sickness outbreak which has made it virtually impossible for our best horses to leave the country. However, when life hands you lemons, you can either pull a sour face, or grab some salt and tequila and throw a party.
Our local racing industry has an incredible, potentially never to be repeated, golden window of opportunity to market the heck out of the current crop of horses. Think about it – we have a virtual chocolate box full of super stars – Ebony Flyer, Igugu, Princess Victoria, Dancewiththedevil, we have Piere Jourdan, Delago Deluxe, In A Rush, Fighting Warrior, Gimmethegreenlight, Variety Club, Potala Palace, the list goes on! What an incredible season we’re in for!
If we can market our horses and our forthcoming race season correctly, we should have people beating down our doors to come racing.
‘It is money they have and peace they lack’
In the film whose title I borrowed for this piece, Ray Kinsella decides to follow a crazy whim and build a baseball diamond in his corn field. Ghosts of the great players of the past then turn up and play. And eventually he is able to invite other baseball devotees to come along, watch some of the baseball and of course pay a small fee to do so.
The catchphrase in the film is ‘If you build it, they will come’. And there’s a great scene where Terrence Mann tells Ray ‘They’ll come for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters.’
And great horses and great racing offer all that and more. But that experience is only on offer if you actually turn up. But if you do, and allow yourself to fall in love with it even just a little, life will never be the same again.
To quote Dr Archibald Graham again – ‘This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child’.
‘If you build it, they will come’
We have the horses, we have the programme. We have got to grab this opportunity with both hands and get people to the racecourse. Because if we can get them there, with the help of people like Wally Strydom and Carol Janse van Rensburg going the extra mile, I’d bet that a few might just be willing to keep coming back.