How To Be Happy

You can’t change the world, but you can change the world for one person

Greg Bortz

Greg Bortz (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

In his magnum opus, Don Juan, Lord Byron wrote ‘All who joy would win must share it. Happiness was born a Twin.” Which is a somewhat more eloquent version of something I once wrote, that if a trouble shared is a trouble halved, then it must also be true that a happiness shared is a happiness doubled. Someone who lives this motto is local owner, Greg Bortz.

A few weeks ago I was intrigued by a post on Greg’s Facebook wall which read: “Today I got to meet Gavi Rosenfeld for the first time in person here in Cape Town. I was introduced to Gavi (who lives in London) through a mutual friend of his dad’s. Gavi has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. But don’t feel sorry for him, because I can assure you Gavi doesn’t feel sorry for himself!! Gavi’s life is horses. He rides every week. As he told me today, the horse gives him his legs back.”

Who is Greg?

Arion wins the Peninsula Handicap

Arion wins the Peninsula Handicap

Greg Bortz and his aquamarine and grey colours are fast becoming a feature on the SA racing landscape, but where did he come from? Greg relates “I’m originally South African. I grew up in Durban, pretty close to Greyville. I placed my first 50c place accumulator when I was 9 years old and I was hooked. I won a fairly sizeable Pick Six in Std 9 and it’s one of those stories that makes you have the sickness permanently. It secured my fate. I always used Winning Form to study racing in Durban and when I came to Cape Town for ‘varsity, I realised it wasn’t available here. So I contacted Owen Heffer and my varsity career was spent distributing Winning Form in the Western Cape. I finished varsity, passed my board exam and left South Africa in 1994 and that was the end of my racing. I lived in the UK for a few years before winding up in LA in 1996 and I didn’t come back. The internet was in its infancy, so I couldn’t follow South African racing anymore and the commentary in Britain and the US can put you to sleep – it’s just not the same characters. So I got completely out of it and lost interest. In 2012, we decided to take a year off and go somewhere different with our kids. They’d never been to South Africa, so we decided to come to Cape Town. I was looking for a place to live and was introduced to Bryn Ressell. They were moving to Rondebosch at the time and I went to look at his apartment in Clifton with a view to renting it. There were some racing photographs on the wall and I said I’d rent the apartment on the condition that we buy a horse together.”

“That was the start. I went to a Ready To Run sale a few months after we arrived and figured I’d buy one. I ended up buying 17! At the Cape Ready To Run I bought double figures again and before I knew it had built up a fair amount of horses. It rekindled the passion I had my whole young adult life.” He’s had some success already too. “Arion won the Gr2 Peninsula on Queen’s Plate day – it was the biggest thrill! My first group winner and hopefully there’s more to come.” Arion joined the line-up for the 2015 J&B Met and on the day we chatted about Gavi, he was celebrating another winner.

What’s In A Name

Chili Chocolate

Chili Chocolate (photo: supplied)

Greg continues, “I’d never met Doron (Gavi’s father). We have a mutual friend who is also an ex South African living in London. He’s also named Greg (Roediger). He told me about his friend Doron and his son Gavi and how horses are his life. I introduced Greg to horse racing – he doesn’t bet, but has been following my horses. I came up with the idea of taking one of my horses and letting it race for Gavi, so to speak. So I decided to take a horse that I owned outright and that hadn’t run, but would run soon. I had a horse called Blue Lily, so I went back to Greg and said ‘what about her? She’s being trained by Johan Janse van Vuuren, he’s a young trainer and I think it will be a great fit. Gavi can follow along and have a vested interest in the horse.’ I’d never met Gavi at this point, but the first thing we did was let him name the horse.”

Greg sent Gavi a photograph and after due consideration, Gavi replied with the following email: “I chose the name Chili Chocolate because of her brownish red colouring. Chili gives the feeling of flair and heat. Chocolate gives the feeling of luxury and this is why I chose the name.” “It’s beautiful to see the way the kid’s mind works,” beams Greg.

Chili Chocolate had a decent debut, finishing 6 lengths back over 1200m at the Vaal. Greg flew up to Joburg to watch her second start. “She ran a great race, but finished 3rd on the day.” She found the winners’ enclosure on her third time of asking, putting 3.75 lengths of daylight between herself and the second placed Endearing over 1400m. Greg says “Gavi got to watch the race replay when he got home from school and his dad told me the joy and the screaming seeing Chili Chocolate win was unbelievable.”

Greg finally got to meet Gavi and his parents when they visited South Africa in February. He says “Gavi is an amazing kid. You meet people like this and it really gives one perspective. I sit here and moan at the slightest thing – he has the world against him and is the most unbelievably positive kid. He only sees the good in things. It’s the most remarkable thing to have. His parents have literally put this disease on the map. They’ve worked tirelessly to raise awareness and raised millions of pounds for research. They’re doing an amazing job and raising an amazing kid.”


Greg Bortz with Gavi Rosenfeld

Greg Bortz with Gavi Rosenfeld (photo:  supplied)

I chatted to Gavi’s mom, Kerry. Like most people who refuse to accept their age, to me the word ‘mom’ still conjures up someone at least 20 years my senior and I felt a little silly finding myself chatting to someone who sounded, well, like me really. A quick bit of Facebook stalking (which can reasonably be termed ‘research’ when you’re being paid!) revealed that in fact we are about the same age and in a different world, I might easily be walking in her shoes. Kerry, who sounds like the warmest, wonderfullest mom in the world, is an ex-pat South African. She says her roots are still buried deeply here and while the years in London have softened the edges a little, her accent and her resolve, remain unmistakably South African.

“Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is a muscle wasting illness, caused by a genetic mutation. There is currently no treatment and no cure. Most patients are diagnosed at around the age of 4, lose the ability to walk by 9 or 10 and become wheelchair bound. The average life expectancy is 18-25.” She recites the facts matter-of-factly. “Gavi was diagnosed at the age of 4 and he’s now 13. It’s a pretty shocking thing for a young boy who should be heading for his physical peak, to be slowing down as all his peers are speeding up. Gavi has been horse crazy from the age of 5. Shortly after he was diagnosed, my dad decided that horses would be a positive thing for him and he took Gavi for riding lessons. By the age of 6 he was going religiously every week. As he’s progressively become more disabled, the power of riding a horse has become increasingly important to him. He calls riding ‘a holiday from his body’. He gets terribly disappointed if we ever have to cancel a lesson. One day I said to him ‘it’s just a lesson’ and he said ‘Mummy, you don’t understand. Riding is a holiday from my body and you’ve just cancelled my holiday.” There is a pause and then, “Riding gives him complete freedom and the sensation of running again. It’s his passion, it’s his everything. Sometimes his father takes him to the stables, just to sit there and be with the horses. When he’s got a hospital treatment, or an overnight stay, it all has to be factored around his horse days. Gavriel’s dream is for us to find a treatment for him so that he can be a professional dressage rider. It’s his world, it really is.”

Regarding the relationship with Greg, she says “It’s quite phenomenal how these things happen. My husband and I set up the Duchenne Research Fund eight years ago and so far we’ve raised £3 million. That’s a lot of money to help fund and promote such a rare disease. Greg (Roediger) helped us set up the charity. He did his articles with Greg Bortz back in the day and mentioned Gavi and that’s how it all started. Every child that loves horses wants to own a horse and in some respect, through his connection to Chili Chocolate, Gavi has that. When we went to South Africa, Greg came and met him. Gavi was thrilled to have someone who would sit and listen to him prattle on about horses. Greg was equally happy, I think. It’s really special that Greg should share that passion with Gavriel who doesn’t necessarily have the same access. Greg really gave him a connection to that world and we’re very grateful for that. It’s a lifeline into something that really has meaning for him. Also, when the horse won some money, Greg donated it to the DRF which we’re very grateful for. It’s a critical time for us and any funds are paramount.”

Chili Chocolate

Johan Janse van Vuuren is the filly’s conditioner and says that although he was a little worried about her initially, Chili Chocolate strengthened up nicely and started showing good work. “She gave us a very good first run. We expected her to win her second start and she ran 3rd, but she won her 3rd start very comfortably. She finished a very creditable 8th in the Ready to Run Cup and earned R100,000, which is great as all earnings are going to the Duchenne Research Fund. It’s appropriate that Greg chose this horse for Gavi. She’s a smart filly with tons of heart. She’s a real trier and she has an unbelievable temperament. It’s really great what Greg’s doing.”

It’s been a team effort all round with Greg’s racing manager, Kerry Jack making sure that Gavi is kept up to date with Chili’s progress, sending photos and videos and calling on some contacts to arrange for him to meet Frankel. Greg says “Gavi sent me an email. The excitement in this kid – you’ve never seen anything like it.”

Gavi wrote “My Dad told me about Frankel as soon as he came home and I went mental. He is my absolute favourite race horse. I know that he has run 9 times, winning all of his races. I also know he has been in his stud duties for 2 years, retiring when he was just 4. The jockey that took him to all of his successes was Tom Queally. So I just wanted to be in touch and wanted you to know what a dream it will be for me to meet the horse. Thank you so much.”

If happiness is indeed a twin, perhaps it’s not too fanciful to imagine that, just occasionally, it rides on the back of a horse.

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