The Sporting Post learnt of the passing of Jimmy Lithgow earlier today with a deep sense of shock and sadness. A gentleman and scholar in every respect, Jimmy mixed a love of family, the theatre, horses and racing into a colourful life lived to the fullest. He also had a serious talent for writing.
A tribute to Jimmy Lithgow will follow, but we thought this little gem of some of his Durban July memories on www.hollywoodbets.net sketches his wit and colourful character.
“It was probably in 1989, the year I started working as Marketing Manager for the Durban Turf Club. The heavens opened on the morning of that July and the race almost had to be postponed till the next week, but the Stewards decided to try and let the track dry out and stage the July as the first race of the day.
Half way through the day, the Chairman, Hugh “Jerkie” Johnston, decided to undertake a walking tour of the main straight, to personally test the underfoot conditions. It was as soggy as hell and I can remember my rather zootie blue shoes, chosen to go with a hideous blue suit – very fashionable at the time – began to steadily disintegrate as we neared the finishing post.
The winner was a horse trained by Terrance Millard, a three-year-old grey called Right Prerogative, who was killed en route back to the Cape, at the end of the season, when a float containing Millard’s horses overturned somewhere in the Karoo. The great Olympic Duel was one of the few survivors, but quite a few really good horses were killed.
Another near casualty that year was co-owner, Brian Silvester, who had had more than a few “toots” prior to the running of the July and who, in a moment of misguided exultation, decided to wrap Right Prerogative’s reins around his neck as he was leading the horse in with co-owner Lindy Taberer. Right Prerogative only had to get spook when the crowds applauded and he would have had his neck snapped. Fortunately, the horse behaved impeccably, but it was a hairy moment.
Another memory was of that 1991 July, when, Flaming Rock had just got up to defeat Al Mufti and Rakeen, the horse almost collapsed from exhaustion in the unsaddling ring and couldn’t even be led in. It was the first time in the history of the race that there wasn’t a victory canter, with the sash, after the race.
Shirley Pfeiffer, Flaming Rock’s owner, was one of the first women to be invited to the all-male Chairman’s Dinner, on the Monday after the race, and she turned up in an outfit closely resembling a gentleman’s tuxedo.
She also had a few too many celebratory drinks that night and, at the end of the evening, came up with one of the most classic put-downs I have ever heard. The late Laurie Jaffee was waxing on, rather pompously, about how he had helped Shirley’s late brother, Stanley Methven, with finance, to set up Rainbow Chickens, the organisation which ultimately provided Shirley Pfeiffer with her fortune.
Sensing that he was taking more than a fair amount of the credit due to him for her brother’s success, Shirley turned to Laurie and said, “Yes, Laurie, but you were always an old chicken f*c*#r!”. It shut him up on the spot!”