After spending 40 years in the Judges Box at the three KwaZulu-Natal race courses, Warren Eisele and Colin Buckham have been forced into retirement by South Africa’s labour laws.
The two have been the longest serving judges in the history of South African racing and July 31 will be their last day in the office.
Eisele is third generation in the judge’s box.
“My grandfather was the judge at Auckland Park in Johannesburg at the Pony and Galloway Club in 1896. Five years later he moved to Durban and started with the Durban Turf Club.”
Twenty one years later he handed over to his son Jack, who was his then assistant, and Jack later handed over to Warren. “My first July as an assistant to my father was in 1964, the year Numeral won for George Azzie and Raymond Rhodes.”
Eleven years later, Buckham joined Eisele in the judge’s box, 1975 to be exact. Colin was then an assistant handicapper at the Durban Turf Club and having to watch every race as a judge was of great benefit when it came to handicapping as in those days there was no Tellytrack or YouTube to watch replays.
Buckham also comes with a strong racing pedigree. “Both my father and grandfather were trainers. My father Jimmy started out as a jockey and was ignominiously dumped at the start of his one and only ride in the July when he got caught up in the starting tapes,” he chuckles.
“I’ve been racing since 1954. When I was 10-years-old I used to sit in my father’s car next to the track and watch the races. Children were not allowed on course in those days.”
Eisele and Buckham have seen major changes to the photo finish over the years, starting with the “wet” photos that were developed in a chemical bath and then dropped down a drain pipe from the photo finish situated above the judge’s box.
There were times when the rubber band used to keep the photo rolled up slipped and the photo unravelled resulting in the photo getting stuck in the pipe which caused major consternation. “Harvey Topham was the chief judge in those days and his wife Joan operated the photo finish camera. When the photo got stuck, Harvey used some choice language up the pipe.”
Today with modern technology the photo finish picture is almost instantly displayed on a television monitor in the judge’s box but old habits die hard and both men can be seen in the paddock before each race marking down in their race card any discerning features that may come in handy when judging a tight finish.
Warren and Colin are characters in their own right and July 31 will be a sad day in the annals of South African racing.