Bryn Ressell’s Hamilton Rugby Club colours have become a fixture on our tracks, and his ‘Hammie’s’ naming prefix makes them easy to pick out on the card.
After years of sponsoring the Gr3 Premier Trophy under the Calulo banner, Bryn has continued his support sponsoring the Prix du Cap with Vasco Tavern on a day that has become synonymous with Cape Town’s annual end of season prawn festival.
Despite not being in racing all that long, Bryn has been associated with a number of really good horses including the likes of Hammie’s Hooker and What A Winter as well as current hope, Marinaresco.
Bryn’s racing, his colours and his sponsorship of the Prix du Cap neatly tie up his three passions in life. His silks are the colours of Hammies rugby club and his passion for racing and the sponsorship ties back in to where it all started at Vasco Tavern, which Bryn bought a few years ago.
To unpick the threads of how it all came together, one has to go back a few years. Bryn grew up in the Eastern Cape, attending Dale College in King William’s Town. From there, he opted for UCT where he studied accountancy.
Bryn has always been a keen rugby player and tried valiantly to play for UCT, but in his own words, didn’t get much of a look in. “One day a friend said come and play at Hamilton Rugby Club (“the oldest and proudest rugby club in South Africa,” he says fondly). As it happened, the coach was also a Dale College man and had been in the same hostel as me. He’d even played hooker like I did. They just said ‘welcome’ and that was how I got involved.” Bryn has subsequently served on the committee and been intimately involved with the club for the last 30 years. Hammies’ is also where he met Marsh Shirtliff, who he fondly refers to as ‘Pops’.
After completing his national service, Bryn joined Mobil. As the political landscape started to shift and sanctions lifted, Mobil morphed into SACO and then Engen and Bryn headed up the shipping department. “I was in my late 30’s. The director was 52 or 53 and not going anywhere. I wasn’t married and had no kids or responsibilities. I’d always been very much for transformation, even before BEE became a reality. One day I met Mkhuseli Faku and on a handshake we became partners and that was the birth of Calulo Shipping back in about 1997. We’ve been together ever since.”
“Vasco’s was my local pub and my best friend GK and I used to go there all the time. One day, we’d had a long long long lunch with Mike Reynolds and they were showing a horse auction on TV. In our condition, we decided we would buy some horses. I rang them up, but no-one could understand us over the phone, so Mike suggested phoning Marsh as he would probably be there anyway. I got hold of Marsh and said we wanted to buy 3 horses. I had no clue about the cost – I’m from the Eastern Cape where a horse costs R2 or R3k. The next morning I had a call from Marsh at about 7am asking whether I remembered calling him the day before. I hadn’t got a clue, but said yes. He asked whether I still wanted the three horses I’d asked for. I said, “I’m an Eastern Cape man of my word. Of course I do!” A week later the bill arrived and it had more zeros than I’d ever seen. My other partners wisely decided they’d opt out, but that was it for me,” he chuckles. Rose Reserve won her first 4 races and it all seemed too easy. The bug bit.” However, his bravery has paid off and he was handsomely rewarded with the success of What A Winter, who was his 7th horse.
“Vasco’s is a Portuguese taverna and was established in 1972. It’s referred to as the Portuguese Embassy or the Yellow Pages because of the yellow awning out the front. Generations of fathers and sons have had their first beer there together and it’s where GK and I spent a lot of time. It was our home from home. We solved all the world’s problems there and probably created a few more,” he acknowledges. “A few years ago they wanted to knock it down for development. It took some persuading, but Bryn managed to secure it and now owns his very own bit of Cape Town history. “GK had passed on from pancreatic cancer, so I bought it in memory of him, but also because it’s a historic Cape Town landmark. I run it in conjunction with Graeme Smith, Ross Cowing and Dean Berry. It’s all about being relaxed and having fun. Obviously one can never get things 100% right all the time, but the food is good and as we get a lot of Portuguese guys coming in, we must be doing something right!”
Bryn has had a lot of success with Marsh Shirtliff. “I’m passionate, but he takes it to a different level! My horses are predominantly with the Bass yard, but I’ve also got horses with the likes of Piet Steyn, Lucky Houdalakis and a few up in PE.” His interests have also expanded to breeding and he is philosophical. “They say if you want to lose money, buy a horse. If you want to lose a fortune, start breeding!” Horses’ futures after racing are one of his concerns and he has bought the 40 ha Four Seasons farm in Hemel ‘n Aarde. “For any of my horses that can’t find a home, there is space there.” They are also renovating and upgrading the property and looking into turning it into a spa / rehab centre or possibly even a spelling and pre-training facility. There is also talk of planting vines. “We are doing it all properly, which is slow going and one sometimes wonders whether it’s not easier to ask forgiveness than get permission,” he quips. “Of course, the surest way to lose money is to become a farmer, but we’ll see.”
“We started out with the Premier Trophy and we now do the Prix du Cap. When Calulo sponsored the Premier Trophy it was a way to combine racing with our year-end function. When clients said they wanted something different I decided Vasco would be a good fit as it’s where my racing started and it’s all about having a good time so there’s a lot of synergy.”
Does it provide a return? “Absolutely. As they say, it’s in the giving that you receive. We get a lot of coverage for Vasco and we’re seeing a real return for our involvement. A lot of the racing fraternity are regulars, but particularly after the Cape Premier Sale, we get a lot of support which is really great.”
“In terms of the race day itself, I’ve got to thank Etienne Braun for providing the prawns and helping make the day what it is. My favourite race day is the Queen’s Plate. This is completely different and is more for families and kids, but people come and have fun and it’s a feel-good day out. Whether people end up associating with Vasco I don’t know, but as long as people come racing and have a good day, we’re smiling. I must thank the Kenilworth Racing team – Clyde, Mandy and Jenna really push the boat out and one of the reasons we’ve stayed on is because of how good they’ve been.”
The family aspect is important to him. “My family love it. We’ve got a box at Kenilworth and it’s a great way to spend time with my kids. They do come to the races, but don’t come to the stables at 6am on a Saturday – they’re not that passionate!” he laughs. His youngest son Michael is perhaps the biggest fan. “He loved What A Winter. Where other kids would watch Tellytubbies, he’d rather watch What A Winter’s race replays. One Sunday Mikey was watching a DVD of What A Winter’s runs. While he was busy, Bernard Fayd’herbe rang for a quick chat. When I hung up, Mike said “Dad, Bernie is absolutely incredible!’ My heart sank – if my kid wants to have a hero in life, please God it be a rugby player!” he says in mock horror. “I said ‘Oh? Why’s that?’ Mike replied “Bernie can ride What A Winter and speak to you on the phone at the same time, Bernie is incredible!” I just laughed and had to concede that yes, Bernie is amazing.
“The racing fraternity has always been fantastic to my kids and in many ways, like most sport, racing teaches you a lot of life lessons. You learn to take the knocks in life and you learn that there are no certainties. What A Winter gave us a good lesson in that. We all went up to Durban for his last run (the Mercury Sprint at Clairwood). He was 4-10 favourite and we’d taken it more or less as a given that he would turn up and win – that was just what he did. There was going to be a canter past and a farewell and all that stuff. And then he finished 3rd to All Is Secret. My son was absolutely distraught and much as it hurt me to see him upset, it was a helluva lesson that life isn’t fair and things don’t come easy. But you learn and you grow,” he shrugs.
“Like with rugby, you learn to lose like a winner and win like a loser. You have to remember that you’re dealing with an animal and that there are no certainties in life. It’s not how you fall, it’s how you grow.”
What A Winter
What A Winter would be a thrill for even the most hardened racing owner to have and it’s the dream of any enthusiast to own a horse good enough to go to stud. Bryn says, “He is standing in horse heaven at Drakenstein Stud Farm. Every day I say ‘thank you Gaynor Rupert’ for having him.” While it’s hard to look past a champion of that calibre, there have been a few other highlights. “Of all the horses I’ve had over the years, and I’ve had a few, I think I’ve chosen 4. The first one was one of my favourites, Epic Tale. He’s a beautiful horse and is now the lead horse for Helderberg Blue. Another one I bought for the name – Sheer Trouble – and then the other one that I was allowed to buy (in partnership between myself, Marsh and Markus Jooste) was the first What A Winter ever sold – for obvious reasons. People are speaking highly of the What A Winter progeny in training, but let’s see what happens on the course.”
Hammie’s Hooker was another memorable runner. “In any other era she would have won a few Gr1’s, but she happened to run at the same time as Beach Beauty.” Considering the name, it is odd that she was one of the few horses not to run in the Hammies silks. “Marsh was clever there, he managed to choose the best Hammies horse to run in his colours. You’ll have to ask him how he managed that one!”
“And of course we’ve got a rather nice horse called Marinaresco, that you may have heard of,” he says with a smile. I’ve met wonderful people and it’s been a wonderful journey. The highs are high and the lows are low, but it keeps you honest.”