Worth Their Weight In Gold

Alison MacKenzie on Caradoc with John Mamela holding Beau Art

Alison MacKenzie on Caradoc with John Mamela holding Beau Art

I had been trying to find a fresh angle on the Gold Cup for this week and looking through a list of the winners, I remembered a chance conversation with Cape stipendiary steward Tarquin Norval. 

Tarquin has been involved with horses and racing most of his life and is an absolute font of knowledge of the game, its people, its history and most importantly, its horses.  He had mentioned that wonderful horse of the late 60’s called Caradoc and the fact that he’d ended up with Alison MacKenzie.  As it turned out, Alison also took care of Voodoo Charm at the end of his racing career.  What are the odds of one person ending up with two Gold Cup winners?  It sounded like just my kind of story.

Alison is another colourful thread on our local racing tapestry.  Alison’s list of equestrian and racing accomplishments are long and varied.  Most people will remember her for her association with that wonderful publication, The South African Racehorse.  However, something that is less well known is that Alison managed the lead horses at Turffontein for many years.  I rang her up to find out a little more.

Sandy Christie

Sandy Christie - Turffontein Chief Executive and General Manager

Sandy Christie – Turffontein Chief Executive and General Manager

The story begins in the early 1970’s.  Sandy Christie had recently been appointed as the chief executive and general manager at Turffontein and among the many innovations that he implemented was the idea of a lead horse.


Caradoc was a gelding by Noble Chieftain out of the French-bred Rodcar.  Jointly owned by Charles Engelhard and Dennis and Peggy Mosenthal, Caradoc was trained by George Azzie and the glamorous dark bay was a wonderfully versatile performer, winning over distances from 5 furlongs to the 3200m of the Durban Gold Cup.  After his run in the 1971 Johannesburg Champion Stakes, Caradoc was retired and donated to Turffontein as their first lead horse.

He was housed in the stables at the Turffontein grounds and after his morning exercise, was turned out in a big paddock where he spent his days under the shady plane tree.  Mr Christie was enormously fond of horses.  His office window opened out onto Caradoc’s paddock and I’m told that he used to feed the horse XXX mints !

The club appointed a young lady to exercise Caradoc daily and ride him out on parade on race days.  When her husband received a transfer and they had to move abroad, Alison MacKenzie stepped into the breach.  She took over the management of the horses and their daily exercise and rode them out on parade ahead of every carded race each Saturday.  The horses had two grooms – John Mamela, who was trained up by the late Dave Bullock and Elphias who assisted with caring for the horses on a day to day basis and ensured that they were always beautifully plaited and turned out on race days.

Alison remembers Caradoc as a very naughty horse.  However, he served the club well.  By 1971, Caradoc was 19 years old and the club accepted the donation of a flashy understudy in the form of Beau Art.

Caradoc died a year later at the age of 20 and is buried in a specially demarcated graveyard at Turffontein racecourse, with his head facing the finishing post.  He has also had a hospitality area at the racecourse named after him in commemoration.

 Beau Art

Beau Art winning the 1978 Champion Stakes at Turffontein

Beau Art winning the 1978 Champion Stakes at Turffontein

Beau Art, by Beau Charles out of the Oligarchy mare Tivoli, had been trained by Johnny Nicholson and won the Rothmans July Handicap in 1980.  Alison remembers her new charge being as beautiful as he was trying.  “Sometimes he refused to be caught and poor John would be out there till 7 o’clock trying to bring him in!”  And because Mr Christie had taught him to like XXX mints, Merle Parker tells me they had to block the entrance to their office as Beau Art would frequently try and get in looking for treats.  Beau Art also lived to a ripe old age before joining Caradoc in the Turffontein graveyard and the racecourse has a Beau Art room in his honour.


Furious cantering down for the Holiday Inns

Furious cantering down for the Holiday Inns

Beau Art was succeeded by the incomparable Furious.  By Savonarola out of a daughter of Jerez, Furious was purchased by Cyril Hurvitz at the National Yearling Sales and sent to top conditioner, Fred Rickaby.  A bout of biliary set his early career back very badly and Hurvitz was about to get rid of his rather expensive disappointment, when Rickaby suggested that Anne Upton might have the patience and skill to turn the horse around.  And how right he was.  Anne liked what she saw and in her meticulous way, nurtured the colt and built him up with cross country work around their Hilton plantations.  He flourished and repaid her devotion by winning his first start for her with ease.  Of course, his story is a well-known one as he went on to win the 1978 Holiday Inns and the 1980 Gold Cup.

Alison relates that he was an absolute gentleman and always remained one of Anne’s favourites.  “She really loved him.  She persuaded Mr Christie to take him on for the club.  She would send him a card every Christmas and we would to hang it on his stable door.”

Furious’ name was a total misnomer as he was anything but unpleasant.  In fact, his famously generous and kind temperament won him many fans.  The Grand National hero, Bob Champion once rode him on parade on a visit to Turffontein and was moved to comment, “This horse is a Christian!”.  When the stake money for the Holidays Inns was pushed up to the fantastic sum of R250k, Turffontein held a big launch at Sun City and Furious was called upon to attend the event.  Alison and John went along of course, and Anneline Kriel (then Mrs Sol Kerzner) rode Furious through the casino and all the one armed bandits to the function room, where they’d built a huge ‘cake’ out of 20 and 50c pieces.  Alison says it was like a scene from The Electric Horseman !  And of course Furious remained a consummate gentleman throughout.

Furious sadly died of colic and is buried alongside his colleagues at the Turffontein graveyard.  Like Caradoc and Beau Art, Furious is also  commemorated by having a Turffontein room named after him.

 Voodoo Charm

Furious was succeeded by Laurie and Jean Jaffee’s wonderful gelding, Voodoo Charm.  By Del Sarto out of the Masham mare Wonderment, Voodoo Charm was trained by Terrance Millard and won the 1985 Gold Cup under champion jockey Felix Coetzee.  Alison remembers him as being quite naughty initially, but once he let down and got settled, he lived the life of Riley.

 Proud Pilgrim

The last of the team of Turffontein lead horses was Proud Pilgrim.  This big dark bay son of Peacetime out of the Quick Turnover mare Proud Turn, was conditioned by Alec Laird and delivered a fairytale double for the stable in 1992 when Argyle Arms won the Silver Bowl at Newmarket and Proud Pilgrim brought home the OK Gold Bowl at Turffontein 2 days later.

 Crowd Favourites

I remark how incredible it is that Turffontein had such an illustrious string of lead horses.  “Oh, there was nothing shabby about Turffontein – we only had Grade One winners!” laughs Alison.  Was it policy that they only took Grade One horses?  “No, no,” answers Alison, “it was just coincidence and it just happened to be the way things worked out, but it was our little joke at the time.  But because they’d all been such noble horses, people knew them and really loved seeing them out on the track.  It was a different time back then.  Racegoers were a lot more horse orientated than they are now and people would often ask after them or bring gifts of apples or carrots “for Furious please” or whichever was their favourite.”  Different times indeed.

Times have obviously changed and with budgets and bottom lines to be observed, there is no place for resident lead horses anymore.  When the clubs dissolved, the corporate leadership deemed lead horses unnecessary and Voodoo Charm and Proud Pilgrim were retired to the Horse Care Unit where they lived out the rest of their days.

Elphias is still at Turffontein.  John Mamela took a retirement package and Alison still offers her services on the Racing Trust, assisting with the work riders programme and the Gauteng Jockeys Academy.

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