The Power of Positive Thinking

Sheriff of Nottingham: [to a wench] You. My room. 10:30 tonight.

Sheriff of Nottingham: [to another wench] You. 10:45… And bring a friend.

That quote is a bit of fun from Robin Hood. While the Sheriff of Nottingham was a figure of fun, it is incredible what that sort of confidence and positive affirmation can achieve.

When I recently spent Heritage Day at Durbanville, I did a quick straw poll of my fellow racegoers. One of the most interesting groups I chatted to was entirely unhorsey – they just happened to live near the racecourse and said that they liked to pop round on summer evenings, park on the grass and watch the last few races. When I asked what they thought could be done to encourage people back to the track, the response that stuck most was ‘come to the course and invite friends’. And it got me thinking.

A Nice Time

When we left the track that day, both the SO and myself commented repeatedly what a nice time we’d had. Interestingly, we seemed to be somewhat surprised by how lovely the day had been and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. We hadn’t had a runner, having simply popped by to support a couple of maidens from our yard, so we weren’t buoyed by a good run. Neither of us had laid a bet, so we weren’t high on an unexpected windfall. We’d simply had a nice time. How odd !

But then isn’t that the way things ought to be ? We (supposedly) do this for fun, so why did having a pleasant experience feel so out of the ordinary ?

I got to wondering and came to the conclusion that we seem to have a rather odd way of expressing our affection for racing. We are self-deprecating to the point of being embarrassed or even apologetic about our pastime. I’m not sure whether it is the unpredictability or the fear that admitting to having a good horse will make Karma come over and bite us in the rear. It’s an odd anomaly, and it is interesting how it creeps into our exchanges with one another.

Why So Polite?

I’m as guilty as the next person. It seems rude somehow to ask people whether they have any decent horses in their string – instead I find myself asking whether they have anything ‘fun’ or ‘interesting’. And usually the response is something equally vague and evasive – ‘well we’ve got a couple of nice sorts’ or ‘one is always optimistic’, but never any names or specifics. You know the sort of thing. So we don’t really ask and we don’t really answer and all in all, we come away feeling unsatisfied and rather unconvinced about the whole thing. And if we go racing apologetically and unconvincingly then no wonder we struggle to convince outsiders to come along and have a go.

Positive Affirmations

It was thus refreshing to meet a relatively well-known local owner, who when posed the same question came right out and said ‘Yes, I have a bloody good horse and he should win next time out’. I am not much of a punter, but made a mental note to follow the horse and sure as nuts, it shat in on its next outing.

While that sort of over-confidence can be interpreted as arrogance in a personal capacity, in this instance I found it really impressive. Here was someone who was 100% confident and convinced that this horse and this sport was the best. Last name ‘Ever’. First name ‘Greatest’. Full Stop. And (ok, the result obviously helped), but I have to say that he made a pretty convincing ambassador for racing. And that got me thinking too. Yes, we can lament and lambast our marketing folk as much as we like, but each and every one of us is an ambassador and salesman for the sport too. So it’s a shame that we seem to have forgotten just how incredible we are.

Who We Are

As I tried to explain to some of my straw poll ‘victims’, on any ordinary given racing day your card is likely to include a champion trainer, a champion jockey and quite likely a champion race horse. And not once, but several times over !

I found a fun little Youtube clip recently about the incredible love, dedication, blood, sweat and tears that go into being a professional in the horse world titled ‘If it was easy it would be called football’. And I must admit, I find it staggering how much money, time, effort and adoration is lavished on premier league footballers.

Even the youngest and greenest of our maidens can trace their ancestry back for a hundred years and is usually the product of generations of champions. David Beckham hails from Walthamstow.

Our breeding and owning ranks include the most exciting and diverse people imaginable and are as star-studded as our race cards. We can boast political personalities like Richard Maponya, sporting personalities like Gary Player, Frikkie Burger, Aubrey Luck, Bruce Watson-Smith, Paul Bayvel and Oscar Pistorius. Somerset Stud has a double whammy with ex All Black Alan Sutherland and his beautiful wife, Vera Sutherland and even our commentators are stars, with charismatic Eastern Cape anchor Rod McCurdy being an ex-Australian international cricketer. Internationally we can add in Arabian Sheiks and even HRH The Queen !

A Game of Inches

It is interesting to count so many ex-professional athletes in the ranks – and perhaps they are best placed to appreciate just how much hard work and effort it takes to get even the most modest maiden into the parade ring. Our trainers, grooms, work riders and jockeys are up at ridiculous o’clock every day to feed, groom, exercise, plot, plan, assess and nominate. After a rigorous morning on the gallops, our jockeys are off to the gym or sweatbox for more physical punishment. Our grooms shovel mountains of crap, haul buckets and feedbags and tend, soothe and gentle our fractious beasts. Our vets and farriers and physios are on call at all hours to treat, patch and mend our horses. From beginning to end it is an exhausting business.

Because we all know that big victories don’t just happen. Horse Chestnut didn’t just fall out of the sky. Igugu didn’t just appear one day and win the July. They are the product of days, weeks, months and years of planning. Careful, step by step preparation, set-backs, recoveries and incremental progress. Like Al Pacino’s speech in Any Given Sunday, this is a game of inches and every single one is fought for and hard won.

Living Gratefully

I recently attended a talk by another top sportsman, Gary Bailey who gave us fascinating insights into the mind of Sir Alex Ferguson. He attributes the success of this great man and the team that he turned into a worldwide phenomenon to one simple thing – living gratefully. Because by being grateful, focusing on the positive, we energize and motivate ourselves. And by making that a habit, it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. The mind, as we all know, is an incredibly powerful thing. By being grateful and focusing on the positive, we immediately put ourselves in a confident, ‘can do’ frame of mind. This gives us more energy, helps us think more clearly and enables us to achieve more. And it is amazing what change can be wrought with the right attitude.

I recently read a story about an Australian horse called Geejayhaitch. Four years ago, Geejayhaitch broke not one, but both his forelegs below the knee. But trainer/co-owner Walter McShane thought the gelding deserved a second chance and with extensive surgery and meticulous rehabilitation efforts, Geejayhaitch has not only recovered, but gone back to work. He has five wins and seven places under his belt since returning to racing, most recently finishing second in a 12-furlong turf race at Moonee Valley in Australia. Isn’t that just amazing ?

And we have incredible and inspirational stories right here at home too. Two current favourites are the Avontuur Miracle Filly Val de Ra and Pierre Jourdan who have both made such spectacular comebacks.

What We Have To Look Forward To

With the recent AHS disaster, it will be nearly impossible for any of our good horses to leave our shores. Yes, I’m sorry, but also rather excited that for the first time in years we have the absolute best of the best right here at home to enjoy. We saw some incredible 2 YO’s last season and the anticipation of watching that crop embark on their 3 YO careers is exciting and nerve-wracking. Ebony Flyer is back from the farm after her rest and slowly coming back to work. I don’t know what’s lurking in all our training barns, but there is some phenomenal fire power in the Cape yards and a quick glance at the feature race schedule is mouth-watering. We even have another International Jockey Challenge to look forward to where our Proteas will be going in as the defending champions.

So folks, yes, it has been a tough year and a tough season, but we have some incredible horses, some incredible races and some incredible stories to look forward to in the next few months. So my challenge to you is – Come racing. And bring a friend !!

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