from JACKIE COCKSEDGE
RECOLLECTIONS OF THOROUGHBRED BREEDING AND
THE YEARLING SALES IN ZIMBABWE
The golden jubilee of thoroughbred horse racing at Borrowdale Park, situated some 7 kilometres from the city centre of Harare in the affluent northern suburbs, historically fell on the 5 July, 1958.
A crowd of 10 000 witnessed “Tower Bridge” contest a juvenile sprint, marking him the first horse to win at the Park. Whilst racing had taken place in then Rhodesia since the late 1800’s, the inception of the Borrowdale facility was the start of racing in this country, moving into the 20th century, with facilities to match.
Rather like the chicken and the egg, it is debatable as to whom or what is the pivotal component when it comes to racing. Is it the punter who invests millions into the tote coffers which in turn keep the machine oiled and rolling? Is it the owner without whose love of the sport would reduce betting to television off course coverage only? Is it the trainer or the jockey, each important in their own right? Or is it the breeder who produces and nurtures the young leggy stock that develop from the ugly “ducklings” to eventually grace the turf as sleek, beautiful athletic racehorses?
Time cannot dim the horseman’s love
Nor age make joy depart
Forever memories of his horse
Are hoof beats in his heart
Perhaps each faction is as integral as the other, but one thing is certain, without the horse, none exist. The first record of a public “sale” of a racehorse in Rhodesia was way back in 1890, when a horse called Recondite was walked from Johannesburg to Salisbury to contest a £1,000 race, which he won. He was raffled after the race; it would have been a long walk back. Sad to record he died of horse-sickness within a fortnight of the race.
Around the 1940’s, a more organised attempt at breeding thoroughbreds emerged. The doyenne has to be Ella Lockie, an amazing and indomitable pioneer of the thoroughbred breeding industry, and a benevolent and wonderful lady too. Everything she put her heart behind she did with verve and enthusiasm. She was, quite simply, awesome.
She started importing breeding stock from England and set up a breeding operation at Ellerslie Stud in the Bromley district. At the time, she was breeding Welsh Mountain ponies from stock she imported from North Wales – and many an up and coming show jumper or pony clubber cut their ”eye teeth” competing on the progeny of Coed-Coch Moelwyn.
Aficionados will know Ella’s story, but to put Zimbabwean breeding in perspective, Ella bred a superstar in the form of a horse called Spey Bridge who was born in 1950. The horse went on to win 11 top races in South Africa over a span of five seasons, under trainer H.E. “Cookie” Amos, who leased the horse from Ella. Amongst his triumphs in 1956 was the Grade 1 Durban July Handicap, the blue riband of the South African turf. It was to be another 46 years before Zimbabwe could claim those spoils again.
As an aside, those who think it is easy to select superior race horses when they are still untried may like to read that Joe MacArthur (long-time owner and former President of Mashonaland Turf Club) went to visit his old friend Ella to see if she had a suitable yearling for him to purchase to race – his limit was about £250. Ella offered him Spey Bridge for £1,000. Joe turned it down. The horse went on to win over £35,000 and years later Joe recalls he and Ella had a laugh over this He said “ There were two bloody fools – you for offering the horse to me at that price and me for not taking him”.
The breeding industry stepped up a level in the early 50s and early 60’s. Bill and Bunty Wakefield’s Borrowdale Stud nestling under the Domboshawa hills north of Harare, emerged as a hugely commercial operation with stallion and broodmare stock being imported on a fairly large scale. Some of the names of those foundation stock still appear today in the pedigrees of horses gracing the green turf of Borrowdale.
J C Campbell-Rodger also set up an operation, this being in Marandellas (now Marondera). He imported stock from Britain, but also proven stock from South Africa. This move raising a few eyebrows at the time, as local was definitely not lekker, but the gamble paid off, and was the fore front of other breeders looking towards their neighbour to the South for tried and tested stock, rather than the expensive and difficult exercise of bringing breeding stock from overseas.
For some reason the Bromley and Marondera districts seem to hold an attraction for breeders. The likes of Barry & Betty Prosser, Benoit & Di Clavell, Tim Ralston, Bill Kensington, Les Bruss, “Dubbles” Draper, Terry Hardy and Jim Bedford all ran stud operations in that locality. In later years the only significant stud on the eastern side of Zimbabwe was Peter Moor’s Golden Acres Farm, he of “Ipi Tombe” fame, the only other local bred to win the coveted Durban July and go on to triumph internationally earning the rating of being the best race in filly in the world in her year. Peter stayed the distance and was one of the last survivors from the “good years”. His devotion to every aspect of the thoroughbred industry deserves applause.
The Thal brothers in Bulawayo, Thys Visser, Robbie Park, Nick Du Plessis and Ken Twort in the Lowveld, CG Tracey in Chakari, and around Harare “Boss” Lilford, Sir Raymond Stockil. Bill Wakefield, Reg Davenport and George Connolly, to name a few, all contributed to the blossoming breeding industry.
The first organised sale of thoroughbreds took place in March 1963 at Borrowdale Racecourse and was conducted by Gilchrist & Cooksey. Catalogued were 26 head, but it must be said that quite a lot of the catalogue comprised older horses in and out of training. Top price was a horse called Cider Apple bought by Mrs Gwen Freeman for 10 Guineas. He justified his purchase price by being a 7-time winner. Thus commenced the business of selling thoroughbreds annually on some sort of controlled basis.
Over the next five years until 1968 the sale was conducted by J.W “Willie” Skea of Farm Sales. It continued as a mixed sale until 1968, whereupon it became exclusively confined to yearlings – that is youngsters that are over 1 year old but have not attained their second birthday. All thoroughbreds automatically age a year on the 1st August annually in the southern hemisphere).
In 1969, the sale was marketed by H. Shapiro & Company, and for the ensuing three years. Around this time in November 1970 the breeding industry united under one banner – and the Thoroughbred Breeders Association was formed to cater for the protection of the breeder and the controlled and responsible marketing of their produce.
The inaugural Chairman was C.G. Tracy, and serving on the committee were Bill Wakefield, Ella Lockie, Barry Prosser and a young man, Geoff Armitage, who went on to dominate the breeding industry in this country as no one before him (leading breeder for 23 years, 19 of which were consecutive) and I would hazard that this record may never be bettered. The honours list of equine champions that continually dominated not only the local scene but borders further afield is phenomenal, and there are not too many trophies that do not record G.J.Armitage as the breeder. Regrettably, the stud fell victim to the land invasions.
After the inauguration of the Thoroughbred Breeders Association or TBA as it is referred to, Gilchrist & Cooksey came back on board as the appointed auctioneers for three years. They were followed by the Johannesburg firm of Arthur Meikle & Co, who set up a local branch. In 1970, the Rhodesia Bloodstock Agency, comprising Peter Lovemore, Robin Bruss and and Richard Larkin, were appointed as the Secretarial and Auctioneering firm, and they remained in this role until 1983, when the remaining incumbent of the triumvirate, Robin, relocated to South Africa.
The TBA purchased the assets from Robin and became masters of their own destiny when they took over not only the secretariat but also marketing and the sales.
For the past 36 years the Yearling Sales has taken place at the Harare Showgrounds, now known as Exhibition Park. In the early years, the event was staged in Smithfield, with the auctioneers operating out of a small “bookie” stand, the ring and public seating consisting of hay bales. A very basic set up compared to the modern day, when the sales were conducted in the Nelson Mandela Hall, bedecked with floral décor, proper seating, lighting, a sound system, and an American-type rostrum and sales ring. We must be grateful for progress – many a time the heavens opened at a crucial time in Smithfield and the public outran the yearlings and grooms for shelter.
The TBA’s early attempts at marketing started with small steps. There were not a lot of entries, and prices were generally fairly moderate. But phenomenal growth was waiting in the wings – in retrospect probably accelerated by the fact that not only during the genuine sanction years of UDI, it was getting harder and harder to import the quantity of race horses required to fill the Borrowdale and Ascot fields. Additionally, owners (if they had external sources) were reluctant to spend their precious forex for what was essentially a luxury pastime. In fact, the Government stepped in too, and there was an absence of permits issued to import racing or breeding stock, in order to direct use of external funds for essential items only.
The other salient factor was that farmers and others such as the polo fraternity, who had previously no involvement or interest in racing or breeding, were being conscientised by press and marketing reports that there was money to be made by breeding and selling yearlings. To put it crudely – suddenly every thoroughbred horse with a “fanny”, found herself transported smartly off to the first convenient thoroughbred stallion, regardless of pedigree, physique or suitability. Consequently, two years down the line and onward for some time, the market was flooded and there were a lot of disappointed sellers as there proved little demand for an inferior product.
The reader must bear in mind that from the time the mare visits her mate, to the time the produce reaches the sale ring, a period of approximately 3½ years goes by, so it takes quite a while for problems to be addressed. This trend of breeding everything to anything did yield some benefit though, by swelling the number of locally bred horses available to fill the fields that had been depleted by lack of imports.
The National Yearling Sales yielded steady growth in catalogued entry and aggregate until 1992, whilst the number entered rose to an all-time record of 441, necessitating splitting the sale over two dates. The aggregate dropped by some $2 million from the 1991 total of $8.4 million, to $6.23 million. However, the market picked up again, and followed its usual trend of defying politics, recessions national disasters, you name it, to increase aggregate annually as well as the top price. It simply is impossible to make mention of all the superior campaigners, both locally and externally, carrying the Zimbabwe banner on turf, but there have been many and each has earned a niche in the record books over the years.
Life has its ups and downs, and the Zimbabwe National Yearling Sale was not immune to humour or tragedy. Until 1997 there used to be judging classes. An eminent personality, usually a successful trainer, was invited to come and judge the yearling parade which was split by sex. A top six line-up was selected from each category. This event was a well-attended crowd favourite. The judge’s choice was not always a popular one but as with all “beauty pageants”, results are subjective.
Without fail there were always occasions when yearlings escaped their handlers and had a full blitz around Smithfield, causing chaos and mayhem until safely captured. Needless to report that the colts were the worst offenders, it must have been all that pent-up testosterone. One would have thought that as a result there would be many serious accidents, but only one tragedy occurred when a filly called rather fatalistically “Lucky Lucky“, exhibited by Di and Nick Kaidatzis, reared and flipped, breaking her neck and dying instantly.
During the sale of 1986, local trainer Charles Bawden thought he must have hit the jackpot. His brand new patron, one G. Ramji, bid like there were no tomorrows. He purchased 11 yearlings, spending $79 000 (a fair sum in those days). Unfortunately for Charles, it transpired that Mr Ramji had recently been released from a psychiatric institution, given his family the slip, and happily found his way to the showgrounds. The family, quite rightly, refused to assume any financial responsibility for the prodigal son’s “happy hour” and Charles had to make good as guarantor. Charles’ plight did have a fairy tale ending. Mike Fewster picked up the tab, became a new owner and enjoyed many years of great success as an owner.
On an aside, Mr Ramji must have had a “good eye” for a horse, because the majority he purchased went on to win, and Devashrine went on to rank amongst the all-time champions produced in Zimbabwe.
In fact, 1986 was quite a propitious year. It was the first time the sale found a sponsor in the form of “The Meikles Organisation“and the sale was officially opened by Mrs Sally Mugabe, the wife of the President of Zimbabwe. She was charming, gracious and encouraging with all she said, and it gave the TBA great pleasure to make a donation to an organisation close to her heart, a women’s sewing institute. I recall her car would not start on departure, so the TBA Chairman, “Van” Van Niekerk, and I were among the willing hands to give the vehicle a push start outside the Nelson Mandela Hall.
Post sale debt collection always caused the secretariat many headaches. One has to smile at the ingenious and evasive tactics that have been employed over the years to extend or duck out of commitments. The truth of “buyer’s remorse” is very evident at Sales time. Staff were educated to the state of play on the stock market one year, when politely requesting outstanding payment from a certain buyer, who angrily asked if we ever read the newspapers, because if we had we would have seen the stock market was in dire straits, and how dare we demand payment when the economy was this perilous.
In case you are thinking this was a recent excuse, it actually occurred 30 years ago. Then there was the locksmith incident. Again a polite call for payment to a buyer residing in Umvukwes. The story goes “You are not going to believe this. My CABS passbook is in my top right-hand desk drawer and I have locked the drawer and I cannot find the key. You will have to wait until I can get the desk into Harare and get a locksmith to open the drawer “. He was right, we did not believe it, but it still took three months for the so-called drawer to be accessed and the horse paid for.
Staff were actually quite stoical about being educated and abused in various ways. One memory still makes me smile when I think about my dear friend and former colleague, Christine Riddle, being chased around the TBA boardroom table by Johnny “Guitar” Maxwell, who had failed or forgotten to pay the mandatory fee to make a yearling purchased on the Sales eligible for the Champagne Stakes – a race that carried the highest purse for all 2-year-olds at the end of the racing season.
Unfortunately, his “oversight” was discovered too late and the only remedy would have been to pay 25% of the gross stake – a large sum – which did not suit his frame of mind. Timely intervention by Chairman John Binda, who succinctly requested that harassment of the staff cease immediately, put the athletic episode to bed. No wonder John Binda holds the record as the longest consecutive serving member in the chair.
The 1989 Sales were significant for the emergence of a future champion. Lot 219, Circle The Sun, consigned by Christopher Peech of Rumbavu Park Stud, and knocked down to Kamal Khalfan for $85 000.
He emerged to be a serious racehorse. The story goes that a young Murray Lindley, who had recently gone solo as a trainer, had watched this colt grows up on the stud, and was just passionate about him. He was to move heaven and earth to secure him, and together they were just about invincible. A short six years on, the racing industry of Zimbabwe, reeled in shock and horror as Murray and his wife Sally perished, along with owner Ian Sandeman, and jockeys Paul Muscutt and Gordon Whyte, in a tragic air crash over Bromley.
The 1993 sales contained another gem of a racehorse – a superstar in the form of Dupa Dice. Consigned by Mrs Jennifer Chance of Umvukwes, he was sold for $37 000 which was a fairly good price, although top price that year was $110,000. Like Circle The Sun he annihilated his opposition.
1993 also heralded the arrival of a large Kenyan contingent of buyers, and they supported the sales substantially, creating a viable export market for our stock- a trend that was to continue for quite a few years.
Next year the Kenyans were back in force. The sales hall had a very different format though. The Showgrounds had failed to finish structural renovations in the hall in time, and the TBA were compelled to hire a huge marquee from Rooney’s and situate it on Smithfield’s. The task of erecting a level sales ring, and sorting out suitable seating, with good visibility, proved a very onerous task for the secretariat staff, and it would be remiss of me not to mention that we were most grateful at the time to long-time owner and avid racegoer, Henk Leyenaar, for his assistance with this. He gave his time and expertise willingly, and we could not have made it in time without him.
As with all things, needs must, and the sale commenced in the evening. We had not been long into proceedings, up to Lot 21 in fact, when the spirit of cordiality between Kenya and Zimbabwe took a serious knock. Due to the seating layout, we had a couple of long lines of chairs on ground level along the side of the ring. And it just so happened that seated in the front row with only a few chairs between them, was trainer E.T “Ginger” Halfpenny and his patrons and from Kenya, Italian owner Romolo Severini, his wife Elsa, and their trainer. Both parties were bidding on the same horse, and both thought they had the final bid.
Auctioneer Peter Lovemore knocked the horse down to “Ginger”. Well, the following scene resembled something from a Fawlty Towers sitcom. Romolo jumped up and in heated tones that emphasised his Italian accent, said it was his bid. The Halfpenny camp claimed otherwise. Romolo called “Ginger” a shit. Alan Smith joined the fray asking who Romolo was calling a shit. Romolo responded “Who you – “I donta know you, but if you sitta with him maybe you are a shit “.
Peace was eventually restored by the auctioneer, and the horse was bought back into the ring to be re-auctioned. The vendor, Janie Van Niekerk, benefitted enormously from this fracas, as the horse went for far more at the second hurdle, secured by Romolo who triumphantly and vocally outbid his opposition. The horses name – All At Sea.
No harm was done as the Kenyans were back en masse again the following year, and took home with them a horse called “Gifted Warrior. Bought by Wendy Molinaro, he went on to become quite simply the best racehorse in the history of Kenyan racing. He won over 17 races, and in a span of 2 weeks he won the Stewards Cup over 1200 metres and then the Jockey Club Stakes over 2400 metres – the only horse to do this on Kenyan turf. No wonder he was consecutively voted Champion Horse in 1998 and 1999.
The Kenyans came back again in 1997, but this time they were up against some strong purchasing power as the largest contingent of South Africans ever descended upon the Sales. I think we had some 24- odd South African trainers attending that year as a result of a strenuous and slick marketing promotion by the TBA. The foreign buyers buoyed the sales up considerably, and the turnover rose a staggering 33.3%. Although neither were purchased for export, two more superstars came off this sale, the colt Gold Flame, and the brilliant filly Goldie – who went on to be the first Zimbabwe equine athlete to win the first Zimbabwean million-dollar race.
The following year witnessed the first $1 million price tag yearling. “Trickster” marketed by Lisa and John Harris of Mtendere Stud and signed for by no less than the aforementioned Robin Bruss, who successfully operates under the banner of Northfields Bloodstock in South Africa. Robin has always remained a loyal friend and supporter of our home industry despite now dealing in the dizzy heights of the international global thoroughbred industry amongst the bloodstock giants.
The 1999 sales yielded another very special horse in the form of “Karosa”, who earned his spot along with other all-time greats of our turf, but it was to be the 2000 sale that would spiral the Zimbabwean breeding industry into the stratosphere, and how very prophetic that it was the year of the millennium. The sale aggregate rose, the top price hit the $1.35 million mark, and a small, rather hairy bay filly walked through the sales ring as Lot 34. Sent in from Golden Acres Farm in Marondera by Peter Moor, she was not that prepossessing at that point in time.
Sunmark needed to fill their quota of buys at the sale, and she was knocked down to them for a rather paltry $50 000. She went on to become the best racehorse ever produced by Zimbabwe. She won at Borrowdale before being exported to South Africa where she defied her critics by reeling off a string of Grade 1 victories, including the coveted Durban July Handicap for trainer Mike De Kock and the Sunmark Racing Syndicate. She then joined the De Kock string for Dubai where she contested and won her races there including the Dubai Duty Free Handicap. The mighty purchasing power of Barry Irwin and Team Valour from the USA appeared, and she was sold to race stateside. She won her first start but prior to her second start there her trainer detected a bit of heat in her joint. She was too valuable to risk, so was promptly retired to stud. In foal to world leading sire Saddlers Wells, she was sold at the English Tattersalls sale for top price.
As Robin Bruss said “quite amazing that this little filly from Zimbabwe should outshine, outgun and outsell 2 500 horses from Europe and America “. She was and is quite simply our pride and joy.
The millennium sale produced another top-class campaigner, who went on to also win a Grade 1 in South Africa, no mean achievement, and that was Honour The Guest. But the millennium also marked the onset of the serious decline of the racing and breeding industry in Zimbabwe. The Sword Of Damocles was poised over the entire country. The onset of the Government’s agricultural reform programme (call it what you will) began, and years on, one just has to look at the knock on effect this has had, directly and indirectly, on the racing and breeding industry in this country.
Racing at Ascot in Matabeleland ceased. The number of trainers at Borrowdale Park amounts to 4 or 5 today; the number of horses in training annually has eroded over the years to about 120, a sorry decline from a horse racing population that could sustain three meetings monthly in Harare and two meetings monthly in Bulawayo, to a struggle to find sufficient runners to maintain a twice monthly race meeting at Borrowdale Park.
The TBA tried for as long as possible to keep going, but Sales numbers fell every year until there were insufficient yearlings being produced to warrant a sale. The TBA threw in the towel and finally closed its offices in 2017.
The tragedy is that Zimbabwe was, prior to the farm invasions, being taken seriously by the rest of the world as being capable of producing top-class racing stock that could compete worldwide. We were looking forward to, and capable of, exporting to a global stage with distinction. Years of investment, selection, planning and sheer hard graft have been reduced to little of value.
There was a time I hoped the industry could perhaps hang in there until better days, but I have stopped tilting at windmills. Such a tragic and shameful waste.
15 September 2020
DO YOU REMEMBER?
JACKIE COCKSEDGE STROLLS DOWN borrowdale’s MEMORY LANE. So many wonderful characters, already becoming lost in the mists of time…
‘These beautiful Zimbabwe days could well have been imagined by Keats in his poem To Autumn.
‘Bright blue skies with a whispering of cloud, crisp cool nights that invite a deep snuggle down under the duvet with an extra light blanket, the trees starting to turn to their golden yellow hues, some shedding leaves. In my garden, patches of petunias, marigolds and zinnias glowing in the setting sun, giving a pop of colour to the approaching winter.
‘The last six weeks or so have changed our world so much, and this little germ has done more than Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin Attila The Hun and Pol Pot, et al achieved. Who would have ever imagined the impact? For us racing folk at Borrowdale Park it has meant no race meetings, and the impact on our friends over the boerewors curtain has been totally devastating.
‘Having so much more time thanks to being confined to barracks by law, and having exhausted tidying cupboards, workshops, garden sheds, bookshelves and arranging tins in the pantry by best by date, one finds time for reflection. I find my mind remembering the strangest things and people that I have not thought of in years popping up, and I wonder why.
‘I’m sure you all have racing memories of people and events. Certainly Borrowdale Park has had some very charismatic characters over the years, may I share a few with you. Perhaps you could share yours with us via Sheldene.
‘Borrowdale Park used to allow Bookmakers to stand on course, and generally on a Saturday afternoon one could find as many as 15 or more plying their trade. They had their stands on the concrete perimeter of the Gold Ring, and they did brisk business.
‘One of their regular customers was Peter Laurie Jenkins, known as Jenky. He was a fearless punter and was not afraid to hit the Bookies big and hard. After a successful raid, he would go to the Dairiboard Ice Cream vendor on the course and buy all the Bookies an Ice Cream “to cool them down”.
‘Jenky ran Borrowdale Stud for a while, then built his own stud not far down the Glen Forest Road. A hard-working man, a bit of a diamond in the rough. Nothing he liked better, other than successfully outwitting the Bookies, was to sit down in the evening and polish off a bottle of Scotch with his buddy Pat Jaffray. He and his wife Sheila’s daughter, Lulu, was born with cerebral palsy, and she took great delight in betting with her Dad that he would never find a big enough Scotch bottle that Pat could not finish in one sitting. Despite his bravado, Jenky was a very good family man and father. The family relocated to Cape Town many years ago, but both Sheila and Jenky have now passed away.
‘You would not have been a regular at Borrowdale way back then not to remember Paddy and Tilly Costello. Paddy was a wiry, slight Irishman who looked exactly like one imagines a retired jockey would resemble. Whether Paddy was an ex-jockey I don’t recall, possibly coming from Ireland he was. Tilly could and would swear like a trooper, but in her Irish dialect it actually sounded good.
‘They ran a tight ship, the Costello’s. In Paddy’s time no employee could slack, and a weed dared not show its face. The course was immaculate, anything that broke got fixed, his flower beds and flower pot displays were without equal, making Borrowdale Park one of the most beautiful and admired racecourses in the world.
‘I can’t remember why Paddy became ill, I have a feeling he got bad pneumonia which he didn’t survive. After his death Tilly returned to her family in Ireland. They say you don’t know the worth of water until the well runs dry. In Paddy’s case this was certainly true of Borrowdale Park. I’m glad he can’t see it today.
HATS AND GLOVES
‘In the 60’s and 70’s it was de rigeur for the proper attire at the races. Ladies wore gloves and hats, and gentlemen had to wear jacket and tie. Saturday afternoon would be a veritable fashion parade.
‘There was one person who always stood out in my memory. That was Charlie Bawden’s twin sister Carol. She was married to Errol Abrahams who was a wealthy businessman. Carol was always beautifully dressed. A petite and pretty blonde, always elegant, she never had a hair out of place.
‘Her husband had horses in training with Charlie and I think, if my memory serves me well, he had a very good horse called Angelus who won the Plate Glass Jockey’s International with Australian jockey Johnny Letts aboard. That was the year MTC hosted a big Jockeys International meeting, and the likes of Lester Piggott, Fernando Toro and others whose names escape me rode on our course.
‘Ladies hats of all descriptions came to the fore on Castle Tankard Day. In the days gone by, usually six or seven South African raiders came up by road for the Tankard, along with their trainers and enthusiastic owners.
‘One particular meeting springs to mind. Patricia Wakefield sported a very unusual hat, a swirl of multi-coloured feathers that encircled her head. One of the visiting owners, a real “Jock Of The Bushveld” spotted her, and in a loud voice that boomed across the Members Grandstand called out “Hey Patricia, you been plucking your blerry chickens again?” Like Queen Victoria, Mrs W was not amused.
‘Racing everywhere attracts characters that fly below the radar or are downright skellums. Some come into money through ill-gotten gains, and seem to gravitate to the course, generally as an owner. Perhaps they suffer from megalomania that they need to be seen to be rich, powerful, and successful. They also tend to try and dominate committees and impose their will. Take for instant the infamous Markus Jooste or Adrian Van Vuuren in South Africa.
‘Zimbabwe has had a few over the years, but the most notable must have been Michael Fewster.
‘Mike Fewster suddenly appeared on the racing scene in the early 80’s. Where Charlie Bawden found him is unknown, but he saved Charlie’s chestnuts after a huge spending spree at the Yearling sales turned sour after a new patron , a gentleman of Indian descent, transpired to be a former inmate of a mental institution who had found his way to the Sales venue and latched onto Charlie.
‘Our said “looney” went wild, buying 10 or so lots, Charlie must have thought Christmas, Easter and Diwali had arrived early. Quite understandably, when the truth came out, the “looney’s” family refused to make good the deficit, and somehow Charlie managed to find Mike Fewster who rescued him and bought the horses.
‘One would have to say that the “looney” had a very good eye though, because amongst those purchases were two champions in the form of In Raptures and Devashrine and a very small King Red colt that could run like hell, his name escapes me.
‘Life was good for the Bawden yard, and the Fewsters continued to be big players on the racing scene and even built stables and a training track out on the Bulawayo Road. Fewster also went into horse breeding and set up a company called Camiad for this purpose. He said he wanted to become the most accomplished horse breeder in Zimbabwe within two or three years.
‘When it came to spending, they didn’t skimp. Sadly, the bubble burst in the early 90’s and a scandal of vast proportions implicating top names in Government spilled out. Fewster started Lorac with his wife Carol in November 1980 as a company involved in confirming activities, importation and clearance of goods. He immediately took advantage of the government’s policy to favour emergent businessmen who were issued with import licences. Since most of the emergent businessmen lacked basic education, training and experience required in foreign trade, and the collateral normally required to secure loans, Fewster, through Lorac, turned into their saviour. He told the businessmen he was prepared to offer them 30 to 60 days credit facilities. When his company went into liquidation, he had 59 horses in his stables.
‘Another couple of skellums were a jockey and an assistant trainer. I will not mention their names although both are now deceased. The story goes that in the trainer’s yard there was a horse who had loads of ability but just would not put it in at the finishing post costing our two a few financial betting losses.
‘So, a cunning plan was made to give this “tea leaf” of a horse a bit of Dutch courage. A suitable race was found, and the horses nominated. Just before the horse came into the parade ring the assistant trainer squirted some brandy into its mouth. The plan went perfectly – the horse never gave a moment’s worry and sailed past the post comfortably at very good odds. The jockey said afterwards that in the number one box the smell of brandy was very noticeable, and he hoped officials and well-wishers thought it was him.
NO AIRS AND GRACES
‘A great character who enjoyed his racing and regularly had a few in training with Robin Smith was Thomas Beattie. A Chegutu farmer and a fun person with no airs and graces.
‘One story springs to mind. Tom was a Steward of the Mashonaland Turf Club, and it became necessary to entertain some important visiting contemporaries from South Africa. A black-tie gentlemen only dinner was laid on at the prestigious and snooty Harare Club, and all attending were on their best behaviour. Tom arrived late for the event, very inebriated, and taking his seat at the table fell face-first into the soup bowl.
‘Tom used to love playing Santa Claus at Christmas to the farm labourers. He would ride his horse to the compound with bags of sweets for the children, who all gathered around and sang “Give us a sweetie, Thomas I. Beattie”.
‘After Tom had a horrendous car accident, he and his wife Sue relocated to UK as the level of care he needed was not available in Zimbabwe.
‘So many characters in the fabric of our racing, it has been fun to remember a few.’
AGE SHALL NOT WEARY THEM, NOR THE YEARS CONDEMN
30.9.2010 – 10.3.2020
Thoroughbred yearling sales can mean different things to different folk. Nervous sellers, worried about selling their draft to recoup some of the losses and placate the bank manager, trainers looking for the next champion and wondering if they can find owners, and race horse owners maybe looking to re-invest at bargain basement prices.
At the 2012 Zimbabwe National Yearling Sales, I was none of those. I was one of the workers, making sure the sale went according to plan, and ran smoothly. As I was very friendly with the Golden Acres stud manageress, Gail Odendaal, and did all the stud’s NHRA paperwork for them, I took a keen interest in their draft.
I recall it was a particularly poor sale as sales go, not many horses were sold, and I think Golden Acres only placed a few – the bulk of the crop went home. I shall never know what inspired me then to decide I wanted one particular horse from that crop, but I wanted him.
Thriller in Manila, by Gharir (Ire) out of the Northern Guest (Ire) mare Perennial Guest.
You had me at hello
I made an arrangement with Peter Moor of Ipi Tombe fame. Peter had set up a training yard at Borrowdale Racecourse, and employed Amy Bronkhorst as his trainer. Amy had served the majority of her apprenticeship under the very competent and astute Lisa Harris, and Amy had learned her trade well as she proved in the years to come. At that stage it was more or less a private training yard.
Amy and I went to the stud farm to see the horses loaded to come in to racing. My little grey fellow behaved abominably, he reared, he refused to load and tanked off with the grooms through the farm implements and the long grass. He showed us then how strong he was- a lesson we were to learn subsequently. Anyway, he was finally captured and on his way to Borrowdale Park.
Like a lot of ”horsey” people I’m sure, the addition of an extra horse is not always readily known to one’s spouse, and I confess my husband didn’t actually discover Thriller’s existence until his first outing on the 30th June 2013. I think he was rather surprised to see our name and colours in the race card.
Amy, I think, had always known Thriller was above average, as his first grass gallop with top race fillies, Equina and Pent House, saw him not far off them, but of course one never really knows until the acid test of the track.
His first outing was a maiden plate over 1000 metres, and he ran a cracking good second to the older and more experienced Aqua Luna. Everyone was very happy with that, and his next target was the Champagne Stakes at the end of the season. I think we were fairly confident he could win that one, but the Gods of Racing can be cruel. He absolutely refused to raise a gallop under Evert Pfeiffer, and finished 9th out of 9. It was not until some months later I think I figured out why.
His first outing as a three-year-old was a 1000 metre Maiden Plate This time he didn’t fluff his lines and won comfortably by 3 lengths. He then reeled off his next three outings by various margins, thus becoming one of the few horses who win four in a row.
Shortly after this Mr Smarty Pants decided to test his strength against the starting stalls, and we had a few race incidents of him loading brilliantly and coming straight out again even faster, incurring the wrath of the Stipendiary Board. Enter the Fairy Godmother in the shape of Natalie Hallows. Natalie is well known for her work at the course with problematic horses, and it did not take her long to put Thriller back in his box and on the road to good behaviour.
One of her comments whilst working with him was “he is a highly intelligent horse, and if he feels he has been unfairly treated, sticks up”. It was then that I realized why he refused to perform in the Champagne Stakes. In his first outing he had a hard ride under jockey S’mango Khumalo, probably felt hard done by, so extracted his revenge next time out by refusing to raise a gallop.
I could not claim Thriller was a superstar in the true sense of the word. He never scaled the heights of say Ipi Tombe, or Earl Of Surrey, or other like local champions, but boy did we have some great fun trying, and lots of near misses, my huckleberry friend and me. We competed in most of Zimbabwe’s premier races and had some creditable placings in quite a few. Thriller’s second by a nose in the Ipi Tombe Stakes to his old nemesis Super Trouper was a battle royal well remembered by many.
Follow the link below to watch this race.
How I won an “Oscar”
As his star was rising, he was considered one of the top sprinters on the course, and we entered him in the 2014 HRIB Gold Cup. My mindset, heart and soul told me we could win this race, victory was so tangible that I could imagine leading him into the number 1 box, and I could see myself graciously accepting the magnificent trophy. I was so confident I booked a table in the Ipi Tombe Room and invited a whole lot of friends to join us racing. Pride certainly comes before a fall.
He spread a plate on the way to the start, and an incompetent farrier (we subsequently learned) did not have the necessary equipment to remove and re-fit the shoe, so he was withdrawn at the start and never took part. How I managed to keep smiling that day I will never know. I certainly would have won an Oscar for that performance.
Sadly, Amy decided to call it a day, but we happily settled in the Swanson yard where Thriller and I were made to feel much appreciated and totally at home. We had some success, a win and a few more places, then the horse developed an epiglottal problem. We felt at his age it was a bit late to operate, so he went to have some jumping lessons with the brilliantly talented Judy Riddle, in preparation for his future career.
His forever home came in the form of the Roberts family, who all adored him. Graham rode him to victory in a fund raiser to save the Rhino, daughter Olivia show jumped him, and Zimbabwe’s leading dressage rider, Sasha, competed on him. A real Jack Of All Trades. Earlier in the year the family relocated to Hilton in Natal, taking horses, dogs, cats, and the kitchen sink with them. Reports of Olivia doing exceptionally well jumping Thriller filtered back. Then tragedy struck. A few attacks of colic necessitating surgery revealed a massive ulcer had burst making the dorsal colon stick to the wall. He was euthanized on the operating table.
Thrills, one day I will put my arms around your neck, bury my face in your shoulder and inhale your wonderful “horsey” aroma, and tell you again how much you meant to me.
EVERYONE’S GONE TO THE MOON
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the 2020 running of the Aintree Grand National. It has the most amazing history, and is a grand spectacle. It started in 1839 – that is some tradition.
It is handicap steeplechase over an official distance of about 4 miles and 2½ furlongs, (or accurately 4 miles 514 yards (6.907 km)), with horses jumping 30 fences over two laps. It is the most valuable jump race in Europe, with a prize fund of millions. An event that is prominent in British culture, the race is popular among many people who do not normally watch or bet on horse racing at other times of the year.
The course over which the race is run features much larger fences than those found on conventional National Hunt tracks. Many of these, particularly Becher’s Brook, The Chair and the Canal Turn, have become famous in their own right and, combined with the distance of the event, create what has been called “the ultimate test of horse and rider”.
Apart from a few years during the Second World War the National has been an annual event except for one bizarre year. The result of the 1993 Grand National was declared void after a series of incidents commentator Peter O’Sullevan later called “the greatest disaster in the history of the Grand National.”
While under starter’s orders, one jockey was tangled in the starting tape which had failed to rise correctly. A false start was declared, but due to a lack of communication between course officials, 30 of the 39 jockeys did not realise this and began the race.
Course officials tried to stop the runners by waving red flags, but many jockeys continued to race, believing that they were protesters (a group of whom had invaded the course earlier), while Peter Scudamore only stopped because he saw his trainer, Martin Pipe, waving frantically at him. Seven horses completed the course, meaning the result was void.
And fans will never forget the wonderful memories evoked by the superstar Red Rum, or the poignant story of Bob Champion and Aldanati, both who overcame life threatening problems to win the 1981 race, propelling them into celebrity status and a resulting movie on the silver screen predictably named “Champions”. Or the never solved occurrence that became part of folklore and robbed the Queen Mother of victory.
Forty yards from what seemed like certain victory, Devon Loch suddenly, and inexplicably, half-jumped into the air and collapsed in a belly-flop on the turf. Despite efforts by jockey Dick Francis, Devon Loch was unable to complete the race, leaving E.S.B. to cross the finishing line first. Responding to the commiserations of E.S.B.’s owner, the Queen Mother famously commented: “Oh, that’s racing!”
I can hear you thinking, how come she managed to watch the National, when horse racing in England and most countries is not happening due to the virus lockdown?
Well dear reader that is the nub of the matter.
MAD AS A BAG OF FROGS
If someone had said to you a year ago or less, that we would be watching the Grand National as a virtual race, you would have said they were mad as a bag of frogs!
But I kid you not that is exactly what has happened as a result of this global virus, the Covid 19. For the first time since World War 2 , the mighty spectacle has been reduced to a “virtual race”, a simulcast of a computer engineered mastermind that came up with the idea of replacing real live horses, jockeys, trainers and racing fans with a very watered down version of the real thing. Don’t get me wrong, it is brilliantly reconstructed and incredibly realistic, check it out for yourself on You Tube.
But it’s not the real deal.
Then I got to thinking, what if in the not too distant future that is how racing aficionados followed horse racing. That we would participate in the confines of our lounges or betting clubs, and all our racing would be virtual. We would have virtual horses, virtual trainers, owners, jockeys et al.
Remember this song Everyone’s Gone to the Moon –
Streets full of people, all alone
Roads full of houses, never home
Church full of singing, out of tune
Everyone’s gone to the moon
Could this be the legacy of Covid-19? Could this be our future for a sport we hold sacred?
THEY SHOOT HORSES DON’T THEY?
Recently I read a very well thought out letter by Ashleigh Hughes in response to a spate of incidents regarding ill treatment of thoroughbreds found in emaciated conditions in various parts of South Africa.
This was followed hot on the heels by a letter from owner Mark Sham about tardy and slow paying racehorse owners, the bottom line being that the trainers need to be paid timeously in order to feed and care for the charges in their care.
Slow payment has long been a problem in the thoroughbred industry, trainers, breeders, Sales companies and others in the trade all being affected at times. Efforts to tighten up in credit don’t seem to yield the desired result. In previous years the regulatory body the Jockey Club, now the NHRA, were more proactive in assisting a creditor.
Often all it took was a phone call from them to jog the recalcitrant into reaching for his cheque book. It seems these days the onus is on the creditor to collect his outstanding debts, and what leverage has he got? He can’t sell the horses to defray expenses without going through the legal channels, he can’t just stop feeding them because that constitutes extreme cruelty. Well yes, he can tell the owner to move his horses, but this is tantamount to washing one’s hands entirely of the debt. Sure you can take this to court, but it is a slow and costly process.
A suggestion was made that Sales companies apply stricter criteria to the issuing of a buyer’s card. Regretfully this is not the solution, slow payers are not necessarily bad credit risks, they just like to keep their pennies in their own accounts for as long as possible. In essence, the trainer is acting as a finance company to them, with none or low interest rates.
In Zimbabwe, all stakes earnings are paid direct to the relevant trainer, who can then deduct from or credit the owner accordingly. I don’t know if that applies to South Africa, it would only benefit trainers but it might help alleviate the problem to a small degree. It is also cost effective to the Club, cuts down on costly administration, there is less effort involved crediting a smaller nucleus of trainers, than a multitude of owners and partnerships.
Starving, neglected and abused animals are a totally different issue. This subject is highly emotive. It is not a perfect world sadly.
For the purpose of this article, I will confine the discussion to thoroughbred horses, but of course there is a much wider window.
Neglect can be caused by ignorance. Ignorance of the needs and costs that thoroughbred horses require once leaving the confines of their original pampered existence. Most do not understand that a thoroughbred cannot adapt to living off the veldt. Any chat with an SPCA official or Horse Care Unit person will tell you the same. Unfortunately the chance to educate those negligent often comes too late.
Then there is the greed factor. This can manifest itself in several ways. The keeping alive of a mare or stallion by using medication because of their stud value, when they suffer from an incurable condition like advanced laminitis or the like, in my book this constitutes cruelty. The selling of not in foal or old mares for a few measly dollars – you know damn well where these horses are going to wind up, so you, as the seller must carry some of the blame.
Naturally, there is a market for young, retired and sound thoroughbred stock. But it is a limited market. Polo, Show Jumping, Dressage and other equestrian activities can only absorb so much. We are fortunate that the market for these animals is larger in Africa. In racing countries such as Hong Kong, Japan, Mauritius and the like, there is little demand for horses off the track.
Should we be more practical and pragmatic when it comes to thoroughbred stock that can no longer fulfil its potential in the racing and breeding industry? Should we look at humane abattoirs for horsemeat?
Isn’t it kinder to put the animal down in a controlled environment, than to discover it some months later starving to death in some backyard location?
WOULD YOU SPONSOR ROCKY THE JOCKEY
asks Jackie Cocksedge
Occasionally, and it is a very brief occasional, Tellytrack, the DSTV Racing Channel, shows the post-race interview with trainer, owner and jockey. It seems some of the more successful or up and coming “Lester wannabes” have been lucky enough to secure a sponsor. This is known because the jockeys make a point of thanking their sponsors and doffing their caps which bear the sponsor’s name.
But what does sponsorship bring to the jockey and, more importantly. is it worthwhile to the sponsor?
Globally sports sponsorship is lucrative, and the big names that dominate popular televised sports can command huge sums of money. Given that most sporting stars have a short “sporting lifetime” as age or injury takes its toll, one can see that they must and do command huge fees to endorse brands.
Many athletes make far more money selling their celebrity off the playing field than they do from their professional salaries. The most famous and well-regarded athletes score lucrative contracts by lending their celebrity to corporations who want the public to associate their brands with an athlete’s image. These athletes wear clothing with a brand’s logo or extol the virtue of a product and get a really big check in return. When athlete endorsements work, they work for both parties.
Companies that advertise look for the profile of the individual who is going to market their products and services. Tiger Woods and Lewis Hamilton are two of the many high profile individuals who have tens of millions of followers on social media and rake in huge amounts because of their “marketing strength”. In other words, a champion is regarded as one who can take your product and services to the next level.
Most endorsement deals also tend to come with moral clauses that let the company exit the contract if the celebrity lands in trouble or tarnishes their reputation. In the big-money world of celebrity endorsements, this is not an uncommon occurrence. Take for example Tiger Woods who fell from grace. His peccadillos cost him $22 million. A highly publicized affair involving a car crash and, eventually, a $100 million divorce led to all but one of his major blue-chip sponsors dropping him.
Then there was everybody’s favourite cyclist, Lance Armstrong. Money lost:
An estimated $150 million on a single day in 2012, eight of Lance Armstrong’s 11 sponsors terminated contracts or announced plans not to renew them. A few days later, Oakley, Armstrong’s last remaining sponsor, cut ties with the iconic cancer survivor, whose name was synonymous with championship cycling.
And there are more high profile “bad boys”. When you look at the figures, it’s an awful lot of money.
But do any jockeys command that level of attraction to sponsors – even though we recently saw the Sun Met winning jockey, M J Byleveld, who couldn’t resist his own form of sponsorship – the bottom line is No.
Displaying branding on a jockey is strictly controlled by the Governing body, which in South Africa and Zimbabwe is the National Horse Racing Authority. National Horseracing Authority Rule 21.6 says that no jockey shall carry any form of advertising material on any part of his clothing or equipment on a racecourse during a race meeting save on the terms and conditions as approved by the racing operators from time to time.
From what I can glean, advertising is limited to Jockeys’ Breeches, Neck roll and Coccyx. Additional items include Baseball caps (winners enclosure), jackets, beanies, etc.
Some people are of the opinion that sponsorship is not in the best interests of racing. This was one opinion that was aired in the Sporting Post publication some time ago.
“Do jockeys have the right to promote their sponsors when they are paid by the owner to ride their horses in a race and paid by the Operator per ride?
“The jockey is contracted to ride the mount by the trainer & owner and yet they wear their sponsors caps and give their sponsors airtime during an interview and have their breeches printed with the sponsors’ logo. Sooner or later there is going to be a contractual & legal problem surrounding this along with a few other anomalies that are taken as normal in the SA horse racing arena.”
Others hold a different point of view. Avontuur Stud are big supporters. Recently signed up is Champion Apprentice Jockey Luke Ferraris.
Pippa Mickleburgh, representing Avontuur, stated “We’ve been incredibly lucky with our sponsored jockeys over the years. Starting off with MJ, Anthony Delpech and Greg Cheyne a decade ago, followed by Callan Murray and most recently double SA Champ Lyle Hewitson, we have backed winners all the way. People always joke that I seem to be able to see into the future as our jockeys have always performed incredibly well, which has obviously had positive spin-offs for our brand too,”
Another big sponsor of SA jockeys is Winning Form, a branch of the highly successful Hollywood Bets empire. They sponsor 5 jockeys and one work rider, including the likes of Muzi Yeni and Robert Khathi.
In Zimbabwe we have not progressed to the level of jockey sponsorship evident elsewhere. We are still very much in the kindergarten category. Recently, through the efforts of Kylie Bonthrone, Fresh in a Box are supplying fruit and vegetables to the local Jockey Academy currently home to 3 young aspiring jockeys and one jockette, for which they receive social media exposure. Additionally, Australian saddlery firm Stride Free, donated racing saddlery to these youngsters.