We were a day or two late in hearing the news, and it came courtesy of a journalist who phoned to ask for a tribute. That such a legend of our business should have passed without us knowing is probably the best indication that the horse game is no longer about lifestyle: it’s about all the things Wilfred Koster represented. Firstly, he was a model of hard work, he was an exemplar in the sphere of integrity and honesty, and while his forthrightness sometimes got him into trouble, the one thing you could never say about our friend Wilf, was that you didn’t know where you stood with him. Beyond that, though he was the son of a gifted breeder of racehorses, he was even more gifted in his own right, leaving behind a legacy of at least three colossi of our sport: National Emblem, London News and Argonaut, besides many, many others of abiding talent. Wilfred had an instinct in the breeding of thoroughbreds that most would call genius, yet it wasn’t only in the design of his horses, but in his consummate horsemanship, his understanding of the land, his sympathy with his people and his ability to bring them all together in a spectacular harmony.
Besides, he was one of the last great “on-the-farm” breeders, the business having been largely hijacked by venture capitalists in the past 30 years.
He was far-sighted to a degree that left few stones unturned, and in leaving himself the time to pass on to his son Vaughan, everything he could of his God-given gifts, he exhibited his rare capacity for planning. But perhaps the best example of this lay in the fact he took a personal interest in every facet of his business, right down to what his staff should be doing on the day of his funeral.
“I think we’ll leave the horses out that night, so that the staff can attend the proceedings, and return home without concern.” To his last breath, he was still attending to his accounts personally, getting to his feet himself, enjoying the company of his family, and remembering how lucky he’d been to spend his life the way he did, and where he did.
Which brings us to another point. We can’t imagine a National Sale without Wilf, his wise counsel at meetings, and his ready laugh at gatherings. A whiskey after a day at the sales will somehow taste different.
Throughout history, there are very few thoroughbred farms anywhere that’ve survived the third generation. For all the great breeders of the world, we can think of only two, both Australian, in the form of the Kellys of Newhaven Park, and the Thompsons of Widden Stud, who’ve successfully made it beyond these boundaries. Wilfred (and let’s not forget the contribution of his lovely wife, Shirley,) has pretty much guaranteed the continuity of what this family stands for, both ethically, and in thoroughbred lore, for at least one more generation.
The teams at Summerhill, Hartford, Vuma and Goss & Co Insurance salute you all, Shirley, Tanya, Nikki, Tess and Vaughan and wish you long life. We’ve no doubt that the memories of Wilfred will be your strength in the days and years ahead, and for South Africa’s sake, we are comforted that the legacy will go on.