I’ve often said that if I had the chance, and I needed to choose my vocation all over again, the script would be identical, with all the bumps and bruises. Any man who can get to work at his preferred playstation, and still make a living from it, has been blessed in more ways than one, and that’s what a lifetime in horses can do for you.
I came from a noble profession, where my life as a lawyer introduced me to many fine and entertaining people, yet nothing, but nothing, could’ve prepared me for the ride I’ve had in the horse game and the characters I’ve encountered on the way. One day, I should like to share a few notes about these people, but that isn’t my purpose today.
Just a week or so ago, we posted a piece on a recently lost friend, the great French trainer Maurice Zilber, an Egyptian by birth who at a relatively young age, fled his native homeland for the sanctuary of France, as a result of what he described as the tyranny of Nasser. Maurice died an old man, and I’m not old enough to remember what happened in the politics of Egypt during Nasser’s time, but I do know that another fabled horseman, John Messara, maker or breeder of horses of the ilk of Redoute’s Choice, Danehill and Zabeel, was a victim of a similar fate, when his parents sent him at the tender age of twelve to Australia to get away from the dangers of an apparently recalcitrant Nasser regime.
While we did previously announce the passing of Maurice Zilber, you can’t say too much about this warm and generous man whose intellect knew few bounds, and whose wisdom was not limited to his genius with horses. It’s probably worth remembering that greatness is not necessarily confined to the places you’d most expect it from. Great people are as often as not, products of desperate circumstances, and the likes of the Nobel Peace laureates Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and F.W de Klerk, are testimony to this statement. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, yet who would have thought that Egypt, of all places in the racing world, would be the well from which a man of Zilber’s ilk might spring. Here is a tribute from one of his protégé’s, Claude Beniada.
“With Maurice Zilber, I have been around many top horses, champions and champions again and again, but I have realized over the years that my greatest satisfaction has been to be around a top-class man who has taught me, and others, many more things about life, and that is more important than anything else. Maurice Zilber was a man with universal culture, fond of classic music, of reading, of traveling and of exchanging ideas with other people. He was so intelligent, brilliant and cultured that he is the type of person who could have been a top physician, political figure, businessman or whatever he would have wished to be. He had chosen to live his passion for horses, and he brought it to excellence.
All his owners were fond of him, and he was such a marvelous teller of stories, in his incomparable oriental style - inherited from his youth in Egypt, a country he always had deep in his heart - that dinners could go on and on throughout the night, but at six in the morning he was out training his horses.
We will sadly miss him, and for many of us it is the end of an era. Goodbye Maurice!’
Posted by Mick Goss