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Our sport is unique in one material respect; and that lies in the diversity of characters who patronise the game. Though you could never beat Harry Oppenheimer in the board room, it’s the one place on Saturdays, where you could take him on at the track and level the playing fields. It’s probably that, as much as anything else, that appeals to our fans.
We’ve always counted ourselves among the luckiest people on earth, not only for our lifestyles and the fact that we get to work with God’s noblest creation, but also for the clients that support our business. They come from all the corners of the world, and they represent a tapestry of professions and cultures. Some of our longest standing clients hunt in packs of two, and we go back almost to the opening of the gates to the arrival of a pair of our most colourful friends, Rodney Thorpe and Roger Zeeman who in their time with us have owned the likes of Imperial Despatch, Harry’s Charm and Amphitheatre, and are remembered for having bred J&B Met hero, Angus and Golden Slipper victress, Dignify.
There was never any doubt about where Milly would end up in life, as he was born the son of an avid racegoer, and raised on the fringe of the old Auckland Park racetrack. His two immigrant parents were Greek café owners (what else in those days, and who could ever compete with them?) and his dad, who’s just reached the ripe old age of 88, just loved a tilt at the tote, so Milly’s been around horses since his first breath. He has picture book knowledge of the game, and some extraordinary tales to tell, including his own story of his moment of glory in the South African Derby with Kadako, more than twenty years ago. Here was a boy from the wrong side of town stepping up to take the most prestigious Three-Year-Old race in Johannesburg, and flattening the aspirations of the Randlords and the mining magnates of their time.
Ashley on the other hand, was a New Zealand born son of a Salvation Army missionary, who grew up at the south-western most tip of that country’s South Island, in the most isolated and most conservative of circumstances. In the end though, having migrated to the erstwhile Rhodesia, he landed up down here and fell into “questionable company”, when Milly got his fingers into him and introduced him to the ponies. These two love this game, and over a period of years they’ve became quite a bit more than casual observers of the breeding business. Even Ashley’s father has an apparent occasional interest now days, which just goes to show that intoxication is not limited to alcoholics alone.
As part of the annual review of their broodmare and “prospectives” band, now reaching the proportions of a medium sized breeding enterprise, they make the pilgrimage to Hartford House and Summerhill to regale us with their stories, while we match up their mares for the season.
Yes, we’re lucky in our passing show, and these fellows are as good an illustration of why we count ourselves more fortunate than most.