(Photo : Summerhill Stud Archives)
“Tribute to Uncle Harry Freeguard -
A Racing Man”
The TimesMy uncle Harry was keen on the horses. Indeed, few days went by in more than 60 years when he didn’t scan the newspaper for the racing fields and make a shrewd assessment of the runners’ chances.
He wasn’t a big gambler in terms of money wagered; he just loved the animals, the pedigrees and the form puzzle - and couldn’t resist a flutter on it all.
Even if I hadn’t seen him in months, often the first thing he’d start talking about would be racing.
He’d worked for bookmakers yonks ago and had seen interesting things. But what set him apart from the more “colourful” characters from those good old bad old days was his unshakeable honesty and steadfast principle.
I loved listening to his racing yarns. A favourite of mine concerned rent money going on the great Mowgli in the 1950’s, in a race in which the horse took a tumble, and a letter being written to a bemused landlord explaining how “sad to relate, our funds fell with Mowgli at the Greyville crossing”.
With him on one side of my parentage, and generations of Moon racing madness on the other, I couldn’t escape the geegee malady.
In 1965, I attended my first Durban July - under-aged at 11. My father pulled strings to get me onto the racecourse, on condition I was strictly supervised. Uncle Harry got the job.
He positioned us at the winning post and I saw nothing of the race beyond the thronging adults - bar the final split-second, when two horses flashed past in the lead : King Willow and Fair Mountain.
My childish gloating at my horse’s victory must have been irritating, but uncle indulged me with typical good humour.
Harry lived beside Scottsville racecourse in Pietermaritzburg, though latterly didn’t attend meetings - so annoyed was he at the downgrading of the ordinary punter’s experience.
I promised him that one day I’d bring a horse down from Joburg to race at Scottsville and we’d have a day out together - just like old times.
I never kept that promise. Uncle Harry Freeguard died peacefully at home this week at 85.
Two weeks earlier saw the death of Graham Beck, a very different sort of man to my uncle - but also the same in a way.
A super-rich coal magnate who later got into winemaking, Beck’s true love was racing.
He famously said that standing in a winner’s circle felt “better than sex”.
Beck spent millions on the game, owning many top horses and stud farms in South Africa and the United States. Tributes have been heaped upon him for his generous contribution.
The billionaire and my uncle, a modest man of modest means; both felt the egalitarian tug of the thoroughbred horse at full gallop.
In racing parlance, they were coupled on the tote.
PS. Racing fans of the 1950’s will recall the legendary Mowgli, voted in 2000 amongst the last century’s top 5 racehorses. He was bred and raised right here at Hartford, which forms part of the greater Summerhill Estate.
Extract from The Times