Denis and Gael Evans
(Photo : Summerhill Stud)
“DENIS AND GAEL EVANS”
There are many facets to racing which differentiate it as a sport. Because it’s not a science, it’s embroiled in mystery and intrigue, and in some respects, it belongs to the insiders, those that sit on the horses, those that train them and those that groom them. These guys have an obvious advantage. They know those that quicken and those that don’t, those with heart and those without, those that fret and those that don’t. And of course, they have a line on the galloping companion.
Then there are the people. The fans, the owners, those that lay on the show, the punters in the stands and the millions in the totes, as well as the professionals, the breeders, the trainers and the jockeys. It’s a jigsaw of nations, a tapestry of professions, and a mosaic of colour. The rich and the not-so-rich, the patricians and the plebs. All can play, all can win.
Some weeks back, we ran a few articles on some of our longer serving customers. This is a profile of an urbane gentleman, a quiet man, a businessman, a man with an enduring love of the game. Denis Evans first came to racing some years ago; he volunteers, it wasn’t a great experience. He blames no-one, but he says this time he’s doing it properly. In a sense, he’s worked things out, and while he remains a considerable force in South African racing, he’s also identified the benefits of buying stock locally (the best value in the world), and travelling those with the gifts, to plunder the prizes in Singapore.
Racing came late to Denis Evans: he wasn’t born into it. He was an entrepreneur in the best old-fashioned sense of the word, and he was good at it. While he maintains a modest silence about his achievements, he is unable to escape the public knowledge of his generous funding of the extraordinary movie, Spud. His local trainers are Justin Snaith and Gavin Smith, while Pat Shaw does the job abroad. They’ve never been away from racecourses or horses, all are fully paid up members of what one observer called “The Closed Society”, the racing fraternity that gathers each morning on the tracks when normal people are in bed, a fellowship with its own language and humour, and an unwritten code of rules. These men have never known any other world, but they know theirs as well as anyone. Dinner table conversations in their homes when they were small boys, were all about horses. Photographs of horses look down on the family from the walls. Open the back door, and you smell soiled straw and fresh hay. They practiced their riding skills at 10 on the backs of sweet-natured ponies.
Evans has an engineer’s sense of precision, a mind that gravitates towards the objective and the rational. He likes finding out how things work, and then trying to make them work better. He likes to bring order and reason to complex matters, he’s a thorough man. He’s charming and quick to smile, but careful and guarded in his speech, as if he weighs every word, which he does. He’s pretty much what he seems to be. His trainers aren’t. They are rational and pragmatic too, but they hide those traits well, and in any case, they can only take you so far in racing; the inner man is hardly ever on show. Evans is scientific; his trainers have more than a touch of the artistic and the mystic, which is right enough, because they’re in the racehorse business, and racing isn’t scientific.
Denis Evans has had his share of luck at the races, and for the money he’s put down, he’s entitled to it. In some respects, his ambitions remain a little unfulfilled, particularly in the case of the multi-talented Run For It, whose promised so much but is yet to deliver the killer blow. On the other hand, in less than two seasons, Evans has tasted the mountain air in Singapore, and has emerged their top owner by number of winners. As the season closed, he counted 26 of them, and that was enough to edge his compatriot, Fred Crabbia, from the winner’s podium.
He’s had his moments of glory, and his horses run as if they know they owe. The adulation that follows a victory is not entirely Evans’ cup of tea. As always, when a big one comes home, the owner is engulfed. People shake his hands, pump his back, squeeze his elbows. He smiles and produces a white handkerchief; he’s a shy man. He briefly lifts his hands above his head, like winners are supposed to, but the gesture doesn’t come easily. It’s as though he’s embarrassed to be so lucky.
There are not enough Denis Evanses in this game, and he’s lucky to have Gael to share these moments with the same dignity, and an equal dollop of grace. We’re lucky to have them, too.