Hassan Adams, Mick Goss and Brian Finch
Hassan Adams, Mick Goss and Brian Finch

Hassan Adams, Mick Goss and Brian Finch

(Photo courtesy of Brian Finch)

“Seize The Day”

None of us need to be reminded about the days of apartheid; our politicians and newspapers do a good job of that every day. Yet racing has its own tales of those days, and there are a few whose rise to the summit is the best illustration of the blindness of hope and the madness of racing.

Colour has no part in people’s aspirations, and those of us who have the disease will tell you that once infected, you’re gone for life. One such fellow whose love of the game goes back to childhood, is now one of the nation’s biggest owners, Hassan Adams. He was one of those kids who was unlucky enough to be born when the laws of the land discriminated against people of colour. His lot was not the main stand, but the other side of the fence at the start of the races at Kenilworth. That was the sin of apartheid.

His Dad was an avid racegoer, and Hassan would accompany him to the course on Saturdays; while his father had access to the silver ring, Hassan’s age demanded that he stay outside the course altogether. The craving for the sport that has seen his investment in racehorses escalate to several hundred head these days, was alight and thriving long before he reached his teens, and he’s found no cure for the illness since then.

I remember very well, attending the parade for the Durban Gold Cup, South Africa’s most famous staying race, sometime in the early 80s. As I left the parade ring, an angry young man called from behind the bars that separated the silver from the gold ring. It was Hassan, infuriated by the thought that while he was good enough to have a runner in the event, he wasn’t good enough for the parade ring nor the gold ring, for that matter. That was the evil of apartheid, which demanded that he and I, good friends already, should sit on different park benches, catch different buses, occupy separate hotels and frequent separate pubs.

Some years later, and shortly after Northern Guest won his first Sires Championship in 1987, Hassan phoned me from his Hout Bay stronghold, where he was chairman of the local branch of the ANC. He wanted a Northern Guest service, the proceeds of which he would apply to the funds of what was then a banned organisation. While it got me into trouble with the stallion’s shareholders at a later stage, I was unhesitant in obliging. That story made the front page of the Sunday Times a year or two ago, though I should be quick to add that it wasn’t the main thrust of the story.

Hassan has since become one of this continent’s more prosperous businessmen, and his associations with the chairmanship of the Grand West Casino and the sale of the Waterfront, are part of the Cape Town legend. Heaven knows how many feature race winners have carried his blue and silver colours to that hallowed piece of real estate in front of the grandstand at Kenilworth, but certainly his outstanding performer is Gimmethegreenlight, who knocked off this year’s champion sophomore, Variety Club, in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate (Gr.1), the first three-year-old in 42 years to win our oldest horserace.

Another man who has emerged from the shadows of apartheid to become one of the nation’s most respected businessmen is Brian Finch, who’s quietly assembling an exceptional line-up of fillies for what will ultimately become a quality broodmare band. Brian commemorates a landmark birthday in a couple of weeks from now, and is at that point in life where his business acumen, sound judgment and a life that celebrates the adage “seize the day”, has led him to this day. He’s obviously had a good look at the numbers, and has decided to play the racing game just as he’s played his life, by stacking the odds as much in his favour as this game permits. We did much the same as Brian when we kicked off in the sport, and Summerhill is the result today. The difference of course is that, while there was no inheritance here to get this place off the ground, we never had to deal with the disadvantages that a sallow skin imposed on so many of our countrymen in those dark days. That was the tragedy of apartheid.

We caught up with these two legends recently in Cape Town, and it seems they’re missing out on very little in life these days. As you can see from the fellow in the middle, he’s among giants, and this picture was taken with a sawn-off iPhone!