Mickey Rey and Penny Coelen Rey with David and Reita Powell / Leigh Willson (p)


We’re big on “fillies” here, as most of our readers know, and our honour roll celebrates any number of world-beaters. Igugu, Icy Air, Fisani, Checcetti, Hollywoodboulevard, Blueridge Mountain, and Mannequin and just this weekend a new star, Rich Girl, to name a few; champions and Classic heroines that’ve underwritten our reputation as an elite nursery for some of the finest young ladies in racing. We get them in all shapes and sizes, and we have an enviable record in sales-toppers too, three of the last four at the National Sales among them.

And just to show that the affinity between good looking girls of the human variety and those of the equine species is as strong as ever, we were graced last week with the presence of two former Miss Worlds. Those that know our neighbourhood, will tell you that it’s always been a font of beauties; that our neighbour, Vera Johns (Sutherland) was the Miss South Africa of 1975, that Estcourt’s Sonia Raciti held the title in 1998, and that the planet’s best-known face in modelling, Candice Swanepoel, hails from Mooi River. That’s some record for a little dorp in the backwaters of rural Zululand, and you wonder why we don’t see a shoal of able-bodied young men trawling these abundant valleys more often.

Before we unveil the events of the week, a bit of history first. When we initiated what is now the fastest-growing racehorse sale in the world, the Emperors Palace Ready To Run, some twenty-seven years ago, we held the cocktail party under the old oak tree outside the farm office. It was historic for the fact that it was the first sale of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, though just twenty turned up, six from the farm, six from our old friend, Chris Smith’s sales organisation, six customers and two children. Among the customers was one of the greatest golfers of all-time, Gary Player, and a Springbok cricketing giant, John Watkins. Former champion jockeys, Reggie and Hilton Passmore, and the brothers Rey, long-standing friends of Summerhill, were there, too. The Reys weren’t Springboks, and neither of them was a colossus of the links, but as pals, both were “champions”. Johnny and Mickey Rey were Summerhill “regulars”, and represent a friendship as firm today as it was in the early 1980s. Both could wield a polo stick, and horses were as much a part of their upbringings as they were ours. They were deft farmers, dab hands in business, and to this day, you’d have to call them “debonair”.

Mickey’s crowning achievement though, was spread-eagling the field in the race for the hand of the world’s most beautiful woman of 1958, Penny Coelen, as regal today as she was in the fifties. She was the eighth Miss World, and in a pageant dominated by Europe in those times (9 of the 12 semi-finalists, 5 of the 6 finalists,) Penny was the first African to take the title.

This week, Penny and Mickey made the pilgrimage to Hartford House in the company of the 1966 Miss World, Dr. Reita Powell (nee Faria) and her very smart husband, Professor David Powell, her former mentor. Clever fellow! While she turned her back on a multitude of modelling and movie opportunities in favour of a career in medicine, Reita has returned to judge the Miss World contest several times.

Like so many of our champion fillies, these two ladies, as good as they ever were, have excelled in their “second lives” in the breeding department, with bevies of kids and grandkids to take their lineage to fresh pastures.