They say you should never start an address with an apology, but I owe you all one: once a year, Cheryl and I “escape” to our fishing cottage on the Wild Coast. This means no phones, no TV, no radio, no newspapers, but the one addiction I’ve not been able to cure, is runners and racing results. For that I’m dependent on the communicative efficiency of my assistant, Amorette, and I’m enslaved to the Vodacom signal obtained on the back of an hour-and-a-quarter round trip, and the top of a plateau which gets you “two bars” on your cellphone. That said, I’ve previously used this facility to email the handwritten notes I’ve prepared as part of my bi-weekly obligation to our readers, and I’m afraid a proliferation of shad and bronze bream share my blame for the dearth in postings.
Lambazi Bay must be one of the most beautiful out-of-the-way seaside places on the planet, its remoteness preserved by one of the most inaccessible roads in South Africa. Old families develop a sense of proprietorship about the privacy of locations like these, and we’ve been there as a family since 1916 when the Kaiser and David Lloyd George were still battling it out on the fields of Flanders. As you can imagine, those of the old Pondo trading families who have properties there, guard their rights to this enclave with a fervour that borders on the religious.
To get there, you have to beat it down on an old goat path which respects nothing but a 4x4 with at least as much clearance as a Toyota Hilux. None of these smart BMW and Mercedes “X” and “M” models for this track, I’m afraid; the road, such as it is, takes you past the eerie sight of a one-time military airforce base, where the ammunition lock-ups and bomb shelters are still visible in their dug-out hideaways in the cliff face. Mateku airstrip (its formal title) was reputedly the longest in the southern hemisphere during the Second World War, and served as home to the maritime airfleet of defence bombers deployed to combat the German U-Boat submarines that ravaged local shipping lanes, and were responsible for the sinking of more than 70 vessels on the east coast between East London and Durban.
As a compliment to the testing challenges of the road to Lambazi, there were at one time in our backyard three Toyota 4x4s, and across the beach at Grosvenor, there must have been a dozen or more. That’s as timely a reminder as any of the old Summerhill adage that we breed the “Toyotas” of South African racing: nothing expresses the qualities South Africans cherish more than Toyota – outstanding quality, great dependability and excellent value, the hallmark too, of the Summerhill racehorse.
The name “Grosvenor” derives from the wreck in August 1782, of the richest-laden East Indiaman to depart the shores of India, bound for England. No fewer than six salvage missions, some fraught with death and bankruptcy, have romanticised the Grosvenor legend, the subject as well, of half a dozen books and a London live show.
During the war years, the old airstrip doubled as a galloping track for my grandfather, Pat’s horses, which were often based at the coast for the winter months, to get away from the severity of the cold of East Griqualand, where his farm “The Springs” was located. Their winter sojourn graduated the likes of the Durban July hero, St Pauls, and the July and Met place-getters Dan and Giant, both former winners of the Lusikisiki Club Handicap and the Bizana Cup, where Oliver Tambo was a one-time teenage strapper for the latter two. These days, the late Oliver has Africa’s biggest airport named for him, which tells you what you can do with a grounding in horses!
As part of his contribution to the war effort, the “old boy” erected a second cottage at his other property, Mkweni, for the use of the airmen, particularly the foreign contingent, when they were on time off or on leave. When the war was over, out of gratitude for saving the life of his younger brother, Charlie, my granddad granted the lifetime use of that cottage to the parents of the legendary author, Wilbur Smith, who spent most of his holiday time from Michaelhouse down there. Those of you who know his second book, Eagle In The Sky, will recognise the seaside setting, if you know the Wild Coast at all.
The mystique of Lambazi Bay lies not only in its connectivity with the Grosvenor and the World Wars, but it’s closely intertwined with our political history, too. The coast in our vicinity served as the landing base for numbers of Russian-trained ANC cadres returning to do their insurgency bit in the 60s and 70s, among them the eventual PAC leader, Robert Sobukwe, who served his early incarceration at the notorious interrogation centre at nearby Mkambati; and when he was eventually committed to Robben Island, he was considered the bigger political risk, to the point that he was housed away from the main prisoner contingent en route to the infamous limestone quarry. Sobukwe was not alone among those subjected to interrogation at Mkambati; several of Nelson Mandela’s initial cabinet did time there too.
The one thing about the horseracing business, is that the wheels grind on, no matter where you are, seven days a week, twelve months of the year. Without my bi-weekly Sporting Post and no internet access, the only thing I had to maintain some currency on events, was Amorette’s daily results service, and a four day update courtesy of a visit by former Racing Association chairman, Bruce Gardner and his wife, Jo. Thank heavens they’d had a good time of it at the races recently with former farm products, Coby and Jumpstart, so Bruce was in an upbeat frame of mind, and together with four of our Mauritian pals, he and the Alexanders are among the early bookings for next month’s Emperors Palace Summer Ready To Run Sale on the farm. So are Mike Miller, David Niewenhuizen (bringing a “bus load”), Doug Campbell and Ricky Maingard, as well as a bunch of Inanda Club members who wet their feet at the CTS Johannesburg Ready To Run Sale in November. They must have bought well, as they seem to have developed an appetite for the game.
It was comforting to return yesterday morning to the news that we’re still in a handy “box seat” for the Breeders’ Premiership, buoyed this past weekend by eight winners, five of which were products of the School Sale last year. A.P. Arrow and Mullins Bay have had another good week, with the Gardners holding a strong hand in the future fortunes of the former; they already own the Group One performer, Coby (who is Gold Bowl-bound), and the highly-regarded Top Shot, whose next run is the litmus paper on the back of a promising debut.
LEADING BREEDERS BY STAKES
1 August 2014 - 18 January 2015
The weekend’s events served to vindicate the views of many of our team about last year’s sale; they were steadfast in the belief that its graduates would advertise the sale’s virtues as the country’s best value-for-money, given the stream of top performers that have come out of it since its inception three years ago, or were previously sold privately off the farm: Imbongi, Bold Ellinore, Paris Perfect, Emperor Napoleon, Amphitheatre, No Worries, Greasepaint, Corredor, Coby, Black Wing, Flyfirstclass, Hear The Drums, Tomorrow’s Miss, Sithela and Rooi Nooi among them.
On Saturday, Gary and Dean Alexander sent out two winners, one a R10,000 purchase last year Matsuri, coming home by a length and a quarter, while Mike Miller, who’s a former winner of the sale’s best “picker”, celebrated a double with Ricky Maingard’s Mama Themba (R60,000) fulfilling her earlier promise with a convincing win at Greyville, and Feels Like Heaven, who made it two-in-a-row at Scottsville Sunday, after she’d failed to attract a bid in 2014.
When my phone rang on the drive home, I thought it was Summerhill Agri-manager, Mark Jonsson; I imagined the worst as it was Sunday. Turned out to be Glen Kotzen, who was celebrating the 6.75 length triumph of the first South African-bred progeny of Visionaire, Royal Pleasure. Bred here by Team Valor, the filly was acquired by Andy Williams, a self-confessed “horse thief” for a paltry R30,000 for a festive crew including the Box 3A “boys”, and Big City Life’s breeder, Judy Wintle. They wouldn’t have let the sun set on the weekend without popping a few corks.
You realise of course, that the last couple of paragraphs are a dedicated propaganda campaign to remind players that this year’s sale takes place in the School on the 24th February, and this is an open invitation to you to attend. While there’ll be plenty to come on this subject, it’s worth remembering that more than any other sale, it’s a “cost-saver”: the sellers’ contribution represents a saving of as much as a year’s keep (+-R100,000) over horses of the same age traded a year ago. Besides, nineteen of those catalogued for 2015, hold tickets for November’s R2.5million Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup: there is no other way of bagging yourself a slot in that line-up but this one. And there’s a bunch of Visionaires among them.