The first signs of "green shoots" emerged on the 18th January when a R30,000 graduate of our KZN Yearling Sale, Royal Pleasure, crushed a field of debutantes by 6.5 lengths in Durban. I was sitting on a lonely koppie a half hour's drive from the family cottage at the Wild Coast, searching for a signal when my phone rang: it was Glen Kotzen, the filly's exuberant trainer, who was already thinking "Alan Robertson".
I was in Melbourne when the water broke again, with the birth of another star. Doug Campbell might've been raised on a diet of roast potatoes and rugby at Michaelhouse, but he's one of the "bittereinders" of the training ranks, and he could scarcely conceal his glee at Lala's demolition of a Durban assembly by four-and-three- quarters.
At lunch in Melbourne, Mike Bass uncovered his new secret weapon, Jet Air. Bass is a man of few words when it comes to his horses: he tends to leave the talking to them. They speak well. And the son of Visionaire did just that, he gave Marsh Shirtliff hopes of new glory with a solid leveling of a vaunted gathering of juveniles in Cape Town.
We've been eagerly awaiting the return of Royal Pleasure to the races, and we got our wishes on Sunday when in the King's Pact Stakes, she took on what was billed as the first real test of the strength of the KZN juveniles and a smattering of the better ones from Johannesburg. Nothing more than a steering job was required of jockey Greg Cheyne, and this time it was my turn to call Glen Kotzen. He too, was sitting on a koppie, but this time of a different kind. He was on a ski slope somewhere in Alpine France, but not even his frozen lips could smother the ecstasy.
Unsurprisingly, the filly went out this time in the colours of her original breeder, Team Valor, and regular "accomplices" Anant and Vanashree Singh. Good on them.
In a world that spins with greater momentum than ever before, there's little time to chew the fat with our pals in the game these days. The advance of the years are no longer a brake on the frenetic lives we live, which make a frantic pastime of friendly discourse. So faraway places, unfettered by the maddening crowd, become the opportunities to talk to one another. Again at a lunch table in Melbourne, Johan Janse van Vuuren whispered his thoughts on Bindaloo another son of Visionaire he'd snatched from our clutches at the Inanda Club in November. Van Vuuren is one of a new breed of professionals, a man who knows his horses like his children; most times he labels them, you can stand at the ATM.
The last time I went home specifically to watch a telecast was for Await The Dawn's royal romp at Ascot; yesterday evening, I did it for a Turffontein maiden. Not for the first time that day, one of "ours" was up against an odds-on favourite, and here was a Var colt for whom Anton Marcus had caught the early plane from Maritzburg. In the event, Van Vuuren's was allowed to go postward at a generous 6/1, yet Bindaloo came home like he was the odds-on shot.
So much for Visionaire. The imposing figure of Brave Tin Soldier, to this day the world's highest priced foal, has loomed enviously over his shoulder for all the attention the latter's barnmate's been receiving, not from visitors alone, but on the airwaves and in the collateral press. Anton Marcus has been central to a number of these stories this week, and he still had three parts to play. As they say on Thursdays, leave it to "The Fixer". We did. The champion rider journeyed to Jo'burg on Saturday to put a leg over a "Brave" from the Ready To Run for Michael Azzie. Named for the man they say will succeed Dale Steyn as the world's best "quickie", Rabada was at first disadvantaged by a wide barrier. Then again, when a colt without steerage dropped back on him. Anton Marcus is nothing if he isn't the coolest customer in town; he simply shifted the son of Brave Tin Soldier ever wider, so that he was last at the head of the straight. As if that wasn't enough, the colt had it all to do against an odds-on son of Silvano who'd been to the races before. But Rabada didn't know that; this was the moment he'd spent his young life waiting for. Marcus gave him an inch of rein, and he soon took a mile. In an instant, it was over.
We always harboured a fancy for another boy by "Brave Tin" at last year's National Sale, this time a colt who would assume the name Red Hot Poker. At publication, the Scottsville race-card revealed two entries for Charles Laird, one with former champ Anthony Delpech up, Red Hot Poker under young apprentice Jose' Barnes. The inference was obvious: the Delpech horse was the stable elect.
If only because we liked him as much as we did when we sold him, we tuned in at race time, to find that the same Anton Marcus was now in "our" saddle, and the horse was already "prohibitive" on the tote. The racecourse gossip made another first-timer unbeatable: Beluga was deep in the red going to post. While the "money"looked safe at the 400, a furlong is a long time in horseracing; "Red Hot" by name and red hot "by deed", the "Brave" quickly had the favourite under the pump by five-and-a-quarter.
You might think we're making a meal of the six young aces we've seen in the past couple of days. We are. But when you have the pen in your hand, you may as well write some history. To make the case, there was a sideshow to the outcome of the second event which prompted Marcus' flip to "Joeys". He was aboard yet another Var for the same parties, separated from the colt only by the money she'd cost as a yearling: just a million Rand in two and a half.
She too, was the target of a big plunge on the back of a smart debut behind by a little-heralded filly called Emperor's Lass. Modestly priced at R45,000 at the same November Ready To Run, Emperor's Lass fell to the bid of "Lucky" Houdalakis. The trainer's folks were on the button when they named him "Lucky": the "Var" saluted his filly's class with a 5 length smasher last evening.