Truth is though, it doesn't matter where you live, people don't always appreciate winners, and second sucks: that's racing in whatever form it comes. Yet, having suffered the traumas I have in the past couple of months, the one thing I can say about horseracing people, and it's been true for as long as I have been in the game, is that when you face circumstances of adversity, there is no community as generously spirited, as concerned and as caring as those whose weekends are about horseracing.
I fell ill in early February, and it follows that the well-wishers are always at their most intense in the early stages of an illness. I have to confess, I have been overwhelmed (and often overcome) by the numbers of people not only from this neighbourhood, not limited to this country, but from all corners of the world who've shared their concern and support.
In the past fortnight, my great old friend Dr. Frank Freeman flew all the way from Cape Town specifically to wish me well: carrying the scars of a long night out after their triumphant Champions Day, Markus Jooste and his clan of "Dup" Du Plessis, his son Michael and his son-in-law Stefan Potgieter flew home to Cape Town via the Pietermaritzburg airport and spent a night with us. I've had letters this week from two of India's perennial champion breeders, Zavaray Poonawalla and Ameeta Mehra : David Nagle phoned from Ireland, and within the hour M.V. Magnier and Paul Shanahan followed. On Wednesday morning Charles Laird and Alesh Naidoo arrived for an early breakfast of charred bacon and well-baked roti; the list is endless, the calls, the gifts and SMSes a veritable torrent and I owe them all an acknowledgement: Hassen Adams, Dean, Gary and Julie Alexander, Graham Armstrong, Michael Azzie, Dr. Brian Baker, Mark Bass, Lance Benson, Mike Benson, Doug Botha, Xavier Bozo (France), Brian Browning, Derek Brugman, Brian Burnard, Tom Callaghan, Doug Campbell, Anthony Cane (UK), Amanda Carey, Corinne Carmagnole (MAU), Barry Clements (AUS), Michael Clower, Wayne Coetzer, Lionel Cohen, Nicola Coppez, Filly and Glen Crouch and the Xpressions team, Patrick and Antionette de Chedeville (France), Koos and Lorraine de Klerk, Mike and Diane de Kock, Mike Destombes, Phillip Diedericks, Brendan Doran, Dennis Durrant, Mark Farmar (UK), Bill Francis, Tom Fraser (KEN), Eugene Freeman, John Freeman, Paul Gadsby, Phil Georgiou, Tinus Gericke, Peter Gibson, Angus Gold (UK), Louis Goosen, Pat and Karen Goss, Melvin Goss, Ian Gowrie-Smith, Alan Greeff, Steph Grentell (AUS), Charles Harrison, Vaughan and Vanessa Harrison, Wayne and Catherine Hartley, Debbie Hawkins, Graeme and Babette Hawkins and the team at Gold Circle, Sam Hayes, Mark Hedley, Robbie Hill, Michael Holmes, Barry Irwin (USA), Kerry Jack, Georgina Jaffee, Oliver James, Jeremy Jonsson, Gerald Kalil, Dean Kannemeyer, Brian and Bernard Kantor (UK), Dave Karon, Hazel Kayiya, James Kean, Been Keet, Scott Kenny, Grant Knowles, Wayne Kobusch, Vaughan and Shirley Koster, John Koster, Glen and Kathi Kotzen, John and Gisela Kramer, Nico Kritsiotis, Bill Lambert, Bruce and Delia le Roux, Rose Leheup (UK), Warren Lenferna, HM King Letsie (LES), Mary Liley, Robyn Louw, Alan and Brenda Magid, Ash Maharaj, Ricky and Brigitta Maingard (MAU), Jehan Malherbe, Anton Marcus, Candiese Marnewick, Mike McHardy, Willie and Janine Messenger, Pippa Mickleburgh, Karel and Kiki Miedema and the team at Sporting Post, Alan and Alex Mille (USA), Drs Zweli and May and Dedani Mkhize, Dave Mollett, Nchakha Moloi, Mike Moon, Neil Morrice (UK), Bertie Myburgh, Edouard Nairac (MAU), Ronnie and Bev Napier, Michael and Levonne Nefdt and the team at iKind Media, Peter O' Brien (AUS), Hylton Odendaal, Merle Parker and the team at the Racing Association, David Payne (AUS), Gary Player, Rupert Plersch (GER), Leon Potgieter, Charl Pretorius, Rennie Price, Grant (Badger) Pritchard-Gordon (UK), Anton and Judy Proctor, Garth Puller, Reggie Purbrick, Joey Ramsden, Albert Rapp, Mike Rattray, George Rowles, Gaynor and Johann Rupert, Jimmy Sarkis, Monty Saulez, Robin and Joyce Scott, Lee and Nancy Scribante and the team at KZN Breeders, Mike Sharkey and the team at Highlands, Marsh Shirtliff, Caroline Simpson, Anant Singh, Mary Slack, Peter Wright, John and Liz Slade, Tabbi Smith (UK) and the team at the English National Stud, Gavin Smith, Guy Smith, Rowena Smith (AUS), Pauline Smith, Mike and Jackie Solomon, Joe and Sandy Soma, Kevin Sommerville, Tony Stiebel, Kelley Swanby, Craig Hudson and the team at Investec, Alan Stratford, Leonard Strong, John Stuart and the International team at Phumelela, Rian du Plessis and Phumelela's Executive team, Sean Tarry, Alain Tennant (MAU), Adrian Todd, Ken and Lynne Twort, Jean Marc and Clotilde Ulcoq (MAU), Ada van der Bent, Chris van Niekerk and the team at CTS, Adriaan van Vuuren, Gavin and Gareth van Zyl, Simon Vivian (AUS), General Guy Watkins (HK), Chantal Webb, Mike Westbrook, Kate Whitehouse (UK), Mike and Pat Winstanley, Dieter Wohlberg, John Wood (UK), Annie Woodham, Geoff Woodruff, Peter Wright, Patrick Wynne, Bob Yearham and the team at Emperors Palace and last but certainly not least, Keith and Pauline Young and their daughter Claire. I'm sure I still haven't mentioned you all, but you should know how much it meant to me personally.
And so while you might think that doctors' "house arrest" is hell, that there are many others who are far worse off around the world, and the company and thoughts of my friends and colleagues and the wonderful people I work with have made this a much easier cross to bear. The greatest frustration of all is the restraints these things place on your mobility, and your exercise. I must have been weighing in at a fairly healthy 87kgs to 88kgs when I left for India, and I slipped at one stage in hospital to 67kgs, a point at which, given the strength, I might've been eligible to take a ride at the Cheltenham Festival which was on while I was laid up. I think I was under 13 when I last tipped a scale in the 60s, and they tell me for every kilogramme you lose, you look a year older. Mercifully, about 8 of them have come back, so I'm not quite the image of Methuselah I was when I was first discharged.
On the racing front, it seems we'll have to wait till the end of KZN's Champions Season to see who will ultimately rule the three-year-old roost. Abashiri is the undisputed 'king of the north', but we've seen a couple of big performances from the west in the past week or two, not the least of whom from Alec Foster's Black Arthur, who laid down the gauntlet when he snagged our own man, Rabada, on the line in the Canon KZN Guineas last weekend. America looks to have a new champion in Nyquist, though Europe looks a little murky when it comes to outstanding colts. Galileo's daughter Minding put up a performance in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket a fortnight ago which suggested she may be the best of the European 3-year-old's, but it's too early to judge, and knowing the boys from Coolmore, they'll be headed for the Oaks rather than the Derby with the filly.
The one thing we can console ourselves with though, is that unlike Formula One, the front of the grid seldom looks the same in our game. The dynamics of horseracing are the products of 350 years of breed-shaping on the part of the world's smartest breeders and the great stallions and mares which are the foundation of the breed. It's not just a matter of remodelling for wind resistance, adding a couple of CCs here and there or engineering a new kind of tyre. The mysteries, the theories and the skills behind a modelling of the racehorse are so deep and so diverse and so much a matter of heart and will, that they will forever occupy their own unique space in the world of sports.