No-one could begrudge Duncan Howells his three visits to the podium after his annus mirabilis; nor the brace of trophies in the course of which Alesh Naidoo displayed his bright red “fireman’s” outfit echoing his ownership listing under the “Fire Trust”. At this juncture, and before anyone else steps in, I have to admit to a personal embarrassment here, occasioned by our arrival at our beachfront hotel, only to find that while the rest of my tuxedo outfit was intact, the matching trousers had somehow separated themselves from the carry bag; and while I was comforted by my company in the manner of Alesh’s outfit, there were more than a few that excused my blue jeans and tuxedo top for the fact that we’d been invited to come in our “July” togs, which means “anything goes”!.
To get back to the prize-winners, and you’ll forgive me if you’re not among those mentioned but I’m only naming the ones that spring immediately to mind, our old rugby mate Marsh Shirtliff and his lovely lady Karen, and their new partners in Marinaresco were there to pick up the Horse of The Year trophy as a precursor to what might be a very big season for this marvellously talented colt. The Owners of the Year (somehow, KZN has two “owners of the year”, which is what has always differentiated us, going back to the days of Union when our colonial Prime Minister, Sir Frederick Moor (yes, he of Hartford belongings) held out for a federation when all else were harking for union,) these were split for their own reasons between Roy Moodley and Markus & Ingrid Jooste, generously represented in his acceptance speech by Derek Brugman. And then, as richly deserving on the night was Nic Labuschagne for his services to racing as a past chairman of both the old Clairwood Turf Club and Gold Circle, and prominent Natalian as a former president of the Natal Rugby Union as well as chairing the boards of John Orrs, Miladys etc for what seemed an eternity. Nobody mentioned that his crowning performance rests in being Patrick Lambie’s grandfather, and sire of another Gold Circle chairman, Kim Labuschagne.
Talking of old pals, I was flattered the evening before by a call from a great South African. In the pantheon of our country’s greats, all of us would have Nelson Mandela on our lists, and among just a few others in my personal tally, I’ve always counted Gary Player, surely this country’s greatest modern day ambassador and certainly (after our own Bill Lambert!) racing’s greatest ambassador. Gary was ringing from Florida in the United States after attending as an honoured guest at the Olympic Games (where he gave 22 television interviews in a matter of days, so I’m not alone in my hero worship), and here he was, for all his own spectacular achievements, having the time and inclination to think of the Summerhill team and our tenth Breeders’ Championship. Which serves to remind us of two things, the first is that humility and generosity remain the fundamental tenets of greatness, and secondly, that the flame which ignited Gary’s passion for horses and our sport burns just as fervently as it ever did. To illustrate how much he loves the game, my mind returns to an article which appeared in the Times Of London (I think it was) some years ago, when Gary had a homebred, Broadway Flyer, among the entries for England’s greatest horse race, the Epsom Derby. Before proceeding, it’s worth remembering that Gary is the only man alive to have won three British Open titles as well as three Senior Open Championships, and in answer to the reporter's question as to whether he would prefer to win the Derby or the British Open, he was unhesitating in his response: “Sir, I’d rather win the Derby than three British Opens!”. As we’ve said before, the disease is incurable.
And speaking of festivities, if you’re in our neighbourhood, please pop in for a cup of tea or a bite to eat. Spring has come early this year, and while not all the flora have sprung forth, the early rains have already dressed the “first comers” in their emerald regalia. Just a fortnight ago, it seemed the 60-odd foals we were expecting in August would not materialise, as their mothers were hanging on for dear life for nature’s signal that it was “good to go”, but the rains and the warmth have changed all that and kept the foaling team on watch day and night. It’s that time of the year again, and while we’re all a bit soppy around foaling time, we couldn’t be in a better place than with the reassuringly smart first crop of Capetown Noirs. If he’s on your list of prospective mates for this season, my personal advice is, “close the deal”.