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Moira Ellis: 12-01-1932 to 25-05-2016

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Moira Ellis: 12-01-1932 to 25-05-2016

Moira Ellis was a wonderful, regal lady; with her magnanimous generosity of spirit, she was always a welcoming hostess at the old Hartford, where the Ellises presided over one of the greatest stories in South African thoroughbred history.

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The Sun Sets on Await The Dawn

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The Sun Sets on Await The Dawn

You never want to have to write an obituary, but there’s an old saying in the horse business that if you’ve got livestock, there’s an inevitability to it. While covering a mare on Sunday, second-season sire Await The Dawn succumbed to a freak accident which cost him his life.

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Death of Cigar

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Death of Cigar

Cigar, whose 16-race winning streak over the course of 22 months from 1994 to 1996 tied the record of Citation and earned him legions of fans the world over, died Tuesday from complications from neck surgery at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital near Lexington. He was 24 years old.

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GLANVILLE GARDINER - "NO WORRIES," MAN

You never wish death on anyone, least of all your good friends. But when the reaper came at last to claim my old pal, Glanville Gardiner, it was a relief to know he’d arrived. His was a victory for those who won’t lie down, for the man who suffers in silence, and who’s going to make a fist of his life, whatever the odds.

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STANLEY GREEFF : FAREWELL FINE PAL

stanley greeff
stanley greeff

Stanley Greeff

(Photo : Summerhill Stud Archives) 

STANLEY GREEFF

1928 - 2010

mick goss
mick goss

Mick GossPort Elizabeth lost two of its most venerated sons on the same day. No sooner had we posted a piece on Nic Claassen, when the news had broken that the elder statesman of Port Elizabeth trainers, Stanley Greeff had gone to greener pastures. That’s only an assumption of course. These two were capable of some extraordinary pranks and they may not have made the cut for the Elysian Fields; i.e. they could be burning firebreaks!

For us though, when we think of racing in Port Elizabeth, we immediately think of Uncle Stan. Put another way, you can scarcely think of East Cape racing without him, not only for the time he’s been around, but for what he’s contributed to the game.

Very few trainers in history can claim to have had so long an unbroken stint of more than a 100 winners a season, and to put that into context, we need to remember that East Cape racing is a once-a-week affair, unlike many other centres. Joined at the hip with his talented son, Alan, the old boy presided over a seamless transition when it was time to hand over the reins, but that diminished his interest and enthusiasm not one iota. To this day, his influence and his hand in the affairs of Pine Lodge Stables is as evident as ever.

Stanley of course, was a “dyed-in-the-wool” horseman, if ever there was one, having served his time with the legendary likes of Terrance Millard, Ralph Rixon and Peter Kannemeyer, as an amateur rider in the early days of the Cape Hunt And Polo Club. Some years back, I saw a photograph of Stan in his jockey days at the guest cottage once occupied by Loskie Cohen (yes, the founder almost a century ago, of the famous Odessa Stud,) and while I always knew him as quite a bulky fellow, Stan was a mere reed in those days.

Fond of the most amusing fables of our sport, he was racing’s unofficial custodian of the anecdotes of his era. Not once, but many times, I urged him to let me bring a dictaphone to his home so that we could record these tales for posterity; sadly, like so many good intentions, it never happened. I know of numerous others who urged him to commit his memories to writing, because it was the affection so many held for him and the respect he attracted, that placed him at the centre of most of the escapades that made East Cape racing the colourful place it’s always been.

That legacy endures at Pine Lodge with Alan, as does the proud history this stable carries in the names of some of the finest broodmares this country has known. The likes of Sun Lass, Polly Bisqui, Soho Secret and Halo are as solidly represented in the main pages of our catalogues today as ever, and they will serve as a lasting memorial to this extraordinary man for decades to come.

As we’ve been reminding his family for the past few weeks, when death stared our old friend in the face, the memories are what will sustain us on from here. He bore his illness manfully, and he told me himself a fortnight ago that he’d had a wonderful innings, and had no regrets.

Rest well, old pal, custodian of our stories.

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NIC CLAASSEN : THE LAST POST

nic claassen with 2008 allan robertson winner geepee s
nic claassen with 2008 allan robertson winner geepee s

Nic Claaseen with Geepee S

2008 Allan Robertson Fillies Championship (Grade 1)

(Photo : Gold Circle)

NIC CLAASSEN

1926 - 2010

mick goss
mick goss

Mick GossThere are many who will tell you that racing is character building. Whether or not that is true, one thing is for certain : it’s not short of characters. Nic Claasen was one of them.

My personal association with this colourful man goes back to 1969, when I was doing my basic training in the South African Defence Force. In those days, we used to make reverse charge calls when we were short of money (which I always was) and Nic Claasen was a telephone operator. Those that knew the system of collect calls, will remember that we were required to give our name to the operator, so that when he connected you with the number you wished to speak to, he could enquire whether the receiver was willing to accept the charges. Upon disclosure of my surname “Goss”, Nic enquired whether I was related to the Gosses of St Pauls fame, and hero of the 1946 Durban July.

This was my grandfather’s horse, remembered still as the smallest ever winner of Africa’s greatest horserace. Nic proceeded to tell me that in the year of St Pauls, he was an operator in the former Lourenço Marques, capital city of Mozambique. In those days, the big bookmakers (and we mean the really big ones) used to frequent the Polana Hotel, one of the African continent’s most famous hostelries. These men lived in spectacular luxury, and ran their Johannesburg-based businesses by telephone, remembering that in those days telephones were crank jobs, and nothing could be achieved without a connection through the operator.

Booking a trunk call meant sitting around waiting for it to come through, in some cases for hours. In the event, Nic became the “messenger” laying their bets and accepting odds through his exchange. For a modestly rewarded telephonist in the civil service, Nic was at once elevated to a position of unusual power, privy to all this remarkable information about the chances of horses at the races.

It turns out, as much as anything, that my grandfather Pat’s reservation of the Kew Hotel for the victory celebrations some 3 months before the race, was fuelling the frenzy, and every nanny and granny it seems, was on board. Imagine Nic’s amazement then, when he witnessed the odds on a former “pony and galloway” handicapper (as St Pauls was,) firming from 66/1 to 10/1, despite his outside draw, and history’s reminder that no horse had ever won from there.

Nic’s plunge on St Pauls was the stuff of a titan. The proceeds bought him his discharge from the Post Office; he acquired his first house and he funded his beginnings as trainer with what was left.

Nic distinguished himself in his field in both Johannesburg and the Eastern Cape. He and Stanley Greeff (another dear friend, who is stricken with illness as we write) are the doyens of East Cape trainers, and between them, they could probably tell more stories than the rest of the industry coupled together. Apart from his training talents, you knew when you dealt with Nic Claasen, that a deal was a deal, and that his word was his bond. Our association goes back to a R5,000 purchase by the name of Mount McKinley, who was 2nd for Andre Macdonald in the South African Derby (Gr.1) of 1983. Other standouts included Grade One winners, Forest King, Forest Fantasy and Geepee S.

Racing has its share of characters. Nic Claasen was up there with the best.

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HARK BACK A LEGEND

mowgli horse
mowgli horse

Mowgli

(Photo : Summerhill Stud Archives) 

“Tribute to Uncle Harry Freeguard -

A Racing Man”

mike moon the times
mike moon the times

Mike Moon

The TimesMy uncle Harry was keen on the horses. Indeed, few days went by in more than 60 years when he didn’t scan the newspaper for the racing fields and make a shrewd assessment of the runners’ chances.

He wasn’t a big gambler in terms of money wagered; he just loved the animals, the pedigrees and the form puzzle - and couldn’t resist a flutter on it all.

Even if I hadn’t seen him in months, often the first thing he’d start talking about would be racing.

He’d worked for bookmakers yonks ago and had seen interesting things. But what set him apart from the more “colourful” characters from those good old bad old days was his unshakeable honesty and steadfast principle.

I loved listening to his racing yarns. A favourite of mine concerned rent money going on the great Mowgli in the 1950’s, in a race in which the horse took a tumble, and a letter being written to a bemused landlord explaining how “sad to relate, our funds fell with Mowgli at the Greyville crossing”.

With him on one side of my parentage, and generations of Moon racing madness on the other, I couldn’t escape the geegee malady.

In 1965, I attended my first Durban July - under-aged at 11. My father pulled strings to get me onto the racecourse, on condition I was strictly supervised. Uncle Harry got the job.

In the big race, Harry backed Fair Mountain; I had R1 on King Willow.

He positioned us at the winning post and I saw nothing of the race beyond the thronging adults - bar the final split-second, when two horses flashed past in the lead : King Willow and Fair Mountain.

My childish gloating at my horse’s victory must have been irritating, but uncle indulged me with typical good humour.

Harry lived beside Scottsville racecourse in Pietermaritzburg, though latterly didn’t attend meetings - so annoyed was he at the downgrading of the ordinary punter’s experience.

I promised him that one day I’d bring a horse down from Joburg to race at Scottsville and we’d have a day out together - just like old times.

I never kept that promise. Uncle Harry Freeguard died peacefully at home this week at 85.

Two weeks earlier saw the death of Graham Beck, a very different sort of man to my uncle - but also the same in a way.

A super-rich coal magnate who later got into winemaking, Beck’s true love was racing.

He famously said that standing in a winner’s circle felt “better than sex”.

Beck spent millions on the game, owning many top horses and stud farms in South Africa and the United States. Tributes have been heaped upon him for his generous contribution.

The billionaire and my uncle, a modest man of modest means; both felt the egalitarian tug of the thoroughbred horse at full gallop.

In racing parlance, they were coupled on the tote.

PS. Racing fans of the 1950’s will recall the legendary Mowgli, voted in 2000 amongst the last century’s top 5 racehorses. He was bred and raised right here at Hartford, which forms part of the greater Summerhill Estate.

Extract from The Times

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"LEGEND". NO OTHER WAY OF DESCRIBING GRAHAM BECK

mick and cheryl goss with graham beck and laurie jaffee in dubai
mick and cheryl goss with graham beck and laurie jaffee in dubai

Mick and Cheryl Goss with Graham Beck and Laurie Jaffee in Dubai

(Photo : Summerhill Archives)

GRAHAM BECK

1929 - 2010

mick goss
mick goss

Mick Goss

Summerhill StudThe word “legend” is a much abused word in racing, or anywhere else for that matter. But in Graham Beck, here was the real life embodiment of the coinage.

What else can one say about a man whose passing has made all of the national news headlines, that hasn’t already been said. Descriptions that race to mind are “bigger than life”; overt generosity; an infectious, guttural sense of humour; a streetwiseness of uncanny proportions, and an enormous capacity for making others feel warm, wanted and, critically, worthy.

South African racing in general and the Jewry of Johannesburg in particular were once blessed with the “Three Musketeers”, Graham Beck, Cyril Hurwitz and Laurie Jaffee, now all passed on, and presumably, in the Elysian Fields. We say “presumably”, because they could at times be wickedly naughty, all three of them, and we’re not quite sure what the test is for entry to this apparent paradise. What we do know though, is that whatever the verdict on the first to go, (Cyril), it would’ve been the same for the other two, so the one assurance we do have is that they’re now together, and they’re probably looking down on us wondering whether we’ll see their like again. For my money, that’s c’est non possible. And you’d have to ask yourself, whether the makers of J&B have a factory big enough up there.

How do we place this man into perspective? In racing terms, he was a colossus, one of the greatest and most benevolent owners the game has ever known. Three things stand out for me in particular, not that they were necessarily, by any stretch, momentous in his life. The first involved the purchase of my first filly off the track from Graham, in a private transaction in his office. Given his stature and my own relative insignificance at 27, he couldn’t have been more accommodating, in what could’ve been frighteningly intimidating.

The second involved his purchase of Gainesway Farm. I happened to be representing the TBA on a trip to Kentucky, when I attended the Breeders Cup meeting. Just the day before, I made the acquaintance of a fellow solicitor, a Mr. Bishop who was counsel to one of the two greatest stallion stations in the world, Claiborne Farm; the grapevine, he said, was that a South African had purchased Gainesway, the other of the two great stallion stations. This was astounding news given that it was 1989, and that no South African had ever made such a splash in the bloodstock world.

The following day, Graham asked me to join him at his table at the Breeders Cup itself, there beside us was the founder, John Gaines himself, as cultured and intelligent a man as I’ve had the pleasure to know in racing. In that instant, Graham Beck had acquired the gigantic likes of Lyphard, Blushing Groom, Riverman, Vaguely Noble, Irish River etc, some of the noblest names of all thoroughbred breeding, and South Africa had “arrived”.

Henceforth, and for some time, Graham Beck would be Kentucky’s most favoured dinner guest, and his legacy at Gainesway today is one of the most beautiful farms on the planet. As a farmer myself, I should use this moment to applaud his stewardship of the land. That is his, and his lovely lady, Rhona’s signature, wherever they have invested.

The third instant reflected his own international standing in the thoroughbred world. I was in Dubai for the inaugural World Cup, and I received a distressed message from Graham’s office in Johannesburg, enquiring whether I could intervene in getting his private aircraft which was already in flight into Dubai. His sin was that he was Jewish himself, and that his aircraft had been to Israel on its journey to Dubai. Given the difficulties Israel and its Middle Eastern neighbours have experienced over the decades, aircraft emanating from there were not always welcome.

There was no one bigger in the thoroughbred world at that time than Sheikh Mohammed, and there was no-one more capable of influencing events in the Middle East than him. Within an hour, the big plane was not only welcome, but Sheikh Mohammed attended personally at the airport to fetch Graham.

In every material respect, Graham Beck was an enormous man, big in personality, big in generosity, massive in his contributions to our game, and in the lives he touched. At Summerhill, his Highlands Farm was our biggest competitor, and no-one competed “better” than he did.

Rest in peace, old pal. Your life has been hectic, and you deserve it.

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WINKS GREENE : PASSING OF A LEGEND

wicks greene
wicks greene

Winks Greene

(Photo : Heather Morkel)

“WINKS HAD THE HEART OF A LIONESS”

A few months back, we wrote of a grand old dame’s induction into the Land of Legends (www.landoflegends.co.za). We spoke then of Durban’s most famous hostelry, the Beverly Hills, and its affiliation with KwaZulu’s leading accommodation establishments, three of which had just been voted the nation’s best in the House and Leisure/Visa Best of SA Awards.

Today we speak of another grand old dame, this time of the human variety, who’s passed to the Elysian Fields. Winks Greene was some lady. Everything she achieved in her life, she did off her own deep reserves of determination, imagination and an insatiable energy.

When she first entered the world of physiotherapy, she had to withstand the resistance of many, particularly the veterinary profession, some of whom cast her business as some sort of witchcraft. Her only saving grace came in the belief she inspired in the then Champion trainer, Terrance Millard, and through his support her credibility and her talents came to be appreciated by a much wider audience.

Many a Shark, and any number of Springbok rugby players were rehabilitated through sessions at “The Wolds”. And many a young lady, trained and mentored by Winks, has passed that way to become her reincarnations for the future. Their roads, of course, were never quite so rocky.

In the early 1990’s, when Bruntville township on the outskirts of Mooi River, was the “hottest” spot on the political landscape and the regular scene of the shocking ritual of “necklacing”, Winks drove into the heart of it in the dead of night. Her purpose:  to retrieve her beloved Jerseys, which had been rustled from her paddocks. Winks had the heart of a lioness.

At the personal level, our mutual affection arose from the common reverence we held for thoroughbreds. Winks was born a member of one of our most famous breeding dynasties, the Labistours of Dagbreek, who produced the winner of two Durban Julys in the 50’s, Gay Jane (1951) and C’est Si Bon (1954) as well as a number of runners-up, Masquerader, Labby and Doctor John. Some place, was Dagbreek. Whenever we met, our conversations turned to those days, and to the stallions, Sadri II (who also won the July,) and the great French-bred English Champion Stakes hero, Mystery IX.

Inevitably, we sat down to a glass of her favourite red tipple (it was the only thing about the Cape she liked more than her beloved Natal.) She always arranged my appointments with her to coincide with the end of the day, so that we could enjoy a natter at the end. The one thing that stood out about Winks Greene, was her generosity. She never had much money, but she’d give you the shirt off her back. She had a heart of gold.

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DEATH OF STRONGHOLD

stronghold death
stronghold death

Please click above to view…

STRONGHOLD

mick goss
mick goss

Mick GossThis game can be a helluva leveller. You come out of a weekend of such spectacular feats, and you think you’re on top of the world. But dealing in livestock can be a cruel business, and readers of these columns will know that Stronghold had just piloted his way through precarious waters.

Just as we began to believe he was well on his way to recovery, he was struck by a devastating colic. True to his name, he took his suffering manfully, but it wasn’t enough to save him when they opened him up to find an irreparable rupture.

Nobody really knows what a thing like this means to a farm like ours. He came to us as a champion, and as one of the best credentialed stallion prospects we’d had the privilege to work with. Without doubt, he stood out among the leading sons of Danehill on the African continent. We’re just fortunate that his precious genes have been left in two crops at Summerhill. That won’t repair the hole he’s left, but if you’re looking for consolations at times like this, that’s the only place you’ll find them.

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TRIBUTE TO DICK FRANCIS

dick francis video
dick francis video

Tribute to Dick Francis including footage of the 1956 Grand National

(Footage : ITN)

Tribute to best selling author and Champion Jockey, Dick Francis,

who passed away at the age of 89 on Sunday night.

To many, the name Dick Francis is synonymous with powerful crime fiction, to many others he was one of Britain’s most successful post war national hunt jockeys, whose talents earned him Championship honours in the field of steeplechasing from 1953 to 1954.

Dick Francis started life as the son of a stable manager and left school at the age of 15. He went on to ride over 2000 races, winning 345, in a career that saw more than his fair share of injuries including a fractured skull, 6 broken collar bones, 5 broken noses and numerous broken ribs. 

Francis competed in eight Grand Nationals, the most famous of which is perhaps when partnering the Queen Mother’s horse Devon Loch, who inexplicably “belly flopped” close to the finish line in 1956. Well known eccentric, John McCririck said last night, “Dick was the kind of man everybody in racing liked, and they all knew he was a gentleman, but I think he will forever be remembered for that moment of defeat in the Grand National, and the dignity that he showed”. 

Dick Francis was an “uncle” to many latter day champions, including Lester Piggott, who as his biography reveals was scolded and drawn aside for fatherly advice during his early career as a jump jockey, prior to making his name on the flat.

A serious fall ended Francis’ riding career in 1957 and started another equally successful career as an author of thrillers involving the racing world, packed with mystery and intrigue; he had the ability to captivate everyone through his talent as both a jockey and writer.

From one champion to another, we bid you farewell.

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BOBBY FRANKEL : ONE OF THE ALL-TIME GREATS

bobby frankel and ginger punch
bobby frankel and ginger punch

Bobby Frankel and Ginger Punch

(Photo : The Florida Horse/Slam)

OF BOBBY FRANKEL, HAPPY AND GINGER PUNCH

Few people in South Africa will know the late Bobby Frankel, but Americans will tell you, he was one of the all-time greats, and a rare inductee to their Hall of Fame, as a fabled trainer.

He passed away recently, and Mike Rogers (whom we deal with for Champion U.S. Breeders, Adena Springs and their founder, Frank Stronach) posted this piece on a man who clearly understood his priorities.

Leading up to the 2007 Breeders’ Cup at Monmouth Park, all of us in the Stronach Stable camp were excited at the prospect of Ginger Punch’s participation in the Ladies’ Classic. Five days out, I received a call from Bobby Frankel. In typical Bobby fashion, there was minimal small talk before he cut to the chase. He informed me that he would be unable to attend the Breeders’ Cup, going into detail regarding his dog Happy’s unfortunate medical condition and his decision to remain in California with her. My initial reaction was a simple “really?” Bobby asked me to respectfully relay the information to Mr. and Mrs. Stronach. I assured him that I would pass along the circumstances surrounding his decision to Frank and Frieda.

I immediately called Frank and relayed Bobby’s message. Frank’s response was identical to my own: “really?” Frank then requested that I get Bobby on the line so he could speak to him directly. I was apprehensive - my gut reaction was that the conversation would not go over very well with either of them.

I reached Bobby and told him that I had Frank on the line. It was easy to sense Bobby’s own apprehension with his simple, “Hi, Frank.” Following a pregnant pause, Frank said in the most caring voice, “Bobby, how’s your dog?” I gave a strong sigh of relief, and I’m certain Bobby did as well. Bobby went on to explain that his dog was not doing very well, and he was uncomfortable leaving her in California. After the two of them talked about Happy, Frank asked Bobby how Ginger Punch was doing. Bobby replied that she was ready to run the race of her life, and there was nothing more he could do for her. Frank finished the call, saying, AOK Bobby, you look after Happy and we’ll look after Ginger.”

I will always remember the feeling I had when I hung up after listening to two immensely successful, yet very misunderstood men. They each managed to show great respect for what was important to the other man.

Ginger Punch went on to run exactly as Bobby predicted. Her Breeders’ Cup victory was her crowning achievement and ultimately led to a coveted Eclipse Award. Happy lived a little while longer with Bobby close to her side, but ultimately succumbed to her illness. Bobby eventually acquired two new dogs. His choice of names was a very fitting tribute to one of the many champions that he trained during his remarkable Hall of Fame career: Ginger and Punch.

We will all miss him.

Mike Rogers

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DEATH OF RED RANSOM

red ransom
red ransom

Red Ransom

(Photo : Vinery Stud)

RED RANSOM EUTHANIZED

Leading sire Red Ransom has been put down following complications arising from abdominal surgery in Australia on the weekend. He was 22 years old.

“A horse of great character, he will be sadly missed by the partners and staff of Vinery,” said Vinery representatives.

The son of Roberto had a brief racing career for Paul Mellon, setting a track record on his two-year-old debut but was retired due to injury after two more starts. He was a leading first crop sire in the US, with five juvenile Stakes winners, and his first crop son Sri Pekan won three Group races at two in Britain in 1994.

On Mellon’s death, Red Ransom was bought by a syndicate which enabled him to remain at Vinery in Kentucky, as well as shuttling to their Australian base, though he moved to Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket in the spring of 2004.

Red Ransom has sired 13 Gr1 winners, among them the ill-fated Electrocutionist, Oaks heroine Casual Look and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Perfect Sting, while his Gr1-winning stallion sons include Red Clubs, Shadwell’s Ekraar, German Horse of the Year Ransom O’War, and Australia’s Charge Forward and Red Dazzler, while his Gr2 winner Intikhab stands in Ireland.

Red Ransom did not return to Dalham Hall this spring, remaining at Vinery in Australia, where 2009 has brought Gr1 successes for his progeny All American, Duporth, Onemorenomore and Typhoon Tracy.