Feelings and how to express them – Turf Talk: 25 March 2019

CPYS Book 2 sales marquee beneath the Kenilworth grandstand, March 2012. (D Allan).

CPYS Book 2 sales marquee beneath the Kenilworth grandstand, March 2012. (D Allan).

I was reminded of all this – “this” being what I shall blather about in this piece – on the sale ground at Mistico last week a couple of days before the sale itself. Vendors and their representatives were not greatly challenged by the volume of inspections going on, and it was perfectly fair to be sitting around chatting with half an eye on the rows of stables in case an interested party should appear.

Mistico for the Cheltenham Festival was the swap that I had made for that week. Sure, if I were to fulfil contracted obligations, that’s where I had to be. It wasn’t actually an issue, given the Mistico timing and that, I suppose, the sale organisers have no great ambition to bring overseas buyers to that sale.

That is a pity. I am like a dog with a bone over that “slot”. The old Equimark Vintage Sale in March at Durbanville – under a more flappy sort of canvas than the type to which we have become accustomed – was a solid event. With several studs sending more or less everything they had, the standard was varied but there were plenty of good ones costing prices that gave the breeders a return but were “affordable”.

Back then, there would be tables occupied by British visitors who would club together to buy some – Weatherbys travel team was at the heart of such groups as I recall – preferring March in Cape Town to April in Johannesburg by which time the British season was busily focussed on Guineas Trials and Guineas. Allan Bloodlines bought some winners there and enjoyed it.

Equimark had been a breakaway from Bloodstock South Africa and was ultimately eclipsed by a sale run by Bloodstock South Africa – the first January Cape Premier Yearling Sale in the City – as appointed by what was, or became, Cape Thoroughbred Sales.

When CTS added a sale into the March slot – vacated by Equimark – this writer declared that it should or could become as important a sale as any in South Africa. Coulda shoulda woulda or still could (?), but the first effort was at a very windy Kenilworth, where sand was driven into your quite ordinary hot dog, never mind your inspecting eyes.

LIONEL Cohen’s old Equimark Sale was quite the trendsetter.

LIONEL Cohen’s old Equimark Sale was quite the trendsetter.

Then it moved to Durbanville which became a greatly improved venue over time and, nowadays, has quite vibrant restaurant options in the burgeoning town centre, in Tyger Valley and so on with hundreds of good guest houses and plenty of ways of getting in and out of Cape Town quickly.

So we keep tabs on our optimism about March in the Cape, and only wish for more of a market to be made. Circumstances are part of the limiting factor as we all know, but rather than sit bemoaning who did not show up, we may also stand in praise of those who did.

Before most of those welcome attendants did inspect, Cheltenham was a topic of conversation. The deaths were the topic, actually. The wonder of Cheltenham this year was the great success of female riders who nowadays ride top horses – and get 50/1 winners home – in that incredible amphitheatre while the wonder of Cheltenham in general is the best racing of its kind in the world in front of massive crowds, consisting of a large percentage of Ireland and anyone else who can fit in.

Many British racing fans favour Cheltenham over Ascot, Goodwood and York Festivals because with the length of races you get more bang for your buck (spent on sport costing a big entry fee) and because favourites come back year after year. Yet here we were – whether at Mistico or watching TV with a mike shoved in the face of not very eloquent BHA officials – discussing the deaths.

It’s a valid topic. I have been a devotee of the Grand National since I could read and count. Back in the mists of time, I remember slow races in the mud. My attendances at Aintree never coincided with bad accidents – but then again when they “go out into the country” on the second circuit, the huge crowd only had the commentator’s words to go on for quite a few fences.

Nowadays in jump racing, the tiny but real percentage of fatalities crashes into view, understandably taking the spotlight off the devoted love – even adoration – for the horses amongst those who live with them every day. Consider that 90% of enthusiastic racing fans are or would be horrified at the mere notion of putting down (aka killing) a mare whose progeny have not performed. It’s a conundrum, but one that needs specialised people to explain or comment on.

We are no apologists for that small percentage of racing deaths. From a stallion I owned in partnership, we bred “our” jumper to keep, brought on over time, excitingly placing four times at 5 in bumpers and hurdle races before aiming for a Novice Hurdle at Doncaster on good to soft ground. The ground went fast overnight. He slipped on it into the base of a hurdle and, after an ambulance ride and an agonising but obvious decision about a shattered shoulder, that was that. Standing after racing on the empty Yorkshire track gripping a head collar very tightly was definitely a time to be alone.

COMING into the straight.

COMING into the straight.

Other matters need specialist commentary as well. The BHA is to be commended for its willingness over the years to employ overseas people in senior positions. An Australian had the job of talking about the recent Equine ‘Flu epidemic in UK.

Anyone would think it was Foot and Mouth. Britain lives with Equine ‘Flu all the time. All yards go through shortish periods when the horses are challenged by a virus that is likely to be Equine ‘Flu in one form or another, kept within limits by strict vaccination. Australia was devastated by equine ‘flu – but in an entirely unvaccinated herd.

Of course, the incidence of some ‘flu cases on winter racecourses brought about close examination of yards whose runners had also been present, and racing was interrupted while results came in, ending up with only a handful of confirmed cases but a commendably cautious process.

The “great shut down” of some yards amounted to those trainers being asked to train after 2pm whereas everyone else finished at 12 noon, but the public dramatization was extreme.

Standing in a group on the Heath at the time, we listened to a trainer bemoaning not only that Australian interpretation but the attitude of certain imported Australian officials to the British training community. This was not long after the banning of a very high profile Australian trainer for four years, and other previous bans there for other illegal interventions. “The trouble is,” said the trainer “they come over to work here and treat us as if we are all “at it” like their lot and we’re not. They need to remember that we were running racing here before we even discovered their [expletive deleted] country”. Sometimes it has to be said with feeling.—tt

allan bloodlines