Quotes, thoughts and events in limbo – Turf Talk: 10 February 2020

Pyatigorsk Hippodrome, North Caucasus.
Pyatigorsk Hippodrome, North Caucasus.

OF the many quotations involving horses, perhaps the one most often trotted out, if you’ll pardon the expression, is the one about the outside of a horse being good for the inside of a man. It is attributed to Churchill and was borrowed by Ronald Reagan, but actually originated with John Lubbock as far as I know. “As far as” being a hazy memory of having been caused, at the inappropriately young age of 13, to read excerpts from his heavy duty works.

That quote is a bit hackneyed so I prefer this one from W.C Fields, the original cinema Mr Micawber: “Horse sense is a thing a horse has that keeps it from betting on people”. Not because I have anything against betting on horses, far from it, but because it supports the idea of sustaining South African racing and breeding by focus on the horse as a creature, as a “person”, and as a willing and usually brave representative of his/her (not “its”!) owners.

This sort of whimsy is borne of sitting at my desk in a state of limbo. Have you ever felt like that? Always so busy doing a dozen things or mostly one thing. Believing oneself to be so busy, as in spending an hour in front of a screen opening up two dozen pages that did not need opening up and added nothing to the moment. Then suddenly, to be so distracted by something else as to snap out of it.

My urgent distraction on this occasion was urgent only because the destruction by the elements of most of a long line of fencing would have allowed our dogs to leap into uncharted territory which might not have been good for them, or us.

Storm Ciara whips up the waves! (Lee McGrath).
Storm Ciara whips up the waves! (Lee McGrath).

Actually the dogs, although stirred up by Storm Ciara which ravaged the whole of UK yesterday, showed eminent good sense. They opted to remain indoors and it was Mr & Mrs Allan who later fell back into the house having shored up as much as possible, wet through. We elected to stay wet, correctly anticipating that fencing would soon be blown down again (it was, several times and in several new places at midnight but it could be worse).

Then, in limbo, we reminded ourselves of “sitting out” typhoons in Japan and Hong Kong, and watched several episodes of Outlander on Amazon Prime (with the dogs).

Limbo leaves you limp. Surely there is a next task to be accomplished urgently? But then again, why immediately? We – in South African bloodstock – are all in limbo good and proper right now.

Until SAEHP skilfully elicited a commitment to audit from the frustration that is the European Union, we were in the same situation (broadly) as for a decade or so. Of course, inter-governmental elements are handled expertly these days and South African science is light years ahead of even recently as witnessed (a seminal moment) at ITBF 2017 Table Bay where the presentation will prove to have been epoch-making.

When the EU said “OK Guys, April/May”, one had to believe that they finally meant it. Actual limbo was confirmed when the dates of 20 April/1 May were given. In a sense, until then we are frozen in time.

LQP: Horses for the world. (TAB News)
LQP: Horses for the world. (TAB News)

A busy January is over: LQP (with horses that could compete in Europe); Cape Premier Yearlings buying for us to manage for racing in South Africa; also touring to see mares and young stock and poring over that interminable question on the back of an envelope: Where next? Tattersalls February Sales – perversely in January – are over, clashing as usual with The Met. Long days outside on the hoof – chilly but bright – buying 8 for Kazakhstan, affording up to R500,000 for the right ones.

Reunions in Newmarket after a winter break.
Reunions in Newmarket after a winter break.

Frankel’s brother Noble Mission is doing really well – a filly by him cost us the equivalent of R450,000 but if a Dragon Pulse filly that I (successfully) begged people to buy (R140,000) doesn’t develop and trounce the lot of them, I’ll be disappointed.

Our Vercingetorix colt from CPYS consigned by Oldlands Stud.
Our Vercingetorix colt from CPYS consigned by Oldlands Stud.

We excited ourselves by buying our first for North Caucasus (a R300,000 equivalent Mastercrafstman colt to go 2400 metres plus) before staggering onto the Heath at first light next day. Our syndicated team did their first proper work of 2020, as the town of Newmarket had that “Warren Hill’s Open Today” palpable buzz about it.

North Caucasus (Dagestan, Chechnya and the other reconquered republics) is the Russian controlled region north of Georgia and Azerbaijan, pincered between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

Deaths in the two Chechen Wars – so recent in the 1990s and early 2000s “in our faces” on the news – are catalogued at 160,000, many being civilians allegedly having been put to death by Russian forces. The majority population is not ethnic Russian.

The double international Grade 1 winner GITANO HERNANDO, who had some decent books and progeny needing patience (not top of shopping lists), was owned at one point by a controversial Chechen leader, pro-Putin not a rebel, who had over 100 racehorses where the tracks are not dissimilar to neighbouring Krasnodar’s track. Krasnodar races regularly (outside North Caucasus), in the same region as the Winter Olympics venue Sochi. This is Cossack horsemen country.

Storm Ciara (that’s Irish Gaelic – the anglicized version is Keira as in Knightley) will not go away until perhaps after you read this. Then we are on the runin to return to SA for stock reviews, the Cape Derby, some runners and the BSA Cape Yearling Sale, an event on which I have strong and ultimately positive views.

And – with a view to EU developments and international profiling – we have concluded and may conclude other new consultancy/promotional contracts with farms and trainers and perhaps another stallion. Now is the hour!

I leave you with another quotation. John Galsworthy won the Nobel Prize in Literature and is best remembered for writing The Forsyte Saga. The original 60s TV series of the book literally stopped the traffic, whether in a Northumberland hamlet or Piccadilly Circus or 130 other countries.

Amongst a thousand other things, Galsworthy wrote “I am still under the impression that there is nothing alive quite so beautiful as a thoroughbred horse.” – tt.

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