Myself and Mr George, he of Greek heritage, decide to fly up to the National Sales in gangster paradise on Easter Sunday to get a more reasonable airfare. The plane was fuller than Clyde Basel after Christmas lunch as we cram ourselves in, only to be told, and by someone with absolutely no comprehension of the English language, that there will be a delay as it is ‘helling golf balls’ in Gauteng. This barely decipherable message goes down quite well with the first time flier wedged between Mr George and I. She promptly puts her Samsung away after a Google search for emergency crash landing procedures on an Air India site, and then searches frantically for her rosary clearly convinced of the blatant futility of her Google search.

We finally get there a few hours late and ship off to our hotel. I have drawn well and I am booked in the D’Oreale Grande. Mr George meanwhile is about a kilometre away in a cheap motel that overlooks the west runway with landing lights blinding him every thirty seconds, in between the odd shattered window after an A380 has hurtled down the concrete looking hopefully for take off.

We belly up to the bar in my hotel and bump into the ageless Tom Gough, Mark Richards, & Lionel Cohen who is wearing a denim jacket last seen on an extra in Easy Rider, and the limitless Scribo, the head honcho of the Breeders. Mark is the big cheese for the Hong Kong racing set up and does his homework. He has come to buy. 

Knowlsie talking to Dr Speck

We are soon joined by Knowlsie, Toddy and John Koster, the latter the mould for the incarnation of respect and decency. He is such a good guy that he gets out of the shower to have a pee. But it is great to see team Klawervlei back at the National Sales, and once again they have a fine draft on view. Scribo is the first to repair to his room as he confesses to not being above a maiden plate when it comes to the quaffing stakes. Slowly but surely the gang starts to disperse leaving John, Mark and Mr George to attain Group status at the bar. It looked like a photo finish to me. At the back of Mr George’s mind, and I’ll leave out the tacky stuff that incessantly muddles his synapses, is the trek back to his modest quarters ‘sans’ his drinking companions. He gives some serious thought to commandeering an unused golf cart but dismisses the idea when he can’t find the keys or his driving licence.

Up early for breakfast, I join up with Chook (Rowena Smith), in a manner of speaking, and quickly locate Steve Davis and Andrew Miller working through Eggs Benedict and Karoo sausages adrift in a mildly hallucinatory peri peri sauce. It is the eighteenth consecutive year that International Auctioneer, Steve Davis, has been selling off the rostrum and he knows all about our pressurised industry. Miller, whose son David is one of the world’s great batsman, is currently plying his trade for rude amounts of the folding stuff in India. Andrew knows more about India than most of the relocated expats in downtown Verulam. Chook is out to represent Magic Millions at our National sales and over the years has built up friendships with many souls on these shores.

Jamal Khashoggi aka Charl Pretorius

At the sales ground, I meet up with Lynton Ryan to evaluate the horses. I do a double take as I see Jamal Kashoggi promenading around the boxes. On closer inspection it turns out to be Charl Pretorious on his way to a ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ fancy dress party. The first individuals we inspect are those of erstwhile diminutive sportsman, Schalkie Van der Walt, who I believe moonlights as a private speech and occupational therapist for underprivileged San offspring somewhere in the Karoo. He has two yearlings for sale and they are both outstanding. The rest of his draft are in training for the 2020 Graaf Reinet Derby. We then move on down to Rathmore to view a few more yearlings while we sip on a cup of Rooibos tea. The heavens open a few hours later and the ground is swamped like a street in central Calcutta during the monsoons with similar looking egressed detritus floating down the runoff, courtesy mostly of the two Van Der Walt yearlings. That Karoo lucerne certainly does the trick! The downpour forces us to sidle up to Calvin’s pub looking like two drowned rats from a Tom & Jerry cartoon.  

Dolf Lundgren aka Laurence Wernars

I sit with one of the industry’s major players, Laurence Wernars, and inevitably the conversation leads to soccer. Unfortunately, he supports Arsenal so he cannot be too aggressive in the conversation although he doesn’t miss a chance to denigrate my beloved Spurs. He is always great value and the industry needs more of his ilk. His participation in all forms of racing is massive. Pity about his soccer team and the unsightly blemish on the side of his neck.

 

Back to our hotel to try some curry at Mini Mumbai in the centre of the entertainment area. Seats are at a premium as we find a table alongside the Klawervlei dipsomaniacs. The owner of the enterprise is a worldly wise cricket veteran and is enthusiastically discussing old colonial watering holes in Delhi and Goa with Andrew Miller. The mutton curry I have chosen is as spicy as a blue movie and not as good as the local contrivance in East Chatsworth.

The next morning I meet up with my clone, James Bester, who looks surprisingly sprightly despite impending liver failure and promises to give me a short list of horses that may possibly fall through the cracks. My restricted Madagascan GDP makes it a tenacious and daunting task of ‘Everesting’ proportions to bid on the horses I’d like with anything like the necessary ‘moola’. The last time any of my close family had any sort of budget was during the Paleolithic period when one of my distant cousins, on my mother’s side no less, scored some thatching for her wedding dress. On the sponsored bus out, I notice a child sitting near me and that his feet don’t touch the ground. Getting started young, I surmise, until I notice his crimson complexion and realise it is no other 

Muis and James Bester

than Muis Roberts himself who has clearly overdone the watering holes the previous evening. This is the last day of viewing before the sale starts and Lynton has me traipsing around the grounds as if I had the Aga Khan’s budget. He pulls out a few blue blooded ones and must be banging his head against reality if he thinks I can remotely afford any of them. Many of the major players meet up at Moutonshoek to pay homage to the irreplaceable, Chris Gerber, who tragically passed away last year. James, myself and Mr George walk down towards Moutonshoek and Mr George professes that he believes in reincarnation. James looks him up and down and says “ so what did you do wrong in your past life”  James Bester and I take a photo alongside each other with a blowup of the colossus in the background. Guilt, like grief, is a solitary affliction and many come to pay their last respects. The drink and food flows throughout the evening and I notice Colin Gordon floating by as if he is going to have his next holiday at the playboy mansion. As Bernard Shaw put it, and we’re not talking Pat Shaw’s old man here, “Alcohol is the anaesthesia by which we endure the operation of life”. Talking of operations, David Hepburn Brown looks like he is seriously in need of one as he props up his frame against the lesser spotted Johan Loftus. He is so laid back he takes Valium as a stimulant. A wonderful night. 

Sales day arrives and the racing sycophants, all dressed appropriately, are scurring around doing their last minute check ups. Lynton takes me down to a top stud to look at a magnificent colt. There is more chance of me playing snooker with a resurrected Admiral Nelson than affording this beast. It is like looking at a menu but not being able to order, and I am not necessarily discussing food here. The likeable Mauritian exile, Warren Lenferna, walks past looking like he was dressed by Walt Disney, or at least by some myopic, psychedelic sixties icon. He’s the only thirty year old I know who looks like he has reached retirement age. His fiancee, Candiese Marnewick, is the hardest working person at the sales and is the greatest asset of the KZN Breeders. The sales starts off steadily and I keep traipsing out to look at different yearlings. On the way back from one of my excursions, I hear Andrew Miller say, “Soft Falling Rain, he is no longer”. No longer? No longer than whom, I thought?

The middle part of the sale starts flattening out but the torpor is lifted when Graeme Hawkins starts selling the eventual sales topper. I glance around the auditorium to see envious and avaricious eyes following the bidding between two racing juggernauts going head to head like rumbling bison in early Spring. Most are slack jawed by the intrigue as the price escalates. Reportedly, Mark Richards and Sheik Hamdam are locking horns and one ponders the thought that you could buy the best racehorse in the country for roughly the same price as this untested beast. People flock to the table of the vendor, Mary Slack, and congratulate her. As they say success has a thousand fathers. I manage to secure a few yearlings for my biggest buyer, Doctor Speck, and three of them are at the minimum price allowed.

All in all, a great time to catch up with friends from far and wide and I hope that this year I don’t follow one of Einstein’s great tenets, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting a different result”.

Until next time, “Soft Falling Rain he is no longer”.