This good story didn’t start in a pub!

IRC NEWSLETTER, 1 FEBRUARY 2021.

This story, unlike most other great stories, doesn’t start in a pub. It was born during unprecedented times, in the world’s first total lockdown that happened in the first half of 2020, writes JOAO DA MATA.

Those of us who had enjoyed lives of travelling – flying around the world attending race meetings, placing a few little bets here and there and and generally having a blast, were now confined to our sofas, watching Netflix.

In this strange new social environment, our conversations suddenly shifted from “Did you watch Altior win the Queen Mother Chase?” to “When will racing start again?” to “You must watch Rake on Netflix!”.

The latter part is vital to this story, for during a conversation with my good friend Paulo Do Carmo, he told me to “watch this show called Rake, it’s Fu3@%ing funny”.

And so it began, four solid days of binge-watching Rake, an Australian TV series starring Richard Roxburgh as Cleaver Greene, a brilliant but self-destructive criminal defence barrister.

Paulo, I must tell you, is a horseracing and breeding fanatic who has always bred a number of decent racehorses from his small band of broodmares. Being a commercial breeder, his horses have either gone to the sales and made their reserve prices, or he has raced them himself.

Paulo is renowned for his eye for fillies – one can probably call him a connoisseur of the fillies’ variety – and his eye for a good-looking thoroughbred is as good as the eye of my International Racing Club (IRC) business partner, Michael De Haast.

Over the last several years, Mike and his wife Laura have been instrumental in the purchasing of the IRC’s horses, and what a fine job they have done for us – we’re fast approaching 50 winners in four short years.

Paulo and I were on the phone, discussing the merits of hiring a full-time personal assistant and whether her typing skills are as important as her ability to fit in with the company ethos and ultimately whether she could work for a lunatic, when he told me that he had a really well-bred colt on a farm, one that he had named himself. The colt, he noted, was going to the big sale in Johannesburg.

This got my attention. I looked at his pedigree, liked the name Paulo had come up with and bought him, before he could go to the sale, without consulting Mike and Laura. Yep, I bought a really expensive yearling off a farm without having him inspected!

Once we were able to move the young colt across provinces from his home at Boland Stud in the Western Cape, he was sent to the Fiddler’s Green pre- and post-training centre near Summerveld, Kwa-Zulu Natal, owned by Mike and Laura, alongside Basie and Suzette Viljoen. It is managed by Sigi Saunter, who fell in love with my colt almost immediately and kept sending glowing reports.

DECEMBER 2020: A young bull of a horse that likes to empty his manger.

Three months later, having grown a good deal and with expert care and preparation from Sigi, the impressive youngster has been syndicated and he’s ready to go into training. He is a bull of a horse with a huge backside. He looks like he will sprint all day long, and twice on Sundays!

We have sold shares in the colt to the Durban-based trio of Blaine Hamilton, Steve Sturlese and Gino Da Silva. Interesting here is that Steve, the former leading owner, has been out of racing for a while, but he’s re-entering slowly with prompting from Blaine and Gold Circle. Gino, meanwhile, is a first-time owner and as excited about this prospect as his new partners.

Now, to the choice of a trainer, and we decided to go straight to the top with this one!

Even though I have known Michael De Kock for 30 years, from the time I was agent for his former stable jockey Rene Bonham, (back in the 1990s) and even though I have owned/co-owned/syndicated over 100 horses in my life , I have never had a horse in training with this internationally renowned professional.

No reason for that, really, I suppose that’s just the way things had worked out. But in March of 2018, while on a sight-seeing boat off the coast of Dubai during the Racing Carnival, I got to spend some recreational time with Mike. I knew there and then I needed to send him a horse.

You see folks, racing is about having fun, the perception perhaps is that having horses with a “smaller” trainer is more fun, the reality is that even the champion trainers are fun to be around and what I experienced on that day was fun to a different degree!

And so, Mike has agreed to train this horse for us. He’s now a two-year-old, Mike trained his daddy Rafeef (the headline-catching freshman sire), while Alan Greeff trained his mother Yoshie, who was a 13 time sprinting winner. At the time of writing, three of the four Rafeefs that have run, have won!

I have told Mike, however, that he must not feel any pressure.

To conclude then, this horse of ours has a story with many working parts, and the story is unfolding during the worst time mankind has experienced in decades. However, I am confident that with his breeding, his owners, his trainer but most importantly his name will rise above them all.

Ladies and Gentleman, we present to you, Cleaver Greene!

Had you watched Rake, you would know that rising above all expectations is Cleaver’s speciality. Naturally, we’ll be crossing fingers that our runner is as talented as his sire, and his human namesake.

There is one little thing left to contest. Who will be officially credited with the name (and hopefully the top racetrack performances), of Cleaver Greene?

As said above, Paulo Do Carmo named it. But Blaine Hamilton claims he was the one who initially urged Paulo to watch the TV series. And, of course, I was the one who showed the faith in trust in the colt, and put the cash down to get the ball rolling.

We each have strong cases now, and this is one that will have to be decided over a few frosties.

The next story then, will probably start in a pub!

All the best to you and enjoy your week!

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