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Picture: Paul Lafferty, who provides a laff a minute in racing circles

Off The Record With Charl Pretorius 


This week, some of our prominent racing industry personalities share random, unusual experiences from their careers in an industry from which it is fair to say, the unexpected can be expected.

Above: Neil Andrews

Let’s start with a funny story from Neil Andrews, Supersport presenter, racing anchor and recently also a columnist for The Citizen. Neil recalled an incident from his early days as a race caller in Cape Town.

He said: “One dank and dreary winter’s afternoon in the late 1980s I was calling alongside Jehan Malherbe at Durbanville, high up in the commentary box. In those days it was a cranky wooden structure on top of the old grandstand, reachable only with a vertical ladder. Jehan had had enough halfway through the day. It was windy and unpleasant up there and he left me to call the last few races.

“I would have said, ‘there was a knock on the door’, at some point, but there was no door. A racegoer had come up the ladder and entered the box. He was an older, racecourse regular who had found something near the running rail. ‘Look’, he said, and produced a set of false teeth which appeared to be still fresh from someone’s mouth!”

“He said there was nobody down at the track who appeared in need of teeth, so I announced on the blower that a set of false teeth had been found. I’m not sure if the crowd believed it was a joke, or if the owner of the set of dentures was too shy to collect it, but it was unclaimed that day and for a while after. Eventually I took it home and put it in my pub as a decorative element.”


Above:  Graeme Hawkins

Graeme Hawkins, racing’s veteran all-rounder, remembered the day he made his first appearance on an auctioneer’s podium. He told: “As a ‘wannabe’ auctioneer in 1979, I was roped in at the last minute to assist the late Peter Lovemore and Clive Gardner at Selwyn Simson’s Emeritus Bloodstock sale of yearlings at the Goodwood Showgrounds (now the Grand West Casino Complex) and given just 10 lots to sell.”

“I am happy to say that I made a truly ‘smashing’ debut. I was so nervous that everything became a blur and if it weren’t for the help of Peter and Clive, I would have been a complete failure. Selling my first yearling with shaking hands and non-seeing eyes, I could not pick up a single bid. I merely went along with Peter and Clive’s ‘yips’. At the conclusion of my first sale, I brought the hammer down on a full jug of water, which smashed into tiny little bits of glass with water everywhere, much to the amusement of everyone in attendance. To say I was red-faced would be an understatement!”

For equine behaviourist, Malan du Toit, a single incident stands out and it was not near funny: The moment hot favourite Hawwaam was scratched at the start of the 2019 Durban July. Hawwaam had some problems with his temperament, but Malan had worked with him for a long time, even before he started racing. For this major occasion, everything was done to ensure that he’d behave on the day. He did so, except for the few seconds before the starter pressed his button.

Hawwaam was loaded last of 17 runners, with the massive Greyville crowd holding its collective breath for the always feverishly anticipated start to the famous race. He stepped into his stall gate with no hesitation. But the moment the handler closed the gate he became fractious, kicked out furiously and, on examination, was found to be lame behind. He was withdrawn by the veterinary surgeon to an enormous roar of disappointment.

Malan said: “It was a freak accident. We watched the replay of the starting procedures in slow motion. Hawwaam wasn’t rushed into the gates at all. He walked in fine and relaxed, then suddenly reacted for no apparent reason. We don’t know why he did it. It was the biggest and most unexpected shock I’ve had in racing, and that it happened on such a major race day amplified the moment. My son saw me on TV, he said it looked like I’d been hit by a truck. It felt like that!”

Breeder Marianne Thomson of Ambiance Stud is seldom without a chirp. She said her most unusual recent experience came after the 2023 Grade 1 Summer Cup won by Ambiance-bred, Royal Victory. “I was suddenly being greeted by people who I’d never spoken to before!”

Irishman Eamonn Cullen, who worked as marketing manager for the Thoroughbred Breeders Association (TBA) in a tumultuous time for South African racing and breeding, recalled ‘madness’ in the ranks. “There was one Chief in (the now late) Markus Jooste and a lot of Indians running around with their own agendas. Most were trying to please Markus and push his plan, which was to uproot the TBA and relocate it to Cape Town. I had a number of personal disagreements with some of the TBA’s board members and what shocked me at the time was the unwillingness of some of them to find solutions as a team. Two key members refused to listen to a thing I had to say.”

“I arranged to meet Mr Jooste and gave him a rundown of what was going on, and how I planned to carry out my duties to promote and market South Africa’s thoroughbreds in South Africa and abroad. He said, ‘You will do as I tell you to do!’. I replied, ‘No, I work for all the members of the TBA’. He ended our meeting aggressively, saying: ‘If you don’t do as I say, I will finish you!’ That was a truly unexpected moment. I was pushed out henceforth and things came to a quick end for me at the TBA.”

Above: Candiese Lenferna

Racing photographer Candiese Lenferna was recently asked by an irate on-course punter to start studying her photos as she got a result wrong. He was under the impression that her winning post pics were the ones being used by the judge and that she’d had a say in the final results!

She recalled another unexpected incident and said: “So, often people will ask me for tips after I leave the parade ring. They see you talking to people and assuming you getting the ‘graft’, but meantime we are chatting about everything but who will win. It was during a turf meeting at Hollywoodbets Greyville when I saw this kid, he must have been about 17, carrying a tiny little hand-held camera and standing further down the trackside rail at about the 50m mark, accompanied by some friends.”

“I walked through the gate to my usual spot across the winning post to photograph the race, and the next moment the young lad was behind me. He asked, ‘I’m sorry lady, do you have any tips for me today?’ I said ‘Sorry, my friend, I rarely take a bet’. He replied: ‘No, ma’am, I mean do you have any tips for me, for my camera!’ ”

Racing 240’s Cecil Mthembu remembered a day at the old Bloemfontein racecourse when he was on course and was made aware of an attempted betting coup by a trainer visiting from Johannesburg. This particular stable had entered two runners for a specific race, but things were about to go pear-shaped when the ‘wrong one’ cruised into the lead at the business end of the race, with the ‘right one’ chasing in vain.

Cecil said: “At around the 100m mark, the jockey on the front horse looked back, only to see the companion battling to catch up to him. Risking life and limb, he chose to fall off before the line! Unbelievably, the jockey escaped unscathed, the stable elect won and the coup was landed.” Cecil would not be drawn into revealing any names.


Next, a story from trainer Paul Lafferty, whose offbeat sense of humour is legendary in South African racing. He remembered an awkward and unexpected trip to Mozambique.

‘Laff’ told: “Many years ago, I was contacted by an ‘Inglez’ from Mozambique (that is a conversational term for a Portuguese man trying to speak English). He wanted to buy a horse from Roy Waugh and I. We agreed on the horse and the price. He said that payment was no problem at all. He had the cash sitting in Mozambique at his casino at the famous Polano Hotel on the hill in the capital, Maputo.”

“He said that if we’d pop down to the Polano, he would arrange the two marital suites (on the top floor with ocean views) and he would give us the amount in paper money. Roy said he believed things would be fine. He had had some very good friends in that neck of the woods – ex arms suppliers for the insurgents during the protracted Mozambique civil war that had subsided a few years earlier. We summarily booked two tickets on a cheap flight from Durban to Maputo on the antiquated Airlink service’s 1958 refurbished Dakota. Airlink even provided parachutes back then in case a quick swim in the Indian Ocean was required, mid-flight!”

As fate would have it, the travelling pair’s first mistake was agreeing to fly down on the weekend that the famous cyclone, Leon-Eline, had hit the shores of Maputo. Getting there was going to be a multi-tiered problem.

Laff recounted: “We departed from Virginia Airport in Durban and as we took off, I glanced out of the window to see Durban and what appeared to be part of the outer casing of our main undercarriage tyre falling away into the sugar cane fields below. We dreaded the landing procedure that was to follow and it was predictably scary and rocky. But we made it after performing an unplanned U-turn at the end of the Maputo runway, a tribute to the skills of our Afrikaans speaking pilot.”

Next, a frightening road trip to the Polano.

“We were picked up by one of Roy’s ex-mercenaries. This was a square-shaped, Indian man with the worst case of road rage seen since James Dean overtook on a blind corner on route 46 back in ’55 on his way to an early grave. To top that, our driver was living proof that successful charisma bypass operations can be performed. He must have got that after a fight in Mozambique’s only gay bar. The potholes in the roads were so large that cars morphed out from holes ahead of us like shipwrecks in the night. His diatribe discourse at every other lawless road user had to be heard to be believed – a now defunct Hindi dialect from the original cane cutters a few hundred kilometres to our south.”

Laff recalled that the Polano, a pre-war five star hotel, was using the swimming pool as a makeshift reservoir for their water supply, but the stock at the bar seemed to be from authentic sources.

“We met Roy’s main ‘contact’, a jovial Colombian gent who professed to work for the UN and promised us a great time that evening at his private club. We spruced up, looking forward to a fun evening at one of the top clubs in downtown Maputo. By this time, the weather was not playing ball by any stretch of the imagination. Violent winds had gathered with icy rain pelting down with the odd hailstone the size of a coconut in tow.”

“We took a 10-minute taxi ride to what looked like an unused, industrial warehouse, where we dashed into the relative shelter of the entrance. Our Colombian host ushered us to our table near the front and the stage where bottles of Russian Vodka and Johnny Walker Black were ceremoniously placed in front of us by a scantily clad local lass with breasts that had escaped their minimal enclosure. The first shot poured for me was a ‘Brakpan Single’, hinting not so subtly at what would be a long night.”

“A young black lady with the whitest of ivories plonked herself alongside me and promptly announced with surprising conviction, ‘I Luf You…’. The band was about to start playing, and as the lead guitarist hit his first discord, the room was plunged into abject darkness. Apart from a few sets of gleamingly white teeth floating around, all I could see were the amplifier lights gradually losing their glow. After about half an hour of utter darkness, I suggested we should ‘blow this popsicle stand’ and get back to the relative safety of our hotel. We stumbled out of the club in search of our amiable Colombian host.”

“We found find him in an outside alleyway standing waist-deep in about three feet of water, courtesy of Leon-Eline, and desperately trying to reconnect the power to his club. He had two live cables pointing to a very old looking transformer, possibly manufactured pre-WWI. We had to get out. This was getting dangerous. Across the road, through the torrent of water now engulfing most of Maputo, I spotted a rusty 1973 Capri with a glimmer of a taxi light, perched on what was left of its roof. I hotfooted across the swirling torrent and dove into the back seat.”

“Roy, mistakenly as it turned out, plunged into the passenger side bucket seat which was akin to jumping into a somewhat frigid jacuzzi. It turned out that the taxi had not had a passenger window since the previous decade. Roy almost pirouetted on the gear stick by this stage as the vehicle gingerly pulled off in the swirling river of water. The car crabbed so badly that when I looked out of my window, Roy’s sodden derrière was right in front of me. That was enough adventure for one trip. The next day we collected our cash and surreptitiously flew home with it.”


To settle down after those unsettling images from Laff’s treasure trove of strange stories, and to end Part 1 of this column, we asked Racing 240’s COO, Colin Gordon, about his most unexpected moment in racing. He quipped: “It came just this last Monday when it was announced that the EU had officially opened the door to our bloodstock exports. What a pleasant surprise!”

Next week: More unusual racing tales from personalities including Mark van Deventer, Grant Knowles and Nico Kritsiotis.