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Turf Talk-sponsored jockey Craig Bantam has won on the Justin Snaith-trained miracle horse Rule Of Thumb three times. Owner Andrew Brand is pictured proudly leading in the Royal Mo gelding (Picture: Wayne Marks) 

Gary Lemke

It’s a Friday morning and we’ve arranged to meet at Sonwabe Beach, near Muizenberg, at 9am. I want to chat to Andrew Brand, a passionate racehorse owner and successful businessman.

Travelling from Cape Town’s northern suburbs to the beach some 40km away, at that time of day, I factor in an hour through traffic. I arrive at 8.30am.

The beach is deserted, except for a playful seal frolicking in the shallow white water of the surf.

There are two other people sitting in a car, taking in the scenery.

Maybe I’m at the wrong place? At 8.34am I go on to my WhatsApp. “Hi Andrew, I’m at the beach. There doesn’t seem to be much activity?”

No blue ticks.

At 8.46am, a man climbs out of the only other car, a camera in hand. He walks a few metres closer to where the seal is and photographs it. I recognise him, it’s John Warner, husband of Jill, the other half of a double act of popular, regular winning owners.

They are “swallows”, frequently arriving on these shores from their home base in Winchester, England. Their most recognisable winners include Carry On Alice, Rio Querari and Royal Aussie.

At 8.50am a New Turf Carriers truck pulls into the beach area. Suddenly, cars emerge at the same time. I send Andrew a message. “OK, I see the truck has arrived.” He immediately responds, “Hi. Yes – bang on time!”

How could I have ever doubted?

It would be an exaggeration to say that all hell breaks loose. But, there’s a flurry of activity. This is one of Snaith Racing’s regular Friday morning visits to the beach.

Champion trainer Justin Snaith barks out instructions as the prized thoroughbreds are offloaded one by one down the carrier’s ramp and head for the soft sand.

A professional photographer has arrived and starts shooting. Jill Warner puts on her riding cap and gets ready to mount up. Chris Snaith is holding the hand of his grandson. King Ice, a striking all-white and a visitor’s favourite, stands quietly.

Grooms are keeping tight holds on their horses as they wait for more riders to mount and take a stroll in the direction of mountains guarding over Muizenberg. Jono Snaith arrives carrying a cardboard tray, balancing four hot takeaway coffees.

This is the life.

Standing alone on the beach, surrounded by racehorses, is Andrew Brand. He is, by his own admission, “an introvert”, but he’s right at home in these surroundings.

We are actually meeting in this environment because the miracle horse of 2023 has come with the Snaith string to stretch his legs and enjoy the sun, sand and sea.

By all conventional thinking, Rule Of Thumb shouldn’t be near Sonwabe Beach on this day. At best he should be a former racehorse grazing grass in a paddock somewhere.

Or, even worse … we won’t go there.

This son from the first crop of Royal Mo was bought at the 2021 Cape Yearling Sale for R125 000 and he has repaid that purchase price by winning four times and accumulating over R300 000 in stakes. If only it was that straightforward.

Brand takes up the story.

“I was with Jono at the sale. We didn’t know much about the stallion, but we liked this yearling on looks – big and strapping. He wasn’t all that expensive so we thought we’d take him in and see how he develops. We then prepared him for the Ready To Run Sale and put an optimistic, but realistic price on him. No one came close to buying him, so we bought him back. He returned to the Snaith yard and what was so noticeable was his easy character. So much so that they stabled him amongst their July and Group winners and it was quite surreal as an unraced juvenile.”

In May 2022 Rule Of Thumb made his debut as a 33-1 shot in a maiden juvenile race over the Kenilworth 1200m.

“He finished third, beaten four lengths by Le Mans and we said, ‘we might have a decent sort here’,” Brand says.

Six weeks later he was back over the course and distance. “He finished second, three lengths behind Itsrainingwilliam and the Snaiths rated that winner quite a bit. We said, ‘we might have something here’.”

A month after that he ran for a third time, around the turn over the Kenilworth 1400m. Starting at 18-10 he beat Royal Port Louis by two lengths.

“We were starting to get excited,” says Brand as he points to his pride and joy emerging out of the water. “We then entered him for a Listed Juvenile feature at Fairview and we fancied our chances. He went for a gallop at Kenilworth and Richard (Fourie) worked him and was pleased with him. Then, it happened.”

“It” was an injury suffered in the float back to the Snaith’s stables in Philippi. “I got the call from Jono. Rule Of Thumb had basically kicked half his leg off. It was a serious injury. They bandaged him and immobilised him. It was serious.

“Jono asked me what my position was, in terms of insurance, sentiment, and what to do. Justin decided to contact Dr Andrew Gray of Vetscape to give us a diagnosis and prognosis.

“I insure all my horses. I wouldn’t drive my car without insurance, nor run a household without it. The peace of mind is enormous. I had a yearling that died unexpectedly of colic and it was covered. But even the burial is expensive. At 10 o’clock that night Dr Gray gave us his verdict. There was a serious fracture that needed operating on.

“The risk was high. We all had a conversation and decided to give Dr Gray a chance to work on Rule Of Thumb. Justin and Jono didn’t hesitate in agreeing to take the chance to save him and pay their share of the costs. There was no guarantee it would be a successful procedure. First priority was to fix the leg because if he lay down that wouldn’t be good …”

Brand looks up at the clear blue sky and clears his throat, the noise being muffled by the wind that has started to blow across the sand.

“We never knew if Rule Of Thumb would survive, let alone walk again. He had four pins inserted into his lower leg but behaved like a superstar, calm and chilled, showing the same characteristics that had caught our eye when buying him. This was the second serious injury a horse of mine had incurred and financially you know what you’re in for. Which is why I insure them all, from day one.”

Rule Of Thumb not only survived the operation but he started walking again. And he grew stronger, and stronger. So much so that he found himself back in training.

Five months later, on 22nd December 2022, he was at Kenilworth, in a 1200m race. “Richard didn’t touch him with the whip and he finished like a steam train, just over two lengths behind the winner (Let It Burn). We all agreed it was an amazing effort.”

On 3rd January 2023 Rule Of Thumb was put over the Kenilworth mile. He finished last, 14 lengths behind Without Question.

“Piere Strydom rode him but he must have felt something wrong and he eased him out of the race. Justin was perplexed. The horse looked fine and had been working well.”

They decided to run Rule Of Thumb again, this time in late February. He tailed off by a distance. “JP van der Merwe also felt something was wrong and he didn’t persevere with him.”

Extensive inspection showed the gelding to have an abscess above his hoof and he’d been catching it in those races, causing him severe pain.

“The vet came in and treated it. We gave him time to recover,” says Brand.

He returned after a three-month break and finished eighth over 1400m and then fifth over the mile. Racing then switched to Hollywoodbets Durbanville and Rule Of Thumb was put over the mile in August. He won at 25-1.

“He had turned into a machine, had furnished into a big strapping boy, yet was still so well behaved. We knew he also had a huge fighting spirit. Plus, he seemed to have forged a relationship with (jockey) Craig Bantam.”

In September he raced again, same course, same distance, same result. In October, again, the Durbanville mile, beaten a head by Bardolino.

They say that people don’t find horses, but that horses find people and Rule Of Thumb has clearly found his zest for life with the Snaiths and Brand.

In November, he ran again, this time winning for a fourth time and a third from his last four starts, with Bantam wearing the owner’s silks of a red ‘V’ on a white background with a red cap.

Why those red and white colours, as a matter of interest?

“They’re the colours of the English football team I support – Southampton,” Brand says.

Um, ok, and why that club?

“The 1976 FA Cup final was shown in black and white on TV in those days. The finalists were Manchester United and Southampton. Southampton sounded a bit like ‘South Africa’ to me as a four-year-old so I supported them. They won 1-0. It could have been so much worse, I could have started supporting Man United!”

So, the football bug bit at age four, but what about racing’s inevitable pull?

“My father was involved in racing before I was born, and he sometimes used to do running for the bookies to earn money. There was no phone betting, or internet back then, so every Saturday morning my dad would drive down to the Tote at Kenilworth – I think it is where McDonald’s now is –  and I’d sit in the car while he was inside filling out his betting slips. Later we’d listen to the results on the radio.”

From there the sport took hold.

“I asked my dad, ‘can I spend R5 of my pocket money, I’d like to have a bet’. I earned the money working hard doing work in the garden and cleaning the pool!”

Brand isn’t much of a punter these days and he says it’s too time-consuming to study form.

However, he did put a few rands on a winner he had with Bass Racing at the end of October. “I backed Sun Dazed in the lucky last that day. He won at 25-1, getting up by a short head!”

Apart from ownership he’s also involved in breeding. “I have shares in a few mares with Anton Shepherd at Beaumont Stud. The farm bred champions like Prince Florimund and Variety Club. We have a strong relationship.

“If I buy a yearling I send it to Anton who keeps it until it’s ready to go into training. And I’m hopeful that one day I’ll be involved with a Grade One champion. I’m an optimist by nature, perhaps too much so for my own good.

“I’ve owned horses that the trainer has said that we should move on. Then I hang on. It runs again and finishes 12 lengths back. Then next run it’s six lengths back. That’s improvement, right? I get emotionally attached, so I don’t want to sell it.

“Most of the trainers who train for me keep telling me to rather leave the selecting and buying to them but I love the process and am also a bit of a control freak, but learning to get better in that regard.”

We’ve hardly noticed that the horses have been loaded back onto the carrier and are about to head back to Philippi.

“Join us for breakfast,” Justin shouts. “Thanks, but I’ve got too much work to do. Next time!” Brand replies.

And so, phase two of the day begins. Within minutes the car park is empty and there’s no sign of activity.

Except for the seal, who is back, frolicking in the white frothy water again.