Jehan Malherbe had told Cape Racing he was to retire from his commentating role after 44 years of service, although he was asked to stay on to cover for Rouvaun Smit when the latter was incapacitated after a bad fall.
Cape Racing have in the last week annnounced permanent positions for leading commentator Alistair Cohen and also for the ever-improving Brandon Bailey.
So, Jehan will now likely be free to relax over weekends.
From a commentating point of view he will always be associated with one of the greatest racehorse performances in South African history.
His words that accompanied that performance have also become iconic.
“Savannah Queen and Farolmond are trying but they are chasing shadows! It’s Horse Chestnut! This is true greatness, he’s killing them in the Met!!”
Horse Chestnut had not only become the first three-year-old to win the Met for 54 years but smashed them by eight lengths.
Jehan recalled, “I have never rehearsed ahead of any race, those words just slipped out in the heat of the moment. I probably got carried away, I was very excited!”
Commentating was actually Jehan’s second job. He is a bloodstock agent and has close associations in that role with the connections of Horse Chestnut, trainer Mike de Kock and the Oppenheimer family.
His aptitude for commentating had become apparent before he took it up professionally.
“I used to commentate for an audience of friends after a few beers!”
He made his official debut when Cape Town commentator Sandy Bickett was ill and his assistant at the time, Graeme Hawkins, was in the army.
“I volunteered and did my first call in August 1979. I made a quick tape at home and gave it to them and they said yes good to go.”
His first commentary went well.
Hawkins returned from the army shortly thereafter but Jehan was given a couple of races per meeting to help him ease in to it.
However, Bickett then retired and Hawkins left for Johannesburg leaving Jehan “holding the baby”.
He was promoted to senior comentator.
He said, “I enjoyed it … it was great doing the good races and the good horses, great memories and a lot of fun.”
However, he admitted, “I don’t enjoy doing bad races and bad horses, like Durbanville (in the old days) in the rain on a Wednesday afternoon and maiden plates with first-timers etc. It is probably harder doing those than the big races because in the big races you know all the horses.”
He clarified, “But it has been a great ride.”
Jehan was asked about the best he called.
He replied, “Obviously Horse Chestnut is up there with the best, Jet Master winning the Guineas, Empress Club winning the Met, Wolf Power winning the Queen’s Plate … I was lucky enough to call some of the greats. I was around for a long time so I’ve seen and called a lot of good horses in my time. I wouldn’t like to rank which is the best of them or the worst.”
Although it brought him a lot of memories, fun and satisfaction, he said it was ultimately a thankless job.
He said, “When you get it wrong everyone phones you and screams at you, when you get it right you never hear a word!”
Jehan will continue working for his Form Bloodstock company.
However, he added, “It will be quite nice now that I’ve eased down a bit to spend the odd weekend relaxing. For 40 odd years I’ve worked every weekend and every public holiday of my life. As a second job it was quite taxing.”
He said there was definitely a beneficial overlap in the commentating and bloodstock agent roles.
“The commentating certainly made me better known, so if I cold called somebody to talk about horses they knew who I was. Dealing with second hand horses and studying form, there was also an overlap there. The two jobs complemented each other, no doubt.”
He said another way in which the two jobs complemented each other was in the judging of horses going down to the start and being able to identify a good action and a bad action at a sales breeze up.
Jehan has stayed in cape Town despite numerous offers.
He revealed, “When Eric Denman retired I was offered the Durban job, when Peter Duffield retired I was offered the Jo’Burg job. So at one point in time I was a sought after commentator. I was also offered the Maryland Jockey Club job, Laurel Park and Pimlico, back in 1989 which at the time was probably one of the biggest commentating jobs in the world. They flew me over and I did a guest stint after which they tried to get me to stay full time. I have had a good innings. No regrets.”
Jehan was flown up to Jo’Burg a few times after Peter Duffield’s retirment, because Clyde Basel was just a youngster then and had only just started, so they wanted an experienced hand for some of the big races.
He also used to go and do the big races in Port Elizabeth when SABC covered them.
He has called at a few race tracks in America in his time.
Jehan has even had to call in Afrikaans on occasion.
He said, “They decided they waanted one or two races per meeting in Afrikaans. It was a nightmare to be honest, it is hard enough trying to do it in your own language, and trying to translate while you’re going along … I wasn’t comfortable!”
He said about his favourite commentating courses, “The nicest course to commentate at was undoubtedly Milnerton. You just had a great overview and a good position from the commentary box. The hardest in the old days was Durbanville when it had speaker feedback, it doesn’t have it any more. They had loudspeakers accross the way which blared back at you after a two second delay which made concentrating a little difficult. Plus in Durbanville in the old days when it rained you got sopping wet. It had no glass in front of it. It was very much out in the open. Durbanville in winter was a nightmare.”
Well, there are plenty now in with chances after Jehan’s stepping down, but he is sure to still be a regular face at racing events around the country.