WE old-timers often get stuck in the time-machine fantasy, wishing we could go back in history, just for a day or two – to racing’s golden era, or to a time when imbecile-governance was nothing more than a twisted vision of horror in a cheap LSD trip.
Our flight away from horror, today, is to racing on 1 December 1990 at Gosforth Park. The Germiston track – for those who didn’t enjoy the pleasure of visiting it before the asset was dreadfully cast aside – was a beautiful, intimate place which, due to having smaller public areas with strategically placed and manicured gardens, was often packed to capacity.
On any given race day in this period jockeys like Jeff Lloyd, and the youngster Doug Whyte, Weichong Marwing and Piere Strydom would take each other on, week after week, in races that brought these large crowds to their feet.
“Striker” was on his first youthful peak. He rode the whole Pick 6 at this track, in this very era, and was the talk of the town – when ‘the ‘town’ meant the whole country – front-page news! The blonde bomber was just rattling off doubles, and trebles, and fours, and fives, like they were going out of fashion.
When Piere lost on what was considered ‘good things’, he’d come in for a lot of stick. He was known as a ‘late-comer’ in his early career, as many of his races were won from far back, on lightly weighted runners. When his mounts arrived a fraction too late, hell broke loose, sometimes. Owners got annoyed, expecting him to win every time, and passed on the pressure to trainers. Big gambles were landed, and lost.
And so, on this day, Piere had lost the ride on Mike Azzie’s speed machine Overdog to Douglas Whyte in the Listed Joseph Dorfmann Memorial Handicap over 1000m, a race featuring the likes of Water Kingdom, Sounds Of Light, Harrington and Phineas Fogg, a sprinters’ brigade of rare quality.
Piere’s agent, a renowned young car dealer from Pretoria named Louis Goosen, secured a late ride for his jock on the filly Tudor Rullah (Red Regent— Little Sally) for trainer Jean Heming, and he recalled: “Scratchings were on Tuesday and I had confirmed the ride on Overdog for Piere.
“On the Saturday before scratchings, Piere got beat on a horse which was going for 3 or 4 wins in a row. Piere had won the previous races on the horse. After the final sprint-up for that race, Piere’s feedback was that the horse was well, but not really ‘firing’.
“The stories grew and grew and by the time Saturday came, the story was going around that Piere was no good on the horse. Piere ran a good 2nd, riding for his life. In fact, a very good run at the weights.
“Come Tuesday, before scratchings closed, we found that Piere was taken off Overdog and that Dougie Whyte was on. Luckily Ma Heming came through to scratchings and decided to declare the outsider Tudor Rullah as a runner, as it was a Feature and a small field.
“She asked Gary Daly, the official on duty, which jocks were available. When she heard that Piere had become available she called me and I took the ride. This was 30 years ago and we were going for the Championship, so it was better to have a ride than to sit in the jockey room – even though Tudor Rullah was to be a filly in a stunning field of male runners.
“Piere grumbled a bit about the ride, but in those days, I made the call and he found out what he was riding when fields came out. This way, we kept him out of the bad books when we were offered more than one horse in a race and decisions had to be made. He could easily blame me.
“Tudor Rullah was a smart filly, but she was known to be outpaced in a Turffontein 1200. So, in a Germiston 1000, the fastest 1000m race in SA , she’d be hopelessly outpaced. This was why, even with Piere up, she was at long odds, could’ve been near 20-1 or higher when they jumped.
“Obviously, Piere felt hard done by for losing Overdog. Also, those were the days when the pace was really hot, in all races. And Piere rode the race of his life. Even if he ran 3rd or 4th, it would have been a cracking run over the Germiston 1000, for the friendless in the betting, 1200m filly, Tudor Rullah.
“Most jocks would have settled for that, going through the 250m mark with near 10 lengths to find. But, that legendary balance, weightless rhythm and trademark “squeeze” from Piere, put Tudor Rullah’s nose in front, at the line.
“My phone ran off the hook whenever nominations came out after that and the job of getting rides was much easier and the Championship became a reality.”
Strydom, relaxing at home today, told Turf Talk: “The Tudor Rullah ride was one of the most satisfying wins of my career, a great win indeed. She was quite talented, but had been completely outpaced over 1200m so on that would find it hard to match strides with some very good colts and geldings.
“On the day she jumped quite well, but was slow into stride and we were way out of our ground with 600m to go. I decided just to hold her together without putting her under pressure. They were absolutely cracking it up front. The best I could do was to keep her in touch among the backmarkers. If we’d rushed, she would’ve burnt out chasing them.
“At the 400m, Tudor Rullah was travelling well still, probably 10 lengths off, but the pacemakers were not getting further away now and she kept steady until 200m out. Off the hot pace, she started finding extra, and the front ones started coming back to us. A bit of both happened at the same time, Tudor Rullah found more, and Overdog and company started running out of breath.
“With 100m to run I felt that something may just happen, Tudor Rullah was grinding and making up ground hand over fist. I had the post in my sight, we weren’t going to get there and then we were. She collared them with 10m to run and won going away. It was a fantastic feeling, and I even got a broad smile from Mrs Heming after the race. She was a tough cookie, always reserved at the races. She was aware of my wish to win this race, and was happy to have helped.”
RACE REPLAY HERE.