Horses, stud, and Borrowdale ,
Horses, doesn’t everybody love them especially women? A short journey then of my time in Zimbabwe, visiting my brothers horse stud and then onto the great joy of watching all these horses run at Borrowdale race course. A horse, a horse, my Kingdom for a horse? I never really thought about it before, that is how many things and sports involve horses? Dressage, show jumping, and an almost endless list. More importantly a veritable throng of women all involved in this, they sure could ride. Now I’m not going to get involved in all these, just the breeding, training, and running of race horses. Which of itself is another great and big game. It is a Friday evening and it’s time to relax after a long, hard, week. So it’s off to the horse stud for some drinks and a look at tomorrow’s runners. It’s the Castle Tankard a major horse race in Zimbabwe as the featured race for tomorrow’s race meeting. As usual I start off on the wrong foot when a crowd of us gathered there, are watching the horses. My brother says to me, “Kevin can you remember the Michael brothers from Plumtree School?” So I say, ” sure, they were older than me and in Lloyd house and were a bunch of hoods.” So he continues, ” can you remember the younger one?” So I say, “sure, he was the biggest hood of the lot.” He then says, ” this is his son Hamish.” I don’t know where to put myself, but the youngster is smiling broadly, so I get away with it again. I later learn he is a ten handicap at Polo Crosse, another horse game, as is, another youngster there who is the boyfriend of the person ensuing the running, training, and smooth flow of the stud. Part of the guests enjoying a few drinks. I’m wandering around the stud having a good look, and of course am suitably impressed. I think back again to ‘people who have no money’, and wonder where it all comes from? Seriously, ‘I’ve got no money’ now would you like a look at tomorrow’s runners? Sure, you got any winners? No, none of them have a clue but I’ll bet I see them jumping for joy tomorrow after a horse has won and the one they have told me is a sure thing and to put my house on (which I did) is still running. These ‘horsey’ people, I mean really. As already mentioned it is late evening and my body is still trying to recover from hitting all the potholes getting there. My, how times have changed, and I’m truly shocked by the sad degeneration of things, but then there is this gem. Well here comes the first horse out of many horses running tomorrow. The race course commentator is also there and I’m doing my best to get a few tips from him to no avail. Aye, it’s a secret game it is, is the horses business. Amy the lovely trainer is overseeing it all with a sharp eye, when she gets a hand to cut her some lucerne, and after each horse comes by she calls it over and lets it have a nibble of the good graze and so on and so forth. Well they are riding bareback but with helmets and it is lovely to see as they all look so fit and healthy. I’m trying to get tips from all and sundry AGAIN to no avail. The other thing I notice is that they all seem so tame. I know with a certainty that tomorrow when I see them in the parade ring it will be another ball game. Then they will be as mean as mustard, skittish, prancing around, and generally showing off. Why I’m not quite sure, perchance it’s the crowds, and other unknown horses in close proximity? Darkness is fast approaching and throats are getting thirsty and it’s time for some drinks. Oh, lo, alas, there’s also another power cut. That simply means the electricity has been cut off again. The drinks, snacks and banter all go down very well, but now it is time to go out to a restaurant for dinner. There only remains one small problem which is getting me to the car. The electricity is still off and I lose my balance (because of my loss of hearing) when dark so it’s a big palaver but eventually it is done. The Horses stud in photos.
Borrowdale race course. It’s the next day and we have arrived at the course and I’m trying to take some photos, but am in a bit of a rush as we are slightly late, and my nephew is in a rush to get a bet on before the first race starts. We have special parking facilities as my brother is a steward of the course and I take my hat off to him as he has played a strong and sometimes lonely role in keeping the course and the Industry going through some of Zimbabwe’s troubled times. The MTC seen on the wall stands for, Mashonaland Turf Club, and is where the bookmakers and high punters hang out. Even on non racing days in Zimbabwe bets can be made worldwide, especially South Africa, and the race can be watched on televisions provided within the complex. Aye, it’s a game alright. Horses in the parade ring before setting off for the first race. It’s Castle Tankard race day one of the premier horse race days in the calender and in a way I’m saddened by what I see. Very poor crowds and in the old days one couldn’t move for the crowds here. Even huge tents erected in the middle of the course. Ladies wearing the latest fashions and some weird hats and all trying to win best dressed person on the course. The problem is whenever I mention this or the potholes and sad degeneration everywhere I look, the locals get annoyed with me and think I’m trying to run down the country, far from it. Now who is this I have spotted? Why, it is little Tommy Millar all grown up. Another one with short hands and long pockets and Scots to boot. Hoots mon. ‘ I’ve got no money’, hang on a bit Spook as I have to go and watch them saddle one of my horses running today, and off he zooms. Do ye see what I mean now? Anyway we meet up again in the Owners and Trainers bar cum lounge flush with televisions and where one can also make a bet. But, oh, lo, alas, half the time you can’t, as the lady operating it explains, because, it is down. See what I mean yet? Tommy who knows me well has the explanation for what I have been going on about, yet. He says, ” Spook what I think is for those of us who stayed here, it was gradual and got a bit worse every day so we didn’t really notice it. You having been away for so long, notice it immediately.” Here we go again and for me what is a perfect example. Zimbabwe Broadcasting Co-operation (ZBC), filming the horses and the race day, especially the Castle Tankard. The first thing I notice is all the empty water bottles just strewn along the ground, and by no means is this an isolated thing. The City is rank with it everywhere you go. But enough whining for the time being, I’m actually having a ball and betting like there is no tomorrow (if the computers are up), and nary a winner do I get. Lots of seconds and also ran’s though. View from outside of Owners and Trainers where I have stepped out for a fag because I’m used to doing this. Still allowed to smoke inside in Zimbabwe. Blesses himself quickly and says ‘tree’ Hail Mary’s. The black and white ‘thingy’ seen on the outside of the track is the winners post with camera. Slightly left of this in the far distance can be seen horses waiting to be loaded into the starting gates. Looks like the race is about 1800 metres to me. It is still beautiful to behold whichever way you look at it. Now I am standing on the opposite side of the Owners and Trainers at Borrowdale looking down at the horses in the parade ring before the running of the next race. It is quite lovely. The horses come in as they are saddled and walk around so that punters can study the horses by getting a good look of them and studying the race card and their current form. Then a bell is rung and the jockeys mount up, assisted by the Owners giving them a leg up as they are small lads. Then onto the course where they run down to wherever they are starting from and punters can make their final decision and place their bets. I notice Tommy standing by the hedge which separates the track from the complex trying to get a better view. He has a horse (donkey) running so I wander down and join him just as his horse runs by. He likes the look of it and it is striding out. The computers are still down but those on the Tote are up. Ever lazy I ask Tommy to place a ‘place’ bet on his runner and give him $50. We meet up again in the Owners and Trainers. The race begins, 400 or so metres from the finish, Tommy starts trembling and muttering under his breath, “come on, come on.” With a 100 metres to go he is jumping up and down like some lunatic, screaming his head off. Lo and behold his horse (donkey) wins the race. He (Tommy), gives a final flourish, by jumping in the air pummeling his arms and fists, and promptly vanishes? Ah, off to get his photo taken with the winning horse and jockey. Sighs. We meet up again, you know where and I buy him a pink Gin and Tonic. Did I mention short hands and long pockets and I’ve got no money? One last saga, Tommy goes to cash in my place bet, lucky me the computers are back up. Blimey he is taking an Interminably long time so I wander over. He is in a heated discussion with the powers that be, very patient, by his standards and is refusing to take the payout money?? Eventually there is a huge crowd there all workers on the Tote. It’s very simple to understand in the end, the payout for a place bet is $10 in this case. Tommy is telling them that it is all worked out on a minimum stake of $1, after they have taken out taxes etc. The reason the payout is so big in this case is that nobody was betting on the horse in question. SURPRISE? Therefore the payout is $50 times $10 = $500, but he is met with blank, incomprehensible stares, and they work here. Eventually he gets his way and I get 500 lovely smackers, oh ye beauty ye. Soon after the meeting ends and Tommy has to go back home. The rest of us decide to go out for dinner again. Oh horses, a stud, and Borrowdale race course, you beautiful thing, I had a ball and am sad to leave.