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Monday
Mar182013

IT JUST TAKES ONE HORSE

Brian JoffeBrian Joffe
(Photo : Financial Mail)

“BUSINESS AS USUAL FOR SHEA SHEA”

Mike MoonMike Moon
The Times
Shea Shea’s performance in Dubai last weekend, running rivals ragged to win the Meydan Sprint in track record time, highlighted the close relationship between horse racing and big business.

The five-year-old is owned by Brian Joffe and Myron Berzack, CEO and director of Bidvest Group, one of South Africa’s major conglomerates.

And Shea Shea is a son of National Emblem, a horse that in his pomp as a runner, changed racing in this country with his business networking.

It’s said that “it just takes one horse” to catch the imagination of a person for that poor soul to be lost to the infernal game. For Markus Jooste, supremo of the Steinhoff Group and South Africa’s leading thoroughbred owner, that horse was National Emblem.

Jooste, with no racing background, bought a share in the colt in the early 1990s at the suggestion of business associates. For the financial whizz kid what happened next was a revelation. National Emblem won 14 races, including the Champion Stakes and the Classic, and delivered piles of money.

The effortless returns impressed Jooste, but that clearly wasn’t what turned him into a hapless fan. For nowadays he spends far more on horseflesh than he gets back from it. He’s bewitched, see.

It’s a familiar story. Racing has always lured the tycoon - from Solly Joel, Abe Bailey and Henry Nourse a century and more ago, through Harry Oppenheimer, Richard Maponya and Graham Beck, to today’s Hassen Adams, Marsh Shirtliff and Fred Crabbia.

This might seem an obvious scenario as these are blokes with money to spend on an expensive hobby. But, on the other hand, good business brains are risk-wary and vigilant about bottom lines - so you’d expect them to run screaming in horror from the mad extravagance and unpredictability of racing.

So the symbiosis is really to do with thrills, glory and the charms of horses. Money just helps feed an addiction.

Back to National Emblem’s son, who is named after Joffe’s grandson Shea, a toddler at the time that granddad bought the yearling for R450,000.

The Bidvest boss got into racing due to his father owning nags. He’s owned a fair few himself over the years, but none as good as Shea Shea.

The sprinter’s early career unfolded fairly quietly, but he announced himself as a serious racehorse when he won the 2011 Golden Horse Sprint at Scottsville. Then he nailed the Computaform Sprint at Turffontein and booked an overseas campaign ticket with trainer Mike de Kock.

Joffe travelled to Dubai to watch Shea Shea run at last Saturday’s meeting. The gelding hammered a world-class field and confirmed himself as a favourite for the $1million Al Quoz Sprint on Dubai World Cup night at the end of March.

De Kock commented: “To witness Brian’s pure joy was heart-warming. To see a man who conducts billion-dollar deals almost every day of the week overcome with emotion and pride was hugely gratifying.”

It was ever thus.

Extract from The Times

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