Alistair Gordon Retires But Not Lost To Racing
Summerveld veteran Alistair Gordon has retired from training to take up a position with Bloodstock South Africa (BSA).
The popular Gordon had worked in a training environment for fifty years.
He said, “I will obviously miss the horses. I have been very fortunate right through my career to have fantastic owners. Even the ones who are leaving now are world class people. We had huge fun in the old days travelling around the country with owners. Training was a lot more fun in those days. I’m not sure why that is but maybe it is because it has become big business today and there is a lot more on the line. But it is now time for a change and I’ve got to move on and make a new career.”
Gordon has been working part time for BSA, his chief role being to liaise with breeders and vendors. His permanent position will have a similar starting point.
He is also an inspector, together with Jane Thomas, for the National Yearling Sales and KZN Yearling Sales.
He has honed his eye for a horse over the last fifty years and said, “One trainer could see faults in a yearling he/she might accept, and could go on to do well with the horse, but the guy next door might not be prepared to take the chance. A lot of buying yearlings in my opinion is luck because most of us work on a budget. You often might miss the first, second or third horse you like and end up with the fourth, or vice versa and then the fourth one might turn out to be the best.”
Gordon arrived at Summerveld to work for Irishman Basil Cooper two weeks after completing his matric at Michaelhouse in 1969.
He had been brought up loving horses on his parents’ farms, first in Kenya and later in Nottingham Road.
He said, “Basil Cooper was a very good horseman and taught me a helluva lot.”
One of his memories from those days was going down to Dellville Wood station in the Shongweni valley to lasso young horses off the carriages.
He said, “It was a bit of sport!”
The breeders used to send horses to Summerveld by train.
Later, Gordon left for England to work for trainer Gavin Hunter on the recommendation of George Rowles.
After a year with Hunter he moved to racing’s headquarters, Newmarket, but his two-and-a-half year sojourn ended as he could no longer “handle the weather.”
Upon his return in 1974 his father rustled up six horses. Gordon’s training career hence started as a twenty-one-year-old.
He initially battled on a private establishment but Dennis Drier and George Azzie then managed to get him about eight stables at Summerveld.
His career turned the corner when, upon attending a sale in England, an owner asked him if he would train a horse of his called Brer Rabbit.
‘I didn’t think anything would come of it but the horse arrived by sea in Durban three or four months later.”
This sprint-miler, on top of three wins, had finished fourth in both the Grade 3 Norfolk Stakes at Ascot and in the Grade 2 Gran Criterium in Italy.
Gordon won four Grade 1s with him and he also finished a narrow third to Bold Monarch and Sabre in the Queen’s Plate.
Gordon subsequently discovered that the owner had at one stage wanted to move Brer Rabbit to Syd Laird, but Laird ordered him to keep the horse where he was.
The decision paid dividends and Brer Rabbit went on to sire a Grade 1 winner himself, Shooting High.
Gordon was now on the map and reached great heights in the 1980s.
In 1979 Highlands Farm Stud sent him the last filly of her crop still on the farm in a lease agreement.
Gordon recalled, “She arrived here, she was tiny and had bad legs and managed to kick me the first time I saw her.”
This filly, Scarlet Lady by Lords, became possibly the greatest he ever trained. She very nearly completed the quartet of Scottsville Grade 1 Sprints, winning the Allan Robertson, finishing second against the boys in the Smirnoff (Gold Medallion) and winning both the SA Fillies Sprint and the Gilbeys (Tsogo Sun Sprint). She also won the Southern Cross Stakes at Kenilworth and the Poinsettia Stakes. She unfortunately died after her three-year-old career as the winner of ten races in fourteen starts.
Gordon then acquired another progeny of Lords from Highlands, a colt called Extra Cover. This grey caused a sensation when winning his first start in the September of his three-year-old year by 17 lengths. He was named Champion Sprinter the same season.
Gordon trained the like of Grade 1 Mainstay International winner Mauritzfontein around this time as well as good horses like Viburnum, Rise And Rule, Discussion and many more.
He trained for big names like Robert Sangster, Cyril Hurwitz and Graham Beck, although his chief owners were Peter and Pauline Dykins and Chris Smith.
Gordon’s success continued into the following decades with the like of Thatch Attack, What A Question and Disco Queen.
However, his best this century was undoubtedly the Wilgerbosdrift Stud-owned Monks Hood.
Gordon achieved a long held ambition when Monks Hood won the Dingaans.
The Querari bay later toyed with a top class field to win the Grade 2 Gauteng Guineas by 5,9 lengths. He was subsequently sold to race in Hong Kong.
Gordon has had only four chief assistants in his career, a mark of the fine gentleman and professional he is.
They were Mike Airey, Vaughan Marshall, Craig Eudey and Nicolette Roscoe.
He said, “I have been very lucky and spoilt to have people of that calibre working for me.”
Gordon will make as big an impact in his new career which he has embraced with characteristic enthusiasm.
by David Thiselton, Gold Circle Racing