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Thu Nov 27 13:51:24 SAST 2014

Of Oscar, Reeva and horses

Mike Moon | 22 February, 2013 00:53

The media mayhem surrounding the Oscar Pistorius affair, and the frenzied exchanges of opinion in chat rooms and pubs, hardly need adding to. But central characters in the case have strong horse racing connections and I've been prevailed upon to stick in an oar.

Pistorius has owned racehorses for a few years and his racing silks are all white with a bright red star on the body of the jacket. Is it melodramatic to think that's a bit spooky?

He got into it through leading trainer Mike Azzie. He attended Pretoria Boys' High with Azzie's twin boys and the kids' friendship led to their enjoying family holidays together - not to mention visits to the Azzie stables at Randjesfontein.

When Pistorius started coining it in athletics he decided to further this early interest in thoroughbreds by buying a few.

Racing's marketers were delighted with the heaven-sent celebrity endorsement.

Pistorius's first runner was Watchful, who won four times. Watching this filly race, he said, gave him some of the greatest thrills of his life - quite a statement from a superstar accustomed to excitement and adulation on a world stage.

He is currently a co-owner of Potala Palace, a well-bred colt, bought for R3.6-million. Potala Palace won three races in a row as a youngster.

Now a four-year-old, Potala Palace still has a high 101 merit rating thanks to victory in the Premier's Champion Stakes, at Greyville in 2011. A comeback outing in November's Charity Mile, after an eight-month injury break, confirmed his top potential, with him finishing a creditable six lengths off the winner when probably in need of the run.

Reeva Steenkamp was, of course, the daughter of veteran Port Elizabeth trainer Barry Steenkamp.

Barry has never had a horse of the ilk of Potala Palace but his operation ticks over. He sometimes lets aspirant new trainers use his yard as a launching pad.

I was in PE recently and can attest to the city's racing folk being a close-knit community. It was no surprise to see them stand together in grief at race meetings, and at Reeva's funeral.

Online racing forums are alive with chatter about the case, and poor Azzie got stick about a careless comment he made when talking about his client and friend. I won't get into that.

However, I'm told I must mention that I interviewed Pistorius for an international journal a few years ago.

He came across as polite and friendly - and a right babe magnet at the Tukkies varsity venue where we met. Surprisingly, though, he did show momentary flashes of anger during the interview, which at the time I put down to the unusually incisive, probing questioning.

People are now recalling such encounters and sifting through them for hidden pointers to a tragedy to come. Perhaps it's sensationalist, but it is human nature - and this is the most compelling of human dramas.

Turffontein, tomorrow: PA - 1 x 5,8 x 3,6,8 x 4,6 x 2 x 6,7,8 x 2,7,11 (R108)

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