Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist


Tony Peter vs NHA: Racing’s fairytale has plot twists to come

An ongoing saga in South African horse racing threatens to disrupt the resurrection.


“The boys of the NYPD choir,”

“Were singing Galway Bay,”

“And the bells were ringing out,”

“For Christmas day.”

So goes the chorus of the phenomenal Christmas song Fairytale of New York by The Pogues, co-written by the band’s punk poet-folk rocker Shane MacGowan who died recently.

It’s not about peace on earth and goodwill to men, or about jingle bells and schmaltzy romance – though it is about love and artfully invokes Christmas’s traditional sentiments to tell its tale of lost youth and broken dreams.

The song re-enters the hit parade in the UK every December and there’s a popular campaign this year to get it to No 1, the only spot in the Top 20 it hasn’t occupied since being first performed 36 years ago.

Fairytale of New York is loved “because it feels more emotionally ‘real’ than the homesick sentimentality of White Christmas or the bullish bonhomie of Merry Christmas Everybody”, says Guardian music writer
Dorian Lynskey.

The song’s story is told by a man in a police drunk tank thinking about his woman, who’s in even worse shape than him. It’s full of both rage and tenderness and is an apt metaphor for today’s world.

The forlorn couple can be seen as personifications of 20th century optimism, democracy and its decline, and suchlike.

Renewed hope

Of course, for South African horse racing fans, the resurrection of the game is a bright twinkly light in this country’s enveloping darkness. The messianic contributions of Mary Slack, Greg Bortz and Owen Heffer have provided racing lovers with renewed hope for the game as we plunge into another new year.

MacGowan even found a horse racing peg for his reflections on such brighter futures:

“Got on a lucky one,”

“Came in eighteen to one,”

“I’ve got a feeling,”

“This year’s for me and you,”

“So happy Christmas,”

“I love you baby,”

“I can see a better time,”

“When all our dreams come true.”

But Scrooges always lurk in the background of seasonal cheer.

Ongoing fight

In local racing’s case, it’s in the form of an ongoing fight between the National Horseracing Authority (NHA) and Joburg trainer Tony Peter.

The details of this contretemps are well documented, with the NHA staging raids on Peter’s stables in search of what officials appear to be convinced is evidence of illegal activity; possibly doping. In the past week, things were ramped up.

Peter let it be known he would be suing the NHA for R70-million for defamation. The NHA then said it had hired high-profile private investigator Paul O’Sullivan to go after the trainer.

This thing is going to get expensive and even nastier and will besmirch racing’s name. At one point Fairytale of New York lashes out, decrying “a bum”, “a punk”, “a maggot” and “a faggot” and we fear similar hatefulness is upon us.

But, before that happens, we “can see a better time” as Cape Town’s summer season unfolds in equine brilliance. And the bells ring out for Christmas day.

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