While Toby Keith will miss his horses, I will miss him

Two of Toby Keith's horses are due to run at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas on Friday night.

I was deeply saddened to hear that Toby Keith died on Monday.

Keith was a superstar of American country music who sold more that 40 million albums. He wrote and recorded 20 number one hits, of which his 2003 duet with Willie Nelson – Beer for My Horses – was his longest lasting chart topper.

He succumbed to stomach cancer. He was 62.

I was a real fan of Keith’s music, to the extent that I named one of my horses after his 1999 Dreamworks Nashville breakthrough song that became his first pop-crossover track and his biggest ever billboard hit.
Howdoulikemenow was a son of the American stallion Matty G. He was trained by Joey Ramsden and more often than not (perhaps I should write “Moreoftenthannot”) ridden by Glen Hatt.

He won me eight races and with a running style that required him to sit stone last until well-inside the final two furlongs, he was the source of much joy, excitement and multiple heart palpitations.
In retrospect not the best fit for a bloke who ended up having a quadruple heart bypass a decade or so later!

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In the late 2000s, as a brand ambassador for Piggs Peak Casino, I began to fly annually to the United States for the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. These were the glory years of Poker. The sport and the industry surrounding it was basking in the bionic boom that the 2003 Moneymaker effect had delivered.

Back then, none of us could have predicted what would occur post Chris Moneymaker calling Sammy Farha’s all-in top-pair jacks on the flop and seeing his two-pair hold up.

Moneymaker pocketed the $2.3 million first place prize for the WSOP main event and became the first player to be crowned world champion having qualified (for just $85) via an online poker site. Blessed with the perfect surname, Moneymaker’s win would revolutionise poker across the planet.

Spearheaded by Wendy Graaf, Sandy Koor and television genius Michael Collett, by the time I rolled into Las Vegas in 2007 as the face of our All Africa Poker Team from South Africa, the World Series Of Poker was pure box office.

In that first year in Vegas, and in every year thereafter, I’d pretty much become a regular fixture at Toby Keith’s “I Love This Bar” & Grill at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino. A restaurant franchise named after Keith’s 2003 chart-topper, the joint was southern-style-country comfortable and renowned for it’s “Who’s Your Daddy” margaritas and Toby’s personal memorabilia.

Some readers might find this hard to believe but I’m not a casino punter in any shape or form and as such most of my US dollars were spent on Toby Keith merchandise and music.

Neil Andrews in the Toby Keith Stetson hat, around 2007. Picture: Supplied

Early doors I purchased a Toby Keith Stetson. I loved that cowboy hat and it became synonymous with my television show Super Saturday.

The original Super Saturday ran for 10 years on Supersport and whenever we picked up our SAB TV Awards for best variety show that Stetson came with me.

Totally unbeknown to me at the time was that Toby was an avid horseracing fan and was himself a student of thoroughbred pedigrees. A few years later, once I’d discovered that we shared the same passion for the sport, I began to track, if you’ll excuse the double pun, the success of his Dream Walkin’ Farms initiative. Toby was no mug, over the years their string of racehorses have won 848 races and amassed over $18 million in stakes.

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On Friday, 9 February, two of Toby’s horses are due to run at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. The two horses – Wyfire and Bell Dozer – have between them won 39 races and will run in the colours of Country Bro Stables, a collaboration with his friend and racing partner Danny Caldwell.

This week Caldwell shared one of the last conversations Toby Keith had with him. Only a few weeks back while walking together to the parade ring, Keith turned to him and said: “You know, I’ve had a great life, done a lot of things people haven’t got to do and my family is set, but I am sure going to miss these horses.”

Rest in peace Toby Keith and thank you for the never to be forgotten memories.

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