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So your father or uncle was unimpressed with the shirt you bought him for Christmas.

Never mind, you can save the day by giving him the book Thoroughly — a fascinating autobiography of the outstanding career of trainer Ormond Ferraris as told to scribe Charl Pretorius.

As Alec Hogg says in the foreword: “It is classic Ormond Ferraris, offered without apology or embellishment. Because that’s his way. He always told it as he sees it.”

That said,  Ferraris had an aura of unapproachability about him. Few — except his family — got close to him in his long career.

Indeed, few would have attempted writing a book on the Turffontein trainer.

But Pretorius has always been up for the challenge. Yet he must have wondered whether he’d get close to the trainer who wasn’t exactly going to be called upon to do a comedy act at the London Palladium.

Readers are likely to find themselves going back to reread chapters as there are several which will be of particular interest to those who are now elderly but were around between 1970 and 2000 when the racing scene was pretty much a soap opera.

I was particularly fascinated with the chapter regarding the 1975 Durban July when Gatecrasher interfered with the fancied Ferraris runner, Distinctly, with the sort of foul that would have got a red card in the Premier League.

Much to the dismay of Gatecrasher’s trainer, Herman Brown, and myself — the red card came out and Gatecrasher was demoted. Viewing the film, it was obvious the stewards had no option but to change the result.

Of course, of particular interest to this writer (then racing editor of the Rand Daily Mail) is the chapter which deals with my involvement with the Gerald Turner case and Ferraris’ attempt to have me deported. What he didn’t know is that I had influential businessman Gerald Jaffee in my corner.

What stands out in the book is that the Turffontein trainer managed to get the best out of so many top horses. To do this you have to have a special talent — few will dispute that Ormond Ferraris had just that.

Turftalk editor David Thistleton has also reviewed the book and says “it is a page turner which should be enjoyed by all racing fans”.

Ormond develops expertise in all facets of training and his most rewarding finds at the Sales range from a R200 purchase to the brilliant Australian-bred Tracy’s Element.

His famous dedication to his profession was in fact emphasised on the day he spotted Tracy’s Element. It followed an exhausting flight to Australia, but rather than rest in the hotel and wait for the next day he went straight to the sales grounds where he spotted the filly walking by soon after arriving there.

The book also confirms Ormond to be a forthright man, particularly when believing he has been wronged.

The first time a wealthy owner pushed him too far the twenty-seven year-old Ormond jumped in his car and drove to the latter’s office. The subsequent confrontation makes for interesting reading!

However, the sometimes rocky relationships he had with owners, some of whom had reputations as people not to be messed with, is trumped by his expertise as a horseman.

Therefore, his career progresses steadily. Ormond’s career really took off after moving to the Vaal, a fact which would probably not be known by many.

His reasoning for the move — the training tracks had no clay underneath them and thus drained well — proved spot on.

Ormond also had up-and-down relationships with some jockeys, as the book will reveal.

However, what shone through was his loyalty to jockeys, and vice versa, which always allowed a flourishing partnership to develop with the good ones.

One of the fascinating aspects of the book is it gives insight into different eras of racing in SA.

Stable punting was essential to survival in his early years because trainers and jockeys, amazingly enough, did not get a percentage of the stakes money. All of the stake money went to the owner.

The pressure was high and reached such a height in Ormond’s career that in the mid 1960s, after a spell of gambling losses which ate into one particularly big win, he packed up training.

Boom years

Luckily for SA racing, he was soon back where he belonged. There were then the boom years of the 1970s, 1980s and the first part of 1990, when massive crowds attended the races, the stakes increased and the quality of the thoroughbreds competing was as good as ever.

The horses were bred tougher in those days and this is emphasised when Ormond states matter-of-factly that his top class colt Distinctly made his debut over 800m on October 10 of his two-year-old season!

Of course Distinctly is at the centre of Ormond’s most disappointing day on a racecourse, the 1975 July. Another aspect mentioned by Ormond is that throughout the dark days of apartheid, peace and harmony existed between the various races of SA on the racecourse, even in the times when they were forced on to separate grandstands.

The era which followed the boom years was the corporatisation of racing, which was deemed necessary due to the legalisation of casinos, which brought with it a steady dwindling of crowd attendance at the races as well as a downturn in betting turnover.

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