A stalwart of the breeding industry in South Africa, it is very sad news to hear of the passing of Mr George Rowles of Ivanhoe Stud.
George Rowles had always been guided by his belief that the best course of action is that which will be to the ultimate benefit of the game as a whole.George Rowles had been around the horses business for a good number of years and has seen developments on the racing scene which could only have been mere pipedreams to Turf administrators of yesteryear.
He himself had progressed through the ranks from a small breeder-owner-trainer to the an influential breeder, that of master of a large and consistently successful stud, a successful owner, and a man who served the industry in his capacity as council member of the Thoroughbred Breeders Association of South Africa, committee member of the Natal Owners’ and Trainers’ Association and a steward of the Clairwood Turf Club.
A Natal Owners’ and Trainers’ Association committee member of 15 years standing, George Rowles was elected to the panel of stewards at Clairwood and was in on the ground floor of the major developments at the track. Aptly called the Garden Course, Clairwood Park was one of the showpieces of South African racing.
As Region Four representative on the TBA council, he was instrumental in the introduction of the Newmarket yearling sales, which are today’s KZN Yearling Sale.
George had been successful and his Ivanhoe stud was long regarded as one of the leading nurseries in the country. At one point George Rowles occupied fifth spot on the national breeders’ log – no mean achievement when one considered the calibre of the competition.
He had always been an active sportsman, having represented Natal southern districts at both rugby and cricket in his younger days.
Elected to the Council of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association of South Africa in 1980, one of George Rowles’s main platforms on this committee had been equal treatment for all.
Racing is very much like life – one has to put into it to get anything out and this is perhaps true of George Rowles’s progress from his humble beginning in the Sport of Kings to where he could look back with pride on his achievements.
It was, perhaps, natural that the master of Ivanhoe Stud ended up in the world of horses. His father had been an owner-trainer and from a very tender age, George helped out in their Isipingo stables, mucking out, grooming and riding work for his father before going off to school, only to return after lessons in the afternoon for another round of stable duties.
Having become an experienced work rider, George was very much in demand at the many gymkhana meetings of earlier years. In fact, he was one of the leading amateur riders, often riding more than half the card, his best tally – on more than one occasion – riding six out of none winners in an afternoon.
After completing his schooling, he didn’t immediately become involved with horses, electing instead to become a dairy farmer in the Transvaal. But racing was in his blood and it wasn’t long before he acquired two mares and that was the start of what is today his breeding and racing enterprise.
One of his first acquisitions was the twice successful Colchis II mare Sophie, who, when bred to the very good sprinter Black Cap, gave George his first winner as an owner-trainer when the filly Shanghai, ridden by Charlie Barends, opening her winning account as a juvenile at Newmarket in 1957. The filly went on to win a further four races the following season and the die was cast.
George, who has been a colour holder for more than 30 years, decided to move back to Natal, and in 1959 bought a tract of land at Waterfall, close to Hillcrest, where he had lived ever since. He soon set about establishing a training track on the property, a facility which boasts a 1100m sand and grass track still in use today. A unique feature of the track is that the rails are irrigation pipes making for easy watering of the surfaces.
When starting stalls were introduced to South African racing, George followed suit with his own pens at Waterfall. It is an immaculate yard with one of the first equine swimming pools in this country.
The runners at his El Dorado yard at Waterfall are products of his Ivanhoe Stud at Nottingham Road. The stud started with a handful of mares but was steadily increased to its peak of 75 Thoroughbred matrons. While imported stock has made its way into South Africa for many ears, Ivanhoe was perhaps the first stud to bring in imported mares in any quantity.
That first venture into the overseas market saw 12 Thoroughbred mares brought back for Ivanhoe. The following year ten imported mores were purchased with eight a year later. In their prime, well over half the Ivanhoe broodmare band was from overseas.
The stud struck gold with the acquisition of the imported English horse Caerdeon, a brother to One Thousand Guineas winner Caergwrle, by Epsom Derby and Two Thousand Guineas winner Crepello out of Caerphilly, a daughter of sprinting Abernant with a Timeform rating of 129.
Caerdeon (GB), who stood his first season at Ivanhoe in 1973, has sired the winners of well over R2,5 million in stakes and has featured prominently on the general sires’ list since the 1978-79 season and had been the leading Natal-based stallion for a number of years.
Sabre, a Classic winner of 12 races, was also used as one of the resident sires.
He also stood another successful sire in Rocky Marriage, whose reach went beyond racing and a few years ago, was represented at the highest levels in the world and aimed at the Olympics by an Eventing horse named Heartbreak Hill with rider Paul Hart.
While a successful commercial breeder, George Rowles elected to campaign a number of his homebreds. There have been a host of winners in the familiar red and grey colours, perhaps most notable of which was the brilliant thirteen-time winning filly Justine, who was never able to realise her full potential as a broodmare because of her untimely death.
Another side to George Rowles, and completely unconnected with the racing game, is that of property developer. One might even call him the “mayor” of Linkhills, a scenic village complete with infrastructure of post office, shopping centres, garages and offices established on what is part of the original piece of ground George bought back in 1959 and includes the Watercrest Mall.
The KZN Breeders Club recognised George Rowles for his outstanding lifetime achievements and contribution to the Thoroughbred industry at the KZN Breeders Awards in 2014 with the Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to him by lifelong friends Robin Scott and Bill Lambert.
George Rowles also had the honour of winning the inaugural KZN Breeders Million Mile in its first running at Greyville (it was previously the KZN Breeders Mile Listed). He won it with Knock On Wood, and won the trophy donated by Robin and Des Scott.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of George Rowles, he is a gentleman who will be greatly missed. May he Rest In Peace.