Hartford House

The Home of Good Conversation, Fine Wine and Classic Horses.

Award-winning hotel and restaurant situated at Summerhill Stud on the picturesque KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Meander, South Africa.

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A TALE OF TWO CHAMPIONS

Shaun and Trish Pollock with champion chef Jackie Cameron / Leigh Willson (p)

Shaun and Trish Pollock with champion chef Jackie Cameron / Leigh Willson (p)

The "Pollys"

Hartford House is a popular haunt among sportsmen the world over, and it's magnet for those with a sense of history, with a taste of the culinary comforts, appreciation of good conversation, classic horses and fine wines. Yesterday, we hosted fourteen journalists from across the world, just as our ex-Proteas cricket captain, Shaun Pollock and his gorgeous wife Trish were departing us. We've all been watching Shaun, as the South African representative on the commentary panel at the Investec Test Series, which ended in triumph for the Proteas over England. How formidable a panel of commentators was this, with four ex English captains, Sir Ian Botham, David Gower, Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussein, and as good a cricketer as we've ever produced in Shaun Pollock, who looks not a day older than he did as our captain in 2003. That says something for the way he's been kept.

The "Pollys" are foodies in their own right, and thank heavens they ignored the advice of a close friend who suggested they might not be able to find a booking at Hartford in view of its popularity, since they'd left things a little late. It's true, Hartford is just about as popular as any venue in the country, particularly on weekends, but we generally have something available mid-week, and in this case, it was so. They were here to celebrate a special birthday (no telling, no packdrill), and Shaun is now winging his way back to England for the "one- dayers". He assures us we'll be able to cope with the Poms again in the shortened version, even without Jacques Kallis, whose home on a break. From Shaun's mouth Mr Captain, to God's ears!

DR. LOUIS LUYT : THE CAPTAIN, THE COACH...

Dr Louis Luyt in front of a Luyt Lager Billboard / Sport24 BidorBuy

Dr Louis Luyt in front of a Luyt Lager Billboard / Sport24 BidorBuy

...AND NOW THE CHAIRMAN.

We couldn't resist the alliteration. "Chairman" was not the post occupied by Dr. Louis Luyt at the time of South Africa's first Rugby World Cup victory in 1995; it was "President", but the fact is, all three have had Hartford House on their list of "must do's" during their lifetimes. In the wake of that epic victory over the All Blacks at Ellis Park, coach Kitch Christie used this haven as his "get-out clause," as he used to call it when he and wife Judy wanted an alternative to their game farm in Limpopo. "Captain Courageous", Francois Pienaar, the man who famously donated his No.6 jersey to Nelson Mandela for the trophy ceremony, and his smart lady, Nerine, have been regulars, and between the two Springboks, we raced a filly called Amabokoboko. At the time the Springboks were on a 17 win streak, and this filly taught them emphatically that there was another side to life which brings you back to earth with a bump: she ran five 2nds in a row!

And now, Dr. Luyt, founder of Triomf Fertilizers, Luyt Breweries and The Citizen newspaper (one of racing's best reads) made the pilgrimage earlier this week in the company of his wife Adri and Ricky Smit, who has championed the causes of the charities supported by the Nicholas Rey Foundation.

There's a reason why people come here. The charm of Hartford disarms you; you want to take your shoes off and slip into freewheel. The best description of the place came from a piece penned for Britain's Tattler magazine:

"Peering through one teakwood door at Hartford House, you face a Colonial world. Opening another, the distant sounds of an ancient people at work lilt across the silent landscape, a country of great space, spectacular mountains and big skies. This place commands a headland between the world of traditional cultures and the splendid style of our settler forebears."

"It is the resolution of all South African safaris. The journey's exclamation point, a retreat from the hubbub where you make sense of a fast life and its senseless details. This is where we learn to redress ourselves on a first name basis. There are too many luxury hotels in the world offering the same: a chocolate on the pillow, canned romance, and cuisine called "haut" because it's spelled in French. Hartford stands apart for its integrity, its architecture, views, dining, sounds, smells, its racehorses and its people are all exhilarating surprises, unique to this Zululand, this culture, to Africa. Yes, you come here to be pampered, but at Hartford luxury is the journey, not the destination."

"The truth is, Hartford just happened. A home, and a grand one at that, which grew into a hotel. The Zulus call it "Khululekha". Loosely translated, it means "a place which quietly but firmly kidnaps you." In so many ways, it's gained and regained inspiration from the cultures it celebrates. It is life's exception, a place at the same time comfortable beyond dreams, yet innocent of pretence."

These sporting celebrities are not the only ones who appreciate Hartford's treasures. Anyone who picks up the phone within a month of a chosen weekend will know its tough to find a reservation, and that's why the big names at East Coast Radio and Suncoast Casino have chosen Monday and Tuesday as their time to come out to the country. More on that next week, when these "celebs" turn up.

A SPECIAL EVENING WITH MICHAEL ROBERTS AND BASIL MARCUS

Mick Goss with Basil Marcus and Michael Roberts / Alec Hogg (p)

Mick Goss with Basil Marcus and Michael Roberts / Alec Hogg (p)

"Legendary competitors in the saddle, fast friends today"

Alec Hogg Graceland Farm

Alec Hogg
Graceland Farm

Last week took me back to 1979 and my short spell at university in Pietermaritzburg. Money was tight, so any opportunity to earn was grabbed - tending the bar at Polo Tavern paid best. I also did my share of selling tickets at Woodburn Rugby Stadium.

That was the year when the racing bug took a strong hold on my young mind. Someone at the zoo we called William O'Brien Residence discovered that in horseraces where pace was key, your financial circumstances could be enhanced by having a bet on the kings of the turf, Michael Roberts and Basil Marcus. Particularly in races over 2000m or longer and especially either was riding a 6/1 chance. Have no idea what the precise record was, but the theory worked well enough for me to follow the formula as a matter of course.

Three decades and a bit later, and here we were having a spectacular dinner with these two legends. It was one of those special 'Hartford House' evenings hosted by my good friend, Summerhill's Mick Goss. This time it was to honour his VIP visitors, Australian racing personalities Vin Cox (MD of Magic Millions) and Rowena Smith (marketing boss at Aushorse). The Aussies were seated too far away for much talk-time. But with Roberts and Marcus close, it became an evening to remember.

First Michael, now 58 and one of KZN's top trainers. His relocation from the Karkloof to Summerveld has gone well. Verna Roberts tells me that although her husband leaves home at 4am every morning and often only returns at 6pm, he doesn't regard this as a hardship. The multiple SA and UK Champion Jockey loves his horses and having had years of doing a lot of the heavy lifting himself, really appreciates Gold Circle's services like tending Summerveld's tracks and daily removal of bedding. It's a happy yard. I've got the feeling we'll be soon seeing another big horse from Roberts.

Basil Marcus, who ten years ago made an immediate impact as a trainer with a string of top race winners including the legendary Jay Peg, returned from his Singaporean adventure a few months back and is delighted to be home in Cape Town. He is adamant that he won't be training again, preferring for now to spend time with his two Rhodesian Ridgebacks. That they cost R170,000 to bring back home from Singapore gives some idea how close they are to this former ace jockey.

Basil remembers a radio interview we had four years back, which was part of a series to enlighten the public about the attraction of buying racehorses. A bit like his one time boss Herman Brown Snr, Basil says he will be quietly in the background helping his 20-something son Adam who is now the family's licensed trainer. He remains a class act. Despite ample opportunity, he refused to point any fingers or even discuss a Singaporean campaign that didn't work out the way everyone hoped. He is proud, though, at the way the horses he took there have performed - four of his former inmates are among Singapore's top 10.

Given Marcus's global brand value, obvious intellect and engaging personality, it would be a terrible waste for him to drift off into early retirement. His unique insights into the Far East (6 times Hong Kong Champion Jockey) could be invaluable for this country's efforts to participate in the potentially explosive growth of Chinese racing. Apart from adding star appeal, Marcus would in my view have plenty of good ideas for Peter Gibson's Racing South Africa team. He should be roped in. Like last week.

What will stay with me most about the evening, though, was the way these great rivals in the saddle have remained such fast friends. Apart from banter about the other's waistlines (both claim to be impressive 32cm), good-natured stories about times together speak to a long, deep friendship.

Extract from www.gracelandfarm.co.za

Hartford House
Home of good conversation, fine wine and classic horses.

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WHAT'S LIFE WITHOUT A LITTLE LUXURY?

Dinner on the Hartford Verandah / Cooked in Africa (p)

Dinner on the Hartford Verandah / Cooked in Africa (p)

"The home of good conversation, fine wine and classic horses"

Alec Hogg Graceland Farm

Alec Hogg
Graceland Farm

What's life without a little luxury? And if you want to indulge, well, what's better than Hartford House?

Being close friends with Mick and Cheryl Goss has a lot of upside. My braaimaster skills and his red wine have produced some memorable Graceland evenings. Mick's got the sense to know that whatever his cullinary abilities they would pale next to the master chef Jackie Cameron who runs the kitchen at Hartford House. So his reciprocation is often an invite to a dinner at the only five star boutique hotel housed on a major stud farm. Especially when interesting guests grace our district with their presence.

Last week was one of those memorable evenings. Remgro's top duo Thys Visser (CEO) and Jannie Durand (CIO) were convinced to overnight at Hartfordby their fellow Rainbow Chickens director Bill Lambert. Although I've known and admired Thys for years, this was the first time I'd met Bill Lambert, former Gold Circle chairman and, as you might expect, another infected with the horse disease. It's a pity, Bill is as articulate as he is charming - and judging by what Jannie Durand explained, deeply loyal too, a trait to admire.

Jannie, a Rhodes Scholar and former CEO of Venfin, was having his first visit to the Midlands. He promised to return soon. Hopefully Mr Visser will too. But I'm afraid despite Mick's best efforts - which included a personally guided tour and a close-up look at a covering - neither Thys nor Jannie opened their wallets to invest in our wonderful sport. Not yet, anyway.

The occasion was brightened by the inclusion of newcomers to the district, Cape Town asset manager William Meyer and his wife Claire. They've relocated to a farm called Balenso's that's directly opposite Summerhill and share their new home with a handful of warmbloods and even more dogs than Graceland's five. The other new faces for Jet and I were Midlands icons Guy and Di Smith - he the golf course developer of Prince's Grant and, more recently, Nottingham Road's spectacular Gowrie.

Guy is the elder brother of the Natal and SA wicketkeeper batsman "Titch", a man who has dedicated his life to serving God and does it by putting together projects that help hundreds of vulnerable people in rural KZN. Quite a family. Look forward to meeting Titch as well one day. Much that was said last evening will stay with me. Especially Guy's impassioned speech about breaking the commercial mould - chucking away return on investment calculations and, rather, to, instead, create the exceptional. He did that at Gowrie and has invited us to come see what's called "Guy's Folly" - a spectacular, massively over-capitalised home that dominates the development. Can't wait.

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