Charles Faull is a genius. Don’t take my word for it, listen to the sages. Twenty-five years ago, we brought the undisputed King of bloodstock analytics, Bill Oppenheim, to South Africa; an hour or two in Bill’s company has always been as good as a degree at Oxford. I took him to Form House (the old Rondebosch headquarters of Form Bloodstock, from whence have graduated the likes of Jehan Malherbe, Robin Bruss, James Bester and Oscar Foulkes) to meet the local guru, and we agreed I’d fetch Bill in an hour. Unusually, because Charles Faull keeps the oddest of hours, the meeting was scheduled for 8am: fourteen hours later, I was summoned to bring the ‘taxi’. As he climbed into the adjacent seat, my exhausted passenger exclaimed ‘the man is a genius’.
Charles Faull was the product of a union between two remarkably talented parents, the kind of people on whose labours South Africa’s post-war economic miracles were wrought: dedicated, determined and extraordinarily hard-working. George Faull was a deity among veterinarians, his mother Lesley, was a goddess of the culinary arts. I met them only briefly, but I knew their reputations, and the fact that decades on, citizens still speak reverently of them, tells us of the immensity of their endeavours. Yet there is nothing in genetics that could have predicted the birth of this colossus of the intellectual heritage in our sport, any more than the crossing of an Albert Einstein with a Madame Curie was guaranteed to deliver a Stephen Hawking. Yes, his parents were years ahead of their time, yes, they brought revolutionary innovations to their professions, and of course we’ve been blessed as a country in the great tomes of Sir Mordaunt Milner and Eppie Nelson. But Charles Faull’s work was sacrificial in its volume, significantly deeper in its research, uniquely intuitive and as lasting in its longevity as any work undertaken anywhere.
For many decades, the definitive international publication on horseracing was the ‘The British Racehorse‘, the one magazine which attracted the contributions of the world’s best scribes of the era. Its editor was the prolific Michael Seth-Smith, who as long ago as the year of Summerhill as we know it’s foundation (1979), recognised the value to international racing of Faull’s Volume One of the Stallion Register. ‘It’s apparent that many of your own leading racing personalities have already recorded their acclaim and approval on the excellent contribution you’ve made to South African racing. Now it’s the turn of those outside of South Africa to give you deserved praise’.
‘I have no doubt that editors of stallion registers in other parts of the world will wish to take your publication as the Utopian standard that they hope to attain’. Coming from that quarter, you’d have thought there was no higher praise. Yet, by the time of the publication of his fourth volume, The Cape Times added its voice to the throng of Faull-worshippers, proclaiming that ‘racing in this country can be divided into two eras: pre Charles Faull and post-Charles Faull. No-one acquainted with his contribution to the industry can doubt this: the Form Stallion Register, each of its four volumes of lasting value, speaks for itself.’
Infuriatingly controversial to some, grossly enriching to others, Charles Faull never let a deadline get in the way of perfection. For him, the journey was what mattered, not the destination; so when his publications hit the bookshops, they were works of art, not mere catalogues of information. An idealist in the purest sense of the word, he epitomises the line that seperates genius from madness, that makes his stories more searching, more beguiling and more incisive than those of the mortal tribe. According to The Cape Times, Faull accumulated his share of enemies and detractors, some so deeply rooted in tradition that they were unable to comprehend his vision, others who saw change as a threat to their own vested interests. They attacked him with unprecedented ferocity, as he endeavoured to drag South African racing kicking and screaming, from 19th into 20th century thinking. It says much for Faull’s resilience that he persisted in making racing a more open and entertaining sport for its biggest following, the punters. At the same time, he provided those whose interests rose above the immediate pleasures of the Pick Six, with a mass of stimulating information, statistics and challenges’.
His recollections of the game are irresistible, his passion is insurmountable, and if you’ve ever been on the margins of racing, I caution you, an hour or two in his company can be addictive. Yet Charles Faull’s brush has coloured the landscapes far beyond the academic realm: the three champion sires Royal Prerogative, Dancing Champ, Western Winter and the current log leader Trippi, are all part of his and Jehan Malherbe’s legacy to the nation’s breeding affairs. In a game in which the stakes are higher than most, their hit rate in the stallion selection business, stands alone. Royal Prerogative was the only son of Relko anywhere on the planet to make a stallion: against those odds, Charles Faull picked him. At a time when the jury was out (and so it remained) on the sons of Nijinsky, he recommended Dancing Champ; long before Gone West earned his mantra as a ‘sire-of-sires’, his son Western Winter was in our midst. That’s what in racing parlance we call ‘the inside track’.
Just a year ago, debilitating illness took its toll, and there were some who thought time was catching up. It’s a mark of the man and all that has propelled him to where he is today, that he’s on the mend, and while his doctors maintain a ban on aeroplanes, we’re betting he’ll be here on the first Monday of July to regale us with his tales. And again on the Tuesday. Beware, enthusiasm can be infectious.