j j the jet plane ascotJ J The Jet Plane, Ascot
(Photo : Daily Mail)

Mike de Kock and J J The Jet Plane have captivated the interest of the UK racing media in the buildup to Saturday’s Golden Jubilee Stakes where they will challenge for South African glory in the final Group 1 trophy of Royal Ascot 2009.

Following is an extract from yesterday’s edition of the UK’s Mirror, written by David Yates :

Royal Ascot
Saturday 20 June 2009, Race 3
The Golden Jubilee Stakes

“I feel the need… the need for speed…”

Australia plundered Saturday’s Golden Jubilee Stakes in 2003 with King’s Stand Stakes hero Choisir.

Two years later, the six furlong sprint - run at York while Ascot was being rebuilt - went to Hong Kong raider Cape Of Good Hope.

Now J J The Jet Plane is the bookies’ favourite to make racing history by taking the prize to South Africa.

But victory for the five-year-old would mark just the latest overseas plunder for Mike De Kock, the trainer who has made his name dispatching runners from his Johannesburg base to capture some of the biggest races on the planet.

A decade ago Mike de Kock came to Ascot with a view to sending his stable star Horse Chestnut for a clash with Europe’s top middle-distance cream in the King George.

The plan to run didn’t come off, but a sortie to America saw Horse Chestnut demolish his rivals in Gulfstream Park’s prestigious Broward Handicap - and Mike de Kock was bitten by the travel bug.

“In any sport, you want to pitch yourself against your peers abroad,” explains the 45 year-old Mike de Kock, who as a boy became fascinated by the goings-on at Johannesburg’s Newmarket racecourse, a couple of furlongs from his family home.

After a couple of years in the Equestrian Unit of the SA Defence Force, Mike de Kock learned his trade in the training ranks of his native city before taking out a licence in his own name in 1989.

“The ambition to run Horse Chestnut in the King George didn’t take place, but it was his win in America that whet my appetite for international competition.

“I came across to Ascot and I thought, ‘This is what I want.’ But you’ve got to have the horses to be competitive.

“Sitting in South Africa, you’re looking abroad and everything in America and England looks so big, and you’re almost nervous to have a crack at it.” The exploits of the ex-Zimbabwean mare Ipi Tombe, which included a track-record win in Dubai’s Group 1 Dubai Duty Free on World Cup night in 2003, established Mike de Kock as a force on the international scene.

“I felt Ipi Tombe was good enough to race abroad,” he recalls. “I felt, ‘If there’s a better horse, then I want to see it.” “We didn’t really know how competitive we would be until we took our horses abroad.”

“We thought she would be competitive, but I didn’t imagine she would win in Dubai like she did.”

Ipi Tombe was crowned Dubai Horse of the Year for 2003, while Mike de Kock topped the trainers’ list at its spring meeting five years running from 2004.

Last year he even improved Aidan O’Brien cast-offs Archipenko and Eagle Mountain to score at the highest level in Hong Kong last year.

But success at Royal Ascot represents uncharted territory for Mike de Kock, who recruited dual Group 1 winner J J The Jet Plane to race at the Dubai Carnival this spring.

A Group 3 winner at Nad Al Sheba in February, the gelded son of champion South African speedster Jet Master arrived at his summer base in Newmarket last month, before warming up for Ascot in a Listed sprint at Windsor.

J J The Jet Plane lived up to his odds of 4-7 by four lengths from Intrepid Jack, and Mike de Kock admits: “I would have been very disappointed if he’d got beat or struggled to win.”

“People have said it wasn’t a very accomplished field, but I’ve gone back on the form and the other horses have some pretty good form.”

“The second is rated 107 and we’ve given him 7lbs and a four-length beating, so J J’s got to be running very close to his mark and I thought it was a good win.”

“He’s a very straightforward horse. He’s got exceptional speed and he’s also got that kick, that stamina with his speed, that I think makes him a horse that is going to be competitive on the world stage.”

The nomadic life travelling from one major racing carnival to another suits Mike de Kock, who has no plans for permanent settlement in Britain, adding: “I’m very happy to follow the sun - it would be difficult for me to make a base because in the winter I don’t want to be here!” Weather-wise a British summer comes with no guarantees, but Mike de Kock is already an enthusiastic convert to the domestic racing programme.

“You get some unbelievable meetings here and some of the best horses in the world to race.”

The Derby is followed by Royal Ascot, which gets followed up by the July meetings, which gets followed up by York - Jesus, it doesn’t stop!”

“If I’ve got a top horse then I don’t believe there’s a place in the world that gives you the same value as England does - as a stallion or broodmare prospect.”

“You really, really are spoilt for really good racing at the top end.”