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Racehorse Trainers



Paul Gadsby
Paul Gadsby

Paul Gadsby

(Photo : Heather Morkel)


Greyville Racecourse

4 June 2011 

Amorette Kramer, the girl you talk to at the Summerhill horse office and who greets you with such enthusiasm when you visit, was in touch with Paul Gadsby earlier this week for a report on Black Wing’s preparation for his meeting with destiny in the Daily News 2000 (Gr.1) tomorrow.

Here’s the report :

“Saturday will be Black Wing’s acid test, as he comes up against the best of his contemporaries. I’ve always thought he was Group One material, and a good run on Saturday will confirm my opinion of him. We’re saddled with the outside draw, sadly, but there’s nothing we can do about that, and we only hope he makes the money. We’ve lost his regular rider, Shaun Veale, to injury, but we have a capable replacement in Ian Sturgeon. The horse couldn’t be better in himself, and he’s champing at the bit for his big day”.




Black Wing trained by Paul Gadsby
Black Wing trained by Paul Gadsby

Black Wing

(Photo : Gold Circle)


A horse on the way to the “Tops”

Setting up in business for your own account, particularly in the times we live in, can be daunting. Doing so as a racehorse trainer when prospective owners are bound to have constraints on their discretionary incomes, can be petrifying. At the very least, you need some backing, and especially, you need some luck.

One such man is Paul Gadsby, who’s ridden life (and a few horses) by the seat of his pants, and who branched out recently (for the second time), to train for his own benefit. A hustler of note from way back, Paul has some novel ways of getting going, one of which is creating enough sympathy with the suppliers of horses, (and enough faith or trust with the same people) to enable him to buy horses at the right prices, and on the “never never”. In these circumstances, you obviously need to take a few chances with a few marginal horses, but Paul knows that at Summerhill, you can bring your jockey (or yourself, if you were one, as he was), to test the horses before you put your dough down. Last year this time we had a few horses left over, and Paul arrived to try a couple. One such animal was a big, long backed son of Kahal from an old Summerhill family emanating from the top race filly Final Wonder, the family that gave us SA Classic winner, Last Watch, and the top Joburg filly of the present time, Salutation.

Acceptable specimen that he was, Black Wing did not have the best of “wheels”, but he moved like a good horse, and being the good horseman he was, Paul was able to identify this.

For R50,000 (on extended terms!), he drove off with Black Wing in tow, and the rest, as they so often say, is history. Last night he trotted up for the third time in succession, and he looks like a horse on his way to the “tops”. Where the top bottoms out, nobody knows, but for the time being, Paul Gadsby can dream. Here is a horse who’s defied God’s engineering, and with a bit of luck, he’ll be taking on some of the best of his best contemparies in the KZN Winter season. Who knows, he might even line up for a few Group Ones.




solskjaer and mike de kock
solskjaer and mike de kock

“…more than one judge ‘clocked’ the Solskjaers.”

Last year, he labelled the Way Wests, and we all know what they’ve done since. This time, he singled out the Solskjaers for the way they travelled.

But at the Summerhill gallops, there was more than one judge that “clocked” the Solskjaers.

That’s the beauty about the Ready To Run. You get what you see, and there’ve been more than a few “bargains” for those willing to back their judgement.


summerhill stud, south africa
summerhill stud, south africa

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stanley greeff
stanley greeff

Stanley Greeff

(Photo : Summerhill Stud Archives) 


1928 - 2010

mick goss
mick goss

Mick GossPort Elizabeth lost two of its most venerated sons on the same day. No sooner had we posted a piece on Nic Claassen, when the news had broken that the elder statesman of Port Elizabeth trainers, Stanley Greeff had gone to greener pastures. That’s only an assumption of course. These two were capable of some extraordinary pranks and they may not have made the cut for the Elysian Fields; i.e. they could be burning firebreaks!

For us though, when we think of racing in Port Elizabeth, we immediately think of Uncle Stan. Put another way, you can scarcely think of East Cape racing without him, not only for the time he’s been around, but for what he’s contributed to the game.

Very few trainers in history can claim to have had so long an unbroken stint of more than a 100 winners a season, and to put that into context, we need to remember that East Cape racing is a once-a-week affair, unlike many other centres. Joined at the hip with his talented son, Alan, the old boy presided over a seamless transition when it was time to hand over the reins, but that diminished his interest and enthusiasm not one iota. To this day, his influence and his hand in the affairs of Pine Lodge Stables is as evident as ever.

Stanley of course, was a “dyed-in-the-wool” horseman, if ever there was one, having served his time with the legendary likes of Terrance Millard, Ralph Rixon and Peter Kannemeyer, as an amateur rider in the early days of the Cape Hunt And Polo Club. Some years back, I saw a photograph of Stan in his jockey days at the guest cottage once occupied by Loskie Cohen (yes, the founder almost a century ago, of the famous Odessa Stud,) and while I always knew him as quite a bulky fellow, Stan was a mere reed in those days.

Fond of the most amusing fables of our sport, he was racing’s unofficial custodian of the anecdotes of his era. Not once, but many times, I urged him to let me bring a dictaphone to his home so that we could record these tales for posterity; sadly, like so many good intentions, it never happened. I know of numerous others who urged him to commit his memories to writing, because it was the affection so many held for him and the respect he attracted, that placed him at the centre of most of the escapades that made East Cape racing the colourful place it’s always been.

That legacy endures at Pine Lodge with Alan, as does the proud history this stable carries in the names of some of the finest broodmares this country has known. The likes of Sun Lass, Polly Bisqui, Soho Secret and Halo are as solidly represented in the main pages of our catalogues today as ever, and they will serve as a lasting memorial to this extraordinary man for decades to come.

As we’ve been reminding his family for the past few weeks, when death stared our old friend in the face, the memories are what will sustain us on from here. He bore his illness manfully, and he told me himself a fortnight ago that he’d had a wonderful innings, and had no regrets.

Rest well, old pal, custodian of our stories.

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nic claassen with 2008 allan robertson winner geepee s
nic claassen with 2008 allan robertson winner geepee s

Nic Claaseen with Geepee S

2008 Allan Robertson Fillies Championship (Grade 1)

(Photo : Gold Circle)


1926 - 2010

mick goss
mick goss

Mick GossThere are many who will tell you that racing is character building. Whether or not that is true, one thing is for certain : it’s not short of characters. Nic Claasen was one of them.

My personal association with this colourful man goes back to 1969, when I was doing my basic training in the South African Defence Force. In those days, we used to make reverse charge calls when we were short of money (which I always was) and Nic Claasen was a telephone operator. Those that knew the system of collect calls, will remember that we were required to give our name to the operator, so that when he connected you with the number you wished to speak to, he could enquire whether the receiver was willing to accept the charges. Upon disclosure of my surname “Goss”, Nic enquired whether I was related to the Gosses of St Pauls fame, and hero of the 1946 Durban July.

This was my grandfather’s horse, remembered still as the smallest ever winner of Africa’s greatest horserace. Nic proceeded to tell me that in the year of St Pauls, he was an operator in the former Lourenço Marques, capital city of Mozambique. In those days, the big bookmakers (and we mean the really big ones) used to frequent the Polana Hotel, one of the African continent’s most famous hostelries. These men lived in spectacular luxury, and ran their Johannesburg-based businesses by telephone, remembering that in those days telephones were crank jobs, and nothing could be achieved without a connection through the operator.

Booking a trunk call meant sitting around waiting for it to come through, in some cases for hours. In the event, Nic became the “messenger” laying their bets and accepting odds through his exchange. For a modestly rewarded telephonist in the civil service, Nic was at once elevated to a position of unusual power, privy to all this remarkable information about the chances of horses at the races.

It turns out, as much as anything, that my grandfather Pat’s reservation of the Kew Hotel for the victory celebrations some 3 months before the race, was fuelling the frenzy, and every nanny and granny it seems, was on board. Imagine Nic’s amazement then, when he witnessed the odds on a former “pony and galloway” handicapper (as St Pauls was,) firming from 66/1 to 10/1, despite his outside draw, and history’s reminder that no horse had ever won from there.

Nic’s plunge on St Pauls was the stuff of a titan. The proceeds bought him his discharge from the Post Office; he acquired his first house and he funded his beginnings as trainer with what was left.

Nic distinguished himself in his field in both Johannesburg and the Eastern Cape. He and Stanley Greeff (another dear friend, who is stricken with illness as we write) are the doyens of East Cape trainers, and between them, they could probably tell more stories than the rest of the industry coupled together. Apart from his training talents, you knew when you dealt with Nic Claasen, that a deal was a deal, and that his word was his bond. Our association goes back to a R5,000 purchase by the name of Mount McKinley, who was 2nd for Andre Macdonald in the South African Derby (Gr.1) of 1983. Other standouts included Grade One winners, Forest King, Forest Fantasy and Geepee S.

Racing has its share of characters. Nic Claasen was up there with the best.




equus awards champion breeders summerhill stud
equus awards champion breeders summerhill stud

Equus Champion Breeder - Team Summerhill Stud

(Photo : JC Photographics)


“Extract from The Witness”

In what must be the tightest held championship in horse racing, Mooi River-based Summerhill Stud won the National Breeder’s title for a sixth consecutive year at a glittering function at Emperors Palace, Johannesburg, on Thursday evening.

In all of its 112 years of recorded history, the Breeders’ Premiership has resided in the hands of only six farms, and Summerhill is the first on this side of the Drakensberg.

“It’s a great tribute to a fine stock-raising environment, a great climate and one of the best teams in the world. Racing in South Africa is as competitive as it comes, and you have to give your A-game every time your horses step onto a racecourse, because there are thousands of spectators out there commentating”, said an obviously delighted Mick Goss, CEO of Summerhill.

The Midlands nursery not only eclipsed their nearest rivals by more than R10 million, but they also produced the highest stakes earner for the season, with Pierre Jourdan amassing R3,175 million from eight starts. Just a fortnight ago, another product of the farm, Hear The Drums, became the winning-most horse in history, with thirty-three victories.

Another signal achievement on an evening of many outstanding feats, fell to Mike de Kock, who set a new earnings record of more than R22 million. His achievements across the globe are legendary, and there are many in racing internationally who rate De Kock the best in his profession anywhere.

summerhill stud south africa
summerhill stud south africa

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raymond ellis receiving the kings cup from his majesty the king
raymond ellis receiving the kings cup from his majesty the king

Raymond Ellis receiving the 1947 King’s Cup

(Photo : Summerhill Stud Archives)


1 August 2009 - 31 July 2010

Africa’s first Fifa World Cup is not the only reason we’ll remember 2010. For Summerhill, it marked the greatest year in our history, and if you take that back to the founding of the farm in 1875, we’re talking of 135 years. There are deep layers of consequential history in the Summerhill and Hartford stories, and one of them, from the horse perspective, dates to the point at which the mighty Ellis machine first rolled into action.

Sir Mordaunt Miller recognised the feats of Raymond Ellis and his team in his writings which saluted the great owner-breeders of their era, including the Aga Khan and Lord Derby, the Frenchman Boussac, the Italian Tesio, the Americans Phipps and Hancock, and the Claiborne and Calumet farms. In the same breath, he spoke of A.R. Ellis of Hartford, the only farm on the African continent to warrant a mention.

When we came here, we inherited the responsibility of trying to fill the biggest shoes South African racing had known, and there was a symbolic dimension that marked the beginning of that awesome era. There is a sculpture in the Hartford garden, a creation of da Vinci’s mentor, Verrocchio which dates to the 1420’s. It owes its presence to a former Tesio head groom, who spent his prisoner-of-war incarceration on the property. The arrival of this sculpture in 1945 heralded the beginning of the trente glorieuses, the three decades of unprecedented Ellis prosperity on South Africa’s racecourses. While the names and the faces have changed, the sculpture is still there, presiding over a new period of prosperity.

With the conclusion of the 2010 racing season on Saturday, Summerhill became the only entity in Arcsa and Equus Awards history to garner six consecutive championships in any category. The same day, Northern Guest surged to his ninth Broodmare Sires’ title; equalling the great Mr. Prospector’s world record, while Pierre Jourdan became the season’s biggest stakes earner with R3,175million. If that wasn’t enough, Hear The Drums’ 33rd victory last week, made him the winningmost racehorse of all time. Summerhill’s almost R19 million in stakes earnings constituted a new and significant record for any one stud in any season, with a margin between ourselves and the runners-up of more than R10 million.

Among trainers, Mike de Kock, already recognised as one of, if not thebest trainer in the world, pushed his stable’s earnings past R21 million with a memorable one-two in Saturday’s Vodacom Durban July. There’s not much more this man can do domestically, but his ambitions and talents are limitless, and no doubt, there’s far more to this story than we already know.

On the jockey’s front, Anton Marcus’ world class professionalism guaranteed him the championship in thoroughly deserving style, while the indefatigable Jet Master grabbed yet another sires’ title.

From one Champion team to our Champion colleagues, well done. Relish the moment. This is the mountain top.

summerhill stud south africa
summerhill stud south africa

For more information please visit :




Stakes (ZAR)


Mike de Kock



Sean Tarry



Charles Laird



Mike Bass



Justin Snaith



Glen Kotzen



Joey Ramsden



Gavin Smith



Gary Alexander



Alan Greef







Anton Marcus



Felix Coetzee



Anthony Delpech



Piere Strydom



MJ Byleveld



Karl Neisius



Bernard Fayd’Herbe



Muzi Yeni



Sherman Brown



Warren Kennedy





Stakes (ZAR)


Summerhill Stud



Ascot Stud



Klawervlei Stud



Lammerskraal Stud






Normandy Stud






Scott Bros



D Cohen & Sons



Maine Chance





Stakes (ZAR)


Jet Master






Captain Al



Fort Wood






Western Winter



Parade Leader













Broodmare Sire

Stakes (ZAR)


Northern Guest






Al Mufti



Model Man






Fort Wood






Qui Danzig



National Assembly



Badger Land


Figures courtesy of Sporting Post as at 31 July 2010




grafton street
grafton street

Grafton Street

(Photo : Gold Circle)


The final Vodacom July field has been announced, and between now and the 31st July, there’ll be any amount of conjecture about the winner. Mike de Kock has a record seven runners in the field, and the other Mike, Bass, has four. Between them, they make up more than half the field, and that’s probably without precedent. Their runners also dominate the betting boards, but that’s not what today’s column is about. We’ll talk about the likely outcome closer to the race, and probably after the final gallops on Thursday.

Meanwhile though, we’ve got another story which reminds us why we like racing. It involves the eight year old, Grafton Street, who’s overcome just about every challenge in life to earn his place on July Day, and while it’s not in the “big one”, he is in the consolation, having missed the cut by the slimmest of margins. Firstly, we should remember he’s the property of a dyed-in-the-wool horse “nut”, Margaret Filmer, a lady who lives for her horses, and who’s been associated through her breeding operations with a number of top-class animals.

Grafton Street kicked off life as an inmate of the highly successful Glen Kotzen yard, and performed manfully in his first career, stringing together five victories despite the odd issues that threatened to curtail his walk to the top. There came a time, at the end of his five year old career, when both owner and trainer decided to call it a day, and so this gelded son of Jallad was given away to a riding school. He spent a year and a half there, when Margaret gave the enigmatic but affable horseman, Mike Stewart, a call, asking him to take the horse into his wife Ingrid’s trails yard, where he might live out his days in the idyllic surroundings of Noordhoek beach, just about the southernmost livery yard and training facility in Africa.

Always a “victim” for such a ploy, Mike readily agreed, but he tells us that when he saw Grafton Street alight from the float, he looked to be in pretty good shape, and he suggested to Margaret that they give him a three or four month trial back in training.

The rest, as they say, is history. He quickly strung together three victories, and earned himself a place in the card for Africa’s greatest raceday. Whatever happens on the Saturday after next, doesn’t really matter. It’s enough that this old warrior earned himself a place as close to the top table as you could wish for, but if you’re a Mike Stewart believer, (and you’d have good cause, given his track record), you’d have to think, come what may, he’ll be giving them hell at the business end.




river jetez
river jetez

River Jetez - J&B Met 2010

(Photo : Gold Circle)


Greyville, 31 July 2010

david thiselton
david thiselton

David Thiselton Gold CircleVodacom Durban July pundits around the country will be asking during the next two weeks “where is that German octopus when we need him” and the man with seven horses in this year’s race, Mike de Kock, agreed that the form leading into the big race also has him “stumped”.

Mike de Kock began by saying that he was happy with his horses’ draws. “We’ve got the whole field covered although the 19 and 20 draws have been reserved for me as usual.” Talking of the pace he said, “They tell me Red Rake likes to stride along, but I’m not sure that suits him best. We might actually want it slower for some of our horses, but we will discuss tactics closer to the time.”

He confirmed that all seven of his horses were doing very well before adding, “I have no real fancies among them. The weights might have swung aganst some of the three-year-olds, but have swung into Lizarre’s favour. If you look at his last race in the Pinnacle Plate he went close despite the slow pace, so it was a very good run. Now he has a pull in the weights with the older horses there (although he doesn’t have a pull with the three-year-old winner Flying Tristram). He also has a pull in the weights with Irish Flame and Bold Silvano from the Daily News 2000. He has an obvious chance, but then he is drawn 20.”

Bold Silvano and Irish Flame are both very, very well. There are two schools of thought regarding the three-year-olds these days. Firstly history would say they have a lot to do at the weights. But secondly a lot of the best older horses have left the country, which could be why the three-year-olds have been dominant. The race this year is also at the end of the month which gives the three-year-olds a weight-for-age advantage. The three-year-olds have campaigned much more against the older horses this year due to the race being at the end of July. But I can’t really make my mind up about them.”

“The form is so topsy turvy. Bold Silvano beat Aslan in the Greyville 1900, but Aslan’s subsequent form hasn’t seen that form stand up. Orbison was well beaten in Jo’burg, but then comes and runs the race of his life in the Champions Cup.

“But in that race two horses that turned for home in the first three were first and second and the second horse, Galileo’s Galaxy, was previously well beaten in a Pinnacle Plate and only just scraped home in a Graduation Plate against Directorate. But then again Flying Tristram’s form when beating Orbison in the Cup Trial stood up as he then won the Pinnacle Plate against Fort Vogue, Rudra, Lizarre and Aslan. The form is so upside down it has me stumped, but it is the three-year-olds that have thrown it like that by beating older horses.”

De Kock’s views on the three-year-olds have particular meaning this year as five of his seven runners - Irish Flame, Bold Silvano, Lizarre, Happy Valley and Ancestral Fore - are three, with his couple of older horses, Red Rake and Rudra, both being five.

De Kock said of the dangers from other yards, “The one horse that sticks out like a sore thumb to me is River Jetez. Whatever beats her will win. She is the one horse the handicapper has not been able to get his paws on to.” Regarding whether he reckoned River Jetez would stay a true 2200m or not, he said, “In 2008 she hit the front too soon and is an older stronger filly today.”

He did not see the Jeff Lloyd July jinx as a factor in River Jetez’s chances, “Muis Roberts had a July jinx but that didn’t stop him pipping me in 1997!” The Roberts-ridden Super Quality beat Golden Hoard by 0,75 lengths in that race and also ended something of a July jinx for the Ferraris family.

De Kock also mentioned Pocket Power, saying that although he was virtually eight-years-old he was yet to run a bad race.


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mike de kock
mike de kock

Mike de Kock - Racehorse Trainer Extraordinaire

(Photo : Emirates Racing Authority/Mike de Kock Racing)

“…likely to have five or six of the

Durban July final 20”

mike moon
mike moon

Mike Moon

The TimesThis country has a gift for producing outstanding individuals in many fields - thoroughbred racing included. 

The list of homegrown superstars includes Mike de Kock - racehorse trainer extraordinaire, respected wherever hooves thunder.

We know all about De Kock’s feats abroad, burnishing the name of South African thoroughbred racing and breeding wherever he goes. No trainer in the world ranges as fearlessly.

But it’s at home that he’s displaying supremacy at the moment.

At Clairwood last weekend, De Kock saddled the winners of three of the five graded races on the card. He had a fourth trophy denied by a boardroom ruling on in-running interference, and was not far off in the fifth big one.

This tour de force capped a recent golden run, including the Canon Gold Cup the week before - when he sent out Ancestral Fore to overturn decades of precedent and sling dung in the faces of “experts” who said a three-year-old couldn’t prevail in the marathon. Yuck, spit.

Big Mike’s stake earnings for the season are approaching R19-million. That’s R2-million more than the season record - and there are three weeks of the term still to run.

It culminates in the Durban July on July 31, and who would bet against our hero scooping that too. He trains 11 of the 51 horses entered for the race, and is likely to have five or six of the final field of 20 - including favourite Irish Flame.

Mike de Kock grew up in Alberton in the 1970s and ’80s, alongside the old Newmarket racecourse, and fell in love with horses and racing at an early age while gazing over fences at the wondrous beasts as they trained and raced.

A school friendship with David Ferraris, son of Ormond - a training legend - led to a job as a stable hand.

By December 1988, De Kock was a full assistant trainer with Ricky Howard-Ginsberg. When his boss died suddenly of a heart attack, the yard’s leading patrons agreed to let the promising youngster take the reins.

The rest is history. After proving to be reasonably good at his job, in 1995 De Kock got a phone call from Bridget Oppenheimer, offering him horses to train. Figuring this was a prank call, he sarcastically brushed off the well-spoken woman and hung up.

An amused Mrs O got her stud man-ager to call the brash southern suburbs boykie. A swift apology to the grand lady of the turf proved to be a launching pad to propel De Kock to the heights of international racing.

For one early Oppenheimer arrival at the De Kock yard was a colt destined to become South Africa’s best racehorse of all time : Horse Chestnut.

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mike bass and river jetez
mike bass and river jetez

Mike Bass : “His horses do the talking for him…”

(Photo : Gold Circle)



Racing is good sport. It’s a great sport, when you see a Pierre Jourdan or a Pocket Power. It isn’t always good business. Racing is a way of living, and a way of thinking. It has its own language and its own humour. It is loaded with danger, physical and financial, and it comes with a hint of conspiracy. It doesn’t necessarily build character, but it throws up some great characters.

Like Syd Laird, who once so simply explained his outrage at being short-headed in a July. “I don’t mind losing” he said, “I just don’t like getting beat”.

Think of Damon Runyon. Yes, he was American, but he spoke in the endless present tense for all who play the horses. He gave us the line that explains any outrage that happens on any racecourse, anywhere “Well, it is racing”. Or Andrew Fortune : “Second sucks”.

Or the great Syd Garrett, whose legacy still flows in the veins of Charles Laird, Alec Laird and Dennis Drier. A council inspector once told Syd he had too many flies around his stables.”How many am I allowed to have?”. Syd asked him, ever reasonable.

And there is Mike Bass, who once preferred to say nothing when his horses came home, not publicly any way. People used to stare at him, like they were gazing at the Mona Lisa, guessing what he was thinking. Mike’s horses did the talking for him. They spoke well.



mike de kock trained irish flame wins daily news 2000
mike de kock trained irish flame wins daily news 2000

Irish Flame - Daily News 2000 (Grade 1)

(Photo : Gold Circle) 



Many things have been written about Mike de Kock, so when he boots home first and second in a Group One, we take it rather matter-of-factly. This was the case in the Daily News 2000 on Saturday, it hardly warranted a mention. Nor did it dawn on too many, that in that instant, de Kock had pretty much sewn up the Trainers title for 2010.

Considering that many of his best are campaigning abroad, the achievement is magnified, and credence is given to those who say he is the best at his profession in the world. When the crowd pressed on the Greyville Winners Box as Irish Flame and Bold Silvano returned to scale, one tough cookie yells in a Benoni accent “If ever I get a good one, this man has to train it”. You wonder what de Kock ever did to deserve this!

He’s the man everyone wants to know. He seems to have become the idol of the social set to which he never belonged, and to which, you suspect, he would never want to belong. He doesn’t conform. He can’t; he wasn’t born like the rest of us.


1 August 2009 - 6 June 2010


Stakes (ZAR)



Win %

Stks/Runs (ZAR)






























































diane and mike de kock
diane and mike de kock

Diane and Mike de Kock

(Photo : Mike de Kock Racing / Classic Lifestyle)

“I have a passion and I connect with horses…” Diane de Kock

In this enjoyable read, Nicci Garner of Racing Express gets behind the scenes in Mike de Kock’s engine room, where wife Diane prepares the stable’s young horses for their hard and competitive careers on the racetrack.

“A wife is essential to great longevity; she is the receptacle of half a man’s cares, and two-thirds of his ill-humour” - quotation from Charles Read, English novelist and dramatist.

That poignant song “Wind Beneath My Wings” (Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar) could have been written for Diane de Kock, the wife who held it all together while her husband travelled the world to become famous in international racing circles.

Mike de Kock’s triumphs and disappointments are well chronicled. Through the jet-setting ride that has been his life for the last decade, Diane has been at his side for the most important occasions but on the whole many miles away, fiercely and routinely holding to a hectic schedule that has entailed caring for their children, Mathew (who last year became assistant trainer to his father) and Kirsten, who loves to dance and wants to become a journalist, training the stable’s young horses and maintaining a healthy social life.

She also finds time for philanthropic endeavours and recently organised a “Know Your Status” drive at Randjesfontein. Nearly half the workforce at the training centre was tested for HIV-Aids because of her initiative.

And the pretty blonde has thrived on the lifestyle.

After all, though being a mother comes naturally to her, horses are her obsession; have been since she was a toddler watching her father, Johnny Cawcutt, rip away from the opposition in Cape races.

“My dad was champion jockey in Cape Town for 16 years (national champion twice). He didn’t really want me or my three sisters to ride, but my younger sister Mechele and I persuaded him to let us learn.”

“We’d go every morning to ride work for my Uncle Lesley (Cawcutt) and every Saturday would go with Dad to watch the races at Kenilworth. Of course, we weren’t allowed into the course, so we’d watch from afar - from the car park at the end of the straight at Kenilworth.”

Johnny Cawcutt became a trainer when he retired, but by then Diane was riding work for Terrance Millard alongside the trainer’s daughter Carol (Woodruff). “We had lots of fun riding on the beach at Bloubosrand and even competed in the ladies’ races,” she remembers.

Did she want to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a jockey? “It wasn’t possible in those days. There were no women jockeys here, although Carol did ride overseas for a while.”

Diane’s two winners - Park Avenue and Critique, both for James Goodman - were hugely exciting and came after she relocated to Johannesburg in 1985 “just for a change”.

“I never wanted to be a trainer,” she said. “I just wanted to work with horses.”

She’d got a job as Goodman’s assistant trainer-cum-work rider. He was one of only four trainers based at Randjesfontein at the time. “He had a great string in those days and was really good to me.”

She and Mike, who was working for another “Randjes” trainer Robbie Sage before moving on to Ricky Ginsberg, soon started dating.

Ginsberg died unexpectedly in 1988 and Mike “inherited’’ the string from his boss. The following year Diane moved to work for him at Turffontein and three years later they got married.

“I carried on working for Mike until we had the kids. Then I eased off. We moved on to Mary Slack’s White Hills Farm when Mathew and Kirsten got a bit older and I started taking over the pre-training. It wasn’t planned, I just fell into it.”

Though they were only at White Hills for just over three years, Diane connected spiritually, emotionally and practically with the farm - more than any other place she has ever lived. It’s the place where she prepared horses like Victory Moon, physically and mentally, for their exertions at the highest level and where she lay next to and held Horse Chestnut’s full brother, Yellow Wood, as he died after a freak accident.

“White Hills had a beautiful track and lovely paddocks. It was a place where horses could just go to and chill, very relaxed. I’ve always joked that I got Victory Moon ready to win that first race in Dubai because both the White Hills track and Jebel Ali are uphill.”

Zirconeum, Musir and Raihana are all graduates of her pre-training and she celebrates every one of their successes nearly as emotionally as those of her children. She says: “I think, that’s your baby, running in Dubai! And I’m so proud of them when they win.”

“Perhaps my most special ‘baby’ was Zirconeum. She was very hot, and naughty. She could have been a real cow. But my best rider, Elliot (Maqelena) - he has the most beautiful hands on a horse - got her right by just sitting calmly on her. She eventually got the message that she didn’t have to jog everywhere. And sometimes I’d lead her home from the track. I tried everything and she eventually came right.”

She still misses White Hills, though. “I think the sales are especially stressful for horses and nowadays they’re coming back to Randjesfontein, straight into a racing environment. I don’t believe that it’s good for them so early in their careers, but I’ve made it work. Mike’s had more two-year-old runners, and winners, this season than ever before. He’s not buying a more precocious kind of horse. I think we’re doing it right early in their training, building bone density and getting them stronger.”

Diane, who gets to the stables at 6am every morning, wasn’t about to reveal all her secrets, but did admit that she had adjusted her pre-training methods over the years.

“It’s good grounding that’s worked the oracle,” she says. “We earn their trust and they know we won’t put them into bad situations, so they will walk on a float, or load into a starting stall.”

“I have a passion and I connect with horses. But I also have a wonderful staff and we’ve created a calming environment for our horses. Vivian, an absolute professional, and I are on top of it all the time, making sure everything runs smoothly because if we’re relaxed and calm, so are our staff and it’s passed on to the horses.

“I always tell my grooms (she employs 18), use your voice - talk to them because they listen. And don’t shout unless the horse is in the wrong. Patrick Kaye (Horse psychiatrist) taught his horse 300 words. So they’re not stupid!”

Of course, the horses often give them frights. “Mike says horses can be suicidal - and he’s right. When they run, they just run and will go through fences or anything in their way.”

What does she do with the flighty, uptight horses? “I try and fix it. I’ve found the treadmill is a good tool to get them focused and co-operative. But I’ll even look at horse psychiatry, if I think it’s necessary!”

They give her many laughs, as well, though. “One of my new yearlings saw our ‘white’ horse Happy Valley at the wash-bay and really got spooked. She just wouldn’t go past him. I wonder what she thought he was. Caspar?”

Diane uses every tool at her disposal. Apart from the treadmill, she also makes good use of the hot-walker and she’s in the process of building more paddocks so her horses can “chill” in a more natural environment than a stable.

The initial stages of pre-training for the 35 yearlings in her barn (another 14 are waiting to come in) is to lunge them with no saddle. “Horse Whisperers” all over the world use lunging to enhance their connection with the horse, as well as encouraging discipline and manners. After two weeks, they are fitted with a saddle to get them used to bearing weight. A week later, a rider is thrown up and they trot for a week in the paddock.

“Once we get them going forward confidently and they’re bored with paddock life, I start taking them to track in the afternoons when it’s nice and quiet. We take them to the trotting track and hack there for about a month, and then they start going to the track for their full pre-training.”

She says that yearlings nowadays are more ready for their new lives than ever before, a compliment to the breeders who have handled them extensively and got them used to bridles, hot-walkers and lunging.

She throws her heart into getting “her babies” ready to face their futures, then they’re gone; to the main yard at Randjes, “which is not so bad because I can still keep an eye on them”, or to Durban, or overseas, “which makes me really sad. It’s like saying goodbye to my kids”.

But then new horses come in to absorb her, and the cycle begins again. “I love them all. They’re my life and I don’t know what I’d do without them.”

“And it’s all made possible by my mentor, Mike, who gives me lots of advice and guidance.”

Extract from



charles laird racehorse trainer
charles laird racehorse trainer

Charles Laird

(Photos : Summerhill Stud Archive)



A name like Charles Sydney Laird suggests he could be descended from the English gentry. He isn’t. He is, in fact a racehorse trainer, a third generation “victim” of an incurable disease connected with horses. And at the close of the 2008 racing season, measured by prize money, he was Africa’s best.

For the past five years, he’s been the dominant force at South African bloodstock sales, wherever they happen. He doesn’t want much, just perfection. Not necessarily the breeder’s idea of perfection either, which is to say the yearlings by the hot sire from a Group One winning mare. Laird, by and large, is a conformation man. He buys chassis, rather than from a catalogue page. He cares little for fashions, crosses, dosages or astrology. He does have a reverence though, for events that remind him of greatness.

Like families that have served him well, or horses that were capable of defeating his own Champions, if only occasionally. If they score well as types, he’s happy to pay a tad over the odds. He has some eye. Most years, despite the prices, his charges end in the black. And then you have to bring to account the residual value, when the animal goes to stud. The stallion landscape is dotted with ex Laird initiates.

Buying a yearling, anywhere, is like being shown a sleek car. You get to inspect the chassis, but the problem is the engine is in a second compartment. You can only guess whether it has two rubber bands or a V8.

In the end, the more successful “pickers” rely on two things. The ability to divine big motors, number one. And relationships. These grown out of a familiarity with the “suppliers”, the stud farms, and the regularity with which they churn out the big race winners. Some call it “trust”. Others would say “upbringing”. If you go to the Breeders’ Log on the left of this page, you can see how ours have been brought up!

summerhill stud genuine article
summerhill stud genuine article

For more information please visit :

or call Kerry Jack

+27 (0) 82 782 7297




bobby frankel and ginger punch
bobby frankel and ginger punch

Bobby Frankel and Ginger Punch

(Photo : The Florida Horse/Slam)


Few people in South Africa will know the late Bobby Frankel, but Americans will tell you, he was one of the all-time greats, and a rare inductee to their Hall of Fame, as a fabled trainer.

He passed away recently, and Mike Rogers (whom we deal with for Champion U.S. Breeders, Adena Springs and their founder, Frank Stronach) posted this piece on a man who clearly understood his priorities.

Leading up to the 2007 Breeders’ Cup at Monmouth Park, all of us in the Stronach Stable camp were excited at the prospect of Ginger Punch’s participation in the Ladies’ Classic. Five days out, I received a call from Bobby Frankel. In typical Bobby fashion, there was minimal small talk before he cut to the chase. He informed me that he would be unable to attend the Breeders’ Cup, going into detail regarding his dog Happy’s unfortunate medical condition and his decision to remain in California with her. My initial reaction was a simple “really?” Bobby asked me to respectfully relay the information to Mr. and Mrs. Stronach. I assured him that I would pass along the circumstances surrounding his decision to Frank and Frieda.

I immediately called Frank and relayed Bobby’s message. Frank’s response was identical to my own: “really?” Frank then requested that I get Bobby on the line so he could speak to him directly. I was apprehensive - my gut reaction was that the conversation would not go over very well with either of them.

I reached Bobby and told him that I had Frank on the line. It was easy to sense Bobby’s own apprehension with his simple, “Hi, Frank.” Following a pregnant pause, Frank said in the most caring voice, “Bobby, how’s your dog?” I gave a strong sigh of relief, and I’m certain Bobby did as well. Bobby went on to explain that his dog was not doing very well, and he was uncomfortable leaving her in California. After the two of them talked about Happy, Frank asked Bobby how Ginger Punch was doing. Bobby replied that she was ready to run the race of her life, and there was nothing more he could do for her. Frank finished the call, saying, AOK Bobby, you look after Happy and we’ll look after Ginger.”

I will always remember the feeling I had when I hung up after listening to two immensely successful, yet very misunderstood men. They each managed to show great respect for what was important to the other man.

Ginger Punch went on to run exactly as Bobby predicted. Her Breeders’ Cup victory was her crowning achievement and ultimately led to a coveted Eclipse Award. Happy lived a little while longer with Bobby close to her side, but ultimately succumbed to her illness. Bobby eventually acquired two new dogs. His choice of names was a very fitting tribute to one of the many champions that he trained during his remarkable Hall of Fame career: Ginger and Punch.

We will all miss him.

Mike Rogers



charles laird
charles laird

Please click above to enlarge

(Photo : Summerhill Stud)


One of Summerhill’s most enduring and rewarding associations going back more than two decades, is with what is now known as the Charles Laird Racing Stable. With traditions stretching back almost eighty years in our case, and more than a century in theirs, our two families have a common respect and admiration for the sport of racing, and no family in a long and distinguished history of trainers in this country has bought more honour to their profession than the Lairds.

The names of Syd Garrett and Syd Laird, Charles and his cousins Alec and Dennis Drier have all created their own spaces in thoroughbred lore, and the latest saga in this great tradition is Charles’ first Championship as the nations leading trainer, which will be consummated with the close of racing’s business this calendar year at midnight on the 31st July. Already in an unassailable position, this is a championship we can already celebrate, and given the number of great horses that have passed to greatness between our respective organisations to greatness under Charles’ tutelage, Summerhill will not only be celebrating its own fifth consecutive Breeders Championship, but we’ll be remembering with considerable pleasure what Charles has achieved this year.

As dedicated and talented a horseman as this country has produced, he’s a stickler for planning and organisation and within the ranks of his business, there’s no such thing as a “minor” detail. Having to manage a string of its current proportions, is no mean feat, and Charles has surrounded himself with some serious professionals, all of whom who’ve contributed in no small way to the outcome we write of.

As we do so, we remember the names of Nhlavini, Rebel King, Bianconi, Pick Six, and Amphitheatre, among many, and a history of support at the sales and a parallel love of the game, and all we can say is, you’ve put the ghosts of last season well and truly behind you, old pal. We salute you and a remarkable team. We know what it takes ourselves, so from one champion team to another, well done.

P.S. The ghosts of last season emanated from a healthy lead going into the last month of the racing year, followed by a ding-dong battle with as formidable an opponent as the world could’ve produced, that of the Mike de Kock yard. The lead for the championship changed hands every successive weekend of the final month, punch for punch, race by race, at the final meeting of the year, to the very last event of the day.

The stuff of racing journalists and television, but not for the men who finished 2nd or 3rd. Goes to show though – you can’t get a top man down.

IMBONGI : Arlington Million charge for The Warrior

mike de kock and imbongi
mike de kock and imbongi

Mike de Kock and the warrior Imbongi

(Photo : John Lewis/DRC)

“Mike de Kock considering Arlington Million for Imbongi”

Following Imbongi’s fighting third in Saturday’s Summer Mile Stakes at Ascot, Mike de Kock is now considering an Arlington Million charge for the African Warrior.

Imbongi had made a successful British debut in the John Bovington Memorial Criterion Stakes (Gr3) at Newmarket over seven furlongs just two weeks ago, and followed that performance with Saturday’s Ascot Group Two third, being beaten only a length by Aqlaam who is rated 117 and is rumored to be heading for the Breeders’ Cup.

“That was a world-class run,” said trainer Mike de Kock. “We’re considering the Arlington Million next for Imbongi.”


catmandu and outcome for vodacom july
catmandu and outcome for vodacom july

Catmandu and Outcome

(Photo : Gold Circle/Summerhill)

“Thandolwami, Catmandu and Outcome -The Summerhill Soldiers”

Earlier this week, you read our piece on Thandolwami, and Craig Eudey’s remarks on his chances. One thing you’ve got to give Craig, he’s true to the saying “you cant get a good man down” and we know from our own discussions with him, he’s as bullish as anyone could be, taking on a horse of Pocket Power’s potency.

We have two other horses in the field however, and Outcome’strainer, MichaelMiller, is on record as saying that wherever River Jetez finshes, Outcome will be all over her. We had River Jetez’ trainer, Mike Bass and his wife Carol here over the weekend, and Mike thinks she has a live chance of lifting the silver. So if Mike Miller’s right, and Mike Bass is right, this could just turn out the Year of the Filly.

Our other representative, Catmandu, comes to Durban under the tutelage of AndreKirsten. He has to be one of the unluckiest horses in training, as he has a number of Group One performances under his belt, yet he remains a maiden as far as Feature race victories are concerned. Last year, we fancied him to kill in the July, expecting him to run right on the money, but he looked a somewhat tired horse in the finish, after a long and arduous campaign.

His form this year has been a little more in-and-out, yet if he gets his lines right, he’s a runner, no doubt about it. We spoke to Andre Kirsten this morning and he reported that Catmandu arrived in good shape in Durban yesterday, and with the weight difference this year, he must have a shout.

Tropical Empire - The Duncan Howells Strike

Duncan Howells and Tropical Empire
Duncan Howells and Tropical Empire

Duncan Howells and Tropical Empire

(Photos : Gold Circle)

“First Vodacom Durban July runner for Duncan Howells”

If the Duncan Howells-trained Tropical Empire strikes victory in Saturday’s Vodacom Durban July, he will become the first KZN-trained victor since the 1995 win by the Pat Shaw-trained Teal.

David Thiselton writes that Duncan Howells believes that he would know just half of what he knows about racehorses if it wasn’t for the influence of David Payne.

Duncan Howells, who has his first runner in the Vodacom Durban July on Saturday in the form of Tropical Empire, spent many years as David Payne’s assistant. “David was exceptional at preparing horses for big races,” said Howells. “One of the things he taught me was not to push the horse over the edge.”

Duncan Howells’ two Group 1 winners to date had similar betting odds when winning their respective big races as Tropical Empire’s current July price of 13-1.

In May’s Drill Hall Stakes over 1400m, Tropical Empire finished second beating Durban July second favourite River Jetez by a head. He will face her on 3kg better terms on Saturday.

In his last start he easily won the Betting World 1900 (Gr2).

“He’s fit and his blood picture is perfect. We have done everything we can.” said Duncan Howells yesterday.

Speaking about Tropical Empire’s pole position draw, Duncan Howells said “He’s a slight horse and from this draw won’t be knocked around.

“I’ve watched video replays of past Julys and the horses on the rail never turn for home more than five lengths back. There are no horses going backwards at that stage and he has a helluva turn of foot.”

He added that luck in running always played a part in the Vodacom July. Of the dangers Howells said, “I can’t have Kapil and I can’t have River Jetez from that draw. I think we’ve only got Pocket Power to beat.”

Duncan Howells says that Tropical Empire is not feisty, despite still being an entire, and is easy to work with. “He likes to lead the string out in the mornings and gets quite upset if he isn’t in front.”

With the wait after the hard work being a tense time for July connections, Duncan Howells says “I wish Saturday would arrive.”

Tropical Empire is an Australian-bred bay horse by Second Empire and is owned “Chips” Pennels and his wife Elma, together with Gary Westwater and Johan Meyer. Pennels’ only previous July runner was Tandaga, who finished eleventh in 1980.

Mike de Kock predicts Top 6 Vodacom July Battle

mike de kock and zirconeum
mike de kock and zirconeum

Mike de Kock

(Photo : Tab Online/Phumelela/Vodacom Durban July)

“Zirconeum, Bouquet-Garni and Forest Path - The MDK Attack”

The 2009 renewal of the Vodacom Durban July “will be fought out by the top six horses in the betting and the rest will live hoping and probably die hoping” so believes trainer Mike de Kock who has three three-year-olds in the race, and none of them are in the top six in the betting.

David Thiselton writes that Mike de Kock reports all three of his runners to be very well but lamented his bad luck with the draws.

Zirconeum, a Jallad filly, is drawn 19 and will be ridden by Anthony Delpech.

Bouquet-Garni, a Strike Smartly gelding out of a Fort Wood mare, is drawn 14 and will be ridden by MJ Byleveld.

Forest Path, a Fort Wood gelding, is drawn 20 and will be ridden by Warren Kennedy.

Interestingly, all three of Mike de Kock’s charges are Grade 1 winners.

There are only six other Grade 1 winners in the field of 20, Pocket Power, Our Giant, Buy And Sell, Smart Banker, Big City Life and Outcome.

His charges’ Grade 1 status would normally be enough for them to be in with a good chance but all three, even without their draws, have question marks over their heads and are consequently 40-1, 40-1 and 50-1 in the betting respectively.

Mike de Kock rated Zirconeum as probably his best chance.

The question marks about her are that she is firstly 1kg under sufferance on merit rated terms and secondly has a stamina doubt over her head.

She quickened very well in the Champions Challenge but was run out of the placings late on to finish fifth, two lengths behind Smart Banker. The run suggested she hadn’t stayed the tough Turffontein 2000m.

She meets Smart Banker on 4kg worse terms in the July, although the weight for age scale has risen 2kg for three-year-olds since then, effectively making her only 2kg worse off.

She recently won the Grade 1 Woolavington at Greyville easily over just 200m shorter than the July, but that was against her own age and sex.

Kevin Shea was asked immediately after the race whether she would stay the July trip and replied, “You can never tell but being trained by Mike de Kock there is a good chance she will.”

The last filly to win the July was the world class Mike de Kock-trained three-year-old, Ipi Tombe. She was a class above Zirconeum and didn’t have as difficult a draw to contend with. She did face a probable stronger overall field though.

Bouquet-Garni won this season’s Grade 1 SA Derby over 2400m.

Mike de Kock felt there would have to be a fast pace for him to feature. He is a big galloping type and might not have the immediate turn of foot that is an advantage at Greyville.

Forest Path won a Grade 1 over 1400m as a juvenile at Greyville and won the Grade 1 SA Classic over 1800m at Turffontein this year.

However, the Johannesburg three-year-old form is much maligned this season and this horse is also a highly strung type who often wastes energy with his pre-race antics.

Mike de Kock felt that the top three-year-old in the country, the Glen Kotzen-trained Big City Life, had a chance on Saturday.

“He proved himself by finishing just two lengths behind Pocket Power at weight for age terms and with the weight turnaround since he must have a chance.”

He said that all four of his runners in the Grade 1 Golden Horseshoe for two-year-olds over 1400m, Solid Choice, Musir, Mr. Crazy Boy and Storm Vanadiso were very talented.

If he had to side with one it would be Musir.

“He ran off the course last time and might otherwise have beaten Solid Choice.”

However, he warned that he was not discounting Solid Choice.

“If he can overcome his wide draw and get a good position he will be a big runner too.”

He felt that 1400m might still be a touch sharp for Mr. Crazy Boy.

Mike de Kock lamented the wide draw for Gilded Minaret in the Grade 1 Garden Province but said she was very well.

Equal Image always runs well on July day,” he added before saying that the day’s racing was very competitive and the yard was hoping for good runs with all their charges.