BAREND Botes said he was surprised to hear that he had saddled his 500th career winner last week when Fly North (Ryan Munger) won at the Vaal last week, a few days after his 50th birthday.

“I was wondering whether this was any kind of achievement, so I looked up my record and compared it to those of a few other trainers who are more prominent in racing circles than I am.

“I can probably say yes, I guess I haven’t done too badly, there are guys that were already training when I was an apprentice in the 1980s who are still training and have sent out fewer winners than me.”

Botes has held a licence since 1992, and but for a year’s break for a sojourn to the United States in 1994, he’s been one of the stalwarts at the Vaal training centre since, yet seldom with a big string.

“I was churning out the winners until the early 2000s, when I went through a divorce and some personal problems, which were big setbacks. I went through a lean spell for several years and lost some interest, but as you can see from recent results my spirit is back. I am full of energy and I have several new owners in the yard.

“A few months ago I had 17 horses, now I am back up to 28 horses and things are going well. Owners notice when there’s a good atmosphere in a racing yard and the winners start rolling.”

Botes learnt his skills as an apprentice from trainer James Maree, while most of his training skills come from his former father-in-law Nick van Tonder, a top trainer in SA racing’s so-called ‘Golden Era’.

“I am fortunate, I’ve kept going for almost 30 years and I have a bunch of supportive new patrons in the stable, including Guy and Craig Barkhuizen, Craig Zoghby and Colin Govindasamy.

“My erstwhile patrons Hollywood Bets have sent me a horse again, and Larry Nestadt and the Tawny Syndicate gave me March To Glory, who ran well first time for me and should go close in a race soon. I also have a staunch base of older patrons like Andy O’Connor, Phivos Michaelidis, Bill Clues and Willie Coates.”

His strong points, Botes said, is buying good “second-hand” horses and racing them often. “I like to race them every two weeks and they keep going. If they don’t perform, their ratings drop and they gradually find their way back into the money.

He’s done very well with better sorts entrusted to his care, including England Swings, Gr1 Golden Horseshoe winner Port Of London, Thaba’Nnch Sun winner Broken Lullaby and Gr3 Sycamore Sprint winner Tzigane.

He added: “The big stables get 10 or 20 “babies” or more into their yard every year, and just a few of them make it, they have to discard many. The smaller stables, like mine, have to look for the right horses on sale, horses that we can improve on. I am good at that,” he said, mentioning lower division six time winning six-year-olds Snow In Seattle and Ponchielli and four-year-old Jacko Boy, who has won three races since joining him last July.

He mentioned Fly North as an example of how to manage your way around moderate horses. “I won a race with her and sold her on to Kimberley for R50,000. She won a heat there too, but became unsound, so I bought her back for R20,000 from the same owner and she rewarded me with my 500th win!”

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