WHATEVER the outcome of this year’s Vodacom Durban July, it will be a poignant experience for the Bass family, writes JACK MILNER, editor of The Citizen’s Racing Express.
It will be the last Durban July in which the name Mike Bass will appear next a runner in the Grade 1 race. At the end of July he will retire and hand the stable reins over to his daughter, Candice.
In August last year Mike took ill during the Cape Awards dinner. Is condition worsened and he was rushed to hospital. He was placed into an induced coma and had to have a leg amputated because it had become dangerously infected. The infection could have proved fatal but Mike pulled through, although his life was forever changed.
“It will be quite emotional,” concedes Mike. “Retiring is not something I want, it’s something that’s been forced on me. Unfortunately I’m not quite as active as I would like to be these days.
“But I’m happy for Candice to take over. She’s got a very good idea of what’s happening, she’s very bright and has natural feel. That helps a lot.”
Michael William Bass was born on 2 February 1945. He attended Wynberg Boys High School in the and later Stellenbosch University where he received his Agricultural Technology Diploma.
He became an amateur trainer for a small riding school and then went to work for Broadlands as stud manager for two years.
In 1976 he took out his trainer’s licence and over the next 40 years has managed to establish himself as one of the most respected and successful trainers in the country.
He has won the Durban July on three occasions, his first in 2001 with Trademark who won in record time with Piere Strydom up.
In 2005 Mike picked up his second Durban July with Dunford, who had Anton Marcus aboard, and No 3 was Pocket Power in 2008, who dead heated with Dancer’s Daughter. “Winning the Durban July has always been great. It’s not an easy race to win but I would love to think we’ve got a shot this year with Marinaresco.”
Some people have questioned whether the three-year-old son of Silvano should be in the final field but Bass disagrees. “He deserves a run on what he’s done. The bookmakers have a fair idea and they have him up quite short.
“He’s very small but he has a terrific turn of foot. He’s pretty smart. I’m not sure if we’ve done the right thing. We’ve probably given up the R250,000 bonus he could have collected for winning the Winter Series. It’s not my style to run a three-year-old in the July but he’s done so well in his last couple of features and the owners wanted to have a runner.
“The No 19 draw is a shocker but I think the track, with its short run-in, will suit this little fellow.”
Bass discussed his previous Durban July winners. “Trademark won the Queen’s Plate, he went to America after that and won there and also won a Group 2 in Dubai. I think he still holds the course record for 2200m at Greyville.”
He and Strydom had a difference of opinion on how Trademark should be ridden. “I wanted him to give it a chance but he wanted to go up handy. But shortly after the start he got cut off and the horse ended up where I wanted him to be. Strydom thought he was dead and buried until he realised he still had a horse under him.
“Fortunately that year the pace was very fast.”
Dunford, said Bass, did not race against the strongest of opposition. “He was pretty smart but was also nicely weighted. Unfortunately the favourite, Rabiya, broke down during that race.”
The came Pocket Power, the horse Bass rates the best he has ever trained. “He was tricky. He started off late because he was always unsound. The vets couldn’t really find what was wrong. I decided to keep him at home during his three-year-old career and he won the Winter Series.
“The following year I was used to him racing the way he did so I took him up to Durban.”
He didn’t have great season in KwaZulu-Natal and many people were calling him a Kenilworth specialist. But the next year he came back and Pocket Power claimed the Durban July crown but had to share it with the queen of the turf, Dancer’s Daughter.
“It’s all very well to have a champion but getting him to win the July isn’t easy. I’ve had runners but they were not always that successful. Even if a horse is way above the rest a lot depends on how the race is run. Often the pace can decide the outcome.
“In 2009 I really believed Pocket Power would win again but they absolutely crawled up front. I had an ordinary filly in the race as well, Thundering Jet, and she finished fourth, with Pocket Power in fifth. The two were not in the same league.
“Greyville is not an easy track to win on. I would have loved to have raced him at Turffontein. I think he would have loved the course, but it is very hard to run a horse for three seasons.”
When Pocket Power finally retired and moved out, the stable suffered from “empty-nest syndrome”. “He was special but quirky. He wasn’t bad tempered, just very highly strung. He was very hyper, especially after a race, and was not easy to lead or hold.
“Other than that he was a mild tempered horse.”
One of his eccentricities was that he wouldn’t enter the winner’s box after a race, which Bass blames on co-owner Marsh Shirtliff. “The first time he won Marsh started to lead him into enclosure. They have a gravel patch and then a mat and Pocket Power stopped when he saw the mat. Instead of giving time to adjust Marsh yanked him and almost pulled the bridle off.
“After that he wouldn’t go back in.”
For the record, Shirtliff absolutely refutes the charge.
Bass confirmed he will be at Greyville on 2 July. “It’s not easy for me to travel these days but I will be there.”
And how will life change for him on 1 August? “I’ll just carry on go to work every morning and continue doing what I’ve been doing – perhaps just a bit less. But it will all be in Candice’s name.”