IN just a few months, Tony Nassif will be celebrating his 40th year as a licensed trainer in South Africa. He’s never had more than 25, maybe 30 horses in his care and he is presently down to 12, but life, and racing, has never pinned him down. He is as enthusiastic today as in 1980, when he saddled his first winner.
You’ll often find Nassif (68) in a coffee shop spending time with himself, or in a hotel lobby with his racing friends during Durban July or Sun Met time when he doesn’t always have a runner and travels down just to experience the fun of it.
“I’m not the type of person who begs for horses and I won’t take a horse from another trainer. I just don’t work that way. I love my racing, I make do with what I have, I don’t play games and I take the ups and downs as they come. Life is simple. You must keep a positive mindset. When you are negative, you attract negative things.”
Nassif was at his most successful in the 1990s when he trained a host of runners for his mother, “TT” (Thelma) Nassif and they enjoyed feature wins with Spanish Brook, Stud Muffin, Right Connection, Mill Brook, Tranquillity and Vistula, the 1994 KZN Fillies Guineas winner over Outstanding Star and Kundalini.
“My mother is still active at 85, still working, but she’s taken a break from owning,” tells Nassif, himself already a grandfather of eight, though he doesn’t seem to have aged much in the last four decades.
He’s enjoyed an affinity with racing in Durban and has raided the KZN tracks from his Turffontein base dozens of times, often with a single runner. He’s often struck with single runners too, like last Sunday, when he took Jay Peg gelding Outside Edge (Luke Ferraris, 16-1), to Greyville and beat the hot-pot favourite Roy’s Physco.
Nassif tells: “I’ve always got one eye on the Durban fields, it’s a weaker centre and when I have a suitable horse I like to raid. When the nominations came out I looked through the race and I knew Roy’s Physco would be the fancied runner. I watched him a race in December, he looked like a horse without much will to win and I reckoned Outside Edge would be too good for him, and he was.”
He was full of praise for Luke Ferraris and said: “What a top young rider, he has a bright future. He’s ridden three of my runners for a winner, a second and a fifth place.”
He said that Outside Edge should have won sooner and explained: “If you look back at his earlier form, he ran close to Warrior’s Rest and Nordic Rebel and was narrowly beaten by Huyssteen over 1400m at the Vaal.
“Outside Edge lost his way a bit after that and I threw him out of training. He came back and finished eight lengths off Flash Burn in what I thought was a powerful Maiden Plate. He ran well, improved after the run and was an ideal strike horse for Durban.”
Eight of Nassif’s 12-strong string are two-year-olds and one, Silver Sea, by Silvano, made his debut for his brother Shalita and Craig Wittle at the Vaal Tuesday. “He’s a nice horse, I haven’t pressed him yet and he is one to watch,” said the trainer.
He is excited about three progeny of Flower Alley who have joined the yard. “They look smart, one is a half-sister to Alec Laird’s Gambado, another is from the family of Paul Peter’s Hungry Heart.”
Photo: Outside Edge (Luke Ferraris), with trainer Tony Nassif.