JEAN Heming, multiple Champion Trainer of South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s, has died at her home in Dornoch, Scotland, aged 78.

We’re publishing today a tribute to the “Jean Machine” in the form of a definitive interview with her conducted eye-to-eye in the UK and written by Charl Pretorius for “Legends Of The Turf” in The Citizen in 2007. A full version is contained in the book, “Legends Of The Turf Volume 1 (2011), available on Amazon. 

In the interview, Jean reveals everything from her early days, her training methods, her dope charges, her pet lion, her rocky road with the Jockey Club and the shooting at her Vaal farm that almost left her paralysed. 

Pretorius recalls: “We met in the ‘Horse and Hound’ pub in Tetbury, Gloucestershire and later moved on to their home. What was planned to be a two-or-three hour chat became a two-day interview. I stayed on in Tetbury that night and went back to see Jean and husband Mike Heming the following day. I’d found Jean in tears in the pub, but as we spoke she lit up, spoke strongly and the memories started flowing.”

***

In one corner of the Horse and Hound, seated in a wheelchair with a blanket over her knees, is a fragile looking Jean Heming. We greet and settle down to a pint of Stella Artois. She can walk, explains Mike, but she gets tired quickly and the wheelchair is a good aid.

Jean has never fully recovered from a shooting incident at her Vaal training establishment in December 1993, during which four bullets penetrated her chest, shoulder and stomach. 14 years later she still suffers from complications and needs daily nursing. She did indeed come close to death after an operation in 2005, but feels a lot better today and her mind is as sharp as ever.

At 67, Jean hasn’t given up hope of training again and she says: “The problem is that training for me is a hands-on business. I need to touch my horses, crouch to feel their legs, lead them around and so on. I can’t do it now. Perhaps an owner or a trainer with a small string can come along and I can assist him in an advisory capacity.’’

Jean Heming in Tetbury, UK, March 2007.
Jean Heming in Tetbury, UK, March 2007.

Mike echoes: “It will be sad if all Jean’s knowledge is lost to the game. She is a fine horsewoman.’’

Jean says: “I am working on a novel and I am thinking of a biography. I love reading and writing. There is much to tell.’’

* * *

Born Diana Jean Stratton, Jean hails from a farming community in Malmesbury, UK. She grew up around horses. She competed in point-to-point racing and jumps for the Beaufort Hunt Pony Club and completed the sought after British Horse Society Instructor (BHSI) qualifying examination.

She came to South Africa in 1969 after marrying a South African Air Force Officer and settled in the Villiers area near the Free State border. With a keen desire to get into training, she acquired an unsound five-year-old called Lambeth Walk. An owner-trainers’ licence was approved and for her first race meeting Jean remembers taking the coal train from Villiers to the Vaal racecourse with Lambeth Walk in a carriage.

Lambeth Walk finished fourth and she recalls: “I was excited beyond belief to have my first runner earn a cheque. But there was no transport back to Villiers, so that night I slept in the Jockeys Room!”

Jean went to the Newmarket Sale in Durban where she couldn’t afford to buy a single horse to grow her stable, but owner Trevor Gray leased her one colt called Sports Club on provision that she was granted a trainers’ licence.

Sports Club, ridden by the late Michael Coetzee, gave then Jean Barnard her first winner on 9 June, 1971. He won again in August of the same year, sending her on her way to success.

Racing with a few ‘chuckouts’ and several cheapies, the ‘Jean Machine’ soon kicked into gear. She moved into stables at the Vaal racecourse and the floodgates opened as Ballykick won 6 races including the St Leger, and Abean won the Cesarewitch.

Jean rose to fame as the formidable "Mrs Barnard" in the 1970s.
Jean rose to fame as the formidable “Mrs Barnard” in the 1970s.

In 1973 Jean finished second in the Gold Cup with the mare Off The Hook, and she relates a funny story from the time. “Martin Schoeman was engaged to ride Off The Hook. Marty never rode work, he kept himself fit by dancing at night and the owners were concerned that he would not be at his best. So I sent two personal ‘guards’, Doug Baggett and Koot Heunis, to stand watch at the door of Martin’s hotel room on the eve of that race.

“Martin. Of course, didn’t arrive for work at Summerveld that morning. Doug and Koot made an appearance, blurry-eyed. I was annoyed and I asked if they’d ensured that Martin never left his room. ‘Yes,’ they replied, ‘Martin was in his room all night, but several girls came out of the room in the early hours of the morning!’ ”

In teaming up with Schoeman and Freddy Macaskill, Jean sailed into the mid 1970s with dozens of multiple winners including Hold Me Close, Mr Universe, Straight Eight, Flight Path, Glissade and Benny Bazooka and on into the 1980s with Rain Forest, Smackeroo, Shooting High, Main Man, Serena, Coldstream Guard, Poetic, Cool Star, Pedometer and Parisian Affair, a period in which the Sasso brothers, Gavin van Zyl, Bartie Leisher and Michael Cave did most of her riding.’’

She speaks in high regard of several jockeys. Her early stable riders William Polly and Willem Ferreira were “hard workers” – Willem rode work in his pyjamas one morning!

Freddy Macaskill was a good judge of pace and was a dedicated rider along with Gavin van Zyl. Bartie Leisher was a great jockey, a “supreme judge of pace’’ and Rooies Fourie, perhaps her favourite, was the strongest of them all. He gave tremendous feedback and they’d struck up an awesome relationship before his untimely death in the Hennenman Air Disaster of 1987.

Macaskill opines: “Jean Heming was a consummate professional. The key to her success was the fitness of her horses. She worked them hard, English-style and they kept rolling and rolling. No matter what they say, Jean was one of the best trainers ever!”

Jean recounts another interesting tale. In the early 1980s she had a good run of success with visiting South American jockey Sergio Vera, who rode 13 successive winners for the yard.

“He was a top-notch rider,’’ she tells, “and when he returned home I asked him to find me another good jockey in South America. He found someone called Sasso, but they sent me the wrong one! Roberto arrived, his top class brother Patricio would only come later.

“Roberto’s first ride was on our fast sprinter Moccasin in the Joseph Dorfmann Memorial of June, 1983. Moccasin started favourite, deep in the red, but poor Roberto lost his stirrup irons at the start. Moccasin won by many lengths anyway, with virtually no assistance from the saddle!’’

Jean had a variety of big punters in the stable and she smiles: “We had the Harmse brothers of Rain Forest fame and Ronnie Skjoldhammer who owned the likes of Mr Universe. They were a crazy bunch. Ronnie once phoned me from a jail in London to tip him a winner. Ronnie often wanted me to place his horses in races with the champions owned by the Harmses so he could get the info and punt the Harmse-owned horses!’’

The 1990s brought Jean the wonderful mare Roland’s Song, the one among many champions she rates as the best she has trained. The daughter of Roland Gardens and Lunar Lullaby won 14 races, including back-to-back Summer Cups (1990/1) and three Champion Stakes in an era when Jean was associated with another master paceman, Rhys van Wyk.

***

THE story of former South African Champion trainer Jean Heming is anomalous, filled with intrigue and tainted with theories of conspiracy, shocking at times.

In the course of my research I have come across alleged incidents too ghastly to mention. Several of Jean’s former colleagues have openly accused her of being a “dope artist’’ and a “butcher’’ who mistreated the horses in her care. Others have praised her as a superb horsewoman with rare talents.

Where does the truth begin? How would one separate outright lies, scandalous hearsay and spewed venom from what really happened in Jean Heming’s career as a racehorse trainer?

Reflecting on the many extraordinary facets of Jean’s life and times, her huge public following and a “hate club’’ evidently just as big, this is a story that will test the realms of investigative journalism if ever told in full detail.

Constitutional rights to privacy will be at stake if every noted word in the Heming story is ever to be laid bare and if the wheat is to be sorted from the chaff. There is enough material for many court cases, a Dick Francis-type novel, and in the light of what has become the “South African way’’ – undoubtedly a few more shootings like the one that put Jean in a wheelchair 14 years ago and continues to restrain her movement and well-being.

To my mind, any individual who can win four National Trainers’ titles and 12 successive provincial championships is worthy of being called a legend. If one were to dig deep into the careers of any of the leading trainers over the last 30 years, one would find similar tales of triumph and similar accusations of dishonesty, cruelty and use of forbidden substances. Undoubtedly, newly accused individuals would relate their own version of events and many more lies would be exposed.

Below are extracted highlights and lowlights from the second half of Jean Heming’s career, taken from notes provided by Jean herself.  If you live in a glass house, beware of throwing stones.

ON TRAINING HORSES:

“The horse must be completely ‘athletic’ going into a race. Pain is nature’s way of saying there is a problem. Unsound horses require medication, but the problem must be solved before the horse can be nominated for a race. The horse needs to be fit and well all of three weeks before the race. Weighing, blood tests and heart monitors are indicators as to the condition of the horse.

“Trainers can rectify problems like balancing electrolytes and vitamins, increasing or decreasing the amount of work. The quality of feed is vitally important and I lived by the T.D.E. principle – that is Total Digestive Energy, in short the horse is fed the precise amount of quality feed he needs at any specific level of fitness.

“Important too are the very basics: To win a race a horse must run over the right distance on the right course, in the right handicap with the right draw and jockey. Preparing a fully fit horse prevents breakdown and injury. A horse may not be of Top Division quality, but one can achieve good mileage and maximum stakes by looking after it well and placing it in the right races.

ON MEDICATION ADMINISTERED:

No horse in my yard was ever doped to win or ‘nobbled’. The only pre-race preparation administered was drenching to hydrate a dehydrated horse. Post-race treatment is very important. I used Bykahepar, Ringers Lactate or Synthemin drips to help the horse recover and reduce lactic acid levels. To avoid a horse suffering dry sweat, it is necessary to keep it hydrated.

“It is against my principles and common sense to use diuretics to dehydrate them before racing. To my knowledge there are trainers who have used arsenic, aconite, EPO and minute doses of tranquilizers to achieve success. I have no personal experience of any of these methods and did not employ them in my training.’’ 

ON ROLAND’S SONG: 

Roland’s Song (1987-1992) won 14 of 35 races including back-to-back Summer Cups and three Computaform Champion Stakes. She also ran fourth in the Durban July from a wide draw. A bay mare by Roland Gardens from Lunar Lullaby, she was purchased for only R20 000 and earned over R2 million in stakes. She died in early retirement and Jean cries at the mention of her name: “Roland’s Song was the best I’ve trained.”

Jean with the star mare, Roland's Song.
Jean with the star mare, Roland’s Song.

ON RHYS VAN WYK:

Arguably Jean’s most successful stable jockey, Rhys van Wyk perfected his trade under his father, Hennie van Wyk, in the mid 1980s. He was snapped up in the late 1980s and the Heming/Van Wyk partnership was the most feared duo in town.

“Rhys was an exceptional judge of pace. He combined several factors to make the pace work for him. He rode a lot of work, knew the cruising speed of his mounts. He was good at Turffontein, especially. He would set the pace, but slow it down and give his mounts a breather down the back straight to conserve their energy for the hill. Often he would have his rival jockeys calling for the stick before the home bend. We were a great team for a long time.’’

ON HER LION, CAESAR:

When I was fighting the case of Poetic (specimen found positive for Estrane 3 17 Diol), at the Supreme Court, I was approached by a man with a small bag. ‘The Lion’s Paw means good luck,’ he said. The bag contained a live lion cub. I named him Caesar. He was bottlefed and as a baby slept on my bed. Later we built him a big cage were he could play. I fed him every day and played with him.

“Caesar was very attached to me. I could go into his cage and do what I want. He would never hurt me. One day a photographer came to my farm to take photos of a two-year-old Caesar. I played with Caesar in his enclosure, kicked a football to him. I told the photographer, Geoff Brigett, not to enter the den, but he did and was pounced on and mauled.

“Brigett later sued us for damages, claiming that his movement had been impaired as a result of the attack. An Advocate amused everyone by saying that Geoff awoke stiff every morning. This caused a volume of calls from men who also wanted to be mauled by Caesar!

“As an older lion, he was always fine with me until I once bought a dog that he learnt to hate. He must have perceived that I grew too close to the dog. One day, after I had fed the dog, I went into Caesar’s cage and I could see he wasn’t himself. He stood at a distance and looked at me like a spoilt child who wanted attention. Then he came at me and grabbed me by the arm, we wrestled and I managed to escape. He was so furious he jumped over the fence himself. There were lots of grooms on the farm, some of their women with children and a few veterinarians. I had no option but to put him down myself. It was a sad day.’’

ON DOPE CHARGES AND CONSPIRACIES: 

Jean Heming was charged three times for use of illegal substances, warned off twice and later cleared of all charges.

Poetic (6 March 1982) and Bent Free (13 March 1982):

“On 13 March 1983 we gathered in the Stewards Lounge for a presentation of awards. It rained heavily and we couldn’t leave. My former husband Phil Barnard, an outspoken man who hated the establishment, used the opportunity to insult the stewards. He took his shoes off, got on a table and accosted each steward individually.

“Just a few days later an envelope arrived containing two letters of inquiry, one for Poetic and one for Bent Free. Poetic had tested positive for Estrane 3 17 Diol and Bent Free’s specimen was alleged to have contained 78 ug/ml Furosimide (Lasix).

“No legal assistance was allowed at the time, but in September 1982 the Poetic charges were dropped after I proved that Estrane 3 17 Diol was Oestrogen – normally found naturally in fillies.

“In November 1982 I employed Delta G Scientific as my experts to combat the testing procedures of the Jockey Club, who used the SABS. It was established that the specimen collected from Bent Free on 13 March 1982 arrived at the SABS only one month later, on 13 April 1982. No reason was given for the delay! In addition it was pointed out that specimens were collected in soft plastic bottles easily pierced – since then case glass bottles have been used.

“The Bent Free case was concluded and I was warned off, but after several appeals to the Local and Head Executives of the Jockey Club I went to the Supreme Court, won and had my name cleared.

Kwiktan (April 1993) 

“Kwiktan tested positive for 1ug/ml Furosimide after winning the SA Derby. It is interesting, however, that Bent Free tested positive for 78ug/ml. With three quarters of his urine containing Lasix, Bent Free would have collapsed before he reached the start! I was found guilty, however, and fined R5 000. 1ug/ml vs.

“78ug/ml? Something doesn’t make sense! According to evidence led at the inquiry, Kwiktan’s specimen could have been contaminated at the SABS while Bent Free’s specimen could have been ‘spiked’.

“In September 1983, believe it or not, the Jockey Club reopened the Bent Free case de novo (from the start) and in March 1984 I was again found guilty and warned off. I appealed to the Head Executive in Durban, who upheld my appeal and finally exonerated me of all charges.”

Personal notes: 

  • “On 31 July 1983 I received a call from our friend Eric Rowan, the well-known cricketer. He said that he was in the Stewards Room at Greyville after the Gold Cup in Durban and overheard the name of the person responsible for ‘spiking’ Bent Free’s specimen. We told Eric to keep quiet, go to the Jockey Club and report the name. The following Monday he stopped by the Summit Club in Hillbrow for a sauna. He was attacked and beaten, found face down in the sauna with a cracked skull. After this incident Eric said he had forgotten the name in question.’’
  • “While I had lost the top brass of ownership during my dope cases, the high-profile people interestingly came right back into the yard after I had married Mike Heming.”
  • “Many years later I was talking with the Jockey Club’s then investigative officer, the late Dirk Blignaut, about dope charges. He said to me, ‘Jean don’t worry, your cases are over, you will never be charged again.”
  • “I never stopped training my horses, even when I was warned off. I brought interdicts and appealed, I kept fighting to clear my name.’’

ON KWIKTAN AND PEDOMETER: 

Kwiktan (SA Derby, 14 lengths) and Pedometer (Sun International, 14 lengths) won by what many experts deem to be ‘abnormal’ distances.

Jean and connections with Pedometer, winner's enclosure at Turffontein.
Jean and connections with Pedometer, winner’s enclosure at Turffontein.

Heming replies: “Both were abnormally good horses. Kwiktan came to me as a sprinter, but he found a liking for long distances and, like Pedometer, had a high cruising speed. Two weeks before the Derby Kwiktan won a 2400m handicap in class record time. He bumped a small and substandard Derby field in which he was in fact the only proven stayer and won on sheer ability. He was a big and talented chestnut, a horse that could have won the July, but he injured his tendon when finishing a close fourth in the SA 2000 after the Derby.

“Pedometer beat a seasoned campaigner called Uncle Percy and several other weak horses in the Sun International. He was a star and won on merit.’’

ON HER SHOOTING: 

“I was shot four times on the evening of 21 December, 1993. I had wages on me, in cash. The gunman came up to me and started shooting. The money wasn’t taken and nothing else in the house or office was burgled.

“Five people were arrested, but the first trial in March 1994 was adjourned. At the second trial (May 1994), nobody arrived at the courthouse. The case failed to materialize, the case files were lost! A man arrested for threatening to shoot jockeys Mark Kan and Conrad Wilkinson in a later unrelated case, declared under oath that the MCM4 Gang was responsible for my shooting. To this day, nothing has come of this case.’’

*Jean Heming has never fully recovered from her shooting at the height of her career. A top five trainer for almost 20 years, she battled with her health, fell right out of contention after the incident and eventually returned to the UK, her country of birth, in 1999. She trained 1612 winners in her career in South Africa. (- 2007)

 

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