EXCEPTIONAL horsemen remind us with consistently top-class results that they aren’t easily swept away by the tsunamis invariably produced by racing, including those of lesser talents who hit and run from time to time.
Randjesfontein’s Alec Laird, who hails from one of the greatest racing legacies in South African history and is steeped in tradition, won two Listed races and saddled two Graded-placed runners from seven runners on Classic Day at Turffontein.
Alec learnt his skills from his father, the great Syd Laird who was a student, in turn, of his own uncle, the legendary Syd Garrett.
When his dad suddenly passed away on 8 February 1988, Alec was left to prepare Royal Prerogative’s daughter Mill Hill for the old Gr2 Rex Trueform Fillies Championship at Kenilworth, just 12 days later. Mill Hill gave him the first winner in his name that day and also became his first Gr1 winner nine months later when she won the Germiston November Handicap.
Alec has saddled well over 1500 winners (including another 16 Gr1s and 40 other Graded winners) since, with dozens of big names on the stable’s honour roll including London News, Sacred Jungle, Crimson Waves, Malteme, Royal Bencher, Forest Indigo, Bezanova, Bouclette Top and more recently Amazing Strike and Smart Call.
While he hasn’t trained a horse of quite that calibre the last two seasons, the Laurence Wernars-owned four-year-old Green Haze is a hard knocker whose victory in Saturday’s Listed Drum Star Handicap promised more to come, especially based on Alec’s assessment that he “may have a Gr1 in him, he’s still a puppy and will probably be at his best as a five -year-old.”
He’s always been modest and lives by an expression picked up from his dad, “You learn from someone else every day” and while Alec seems to prefer moving under the radar, he believes a “personable demeanour” is important for any trainer. “One has to market yourself,” he says.
Alec’s traditionally had the support of the country’s leading owners, starting his career with big hitters Graham Beck and Laurie Jaffee prominent in the yard and later with patrons like Chris Gerber, Peter White, Wernars, Mary Slack and Jessica Jell generally in the mix.
When Gerber passed away unexpectedly in October 2018 the stable suffered a big blow and Alec tells: “Chris was a wonderful owner and friend, he bought runners every year and of course sent in horses from his farm. We were fortunate that a few other patrons stepped in when Chris died and some new ones came along too, so we have 80 horses in training again and things are going well.”
Alec has a good new partnership going with former champion jockey S’Manga Khumalo and he says: “It’s nice to have a top boy on our horses. I enjoy working with stable jockeys because they get to know the runners, their style of racing, how they behave, canter down and jump from the pens. They are able to stay with them from the Maidens through the handicaps. Good jockeys normally suit all the runners in a yard, barring perhaps one or two. It’s advantageous to have someone alongside you who understands the different individuals by virtue of working with them as often as possible.”
He mentioned Saturday’s Gr1 SA Fillies Classic runner-up Marygold (Flower Alley) as one expected to go places. Among his younger horses, Prince Evlanoff and August Rain are a pair well worth watching, while Christmas Flower (presently resting) is a filly who shows quality work.