THE three sensational young trainers to emerge from South Africa in the 1990s were Tony Millard, Mike de Kock and David Ferraris, all of whom followed different career paths, all becoming highly successful ambassadors for their country of birth.

Millard was the first to make a permanent move overseas – he moved to Hong Kong in the early 2000s. De Kock became the international travelling pioneer – raiding Dubai, the UK, the US and many other racing jurisdictions from various bases between 2000 and today.

Ferraris, who declined an invitation to Hong Kong in 2001, said he was lucky to receive a second invitation in 2003, and he jumped at it. “When I received the first invitation my wife Pam was pregnant with my son Luke, so we decided to stay on, but as fate would have it we got a second chance and today we’re happy we took it.”

David was 40 when he left South Africa. He’d trained on his own here for only 12 seasons, saddling 13 winners from a small string in the Western Cape in 1991 and 19 in his second season, followed by a flood of winners after his move to Johannesburg in 1993.

He ended his SA career with 1146 winners, including 32 Gr1’s and four National Training Titles. The winners included two Durban July’s and every other major race except the J&B Met, with phenomenal runners like Classic Flag, Super Quality, Young Rake, Celtic Grove, Palace Line, Divine Force, Glamour Boy and Surveyor passing through his yard.

They say good horses find you and David was fortunate to stable Vengeance Of Rain soon after he started his Hong Kong Venture. The best he’s trained, Vengeance Of Rain and jockey Anthony Delpech won two Gr1 Hong Kong Gold Cups, the Gr1 QEII Cup, the Gr1 Hong Kong Derby and the Gr1 Dubai Sheema Classic.

The extraordinary son of Zabeel set the ambitious trainer up for life, though the road since then has been somewhat rocky in patches. David commented: “He was owned by Winston Chow’s father, a fantastic horse who gave us great pleasure and opened many doors.”

David, now aged 54, saddled his 400th Hong Kong winner at Happy Valley on Wednesday, a milestone in a tough training jurisdiction, but representing a good average of just under 30 winners per season. 

He told the South China Morning Post afterwards: “This bad rap the Olympic stables have been getting is a load of bulls**t! The facilities are good, the trainers just need support and hopefully we can get it,” Ferraris said of his stable complex that is near the 1,000m chute at Sha Tin and was built for the equestrian events for the 2008 Olympics.

David explained: “I moved to Olympic Stables about six years ago and only found out after I’d moved that a major construction was about to start 20m from my stable entrance. The work there carried on for ages, sometimes we could feel the office shaking as they drilled and built. Also, we were told we’d get a swimming pool at the complex which didn’t materialise until recently.

“Owners were hesitant, we couldn’t get horses to join us and after a while my Olympic stables colleagues Sean Woods and Andreas Shutz had to pack up and leave. The Jockey Club requirement has gone up. They require a minimum of 16 winners per season for a trainer to retain his privileges and that hasn’t been easy considering circumstances.”

Coupled with this is the fact that only Hong Kong residents are allowed to own and race horses in this jurisdiction, so foreign trainers aren’t able to bring in owners from elsewhere.  “We have to find our own horses here, it’s expensive and hard to win races, which are mostly handicaps for which it is hard to get suitable runners.”

The swimming pool at Olympic stables.
The swimming pool at Olympic stables.

At the complex, things have improved markedly and David told: “They’ve installed the pool, a nice straight one, the construction work is over and the facilities are superb. I have only 41 horses, one of the smallest strings in Hong Kong, but things are looking up.

“I’ve invested heavily in South African runners. The Gr1 SA Classic winner Lobo’s Legend will be joining us, also others like Flying Free, Varallo, Perfect Symmetry, Carnage and Seerite. Also coming is Cue The Music from Dennis Bosch and Go Ballistic from my dad, Ormond Ferraris.”

All the incoming horses have been subject to the existing export protocol, which requires four months of travelling before they reach their destination and David lamented: “I wish we’d get to the bottom of this now. I know the South Africans have been trying very hard via the SA Equine Health & Protocols (SAEHP) and we’re all hoping their efforts will be rewarded soon. That will be a game changer. I haven’t flown in a horse direct from South Africa since 2003, we want to do it again, or have the minimum stay in the UK only.”

Most of the new horses will only arrive in December, which means that they will have to be assessed and patiently prepared. “We hope to have a few ready to run by mid-season, but I won’t be pushing it. This should be a decent season for me, but next season will be better!”

David, Pam, Luke and daughter Caroline visit South Africa twice a year and he said: “We’ve become accustomed to life in Hong Kong, we have a beautiful apartment overlooking the track and we’re able to entertain friends here, but we still miss South Africa and we have every intention of retiring there one day.”

He believes that South African racing has a future and commented: “SA racing needs radical transformation. The National Horseracing Authority needs strong leadership. Their invite for applications ends soon. I am interested to see what happens.”

David with son Luke and daughter Caroline.
David with son Luke and daughter Caroline.

The family owns a property near Keurboomsrivier, Plettenberg Bay and David said: “We just love going there, it’s a beautiful place on the lagoon. I installed CCV cameras on the premises, one overlooks the lake and I have live access. I often get home, pour a glass of wine and look at beautiful scenes in front of my South African home.”

Modern technology has made it possible for David and Pam to follow young Luke’s exploits closely and they’re always up in the early hours watching the young sensation ride at South African tracks. Which is not that bad, because his working day starts at 3:45 anyway! (Is that not an hour later than Mr Ferraris snr started at Turffontein in the good old days?)

He still indulges his passion for flying and said: “I sold my plane, but my brother Paul and I often fly with a Beachcraft Baron, a twin-engine plane that belongs to one of his friends.”

David’s latest love, however, is motorcycles, and he’s invested in recent years in two BMW’s, a Harley and a Victory, parked safely in Plett.  “

“I’ve become a true Biker Boy!” he quips.

-From Turf Talk Newsletter.