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Picture: Gareth van Zyl holding the Grade 1 Jonsson Workwear Garden Province Stakes trophy after winning it with She’s A Keeper (Gimmethegreenlight).


Youthful Gareth van Zyl was crowned champion trainer of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province for the 2021/2 season. He saddled 60 winners for a good 15.2% strike rate and will be aiming higher in the new season.

International Racing Club

Gareth, who trains Alittlebitnaughty and promising Money Heist for the IRC, said in a Sporting Post interview some years ago: “One of the reasons I chose a career in training – apart from the fact that I love working with horses – is being able to work with people that I might never otherwise have the opportunity to meet. For example, when my dad had his job with (the late) Mrs Bridget Oppenheimer, we had the opportunity of dining with her – the fact that racing can bring you into circles like that is amazing.

“In racing, perception is everything and you can fall out of favour very quickly. After all, one can only warrant support by the big races you win.” He’s honed a skill set to lay the foundations for the big time: An excellent way with people in an industry full of opiniated know-it-alls, openness with regular, detailed horse reports, a refreshing honesty and an in-depth knowledge of the industry. This underscores his personal brand and he says: “If you look at any of the big-name yards, they are brands in their own right and the driving force of the business is established by the type of races you win. My priority will be to get horses good enough to compete in and win Graded races across the country.”

You can have all the PR in the world, but actually knowing how to train and get results is still the most important aspect of his profession and Gareth has repeatedly stated he does not want to be ‘just another number’ in the ranks. “I want to be champion trainer and be able to pursue my racing interests abroad and I feel my dad has given me the tools to be able to do that. My ambitions with racing are to end up being able to travel. Although our export protocols dictate that it’s not easy to set up abroad, I hope we can reach a stage where we can raid abroad. It would be great to take on the world without having to take on the unfair rigors of quarantine that we’re currently under.”

His training perspectives: “You need to get a horse fit, but you also need to keep it sound, make sure it eats well, goes to the start, jumps from the pens well and so on. Soundness is first and foremost for me and it’s something I monitor closely. Obviously the sound ones are better and easier to train, but it’s the nature of the game that they’re not all sound.

“This leads on to one’s perspective in buying horses. We’ve had success with horses that haven’t been top end buys, but one has to acknowledge that the horses you buy are what will differentiate between success and failure. I try and look at as many good horses as I can to develop my eye, but you can refer to bloodstock, or specific aspects of the specimen, but usually they make fools of us. One can only hope that if you buy enough of the right stock, you will eventually end up with a few good ones.”

Here is our Q&A with Gareth van Zyl:

1. Full name? Gareth Harrison van Zyl.

2. Date of Birth? 7 May 1986.
3. Steak or sushi? Steak.
4. Superstitions? I try hard not to entertain them.
5. Fav Holiday Destination? Any snow resort.
6. Which: BMW or Merc? BMW.
7. Who inspires you the most? Jeffrey R Holland.
8. Big night out or quiet night in? Quiet night in.
9. Left-handed or right-handed? Right.
10. Personal attitude to life? Be the good you seek in others.
11. What annoys you the most? Having to repeat myself.
12. Best horse trained? She’s A Keeper.
13. Best horse race watched, live? Wise Dan, Shadwell Turf Mile, Keeneland October 2012.
14. Funniest person you have ever met? Spencer Cook.
15. Best day in racing? Winning the Garden Province with She’s A Keeper.
16. Whips or no whips? Whips.
17. What is your biggest phobia? Underachieving.
18. Most embarrassing moment? Oh the foolishness of youth…
19. Biggest influence on your career? My dad, Gavin van Zyl.
20. Do you enjoy having a bet? I force myself not to, which definitely saves me from losing. 
21. What lies at the heart of your success with thoroughbreds? That I don’t work, I do what I love.
22. Proudest Achievement? Raising a happy family.
23. Economy or business class? Economy, for now.
24. One thing to make racing better for everyone? More co-mingled pools.
25. Colts or fillies? Fillies.
26. Bath or shower? Bath.
27. Read or Netflix? Netflix.
28. Best jockey worked with? Anton Marcus.
29. Any ambitions to fulfil? Certainly. To train international G1 winners.
30. Would you rather ask for permission or ask for forgiveness? Forgiveness.

Nominate someone for our Q&A next? Spencer Cook.

Nominate two horses to follow for the rest of this season. 

Money Heist, Captainofthegreen, Wiccan Warrior.

Chosen charity for readers to donate toHole In The Wall Horse Project.  – IRC