Here is part 2 of Turf Talk’s tribute to Peter Kannemeyer, who died on Monday. It’s taken from Legends of The Turf Volume 2: (Createspace, 2014) by Charl Pretorius and deals mainly with PK’s personal side.
In part 1, retired trainer Peter Kannemeyer spoke about winning three J&B Mets and a July. He looked back on his career and noted that winning six races on a single afternoon gave him more joy than winning racing’s major events.
The six-timer to ‘PK’ was a fine achievement, truly rare like the big-race sponsor’s product, poured on the rocks while we start chatting about his life in racing and life in general.
“Stanley Greeff calls me ‘Mr Moneybags’, but money was never my god, I learnt early not to punt and I’m well off for it. Success was my god, I saved and invested a big proportion of my income and I gave and still give to charity,’’ Peter tells.
“Today I can sit here at my house without a care in the world. I can watch racing and have a whiskey or work in my garden or play with the dogs. Money doesn’t necessarily bring happiness, but it brings freedom. I can open my front door at any time without being scared of a debt collector.’’
Peter, approaching 80, is grateful for the lessons that life has taught him. He believes that over many years he has gained enough knowledge to help not only racehorse trainers, but other individuals in need of some direction.
“If you’re a trainer, don’t bet,’’ he starts. “In the old days, when there were 40, 50 bookmakers around the ring on a racecourse, a trainer could take big bets. The bookies were fearless because they could lay those bets off with their colleagues. Today we have the age of information, almost everyone knows what’s going on and you don’t get the odds you want. I informed my owners when I believed I had a horse they could bet on, but I stayed away from betting on them myself!
“In the golden days in Cape Town we had trainers like Willy Kleb, Syd Garret, Stanley Gorton and a few others who placed huge bets. When I say huge, I mean big money even by today’s standards. There was no info going round, there were no grooms riding work, no media snooping around. Info was shared by the trainer and his jockey and nothing got out of the stable. If it did, the jock would be in big trouble.
“In that era one could line up a horse for a win to make serious money. Willy Kleb was one trainer who perfected the art of the betting strike. He had people placing his bets on his behalf. Abe Bloomberg was one of them. Willy would never back a horse until he’d give the jockey a leg up in the parade ring. If he looked across to the bookmakers and was satisfied that the price was right, he would walk back to his owners and tell them to have a bet. Then he would give his betting crew a sign, like taking off his hat or blowing his nose or scratching his head, whatever, and they would take the betting ring apart!
“When the on-course punters cottoned on to Kleb’s tricks, they started following Bloomberg and others to see what they were betting on. Kleb would then change tactics or not have a bet for a while. He outwitted them always.
“But then came trainer Theo de Klerk. He was very good, but more of what I would call a ‘social’ trainer. He trained to please his owners and they bet on almost everything that ran. That influenced the market, made information more available and it became very hard to land a coup. The punters got hurt and, following this, the bookmakers became fewer and fewer. Today I am not sure there is a single bookie who can lay the kind of serious bet they laid in those days.
“Today, if a trainer has five bets, maybe two will land the gamble, the other three will go missing. That’s just the way it is. I watch Tellytrack and see it happening here and overseas, just about daily. The money goes on but the horses often don’t raise a gallop. This happens because horses are running when they shouldn’t be running. Betting puts a trainer under pressure and he starts making mistakes. From then on it’s a downward spiral that can destroy careers, indeed has already destroyed many careers. How many retired or ex-trainers you know are well-off and happily retired or wealthy?”
If your owners want to have a bet and you have a horse that is ready to win, make sure you never enter a stable companion in the same race, Peter warns.
“A year or two after I took over from Stanley Gorton I had a horse, I think it was Court Gossip. He was working up a storm. I believed he was a racing certainty and I wanted Mr Gorton to win. So I invited him to come to Milnerton that Saturday and to make sure he brought betting money with him. When I arrived at his home to take him to the races, he was dressed in his shorts and said, ‘You go on son, enjoy yourself!’
“I found that strange but I left him there and went to saddle Court Gossip and a stablemate I’d put in the race with him. You’d probably guess that the stablemate beat him on the line and I was quite devastated.
“I went to see Mr Gorton after the races and he opened the door with a big smile. He was leaning on his walking stick, invited me in and shouted at his wife to pour me a whiskey. He said, “Son, let this be a lesson, never back a horse when you have two in a race. Never, ever do that!’
In reference to his son Dean, highly successful as trainer too, Peter says: “You have to give people a chance in life. I gave Dean a chance like Ormond Ferraris gave his son David a chance and Terrance Millard paved the way for his son Tony.
“Graham Beck once said to me, ‘you only have one chance in life and you must use it!’ I never forgot that. What goes with all of this is your good name. Keep your name clean. Pay your bills, charge correctly and don’t take money from anyone.’’
He touches on his long relationship with jockey Garth Puller. “Garth had great hands and the ability to save a horse’s energy for a late run. That gave us the shivers sometimes, but it was his trademark and he got them home. He was loyal too, a loyal racing partner who knew the stable’s ins and outs. That was important to me, it should be important to any trainer today.”
Peter, thought to be abrupt and aloof as a young trainer, enrolled for a Dale Carnegie course. “I went hesitantly, but came back a new man. You have to respect people, give them a chance to speak and listen attentively. Treat your owners with respect and don’t feed them nonsense, they’re putting their money down and supporting you, they deserve the best. I never communicated by fax. I made sure I got in touch with my patrons all over the world. I spoke to them personally.”
He goes on to discuss his concept of ‘need and want’. “Listen to me, you must always buy the things you need, not the things you want. If you resist the temptations, before long you will see extra pennies in your pocket. When my wife died I sat with a Mercedes Benz in the garage. I sold it and invested the money. Why have R200 000 standing in the garage losing money when the cash can draw interest for you immediately!”
Life’s most important lesson?
“Perhaps this,’’ opines Peter. “Never close the door on anyone. Don’t burn bridges. It comes to haunt you. One day you will need the person you fibbed off or chased away. Treasure your friends and count on them because they will be able to help you one day.’’
Peter’s patron and friend, Ben Braam, of Sunshine Man fame, set him on the road to prosperity many years ago. Peter lives on a huge, built up area with four big houses, part of an entire suburban block in Milnerton spanning 2 500m square metres.
“I owned the whole block once, my children grew up here, but I fixed and sold three houses for big profits. I bought this big stand for R28 000, Ben Braam gave me the money without being asked. He knew the auctioneer who saw me there one day and when he heard of my interest, he said: ‘Peter, this is a great investment. I will lend you the money to buy it!’ That was the best buy of my life, it was worth millions before long and I have never looked back.”
What to look for in a young horse?
“That comes with experience and different horsemen will give different advice. I like a horse with a deep girth, a strong chest and nice hindquarters. I look at the rib cage. The last rib mustn’t be too far from the point of the hip. The legs must be straight, I am somewhat forgiving and can handle hooves that turn in, but I stay away from splayed feet, or ‘Charlie Chaplins’ as I call them.”
The future of racing?
“It is expensive to buy a horse, feed a horse, train a horse. The social aspect of racing is gone. It has something to do with private suites. In my day there was a large group of racing people on the grandstand, a great vibe. We all knew each other. Today, racegoers hide high up in private boxes. Racing will never be the same, I am worried about the future and you can quote me, I believe I got out at the right time!”
Disillusioned with friends, he explains: “When I was training my phone never stopped ringing, I had many friends. But they turned out to be only acquaintances. Nobody phones anymore, I have just a handful of true friends left and it’s something that has troubled me.’’
‘PK’, however, is generally a happy and healthy man. He is a legend in racing with much more to share than what we’ve covered in two parts of editorial copy. If you knew him then, give him a ring now.
Headline photo: Peter Kannemeyer (middle) with John Freeman and Lester Piggott.