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Picture: Barend Botes is preparing to relocate to Summerveld (Image: JC Photos)

Off The Record with Charl Pretorius

At the start of 2024, we have news of regional moves and temporary time off for four trainers, also two retirements among racing officials and a recovery update for an injured jockey.

Vaal trainer Barend Botes (54) is preparing to relocate to the Summerveld Training Centre in KwaZulu-Natal. Botes said that he had met with fellow-trainer and Summerveld manager, Tony Rivalland, to discuss his move and that stables will be allocated to accommodate the 20 horses in his care.

The former jockey, who started his training career in 1994, said that his decision carried the backing of his patrons, who include stable stalwarts Willie Coates and Gerald Kalil, also KZN-based Yaseen Ebrahim. Botes believes he will be more competitive in KZN and noted: “The thoroughbred population has decreased significantly in recent years and it’s become even harder for small stables to have a say against the big guns. There are fewer horses of good calibre and they invariably end up with the top stables in the training ranks.

“The race programme in KZN includes more low merit rated handicaps, which will suit my horses. There are not enough of these races on the Highveld. They also have the polytrack at Hollywoodbets Greyville, which gives moderate horses a few more opportunities to run, and therefore more earning potential.

Botes said that his pending move was also influenced by personal considerations. “I am getting older and I’d like to be as happy as I can in this next phase of my career. My few remaining family members are all in KZN, and I will be competing against some friends from my riding days, including MJ Odendaal, Garth Puller and Robbie Hill. Then I have a young nephew, JC Botes, who lives in the province and hopes to join the South African Jockey Academy soon. I look forward to helping him.”

Botes, who has been dabbling with pedigrees and his own mating software for several years, said that his future will also include part-time breeding as a feeding ground for his stable. “The Western Cape is getting stronger as a centre and it’s no longer easy to buy weaker horses from trainers in that centre. In the past I could pick up cheapies for racing on the Highveld, but even for outgoing Maidens, the Cape trainers start around R100,000 these days.

“Many of our remaining breeding operations have become spelling farms for owners who are breeding with their own mares, racing their horses and being competitive. For small trainers and owners, it is near impossible to find a decent horse at the big sales. They get snapped up by the major buyers and only the crumbs are left.”

Botes is influenced by pedigree analyst Byron Rogers. He said that his software for hypothetical matings is the ‘Silver Bullet’ for good nicks, and that it was developed in conjunction with a programmer. In his view, his own is better than Tesio, G1 Goldmine and other programmes used by stallion managers and pedigree gurus.

He explained: “I am not joking or overblowing things. Through years of research into sire and sires of broodmares I have fine-tuned a terrific mating method. The few breeders I have showed it to, share my excitement. I plan to go into foal-sharing and other deals with my own and other mares, using my software, and for this to become a solid foundation from which I can retrieve racing stock.”

Botes is approaching 600 career winners. His top career runners include England Swings, G1 Golden Horseshoe winner Port Of London, Thaba’Nnchu Sun winner, Broken Lullaby, Gr3 Sycamore Sprint winner Tzigane and more recently Captain Dizzy, Ivy League and 2021 Summer Cup-placed Golden Pheasant.

Youthful Lunga Gila’s ambition has prompted his move this month from Fairview to the Western Cape, where he has been allocated stables at Phillipi in the company of Justin Snaith and Brett Crawford.

Gila, who cut his teeth under Glen Kotzen, Mitch Wiese and the late Nic Claassen, has saddled 15 winners and 22 places from just 150 runners. This was done with an active string of only 18 horses, and in his first season as a licensed trainer. He has made a solid impression with his no nonsense approach and beautifully presented runners.

Gila commented: “I believe I have the horsemanship and skills to compete at a higher level and my move to Cape Town is made in the hope of attracting new owners. There is fresh interest among people in the region and I am in a position to take on patrons who may need a change, and others. I have had wonderful support from the management of Cape Racing. They have allowed my existing staff to join me from Gqeberga, a big plus because they are meticulous professionals who know the way I work. I promise good results and I can’t wait to get going.”

Gila will start with only five thoroughbreds, but aims to build his string to a more competitive 20 inmates as soon as he has settled down. “I’ve sent most of my Fairview horses on to other trainers and riding schools. I have three very promising, unraced young horses going to Cape Town alongside two older racers, Baubles And Beads and Tried And True.”

Meanwhile trainers Stephen Moffatt (Vaal) and Glen Puller (Milnerton) have terminated their licences, but both stressed that they have not retired and that comebacks are a possibility.

Moffatt (52) said: “My stable has hit a low patch with not much to compete with and a lack of support in these tough times. My wife and I decided to give things a temporary break. We have spent Christmas and New Year on our farm in Moorivier to rest and relax, get some fresh perspectives and go back to the drawing board. I have kept my Vaal stables, I am still renting them and hope to return to racing sooner rather than later.” Moffat started in the mid 1990s and trained many multiple winners including the popular mare Rouge Allure (15 wins), Polo, Clever Guy, Afraad, Opera Glass, Roman Carnival and Rio’s Winter.

Puller (62) has lived by the motto, “It’s not about how many winners you have; it’s how long you last in racing!” He followed his career as a jockey by becoming a trainer in 1989 and among his successful stable inmates were names like Flashy Star, Great Rhythm, Exclusive Art, Making Mischief, Party Lover, Rabattache, Harlem Shake and Sevillano. Puller made history when his horse Illuminator won the first-ever Million Dollar race in Africa – The CTS Million Dollar in January 2016 at Hollywoodbets Kenilworth.

Now, Puller said, it is time for reflection and he’s taking an extended break on his Philadelphia, Western Cape farm. “Due to unforeseen circumstances, I have had to close the stable. I am in ‘no man’s land’ at present but well occupied on the farm. We’ll see what the future holds. I haven’t officially retired.”

Among the jockeys, Billy Jacobson has immigrated to New Zealand where he has ridden five winners in his first month in Kiwiland. Marco van Rensburg is riding on a contract in Dubai. He has a winner and four places to show from 24 rides.

Anton Marcus, the former champion jockey and Grade 1 ace, quietly retired over a year ago and has been appointed as an ambassador for Betway. The popular Marcus was seen mingling with clients and rubbing shoulders with fans at the recent Betway Summer Cup. Jockey Randall Simons has not been that fortunate. He incurred a shoulder injury, some 10 months ago, and will be sidelined for another several weeks.

Two prominent racing officials retired at the end of 2023. Karin Le Roux, Promotions Manager for East Cape Racing for the last 28 years, said she’ll be enjoying her memories of “wonderful people, challenging personalities, champions, and some truly colourful characters”, while settling down in a seaside village near Port Alfred.

Cecil van As, who started as an apprentice jockey to the late JF Coetzee in 1978 and won a provincial jockeys title in his heyday before joining the then Jockey Club in the late 1990s, has also called it a day. Van As worked first as a starter, later as a Stipendiary Steward for Cape Racing. He will be spending the first few weeks of his retirement on a course covering the ways in which to use his smart phone.