TURF Talk’s creaky old kist produced a 1977 photo this morning, in fact it’s dated 5 November 1977 – 39 years ago – and was taken in the Parade Ring at the old Gosforth Park racecourse.

The three gentleman eyeing horses in the grand old enclosure are from the left the late trainer Michael Roberts, his assistant John Azzie and Arthur Sands, at the time assistant to Bert Sage. Note the binoculars on each – you’ll be lucky to spot a single pair on any racecourse today with the advent of live, televised racing.

Michael Roberts (left), John Azzie and Arthur Sands.
Michael Roberts (left), John Azzie and Arthur Sands.

On this day the Michael Roberts-trained Big Swinger, owned by Graham Beck, came home smartly to win the Germiston City Handicap over 1600m under a youthful Robbie Sham. This was his prep run for the 1977 November Handicap in which he was well fancied, but went on to finish unplaced behind shock winner Deep Magic, who took the laurels under 47.5kg for trainer ‘Boet’ Huckell and jockey Derek Martin.

Roberts, the trainer extraordinaire, in the 1980s was a tutor to then young up-and-coming horseman Joey Ramsden. With sadly little or no information available on the web, Ramsden recalled this morning that Mr Roberts died in July 2000 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

We’d like to pay tribute to Roberts with this article, in a few days there will be some links on Google to remind everyone what a wonderful trainer he was – old-school impeccable in his stable management, training by the “eye”, hard-nosed and competitive and almost never wrong when he labelled them.

Roberts trained for the elite of SA racing including Beck, the Barlow family, Laurie Jaffee and others with a line of famous horses passing through his yard. There were the great sprinters Phantom Earl and Harcroft, the wonderful racemare Gay Mam’selle, the smart galloper Day To Remember and the ill-fated champion stayer Interlink, a few that spring to mind.

In the late 1980s Roberts, Bert Hayden and Earl Buckham combined forces in what was affectionately referred to as the “Senior’s Stable” at Turffontein, but having a passion for fishing Roberts moved to KZN in 1993 and trained a small, quality string at Clairwood, including Champions Cup winner Planetary Music, just a few years before his unexpected and untimely suicide.

John Azzie, like his brother Mike Azzie, father Herbie and grandfather George, sent out a winner from his first runner as a trainer, also in the late 80s, but he later ventured into the business world and Mike tells us John is involved in property, import and export.

Arthur Sands, who died in 1989, is the father of veteran Cape trainer Eric Sands, who told Turf Talk: “My dad was a superb assistant trainer. He worked for George Azzie, Bert Sage and Roy Magner and excelled as the man in the yard.

“ I talked him into taking out his own licence and he did so for a while, but he never really wanted to train, he enjoyed being among his horses at the stable yard as opposed to going racing. He taught me a lot and inspired me when I started training in Cape Town in 1984.”

Mike Azzie said about Messers Roberts, John Azzie and Arthur Sands: “Interestingly, all three in your photo worked for grandpa George Azzie for a while.”

Yup, racing is a closed circle in which many people make good contributions. A handful of them become legends, all memories are treasured!


  1. Micheal was quite probably the trainer with the best “eye” I ever had the privilege of befriending. Many a time he would “spot” an improved runner from another yard in the parade ring and we would include it in exotic bets to collect handsome dividends. Thanks for rekindling fond memories Charl.

  2. Thanks Mel. Mr Roberts was in a league of his own, and far from the fearsome and obnoxious character people made him out to be. Sorely missed after all these years.

  3. Thank you for this article.

    Michael Roberts was my father. There has sadly been no information available online around his racing career, until now.

    I have shared this page with our family who I am sure will enjoy reading it as much as I did.

    Much appreciated.



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