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Picture: Mike de Kock and Jehan Malherbe in action at the sales 

Off The Record (With Charl Pretorius)

When Mike de Kock and Jehan Malherbe booked a pair of flight tickets to Dublin in September 2012, they had a single objective: to buy the best yearling they could find for international competition. They wanted a superstar.

Their destination was the Goffs Orby Sale in County Kildare, Ireland, the headquarters of Irish racing and the annual point of assembly of Europe’s leading bloodstock vendors. This is where most high-profile buyers from around the globe convene to acquire some of the finest bloodstock money can buy.

Everything was in place. This was a time when Mike had already conquered a good proportion of the racing world with his global exploits, courtesy of a host of horses sourced and bought by Malherbe’s Form Bloodstock. They were well aware of the insider’s warning, ‘when an Irish Horse Trader speaks, he speaks from the corner of his mouth’; they’d done their homework on pedigrees and they had the funds to bid boldly.

This venture required the buying power of a strong partnership and Jehan sealed it with South Africa’s racing doyenne, Mary Slack, and another industry stalwart, Michael Javett. Slack and the reclusive Mr Javett were loosely acquainted, but hadn’t yet owned a horse together.

Lot 377 was the one. Consigned by Tony and Anne O’Callaghan’s Tally-Ho Stud, he was a smashing and physically correct son of Galileo, sire among sires, out of Flames (Blushing Flame), a young mare whose first foal had won the Group 1 EP Taylor Stakes. Malherbe took Coolmore on in a spirited bidding duel and eventually won the battle, securing the colt, Burning Desire, for 800,000 guineas. Salestopper!

Burning Desire went into training at De Kock’s yard at Newmarket, which housed a number of runners at the time, including a few destined for the Dubai Carnival. Expectations were bright, the colt was sound as a bell and in perfect health when he was prepared for his first few canters and gallops from Slack’s Abington Place.

Steven Jell, roving assistant trainer at the time, recalled that his first impressions were that Burning Desire was a slow as an old-model Diesel Tractor. He was a strong plodder, but that was it. De Kock soon confirmed that Burning Desire was decidedly on the very slow side, and from his own recollections this week said that the colt may have been, ‘one of the slowest I’ve ever seen!’

On 15 October 2014, Burning Desire made his debut in a 2000m race at Nottingham Racecourse near the River Trent, the area made famous for its ties to Robin Hood, the heroic outlaw from English folklore. Chris Catlin was booked for the ride.

The Racing Post commented: “Burning Desire was slowly into stride and always behind.” Attempting to stay in touch, Catlin started riding his mount with some vigour fully 1200m out, but to no avail. If there was a pathway from the back straight of the racetrack to Hood’s Sherwood Forest, they would have cut away early to the hidden comfort of the first line of trees!

Godolphin’s runner Flight Officer, the winner of the race, was already near the unsaddling enclosure when Burning Desire crawled across the line, officially beaten just under 40 lengths. With no obvious aches or pains, he confirmed his mesmerising lack of speed and the writing was on the wall.

Not prepared to throw in the towel, the De Kock team decided to geld Burning Desire and give him an extended break. He re-appeared over 2010m at Newbury in July 2015 and ran a place, though his third in a four-horse field was not the stuff of fairytales.

This race was won by Senrima, a colt trained by Brian Meehan and ridden by Richard Hughes and Jell told: “After the race, Richard came around to announce that he was getting his trainers’ licence and whether we were in the market with Burning Desire. He needed a few runners to start with.

‘Hughesy’ got his horse after Burning Desire’s third run, unplaced at Lingfield over 2200m, not too far off but still as slow as a rock rolling uphill.

The gelding left Abington Place following an undisclosed deal and was one of the first runners for the new Hughes yard at Newmarket. Unfortunately, the former UK champion jock experienced similar woes with Burning Desire, who managed four places from 12 more moderate efforts before he was moved to jumps trainer Niki Frost, then to Edward Traneer and later to Deborah Traneer.

Burning Desire’s best ever effort came in April 2017 in a hurdle race over 4000m at a venue named Flete Park in Southwest England. He gave his best for jockey Bryony Frost, plodded into the lead a few jumps from the post but failed to quicken when challenged near the line, losing by three-quarters of a length. He was retired, still a Maiden, after failing to finish a 4800m race at Flete Park in April 2022.

The Burning Desire story has a good ending and Malherbe explained: “One cannot make a slow horse run faster. Burning Desire was an unfortunate disappointment but, on the bright side, he brought Mary and Mr Javett close together as good friends. After Burning Desire’s failure, they bought the terrific G1 winner Alboran Sea and later partnered with G1 winner, Thunderstruck and G2 winner Montreal Mist. They also raced Alboran’s Sea’s son, Marmara Sea, who won 11 races.

Malherbe said: “That Mary and Mr Javett tried again after Burning Desire showed character and cemented their friendship.”


Geoff Woodruff and a few partners imported Starlight Explorer (Astronomer) from Australia in the early 2000s. He wasn’t the most expensive horse, but well bred and with high hopes around him.

All the jockeys who rode Starlight Explorer became impatient, as it took unusually long to complete the races he contested. Woodruff and his owners kept the faith, even though he ran collectively 75 lengths behind the winners in his first four starts. He had one fair run, plodding into third in a Maiden Plate at the Vaal, but after 11 outings the partners decided that his 12th run would be his last.

Woodruff had found a particularly weak Workriders Plate in which Starlight Explorer had only five runners to beat, to finish in the money. But again, he was found wanting, trailing in 8th of 10 runners, beaten 16 lengths.

When work rider Goodman Dadamazi returned to unsaddle, Woodruff and the owners awaited some final feedback and Woodruff asked the rider: “Goodman, is he completely useless?”

“No, Mr Woodruff,” replied Dadamazi. “He is not useless, just very, very slow!”

Woodruff said: “I remember that day because Goodman was so diplomatic. I found his comment polite and hilarious at the same time.”

A happy ending again, as Starlight Explorer was given to a showjumping school and proved to be quite good over the jumps. He won his fair share of rosettes.


Former jockey Kevin Shea, never shy of cracking jokes, had his own unique way of informing owners and trainers that their horses were on the slow side. He sometimes tried to diffuse the nervous tension after poor runs with a stern face and the news that the slow horse he had just ridden, had made ‘a terrible noise!’. Concerned about unknown breathing problems, the connections would ask, ‘What? No? Is he gone in the wind? Is he bleeding?’

Shea’s reply: “No, not that. The noise was hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw!”


In the late 1980s, Larry Nestadt and partners imported the Mr Prospector stallion, Krusenstern, for his excellent pedigree and the possibility of a racing career. He was sent to Ormond Ferraris who reported after the first few gallops, ‘Guys, this horse is very slow, he won’t win a race, seriously.’

Jeff Shill of the Tawny Syndicate recalled: “When we took him to stud, unraced, Mr Ferraris said: ‘If Krusenstern sires a winner, I will run around Turffontein naked!’

“Well, Krusenstern was no star at stud, but he did produce a few winners including The Decagon, a G3 placed, multiple winner trained by David Ferraris.

With the 90-year-old master trainer back at Turffontein assisting Weichong Marwing, Shill said: “I think now is the right time to remind Mr Ferraris of his promise!”