ZIETSMAN Oosthuizen couldn’t have asked for a better start to his training career. The 41-year-old made a lifelong dream come true when he obtained his licence three weeks ago. All his 11 runners earned stakes at Monday’s Flamingo Park meeting, with two winners, five seconds, a third, two fourth places and a sixth extending the dream.

Zietsman spent six years as an assistant to Bill Human – a period in which they won many races, but he told Turf Talk: “There is nothing like a first official winner. I’m still on cloud nine, it was all a frenzy, things went by in a haze. Our first runner came in second, then we had a third and a fourth in the next race and a little while later At The Opera won. It was hugely exciting!”

What made the afternoon even more special was that Zietsman’s father, Nico, and his racing partner, Coen Nel, surprised him at the races with an unexpected visit.

Zietsman said: “They drove 900km from our home town of Ellisras (Lephalale, Limpopo Province), to be here with me. My girlfriend Corne and my sister Nicolette was also on course, also Basie and Suzette Viljoen, my biggest patrons.”

The Viljoen family has helped Zietsman to make hiswishes a reality, buying 11 horses for the stable at the BSA Shongweni Sale on 18 February. Most of them competed on Monday and he said: “Our first winner At The Opera (Ato) was R5,000 buy and earned R27,000. Then we won the feature race with Via Scara (Pathfork), who cost R28,000 and won R66,000. All the others were cheapies too. Two second-paced runners were R2,000 and R3,000 buys respectively. I am delighted to have returned the bulk of Basie and Suzette’s investment in one race meeting. They love the game and I am blessed to have them!”

Zietsman is a big guy, but said he was a lot smaller in his youth and that he grew up in a horse family in which riding was second nature. “My dad and his partner have been racing in amateur events since I can remember, and I rode too, between the ages of 10 and 16. Many trainers, as we know, had their grounding competing in amateur races, like Tobie Spies, Corrie Lensley, Chris Snaith, to name a few. I’ve loved the game forever, I’ve studied pedigrees and form my entire life.”

Zietsman said that his vision of becoming a trainer was fuelled several years ago when he met Mark and Dorrie Sham in Port Elizabeth. “Mark said to me, ‘If you want to be a trainer you have to give everything else up, it’s not easy’, but this actually inspired me, and I did what Mark had suggested. I knew I had to start at the bottom and I got a job with Bill Human on his farm, a trainer from the old school who has been around for decades.

“I started as a stable hand and I drove Bill’s truck to the races. We soon developed a good partnership. The Human stable sent out 248 winners in the following six years!”

Zietsman has 17 horses in training on a farm near Bloemhof, about 180km from Kimberley and 300km from Johannesburg. “I rent the property from former trainer (PL) Phillip Smith. It’s a lovely place with seven paddocks and two sand tracks, and I live there too, about 100m from my stables.

“The sand tracks have different depths. The one is a 3000m track with a deep, straight 600m run and the other is a straight, fast track of 1,500m, so I can vary the horses’ work all the time.”

He explained his training philosophy. “I aim to keep my owners involved. I send them messages and videos every day of whatever I do, when the horses walk or run, when they’re in the paddocks and when they’re being treated by veterinarians. I don’t want my patrons to ever miss a beat, because an informed owner is a happy owner. I tell them the truth, no sugar coating, and they appreciate that.”

While the Viljoens own more than half of his stable at present, Zietsman acquired an interesting new patron in Johannesburg-based Peter Makgoba, who owns Monday’s second-placed, Royal Reward.

“Peter phoned me out of the blue, I didn’t know him from a bar of soap. He told me that his son recommended he send horses to me. I don’t know his son either, I have no idea why he suggested me to his dad, but I sure am pleased and thankful. Peter is one of the most passionate racing people I’ve ever met. He enjoys the sport to the full and we communicate every day.”

Quite intriguing that, a black businessman from Johannesburg partnering with a proper farm-raised “Dutchman” – but it’s really good too, because racing needs more happy owners to support trainers across the board, especially owners of colour.

When speaking to Zietsman on the phone, there were chickens and other farm animals making a noise in the background. One can sense there is a homely, friendly atmosphere around this likeable fellow. It’s like, there must’ve been a kettle brewing somewhere too, with fresh coffee and perhaps some fried eggs and “pap” dished up for breakfast in the kitchen.

Zietsman says that, “there are no boundaries” in his life and his ambition is to train top horses and win big races. He is as passionate as the owners he described, has the right demeanour, a friendly place to train, a good attitude and, from what he has demonstrated, natural horsemanship. He is going to do well. 

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