Skip to main content

Zwinithini Yenge’s look of apprehension was replaced by tears of joy about half-an-hour later when the enormity of his beloved Royal Victory’s triumph in the Gr 1 R5 million Betway Summer Cup sunk in. (Picture: 4Racing)

Zwinithini Yenge, the groom of the Pathfork gelding Royal Victory, expected a place at best in the Gr 1 R5 million Betway Summer Cup and cried tears of joy when his beloved horse won Johannesburg’s biggest event at Turffontein Standside last Saturday.

All in all with the R20,000 cheque rewarded by Betway to the grooms of all Summer Cup runners plus 1% of the stake cheque, Zwinithini earned around R50,000 and is going to use it for school fees for loved ones and to refurbish his house.

Zwinithini has been a groom for decades starting with Michael Airey and then moving to David Payne’s yard where he worked together with Royal Victory’s trainer Nathan Kotzen.

When Nathan joined the powerful Mike de Kock yard Zwinithini went with him.

They worked together there for 17 years and he then went with Nathan again when the latter took out his own trainer’s license just over six years ago.

David Payne, speaking from Australia where he has been training since 2002, was thrilled to hear of Zwinithini’s fillip and said, “That is great for him as grooms do not get much recognition and they do a great job.”

Zwinithini’s job is indeed hard and demands long hours.

He looks after three horses and let’s take a look at what he has to do with just one of them i.e. the Gr 1 Betway Summer Cup champion Royal Victory.

Zwinithini has to arrive in the early hours of the morning and clean out the horse’s box.

He then rides Royal Victory down to the track where a workrider will put him through his paces.

Upon return he has to first wash the horse down and he must then remove dead hairs and exfoliate the skin. This helps prevent excess bacteria or fungus building up on the skin, which can lead to irritating and painful skin complaints.

The mane and tail must have knots brushed out.

The hoof pick cleans out the bottom of the foot to ensure no stones are in there after the visit to the track.

In the afternoon the horse is cleaned again, any dust being removed and chalk helps bring on a nice shiny coat.

Thoroughbreds weigh an average of 450kg and some of them have feisty temperaments, while a few can even be nasty.

It can be a dangerous job and it is highly important the horse is at ease with the groom.

It is one of the joys of the sport to see a groom cleaning a racehorse.

The acceptance of the groom by the big animal is a sight to behold, especially when the ticklish parts are being groomed. The horse will often sway his head at this stage and might give his friend a nibble ordering him to hurry up.

Zwinithini said Royal Victory is a well behaved horse.

Nathan praised Zwinithini for the excellent care he took of Royal Victory and spoke of their close bond.

Nathan said, “Zwinithini stands behind Royal Victory’s hindlegs without a worry … that is not something I would do!”

The box has to be kept clean at all times and of course there is also feeding time and ensuring the horse has adequate water.

Sometimes horses are taken for walks in the afternoon.

Multiply all of that times three and that is a working day in the life of a groom.

There is also race day, although a yard often has special race day grooms who look after the horses on course and lead them around the parade ring.

Raceday groom Eric Motha was together with Zwinithini at the Summer Cup and didn’t go home empty-handed beacause he had a small each-way bet on Royal Victory.

Zwinithini Yenge (right) and the Kotzen yard’s raceday groom Eric Motha lead in Royal Victory with a beaming Muzi Yeni, who rode a race for the ages, aboard. Zwinithini is probably still in a state of disbelief at this stage, but minutes later he was overcome with emotion. (Picture: Supplied)

So it is great to see the initiatives lately in recognition of the valuable role grooms play in the sport of kings and this has led to an improvement in their quality of life.

Grooms have been getting 1% of all stake cheques for some time.

In KZN grooms get a bonus of R1000 everytime one of their horses wins and this is doubled in the months from April through to August.

The Grooms accomodation at Summerveld has been improved. They can also look forward to the evenings as there is a bar area with a TV, a pool table and a Tote which is operated from 9.a.m everyday through to 6 p.m.

Royal Victory arrived back at Summerveld earlier in the week and looks a picture of soundness and well-being.

Zwinithini Yenge and Nathan Kotzen’s daughter and assistant Natasha Culverwell pose with Betway Summer Cup winner Royal Victory at Summerveld today (Thusrday) (Picture Supplied). 

Zwinithini has high ambitions for Royal Victory and asked on his next targets replied, “We hope to win The Met and the GommaGomma (Premier’s Champions Challenge).”

Nathan interrupted, “I’ve got him in the Met but I dunno if I’m going to go to the Met. We’re going to maybe go to the Premier’s in April.”

However, like all industryman in South African racing, the race Zwinithini most wants to win is the Gr 1 R5 million Hollywoodbets Durban July.

He has never won the July before.

He remembers his favourite horse during his many years with De Kock being Winter Weather (Western Winter), who won the Gr 2 Gold Circle Derby.

By a coincidence both Winter Weather and Royal Victory trace back on their bottom female lines to Abernant, the highest Timeform rated sprinter since World War II (142).

Winter Weather is surely now Zwinithini’s second favourite horse.

Royal Victory is one horse the Yenge family will never forget and there is still the potential for further celebrations.