Maybe if there were more real people in this game just being themselves, we’d all be way better off. One just had that feeling after listening to Santosh Sukhraj outlining the simple philosophies and rise to prominence of a family horseracing business that had its origins over 25 years ago when jockeys Andrew Fortune and Deon Sampson installed some fire equipment in their tyre plant.
The bright pink Sukhraj Racing silks have rocketed to prominence in KwaZulu-Natal over the past two years and with 19 winners and 32 second cheques last season, they are patently a happy success story,that will hopefully continue going places in a game that tames lions.
And listening to the ‘Godfather’ Santosh chatting to James Goodman on last Monday evening’s Winning Ways show, in what was surely the most fascinating half hour of Tellytrack viewing in recent living memory, one couldn’t be anything but struck by really how simple this game should be.
The Sukhraj family are living a dream that probably started a half century and more ago through their Grandfathers who played ten cent jackpots and simply loved their horseracing because it was in their blood.
“We have loved racing since we can remember. And look here, meeting a jockey in the early 1990’s was nothing short of exciting for us,” said Santosh Sukhraj as he explained how as ‘the first Indians’ they were given the opportunity of opening the Bandag Plant.
They needed fire equipment and when they heard that Andrew Fortune and Deon Sampson were partners in the company that had quoted to install extinguishers, they ‘didn’t care about the price’ and approved the job.
“We shook hands and Andrew landed up marking a R350 Pick 6 that paid R85 000. He rode a few outsiders. That was it – a friendship and association was sealed.”
Santosh described Andrew Fortune as a legend and somebody ‘genuine’.
“If he takes racing seriously, he will put Striker and Superman in his back pocket. A genius of a jockey.And even when we had our tough times he would still come and visit. Sometimes even in barefeet. That was him – a genuine guy.”
He went on to ponder about Fortune’s own issues.
“He made a few mistakes and time passes by and we know one cannot make it up. Money one can always make again – but not even God can give you time back,’ he said thoughtfully.
He described their first horse, Flower Pot, who was trained by John Fox.
“It was a second hand horse and won a race ridden by Gary Molloy. We backed it and gave Bookmaker Morris Vee a real hiding. But John Fox is sadly out of the game now and I’m not surprised as he is just too honest. Other trainers manoeuvre and play around – he didn’t do that.”
Santosh went on to recount how the family had made ‘some wrong choices.’
“We have paid our school fees and made mistakes – with horse choices too. We were offered that good horse Nino’s Mistral but landed up opting for a horse called Third Fleet. He came with lots of stories – like he had big hooves, waiting for the rain and he is a champion. You know the stories.”
He said that Deon Sampson introduced the family to trainer Louis Goosen.
“We had a horse called Fireball and Louis fancied it at Greyville. But something went wrong and he ran nowhere. Louis just took his jacket and left the course – we were left with the Assistant on course.”
“I told my brother Ronnie that Louis was handling us. But then he took the horse to the Vaal and gave it a run and then put Striker up. But our Bookmaker Morris Vee had posted us with the Jockey Club for just R500 and Louis said just sort it out as the horse must run and would win.”
Santosh explained how Ronnie had to run around ‘like a beggar’ looking for Morris Vee to pay the debt.
“But we cleared it and backed Fireball at 7 to 2 and how wrong I turned out to be about Louis Goosen. He made it up to us and proved a genuine man. And today we are involved with eight horses in his Ten Bar Syndicate. We hope to have at least one in the Million Dollar Race.”
As for Morris Vee, Santosh smiled mischievously and said:
“Im waiting for Morris on course now – we gave him a few at Chatsworth that he didn’t even know about and we are gonna hit him again!”
Of the future, he said they were looking at having a big season as they had the runners this year.
“My brother Ronnie is just too gullible. So he has to step out of the picture- he believes the stories – the lovely image and the father won the July, the mother won that, etc , blah blah!”
“We have paid our school fees and we know now that one always has to look sharp. You gotta watch for the sharks– you can’t even feel the money coming out of your pocket and when you look six months later, you say – wow, what happened?”
“Each horse is a cost centre – it’s a company, it has a name – if there are losses close it down. And always remember that the purchase price is easy to pay, but it is only a deposit. The repayments (the trainer’s keep) is the real killer.”
Shapes And Sizes
Santosh said that they had moved from a ‘square’ to a ‘triangle’ of trainers.
“We have been hard at times on Doug Campbell but he is a gentleman and a great trainer. Then we have Greg and Karen Anthony at one point with Frank Robinson at the other. Garth Puller is another genius horseman who understands the game. If the horse is no good, he says so. And an owner is only looking for honesty,” he said.
The Sukhraj family recently sponsored a race at the final Clairwood raceday and which was amazingly won by their own horse, Sakania.
“For us that was like winning a Gr1. What a great day. What an honour. Clairwood is part of our heritage. We were just surprised it was not covered in the newspapers. Mind you, we had the first winner on the polytrack and they never wrote about that either.”
Santosh closed off by saying that the family loved racing and enjoyed the sport together.
“The youngsters are with us. These days it is so easy to go the wrong way. There are drugs in Umhlanga. In Malvern. But they enjoy the racing with us- that allows us control.”