Bernard Fayd’herbe has just returned to Cape Town after his triumphant Vodacom Durban July weekend. Although it’s already business as usual and we squeeze in a quick chat on his way to the races, the pride and satisfaction are still warmly wrapped around his smile.
I ask him to describe July day. “It was really good, obviously,” he says cheekily. And then more seriously, “I had a lovely day. Firstly, I had only booked heavy rides and all my rides were well spaced out, so it was an easy card. The vibe on the day was lovely and everything just worked out. The course was good and it was running fast and it’s always nice to know the best horse was going to win.”
“I was a little unlucky to get beaten a short head in the Golden Horseshoe – I thought I’d got up, but from there the day just got better. In the July, everything worked out really well for me and Marinaresco came through with flying colours.”
How confident was he going into the big race? “I always thought I was riding the best horse in the race, but he was carrying 60kgs, so it was always going to be hard for him to win. He really needed to have everything in his favour. I knew I had a good ride, but I needed everything to work out.”
Remarking that Marinaresco had looked incredibly relaxed and focussed throughout proceedings, Bernard agrees. “In the parade ring, he was walking along so quietly. I got off him down at the start and he was just so relaxed and so comfortable within himself. And then he obviously produced the goods.”
“As the race unfolded, I was smiling all the way round. Everything ended up working out perfectly. In the straight I asked him and he quickened up so well, I thought ‘here we go!’ I was pretty confident I’d won and S’manga said to me he thought I’d got up. Then MJ (Byleveld) came up and said ‘well done, you’ve won’ and I suddenly thought ‘hold on a little, let’s wait for the result’. Fortunately it didn’t take too long.”
Having had to share the laurels on Pocket Power back in 2008, how special was it to do the victory canter solo this year? “It was really great, I think particularly because at the weights it’s harder for me than a lot of other jockeys. I’m obviously riding at the top end of the scales and there aren’t too many horses that can win at top weight. Also, most rides I get will be older horses who have to be hard knockers, rather than the younger, improving ones. But I’ve pulled it off and it’s awesome. I haven’t had a lot of time to just try and absorb it all, I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet.”
It goes without saying that that it was a hugely emotional win for the team, coming on the back of Mr Bass’s illness and subsequent retirement, Candice taking over the reins, Marinaresco being part-owned by Marsh Shirtliff and running in the famous Pocket Power colours, Robert Fayd’herbe being the assistant trainer, it being Candice’s first season of training and being the first lady trainer to win it, plus Mike Bass still owning a leg in the horse as well.
What did it mean to have the whole team there for the win? “It was wonderful for everyone to be there, especially Mr Bass. He was glowing.” And he’s right. Below his favourite sunglasses, Mike Bass’s smile was a mile wide. It was good to see. “It’s also nice to have done it for Marsh, Bryn and Freddy. They’re not just owners, they’re more like friends. And it was special winning it for Candice and her being the first lady trainer to win the July. She’s come a long way very quickly. She had to fill in big shoes and unexpectedly quickly. She’s done a good job. I’m also really happy for Robert. He did all the work in Durban. I think he was more relieved than anyone. I don’t know who looked more pale in the parade ring – him or Candice!”
In what is possibly my favourite detail of the whole day, it seems Marinaresco had an extra bit of luck riding on his shoulder on Saturday. Or his jockey’s shoulder, as it turns out. A little extra luck In the post race footage, I’d noticed some wording stitched into the collar of Bernard’s silks. On closer inspection, it turned out to be the words ‘Pocket Power’, so I asked whether there was any special significance to that. Bernard confirms that he’d won the race in a set of Pocket Power’s colours. “It was his first pair of stretch silks.” And suddenly I have goosebumps all over again. It’s hard not to imagine Pocket bucking around his field in Hemel ‘n Aarde with a smug look on his face.
“I think I might try and keep them and get them framed,” muses Bernard. I agree that he’s certainly earned them. I then rang Robert Fayd’herbe to congratulate him as well, because being in charge of the Durban yard, he had done the majority of the work – and shouldered a lot of the pressure – in the lead up to the race. Robert had also done a lot of the work and been very close to Pocket Power during his career. Asked whose idea it had been to pack Pocket’s silks for Saturday’s race he says, “It was me. I stole those silks from Cape Town. They’re the only set of Marsh’s silks I have up here in Durban and those are my lucky silks.” I tell him that Bernard has designs on putting them in a commemorative frame and he responds firmly, “They’re not going anywhere!” I think we’ll leave the brothers to sort it out among themselves…..
The theme for the 2017 Vodacom Durban July was ‘The Colour Of Magic’. Marsh’s tricolour silks are famously made up of ‘pink for the girls, blue for the boys and white for everyone else’. But my favourite bit of colour for this year’s race turned out to be black and white. Which just goes to show, you can’t beat a classic.