Charl Pretorius is passionate about racing and has put his heart and soul into racing. From writing about racing to owning horses to having a web site Charl is all about racing. At the moment he has problems with the ‘powers that be’ and it will be fascinating to see what transpires from here on in. For racing’s sake most keen racing people will be hoping that we will not have seen the last of Charl Pretorius.
What is your name and age? Charl Pretorius. I am 43.
Where do you live? On Gauteng’s West-Rand.
Tell us about your family? I am married to Leatitia and have a daughter Thalia (16) and a son Gavin (12).
How did you become interested in horse racing? My late grandfather was a keen P/A Player and he taught me about form. I was studying race cards and racing pages long before I went to school. I attended my first race meeting at the age of 13. I dressed in a suit and put on a pair of shades so I could get through the gates. The age of admission was 18. I was tall, looked a little older than I was, but the gate staff wouldn’t let me in without an uncle of mine twisting arms and slipping them a few bucks. Later I befriended one of the gatekeepers and everyone got to know me. As a teenager I raced most Saturdays and I lived for it.
Who were the people in racing who had the biggest influence on you in your decision to make racing your career? Nobody influenced me, I was always going to be in racing. Herman Husselman opened the door for me at the Afrikaans newspaper Beeld in 1988, and in the years to follow I made progress with the help of Alec Hogg, Dave Mollett, Robert Garner and Mike de Kock.
Were you involved in any other business before you came into racing? No, I completed a Higher Education Diploma in 1989 but started working as an assistant in the Beeld racing office midway through 1988. I was employed as assistant racing editor to Etienne Louw the day I wrote my final exam at the Goudstad Teacher’s College. I never made the classroom as a teacher. Later I completed a BA degree with English Major at the old RAU. It was the best thing I could ever do because it gave me a good grounding in literature and writing and helped me to avoid National Service. I’ve been called a yellow-belly and a coward for that, but in reality I was earning a salary when all my mates were shooting people, getting shot or drinking themselves silly in some stupid army camp. I didn’t see any sense in that.
Which newspapers did you work for as a racing reporter? More than I can recall. There was Beeld, Rapport, Sunday Times, Business Day, Mail and Guardian, City Press and even a few ‘knock-and-drops’, the community newspapers. I was the first editor of The Citizen’s Racing Express in 2003, I enjoyed a few wonderful few years as Phumelela’s Publishing Editor, also on Computaform. I did some writing for the old SA Racehorse and I’ve done many articles for Parade Magazine. I’m proud to have launched the websites mikedekockracing.com, seantarryracing.co.za, freeracer.co.za and racingweb.co.za.
Which other publications have you worked for in your career in journalism? In 1993 I broke away from racing for a few years. I was involved with Joe Theron’s TIM Info Services, we managed the Cape TAB’s commentary and results lines on the 087 premium rate service. That was closed down and Joe was looking for a new business and as it turned out found Hustler Magazine. I was hanging around the office, not doing much, so he appointed me as editor, almost by default. In looking back I don’t think I knew what I was letting myself in for, but between 1994 and 1999 my life was a roller-coaster ride of high-profile court cases, world travels, censorship battles and of course a whole lot of partying. In 1994 I developed the Afrikaans adult title Loslyf, notorious and outrageous and still published today. When you work with adult material you’re odds-on to live on the fringes of society with lots of disgust and even hatred pointed at you, but from an editor’s perspective publishing naughty magazines is really no different to publishing mainstream family magazines like Huisgenoot or You and I’ve never been ashamed of what I did! It was a riveting, multi-faceted and on-the-edge business and I enjoyed a highly exciting time during which I acquired what I’d like to say were priceless lessons in publishing and marketing.
What interesting stories can you tell about things that have happened to you as a journalist? In my time at Hustler I literally did a Phineas Fogg, travelling around the world a few times. So many strange and funny things happened in the process that I’d like to write a book about it one day. Most of those adventures will shock as much as they will entertain, but they can’t be related here! I can say though that I was privileged to meet and engage with the legendary Larry Flynt and his associates several times, including his then chief editor Allan MacDonell, one of the best creative writers I’ve ever come across and someone I studied closely for the way he structures articles, links ideas and sentences and, for better or worse, hurls hard criticism at individuals or institutions in a manner which makes it sound like poetry! We visited Larry’s house in the Hollywood Hills in 1996 and his private birthday party in 1997. In 1998 we went to Hustler’s 25th anniversary bash which was held at a hangar at the Van Nuys airport in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, complete with his private jet parked outside and naked girls dancing everywhere. I met and interviewed the stars of the adult world, including Ron Jeremy (google him if the name is unfamiliar), and attended the “Adult Oscars” in Las Vegas. It was the world of fantasy becomes reality – warped, decadent to the core and truly crazy, but in most ways even better than I could ever imagine. The downside is that I’ve never quite lived down my reputation as a “porn editor”, which my detractors love to use for sticking the knife in. People remember the tags that others like to hang on you, they ask questions and it’s embarrassing sometimes.
How long did it take you and Mike de Kock to write Horse Chestnut? About six months, between March and August 2000. It was a huge project because we published and distributed the book ourselves. Mike dictated all his experiences with the big horse and I had to reproduce it in writing, source photos and so on.
What was the public’s reaction to the book? It was well received, we did promotions and book signings, we sold about 5000 copies. The book also won a minor award from CNA.
How difficult was it to write the book or did you find it easy to do? It was a first timer. Difficult, yes, but exciting all the same. I’d do a much better job today, I believe I am a better writer ten years later, but the feedback has never been negative, the book was enjoyed.
Have you written any other books and won any other awards? I published “TheTen Habits of Highly Effective Horseplayers” in 2006 and my latest book is “Legends Of The Turf Volume 1”, a collection of racing profiles, it’s good, I’m looking forward to launching it. In 2008 I won the Vodacom Award for Journalist of the Year, Gauteng Online, for a short colour piece on Bridget Oppenheimer published in mikedekockracing.com, and I was a finalist for the National Award. That came as a surprise and it really got me writing. I’m having a lot of fun these days bringing awkward, interesting angles to racing reports and adding some zany stuff and parodies. I’m coming up with a lot of weird nonsense, I laugh myself silly sometimes, but racing needs fresh perspectives, I’m getting feedback from readers all over the world.
You have had some good wins as a punter but in all honesty would you say you are a winner or a loser after your years of punting? I’ve never been a big punter. I had a bad experience many years ago when I applied for a credit card and drew the maximum, R5000, to take a bet. I placed it all on a very good filly called St Just, running at Turffontein. On the day she found one too good, she lost by a short-head after a 400m heads-up, heads-down contest and I was devastated. Since then I’ve won consistently small amounts with small money. I like to play the Quartet, it’s a great bet. I also play the P/A, tote doubles and occasional doubles with bookmakers. Over the years I’d venture to say I’ve broken square and I’ve enjoyed the thrill of it. I haven’t won huge amounts, but barring that early setback I haven’t lost anything significant either.
For anyone wanting to earn an income from punting what advice would give them? To earn an income one needs extreme betting discipline. I don’t think there are many who can ride the ups and downs for too long. Betting for a living can only be hugely strenuous and taxing. I’ve heard some names, I’ve raced with some serious horseplayers, but I’ve never met a soul who has made a living from betting on horses.
Float your roughies in a quartet with six or seven other runners. You will see results.
You have a great friendship with Mike de Kock. How would you sum the man up? Mike is highly intelligent with a wicked sense of humor and he’s razor sharp, as a horseman and as a businessman. He is a visionary, with a natural ability to spot opportunities. He reads widely and can debate about anything from politics to movies to natural disasters. He thinks out of the box, alternatively always, and pays great attention to detail so he doesn’t miss a beat. He’s got the eloquence of a politician and while he seems aloof to some, he actually loves meeting people from all walks of life, he cares.
From having known from his earliest years as a trainer to the phenomenal success he now is do you think his success has changed him in any way? Mike has grown immensely in stature and with that has grown his confidence. Not that he wasn’t confident before, but, to name an example, there was a time when I used to help him to prepare his speeches and we’d look at things like presenting the best arguments in the best way or throwing in a joke here and there. When he started rising to prominence he would worry a bit about things like this and make notes and do some rehearsing. Today he can get up in any company and speak unprepared and off the cuff without blinking an eyelid. He’s also mastered his tendency to fly off the handle, being such a high-profile personality he is now concerned about the image of racing.
How has your association with Mike affected your life and the way you look at horse racing? I’ve learnt a lot about the physical aspects of horses, things to look for when selecting yearlings, training, the politics of racing, owners, many other things by spending a lot of time with him, of course not near enough, but I learn something from him and his assistants every time we have contact. I had an office in the Randjesfontein stable when we started Mike’s website and that was awesome, because I was there early every morning and saw how they did things, first-hand. More importantly however, I’ve travelled to wonderful race meetings all over the world, a real privilege to be at Mike’s side from Dubai to Ascot to Melbourne to Hong Kong, and I’ve had the opportunity to interview famous people like Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, Frankie Dettori and Johnny Murtagh. Those were experiences money cannot buy. We’re close, Mike and I, he’s helped me in many other ways and still does. Years ago I calmed him down when he was under fire, I tried to keep him in check. Today it’s the other way around, he’s stopped me a few times from going balls-to-the-wall with highly controversial articles. But some have slipped through the net and then I get an earful.
Through your original web site, Freeracer, you have formed syndicates to buy horses. How successful has this been and which is the best horse in your syndicate right now? Off the top of my head, the syndicate has had 13 individual runners, eight of them have won 17 races between them. Havasha is the most talented, but he hasn’t quite put things together since his illness last winter. Superfederation has done very well, a share of him was kindly given to us by Gary Alexander Racing, he’s won five races and near R400,000 in stakes. I’d say Outback King with Doug Campbell is the most promising one coming through, and MJ Thriller has taken a long break, he is with Louis Goosen and could still develop into a decent horse.
You have the reputation of being a person who calls a spade a spade. Has this desire to tell it like it is got you into hot water? I’ve had to apologize for things I’ve written more times than I care to remember, and I’ve stopped apologizing now. I refuse to be dictated to, I have certain beliefs, certain points of view and I see no reason why I can’t be allowed to express them. We were all born free, and we are different. Individuality is something so many people aspire to, yet they allow themselves to be shoved in the cage of another’s thoughts, to be controlled by those with more money, power or charisma. I cannot change the way I am, I am going through hell for it but I am not lying to myself or my supporters. What you see is what you get. I dislike bureaucracy, hypocrisy and the power-wielding egotists who are so adept at abusing the weak for their own gain. Every day people say to me, “That’s the way the world works, there are strong people and weak people, rich and poor. There must be winners and losers. Why are you fighting the system?” The answer is simple: The system sucks! We’ve seen overwhelming evidence of how unscrupulous bankers can build a strong world economy designed to enrich a select few (including themselves), destroy it (to enrich a select few, including themselves) and rebuild it again (to enrich a select few, including themselves). Racing is being run essentially by the same people with the same core objectives. Sure, history tells us it’s almost impossible to beat these ruthless people, but history also shows that they must have opposition. It’s like a game of chess. It’s your move, then my move. Opposition to authority is needed for the whole game of love and life to work and balance. I cannot stomach the deliberate exploitation and the systematic raping of the noble sport of horseracing for the sole purpose of manipulating share prices.
With the big Cape feature season nearly over which horse or horses impressed you the most? Never easy to say, but among the young horses I like Justin Snaith’s Solo Traveller a lot, and Run For It looks special. Ebony Flyer and Igugu, of course, and Perana. Past Master looks special among the older lot.
Which do you consider to be the best horse you have seen racing over the past season?
As a shrewd observer of the racing game do you think the game is straight or is there room for improvement? Anybody who says racing is 100% straight is lying. The very nature of the game will always lend itself to crookery, or perhaps opportunistic training and placing of runners is a better phrase. But this is a part of racing that astute form students can cope with by studying trainers’ traditional winning patterns and merit ratings. Everyone who’s been in racing long enough knows the term “giving a horse a run”, this happens at almost every race meeting and is a publicly stated game plan in some cases, but there are trainers who exploit this to mislead the public.
What is it about racing that makes you passionate about the game? I am sick for well-prepared horses fighting out a finish, it’s an unequalled thrill seeing those big powerful animals and their riders giving their all. The Summer Cup finish between Wolf Whistle and Yard-Arm in 2004 was a classic. Of late I also enjoy noting yearlings I like at sales and watching how their careers progress. I love writing about racing’s many colourful characters.
Do you ever visit stud farms to look at the ‘babies’? Yes, on occasion I do get a chance to look at young horses on stud farms, always a beautiful experience.
Do you like to study pedigrees?Yes, I do, I also like naming horses, it’s a lot of fun looking for unusual names that link to pedigrees.
How do you go about picking yearlings, or older horses, for your syndicate? I am learning all the time, I try to spend time with experts who have picked many good ones. Jehan Malherbe and Dr John Mcveigh have got it down to a tee. Of course one man’s runt is another man’s champ, but there are factors the top boys employ to narrow down their chances. I think the overall balance of a yearling is important, certain physical defects can be overlooked if the horse has overall appeal, if it “talks” to you. I like rangy, athletic horses but of course when you’re picking on a small budget your choices are limited. I am a novice at picking them, but I’ve done well so far and I want to learn more.
Which are your favourite stallions? Silvano and Kahal.
Do you have a favourite racecourse in SA? Greyville is a great place to race!
Do you ever advise friends or family to have a punt on a horse you really like? Whenever I do that, my selections run shocking races!
With racing going through some tough times do you think personal ambitions and politics play too big a part in the administration of racing? Undoubtedly, and I am not going to elaborate at this point.
If asked to give your opinion how would you say racing in SA can pull itself out of the doldrums it finds itself in? This depends entirely on how you define the word, “doldrums”.
Which personalities in racing have had a big influence on your career and on your life? Mike de Kock, Herman Husselman, Robert Garner, Mick Goss and the late Roy Unsworth.
If you have to name the most important lesson you have learnt about racing what would you say that is? Racing is controlled by a ruthless Boys Club who won’t stop at anything to feed their greed and their ego’s.
How do you like to spend your free time? Working in racing gives you a multi-tiered lifestyle with the concept of free time built into it, never a dull moment and much to do. I’d love to spend entire days just reading, but there’s no time.
Apart from racing what else are you passionate about? Good literature, theatre and music.
What is your philosophy on the racing game? Racing is like a huge, living, breathing entity that never stops recreating itself. There are countless ways for people to contribute and play important roles. Racing creates jobs and opportunities. I love the game with all my heart and therefore I contribute. It’s not an industry for the faint-hearted.
With Racingweb not been sponsored any longer what are your immediate plans for your website? Moneyweb’s decision to can Racingweb was a terrible blow to me and I’ve had to focus on surviving more than anything else, but there is a seed of opportunity in times like these and I thrive on it. The NHA and Phumelela want me banned from racing for things I wrote, they should be ashamed of what they are doing, but this is the way it works with those besotted by power, control and money. They’ve already disgraced me and my family, former racing friends walk circles around me, and doors have closed fast. But whatever they do, they will never shut me up. I will lie down only when I die.
If you had one piece of advice for your fellow associates in the racing world what would it be? Stand up for what you believe in. Fight for the game, these are competitive times and racing needs to retain its market share.