“I have learnt that it’s best to play the cards the way life deals them rather than try and force the roll of the dice…”
South Africa’s leading established lady trainer Yvette Bremner didn’t come into the game via the pony club route.
She probably would not have been reflecting back on fifteen outstanding years today if she had not been largely circumstantially cornered into taking out her licence in 2002.
The pony-tailed blonde Fairview-based conditioner, who frankly looks the best part of ten years younger than her ID book suggests, saddled a four-timer at her home track – including the day’s feature – to share last Friday’s Eastern Cape card with her colleague, Alan Greeff, who got five.
Yvette concedes modestly that it’s ‘probably the fifth time’ she has won four races on an afternoon.
“I will have to check that with my ‘Public Relations Officer’, Hedley,” she laughs in a reference to her partner Hedley McGrath.
“But I probably shouldn’t be saying that, as he also happens to be one of the bigger owners in my yard!”
The Vryburg born one-time ballet dancer, who had ambitions of becoming a jockey, found her path in life inexorably mapped out when, at the age of 11 the family moved to Knysna, just down the N2 from PE.
She is not shy to admit that show-jumping and dressage never really appealed to her.
She simply loved horses and speed – only one pursuit made any sense.
Her first job in racing was in exalted company – she did eight years with the late legend, Stanley Greeff, before spending the next eight split between the services of Dumas Coetzee and Paul Lafferty.
That’s the equivalent of a Harvard education in racehorse training!
Mr Greeff gave her the nickname ‘Blue Eyes’, as he could not remember her name. It stuck.
Yvette had solid coaching on the work-riding front too, learning the finer skills of the mostly unglamorous art from multiple SA champion jockey Piere Strydom and her present day assistant, Carl Hewitson – father of leading apprentice and her current stable jockey, Lyle Hewitson.
“I am really fortunate to have had such a solid grounding. But when it came to taking the plunge and going on my own, I somehow preferred the salary cheque rather than the stress! But then Laff packed up here and I was on my own with a few horses. I was forced to sink or swim. But, I have been very lucky!” she says, modestly adding that having support counted for everything early on.
“In those early days, Mike de Kock, Alec Laird and Joey Ramsden helped me out with horses and, very importantly, paying owners,” she adds.
Her first winner came after a month – a filly called Nine From Tara, named by Ramsden’s Dad.
Born with no silver spoon in her mouth, hard work and doing the basics properly have seen Yvette make her own luck – the Dippin Blu stables string has grown from a modest twenty odd horses then to close on a very competitive 110 today.
She is full of praise for the Dippin Blu team – including assistant for the past ten years Carl Hewitson, Head Groom William and her two hardworking ‘pretty blondes’, Shamone and Janeke. And she rates her team of lead workriders – Lucky, Daniel and Siya, ‘top-class’.
Yvette relies on individual strengths to bolster the team.
“It sounds like a cliché, but we all have our own strengths. From handicapping to tending unsound horses to marketing to administration. We all play our role.”
SA’s leading apprentice Lyle Hewitson rode all four winners for her last Friday – we asked how much potential she believes he has.
“Lyle used to travel down to us from his Mom in Durban in school holidays and started riding work and participating in the work-rider races. He was keen to learn and showed balance from early. Not everybody close to him was keen on him becoming a professional jockey. But he is a bright student – a clever kid – and has a brain and top school education to fall back on if weight ever becomes an issue. He has a bright future – and has adopted the attitude where he is very keen to listen and to learn.”
Yvette added that Lyle and Karl Zechner shared the riding responsibilities until Zechner broke his arm.
“I am very happy – and fortunate – to have Lyle riding for us – and it’s nice to get solid feedback – and to see that he doesn’t avoid certain rides to suit himself. If a horse has issues and he has gotten to know the animal, he sticks with it. Not a common characteristic amongst jockeys, generally!”
Yvette has produced her own nursery over her fifteen years of ‘new generation’ horsewomen.
“I have been blessed with great staff over the years – Lezeanne Forbes is training for her own account in KZN and doing well; Barbara Badenhorst is doing an outstanding job as assistant to Dean Kannemeyer at Summerveld – and then her sister Vicky was a talented jockey – she is married to Gavin Lerena today.”
She has a nice string of horses at the moment. We asked her how good Friday’s 3yo feature winner Gimme The Stars is.
“He is a 16.1 hh Marie biscuit! A talented horse, he will be stronger when he fills out and grows into his frame. I am so proud of Via Seattle, who won on Friday. She was picked by my daughter Kayla and is proving really good – she won her second start from two.”
We asked Yvette about her Cape Guineas runner, Pacific Spirit.
“He is another outstanding Sail From Seattle. He is a top horse – as good as my Gr1 winner Copper Parade. We gelded him, but he sadly has his ‘issues’. And as far as the raiding goes, we will stick to Gauteng – we somehow have not had the same fortune in the Cape and KZN.”
Taxed on the tough economic climate, she indicated that she has always kept her feet on the ground and realised ages ago that training horses was not a passport to wealth – and that racing remains an ‘expensive game’.
“I don’t spend too much time being distracted by bank statements and balance sheets. I focus on my horses and winning races. I have good patrons – and I have found they become friends – and that’s part of the reward, fun and enjoyment of my work and their pleasure. I get great support from the breeders too – Lammerskraal, Maine Chance, Ascot, Danika, Milkwood and Wilgerbosdrift are amongst the names that any trainer would do somersaults to call their owners!”
On the aspect of Fairview’s training tracks, Yvette did not hesitate to say that they are spoilt with some of the best facilities in the country.
“The poly has had its critics, but it adds a valuable dimension for a range of horses. Our training tracks are great – for slow and fast work. When we left Arlington we had 58 horses. The yard has grown nicely here.”
The inevitable question of whether it was tough being taken seriously in a man’s world had to come up.
“I am no women’s libber but must say it was a lot tougher when I started out. I am not sure whether general mindsets in the New South Africa have evolved in terms of equality of the sexes – or whether training winners and running a successful business gives one credibility. I would like to believe it’s the latter!”
While Yvette gets on with things and doesn’t involve herself in the poison politics that the game dishes up from time to time, we did manage to squeeze one pet peeve out of her:
“The rule makers, some of whom have no understanding of the horse, somehow seem to think that they are qualified to foist impractical rules and regulations upon us. Like, for example, the change in the loading order at the gates. It doesn’t work to simply base this process on numbers. That amendment smacks of a lack of empathy and understanding of the nature and personality of different horses. But I’m glad to say we seem to be making some headway and there is a forum for negotiation and input that was not in evidence in years gone by. Hopefully trainers will be more fully consulted on all the things that affect us, going forward.”
And the future for Yvette…?
“I am doing what I love. I am definitely not going anywhere. Port Elizabeth is a great place to live and work. I have wonderful people and good horses around me. What more could anybody wish for?”