Well, the July dust has hopefully settled a little and life is getting back to normal for most of us. However, there is a team of relatively new kids on the block for whom the season is just hotting up.
Race 4, the Miller Dark Horse Gr2 Gold Vase played host to something of an emerging racing phenomenon. The name Carl Burger has quietly been cropping up in the nominations, results and the press pages with increasing regularity, but made their presence felt in a big way after the Gr2 Gold Vase on July day.
The little regarded 50/1 shot Grey Cossack took to the turf in his jaunty dayglo yellow silks with the purple spots and matching blinkers. With stable regular Morne Winnaar sidelined due to injury, Richard Fourie took to the irons. After settling towards the back of the group to start with, Grey Cossack seemed to develop a distaste for the Greyville turf in his face, make a bid for the lead and quite simply stayed there all the way to the line!
As I’m a bit of a fan of the underdog, I thought I’d go and find out a little more.
Originally from Durban, Carl was in fact born not far from Greyville racecourse, so it is perhaps inevitable that horses would be in his blood. His dad was an avid racing enthusiast and used to take him down to Blue Lagoon beach to watch the horses work. In fact, they were there the day Sea Cottage was shot.
Step-father Jimmy Knox undoubtedly had a huge influence on Carl’s life. Carl describes him as a hard-boiled punter and horseman, who knew everyone in Cape Town and Durban. Despite sounding like a hard task-master, Jimmy carefully handed over his knowledge and expertise to Carl and his legacy for being meticulous and a perfectionist is something Carl takes seriously. His respect and affection for his step father is obvious and perhaps best expressed in his office where Carl has a wall dedicated to photos of Jimmy.
When Jimmy went to work for Herman Brown, Summerveld became the playground for young Carl and Herman Brown jnr and what better nursery for two such enquiring minds. Carl remembers spending all his spare time at the racecourse – so much so that when he went missing from school, his teachers always knew where to go looking ! He chuckles when he tells of giving tips to the vice principal.
The path to his current yard in Philippi has been a little chequered. He dabbled in boxing promotions and commodity brokering, but his professional racing career started with Selvan Moodley. Carl eventually opened up a satellite yard for Selwyn in the Cape and enjoyed success with place-type horses, achieving about a 70% strike rate in the placings. However, relations with neighboring colleagues became strained and Carl opted to move back to Durban for a stint as assistant to Weiho Mawing. Back in Cape Town, he suffered a serious car accident, but after he recovered, a friend encouraged him to stay in the Mother City and he joined the Riaan van Reenen stable to see out his time. He eventually went out on his own approximately 2 years ago.
They do say in life that life moves in mysterious ways and that things happen for a reason. On a visit, uncle Herman Brown took Carl to Johan Harrison’s box. Braam van Huyssteen (the driving force behind Tekkie Town) was in the box that day, noticed and commented on Carl’s shoes and the two men got chatting. And so, on the strength of a pair of shoes, a remarkable relationship was born.
At the time, Braam had a half share in a horse called Lady Dappleloo with friend and bloodstock agent, Andy Williams. About a month later, Carl had a win with Louie’s Pride and Braam was struck by how emotional he got and how much the win meant. Carl then tipped him a double which came in and when Braam went to thank him and offer him a ‘chop’, Carl responded that his ‘chop’ was already standing in his stable – Lady Dappleloo!
The partnership grew from strength to strength and Braam instructed Carl to purchase some horses for him. The first two both came good and when the Graham Beck dispersal sale came round, Braam instructed Carl to acquire some more. Braam also brought his friend Bill Henderson in as a partner and it has proved both a fun and profitable venture for them both.
When I ring him up a few days after the July, his voice is still hoarse from ‘helping his horse over the line’! Braam really only became formally introduced to horse racing approximately 3 years ago, but he is incredibly enthusiastic and passionate and has had his enthusiasm rewarded by having the luck of the Irish in picking horses. Braam met Bloodstock Millions’ agent Andy Williams on a golf course approximately 20 years ago, so when he decided to invest in some yearlings, Andy seemed the natural choice as advisor and partner. Grey Cossack (bred by James Goodman by Fanatic Dane out of a Salaadim mare called Desert Fields) was a shrewd, early investment for the pair and was initially conditioned in the Cape stable of Dean Kannemeyer.
Unfortunately Grey Cossack did not set the track alight during the early part of his career and the partners were advised to move the horse to PE. As it happened, Braam had recently bought into a suite at Kenilworth and enjoyed racing in the Cape and was loathe to move his horse so far afield. He decided to buy out Andy’s share (subsequently sold a 25% share to Brian Katzen) and instead of going all the way to PE, Grey Cossack made the short trip to Philippi to join Carl Burger’s string.
And then of course the whole convoy made the trip full circle back to Greyville for July day.
Carl is quite a formidable looking man and his large frame houses an exceptionally serious, no-nonsense individual who takes no prisoners and makes no apology for it. But there is a softer side. He relates that as a young boy, at around Christmas time, him and a mate found themselves with about R15 to spend between them. They opted to invest it in a roll of polony and a racecard !! So while he does not make a fuss about it, it is easy to imagine just how special that Gr2 win is to him.
Braam’s obvious passion, energy and enthusiasm for horse racing are infectious. From small beginnings, his interests have swelled to the point where he now owns or has interests in 65 horses and he supports a number of trainers. And he’s not just talk, this is someone who’s prepared to put his money where his mouth is. Tekkie Town’s cheery blue and yellow banners became familiar fixtures at Kenilworth during their sponsorship of the Winter Series. All winning connections will attest to the generous Tekkie Town vouchers they received and Braam also pulled in additional suppliers who generously supported individual races.
Braam is not only serious about the game, but he’s serious about putting back into racing as well as bringing new people in with him. Why ? Because they’ve having an absolute ball !! He says his fellow sponsors have had so much fun at the races that a lot of them are now keen to buy into the game.
This kind of passion and enthusiasm is just the sort of shot in the arm that racing needs and it sounds as though Braam might just be the man to deliver it. And with a Gr 2 Gold Vase win in the bag and a tilt at the Gold Cup and Thekwini Stakes in their sights, one can’t help hoping that the luck of the Irish continues to run !!