Sabine Plattner is well established as one of the pre-eminent owners in South Africa. Her striking and unusual colours have been carried to major race victories by the likes of Angus, Laisserfaire, Bad Girl Runs, and many others. Now also a major breeder, her La Plaisance Stud is churning out a steady stream of winners and it’s only a matter of time before another star emerges to carry her silks to big race glory. With Yogas Govender now fully established as Sabine’s private trainer, the stable is bound to hit the high notes again sooner rather than later. However, there is a good deal more to Mrs Plattner than the racing and breeding of thoroughbreds, as the following profile will reveal. The fabled Fancourt golf estate is another of her many initiatives, and she is strongly involved with several charitable causes. She certainly makes for interesting reading!
What is your name and age? My name is Sabine Plattner and I am 62 years.
Where were you born? I was born in Waldshut, a little town near the Swiss border.
Where do you live? I live in a little village near Heidelberg / Germany. I am fortunate to share the best of two worlds – travelling between Germany and South Africa. Germany, being my homeland, can never be replaced by any country, especially the forests where I love to spend a lot of time, being close to nature. But then the South African blue skies, the beautiful West Coast and its “fynbos”, the mountains of George and the very interesting and good people, is hard to beat. It’s a toss-up between two horses – I guess!
Tell us about your family? The Plattner family is normal like any other – whether it is having a good laugh, partying through the night and spending time hiking or horse riding. Unfortunately, we are scattered around the world and we have to plan our times well in advance to ensure we are all together for special events. The most important aspect of our family is that we stick together as a family. Love, loyalty, support and care is what our relationship is based on!
Do you have a ‘nickname’? My staff sometimes calls me Mrs P. What they call me behind my back (?) … well that you should ask them. I am also curious to know!
Favourite food? I love a well prepared meal – which I often do myself. But then eating is enjoying life. With food less is more – it is about the quality and not the quantity, good company always adds the flavor. You can give me a succulent tuna any day and I will be very happy.
Favourite drink? As I always say – life is too short to drink bad wine. There is nothing better than a good South African red wine.
Favourite music? I love dancing so I love music. But, then I also have the advantage of having learnt all about the classical side since I was young. So bring it on, from the 1910 Fruit Gum Company, to Queen, to Lady Gaga and I can also enjoy the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.
Favourite sport? Bad question. I know I am supposed to say horse racing but I will have to disappoint and say soccer. We have windsurfed, played tennis and sailed. Nowadays, it’s just horse riding and cycling.
What is your favourite holiday destination? There is a beautiful holiday destination in the furthest Northern part of Germany – an island called Sylt – you can see Denmark – a furlong away.
What was it like for you growing up in Freiburg, Germany, not long after the Second World War? When one grows up in poor conditions you really learn to value life and the things it has to offer. As it was a poor setting, things like nature, friends, my family, the woods and the smell of a fire brought much happiness to us. Those are still the things that bring happiness to me now as it has been etched in me since childhood. We were poor but happy.
It was at this time of your life that you developed your deep love of nature. Were you at all involved with horses at that time? I believe that no person can be whole if you do not connect with nature. This unfortunately is a sad part of ‘’modern life”, as the youngsters grow up in cities and do not have the privilege of being in touch with nature. As a child my parents walked the forests for days, enjoying its beauty, which I think also brought them healing after the 2nd World War. I hopped along, not knowing at the time how deeply this was etched in my being. Today I cannot see myself living a meaningful life without spending time, every so often, in nature. The first time I sat on a horse was at the age of two. My parents at that time couldn’t afford horse riding lessons. My passion for horses developed at the age of 13 when my aunt paid for horse riding lessons. I am very grateful to her.
When did you start your horse-breeding facilities and stables in Germany? You are known for your caring for Icelandic horses. Just how are you involved with Icelandic horses? My involvement in Icelandic horses started with my first born daughter, Tina. She started riding at the age of two and a half years, as did my daughter Steffi. I experienced that horses are like drugs, you start with one and you end up with hundreds! Tina and Steffi, our daughters, are now taking over the Icelandic breeding scene.
How did it come about that you started owning horses and businesses in SA? My husband and I have travelled Africa and South Africa since 1978 and we quickly fell in love with Africa. We took a decision to invest in South Africa and, especially, prior to 1994 we agreed not to withdraw from SA like many businesses did, but rather extend our involvement. We felt that we could contribute in a small way to a new democracy.
Who was your first trainer in SA? Eric Sands. Coming from my holistic approach towards nature I was looking for a trainer with more space and paddock facilities.
You had a lot of success with trainer Brett Crawford. Which horse gave you the most pleasure at that time? Angus (he won the Met for me).
Which do you consider the best horse you have ever owned? Laisserfaire. I bought her in Sydney at the Easter Sale and she proved to be my best horse thus far.
Your present trainer is Yogas Govender. How did it come about that he became your trainer? I believe in giving the younger generation a chance and you will notice that a lot of my key staff at Plattner Racing are still very young, but definitely up-and-coming. Yogas has been with me since 2005 as assistant trainer. Two years ago, I restructured my business and appointed him as full-time trainer.
Which do you consider your best horse currently in South Africa? Winter Dynasty, Barcelona Winter and Lake Arthur.
How many horses do you race in SA? 85.
Your La Plaisance Stud has become a major breeding operation. Who is your stud manager, and how involved are you personally in planning matings for your mares? Andre Nel is another of the younger brigade and he heads the stud. As with training, breeding is a team-event and therefore we plan and work together.
How many mares do you have at La Plaisance, and do you presently stand any stallions? My aim is to breed with a maximum of 25 mares. I still do have more mares at stud but we don’t use all of them in one season.
You are a major buyer at the various yearling sales. Who advises you on your purchases and how much input do you personally put into choosing yearlings? In SA, John Freeman advises me and James Bester in Australia, apart from my trainer and breeder. The sales are close to my heart and I am always personally involved, even if it is by phone. I try to be at the sales to look at horses whenever my business allows me. Whenever possible I view and study the horses myself and create a shortlist in my mind and thereafter it is a natural process.
You were formerly a major buyer of yearlings in Australia. Are you considering going back to the Australian sales in the future? I bought 4 Australian fillies last year at the Easter Sale and they have just been broken in and moved into Rondeberg.
You own Fancourt, which is one of SA’s prestigious golf clubs. Do you play golf and, if so, what is your handicap? The fact that I own race horses doesn’t make me a jockey. I own Fancourt but don’t play golf.
The Fancourt Foundation primarily supports child welfare. You must have a real passion for children to support such a wonderful cause. Tell us more about this initiative? By training I am a teacher and my passion lies with primary education. It is during early childhood that the personality and attitude to life is formed. I believe that investing in a toddler is investing in the future. Unfortunately, the reality of life is that many a child gets emotionally scarred during the forming phase. One can only but try to repair the damage and give them hope, during this young and tender age. For this reason the Fancourt Foundation aims to uplift such bruised children. We have a safe-house for abused children which is very much an orphanage. It is also a crèche’ for the disadvantaged, focusing on the preparatory phase prior to them going to school and we have a trauma centre.
Would you say that horseracing and your business interests occupy most of your time? Not at all – see response to next question.
You are a very busy woman. Do you have a passion for anything outside horse racing and business? People are often surprised to learn that my interests in SA are actually a very small part of my life. My biggest passion is nature and presently I am extremely involved in an organization called Leadership For Conservation in Africa (LCA) with the aim to save 20 million hectares of rainforests and ecosystems all over Africa by 2020. I personally focus on the Republic Of Congo, saving the Odzala Kokoua National Park, which is 1.3 million hectares of pristine rainforest. At present the park is managed by Africa Parks and together with Wilderness Safaris I am developing a lodge in Odzala – to spearhead the creation of an economy which could contribute to the sustainability of the Park. In addition I have also started with a curriculum enrichment programme for the pre and primary school children living around the park. I spend a lot of time visiting Congo and serving on the Management Board of Odzala as well as the LCA International.
Would you say that the interests of the under-privileged are well cared for in South Africa? This is a difficult question, as one can never do enough to care for these people. When you travel Africa the way I do, you see what poverty really is and at times I think that even the poor are more privileged in South Africa than in the rest of Africa. In general, I do think that the SA government, companies through their CSR programmes, as well as NGO’s are doing a lot to alleviate poverty and there is a distinct difference between us and the rest of Africa.
If you were asked what could be done to improve the lives of the many under-privileged kids in this country what suggestions would you make? There are no simple solutions or quick-fixes. One must also remember that these are long-term issues. One aspect would certainly be education. Education doesn’t bring immediate poverty relief, but over the long-term it changes the world.
How much time do you spend between Germany and South Africa every year? You should split it between Germany, SA and the rest of Africa. It’s a global world and where you stay does not mean that that is where you spend most of your time. Nevertheless, I stay in Germany half of the year.
Will you be attending the big Cape events during the summer season and if so, which one’s? I will probably be at Kenilworth for the Queen’s Plate and most certainly on Met day.
Your filly BARCELONA WINTER takes her place on the 2nd January in the Graham Beck Memorial Sceptre Stakes over 1200m. How is she doing and what are her chances? She is doing very well and is making the expected improvement and progression to Group level. She ran a good 2nd to the highly rated Ebony Flyer in the Group 3 Diana Stakes and followed up with a gutsy 3rd next time despite shouldering 62.5kgs. Her prep has gone very well and we have engaged Bernard Fayd’herbe to partner her.
How do you celebrate a big win? Firstly, I am happy for my staff that work very hard to achieve. Making the necessary phone calls is therefore part of celebrating winning. Normally my joy is simply an internal happiness which I often experience over a long distance being in some other country. But, hey there is nothing wrong with a glass of good Champagne.
Which has been the most memorable and exciting day you have had in racing thus far? When Angus won the J & B Met in 2003.
Do you have any suggestions to get more people to the South African race tracks? Being at the race track is fun and exciting, and it could be hosted more as a family event – possibly combining it with other activities or events. But, then like every other sport, television, internet and the technology is changing the face of the game. We will have to think anew and adjust to the times.
What is your philosophy on the racing game? For many it is about the money. For me it is about the beauty of the horse and the well-being and respect for this magnificent animal, which stands above all.