Driving force behind Investec Bank, sponsor of the legendary Derby and Oaks at Epsom as well as this weekend’s Cape Derby, and major stake-holder in Klawervlei Stud, Bernard Kantor is one of the most fascinating characters in South African racing. Bernard has enjoyed plenty of success as a racehorse owner over the years, and races horses in the UK and Singapore as well as in SA. It’s only a matter of time before another star emerges in his predominantly yellow colours, but there is little to add to what Bernard has to say – read on! We are sure you will find it as interesting and fascinating as we did.
What is your name and age? My name is Bernard Kantor and I am now 62.
What is your star sign and birthdate? I was born on the 27th September 1949. I am a very typical Libran, mostly undecided about everything.
Where were you born? I was born in Kimberley in the Northern Cape, but I actually lived in a place called Koffiefontein where my dad was the resident civil engineer who was charged with the building of the Koffiefontein dam.
Where do you live? My family and I spend the majority of the year in London but are very privileged in that we own a beautiful home in Cape Town as well. So, when I am working in South Africa, I would be resident either in Johannesburg or Cape Town and when I am in London I live in St John’s Wood – central and close to the West End.
Tell us about your family? I have been married to Dayle for 27 years and we have two kids, Gregg and Ami-Leigh. Gregg, who is 25, has a degree in Philosophy and Economics from Nottingham University whilst Ami did a degree in Anthropology and Criminology and spent three very happy years in Manchester. Obviously I cannot leave Muffin out, our 14 year old dark brown Labrador – she dictates and runs the home: a very dear friend to all of us. I have a younger brother in London who lives further north and he has three lovely daughters. I also have an older brother who lives with his family in Amsterdam. It would be unthinkable not to mention my late mom and dad, who were very supportive of us all.
Do you have a ‘nickname’? My partner of 31 years, Stephen, and some colleagues refer to me as Benji – other than that, not really.
Favourite food? I am a creature of habit and tend to frequent the same restaurants over and over. I am a great fan of Mano, who runs a restaurant called Mano’s in Green Point, Cape Town. I love the Troyeville Hotel in Johannesburg, and I am the resident MP for Signor Sassi’s in London. You just have to look at me to realize that I like all varieties of food but especially Portuguese-type cooking. Love to braai or BBQ, and love standing in front of a good fire.
Favourite drink? Depends on my mood, mostly Bells Whisky. Absolutely mad about Graham Beck Methode Cap Classique Rosé, at a 10th of the price of French champagne – really recommend it. On the more exotic side, there is a new Chocolate Grappa – dangerous.
Favourite music? Second to my horse racing, which is a passion, music is a major hobby. From the moment I wake in the morning, till the time I go to sleep, I listen mostly to 60’s and 70’s music. I guess I had a great youth and this music must have hit me at a very impressionable stage of my life. I have good knowledge of this genre and was fortunate enough to see Pink Floyd (“The Wall”) and Supertramp last year – what a privilege. I can listen, however, to most types of music. My kids have kept me young as they are both aspirational rap artists, but I am not adverse to classical music either.
Favourite sport? I think as I have gotten older, so things have changed. I used to have weekends of hockey on Saturday and Sunday mornings and soccer on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, with a little bit of squash thrown in. I had a wonderful youth in Pretoria and all we did was play sport. I was also an opening batsman and could bat the whole day without scoring a single run. Nowadays I go to gym in the mornings, run, and try to keep some semblance of shape. I obviously watch a lot of sport, mostly Liverpool, cricket and rugby internationals.
Favourite soccer team? I am a mad keen Liverpool supporter and have been my whole life. Although it is a long way, I do try, as a ticket holder, to get to some of their home games. More recently, we sponsored Tottenham and would occasionally be invited to their various Cup encounters.
What is your favourite holiday destination? Our home in Clifton is unbeatable and am very privileged to be able to walk straight onto the beach from my bedroom. I often ask myself what we are doing in London? I do a trip every year with 9 friends and we spend a lot of time in the Karoo, Colesburg, the Gariep Dam; we have spent time in Clarence and Oudtshoorn as well. I love mountain passes and the Cape just has it all to offer. We can drive for hours through the Karoo listening to my old music and we all switch off and just take in the moment and the breath-taking views. I am a little bit nervous of the sun. The sun and my skin are not good friends, so I find that in the European summer, I like to walk in places like Kitzbuhl in Austria in the mountains where it is generally cooler.
You are the co-founder of Investec Bank. Investec now employs in excess of 7000 people in 14 countries. That must be a huge responsibility. Do you find that your racing interests help you to relax from your banking responsibilities? On the lighter side, our late friend Laurie Jaffee taught me at a very early stage of my banking career that one needs a counter-irritant so as to balance one’s life – hence my racing interests. But on a more serious note, it doesn’t help me to relax at all and I find racing very stressful – one is always hopeful that one’s horse will surprise. I think every time one of my horses runs in a feature race, I do not breathe for the duration of that race. On the breeding side, and now that my interests are aligned with Klawervlei and so professionally managed by John Koster and his team, I find it far more relaxing and enjoyable and in fact, yes, this is a very good “switch off” from the pressures created by banking nowadays. Let me just say what a great privilege and pleasure it is to be involved with the greater Klawervlei clan and I have to highlight the incredible role that Markus (Jooste) plays. Markus had a vision of creating a first class breeding operation and set about the task with John some years ago. It has become a very serious operation, very professionally managed, as with most things that Markus undertakes. He has found an absolute gem in John, who with his very competent team, leaves nothing to chance and makes sure that the experience for all of us is a pleasurable one. I cannot stress sufficiently what a privilege and a pleasure it is to be involved with this outfit. From the chairman Johan du Plessis to our new partner, Chris van Niekerk, Markus obviously, Danie van der Merwe, the balance of the Board and so many others – it is just an amazing experience. Lots of serious and thought-provoking discussion; they are visionaries and professionals and run Klawervlei in a manner in which most of us would be proud to run any business – just remarkable.
Who were the people involved with you when you set up Investec Bank in 1978? Investec started in 1975 as a small leasing company dealing with a professional market. I joined in 1979 as did Stephen, who has been my colleague for 31 years. Only, my eldest brother Ian who is the original founder, is still on the Board – none of the other original founders are around. Larry (Nestadt) remains a fantastic racing and breeding partner, but since 1985/86, Stephen and I really have been trying to steer this incredible Organisation through what has become a maze of complexity.
How difficult was it to break into the banking market in SA? In those days it was possible to obtain a banking licence and we were granted our first banking licence in June of 1980. It was nowhere near as regulated and complicated as it is today. For the first five years we were regarded as “cowboys”. It took us a long time to build our credibility and reputation. On reflection, I would say that it is almost impossible in this environment to get a licence and replicate an Investec or an RMB – in fact, in this environment, who would want to? Global regulators and authorities are determined to turn banking into a utility and will do everything in their power to crush any entrepreneurial and creative flair.
You have said that the last one of you to arrive in the morning had to go out and sell leasing facilities to the professional market. For how long did that situation last? It lasted until we could afford offices for all, and a proper phone system. I am so sorry that we have lost some of those challenges that one is faced with in starting a new business. One’s character as an organisation, your values and culture, are normally formulated during those difficult initial years of hardship and struggle. Nowadays it is just too easy; new recruits join demanding computers, telephones and blackberrys; there can be no character creation when things are too easy.
What do you think was special about Investec that helped it to grow so big so quickly? In the beginning we were driven by the simple fact that we needed to survive in a world in which no-one was going to make it easy for us. If anything, the demands have only increased. But what we have discovered is that while we can hire good people, we can’t hire the best people in the world, nor can we have the best technology, and we surely don’t have the biggest balance sheet, and products in our industry are quite easy to copy. What has really differentiated us is the way in which we do things, or what we like to call our culture and values. Regardless of the size of our business, we still run the business on the basis of a set of fundamental values, not that different from good decent family values, which provide the backbone of our culture. Some of these are what one would expect to see in a business like ours, relating to our cast iron integrity, our intense efforts on behalf of clients, our doing things properly, the way in which we treat our people, and so on. But we also have some values around the way in which we make decisions, deal with conflicts, abhor hierarchy and status, have an obligation to challenge each other, and subject most of what we do to an open, robust dialogue. In our business, people can’t hide behind titles or status. We promote and encourage our people to think out of the box, and we thrive in developing their natural entrepreneurial flair. We have grown the business by being passionate, driven, hugely committed to each other and to our stakeholders and enjoying the competitive challenge.
The world famous Epsom Derby and Oaks are now run under the Investec banner. How did this wonderful opportunity arise? With six weeks to go before the Derby three years ago, the financial crisis had just hit, things were not looking good and we were surprised to discover that Epsom was looking for a sponsor. Sir David Prosser, who was on both Investec and Epsom’s Boards, introduced our marketing team to the management at Epsom. The rest is history, the mileage is endless and whenever one opens a racing journal, whether it be UK based, South African, or American, it never fails to amaze us how often pictures from the Derby and Investec’s name appear. It is quite incredible.
It was amazing watching the festival on television last year. Investec has given the meeting a massive boost. Describe the atmosphere and the days? The day is indescribable. The Friday is more relaxed than the Saturday, when one has to dress in morning suits, but the whole atmosphere is something that we should try to capture at the Investec Derby in Cape Town. I do believe that there is a proposal floating around which is trying to achieve this. The presence of Her Majesty, the Queen, is always a highlight. Her Majesty is so incredibly knowledgeable and it is a privilege to be able to spend some time talking to her about the sport. She is truly a great ambassador for horse racing. Last year there were close on 120 000 people – from the gypsies on the inside of the track, to the VIP’s and rich and famous who populate the Queen’s and Duchess’s stands all dressed up in their top hats and tails. The atmosphere is electric and the winner of the Derby goes down in history forever. From Sea the Stars to Mill Reef, Generous, Nashwan, Shergar, Troy, Shirley Heights, The Minstrel, Roberto, Nijinsky, and Sir Ivor, these winners are never forgotten and it is amazing to see how many great horses that have won the Derby ultimately end up as household names as stallions. It is a true and genuine test for a horse’s stamina, ability, balance and will to win. There is no race like it. There is a funfare-like atmosphere, both on the outside and inside areas of the track. Music, jugglers, and people on stilts… anything you can think of, including the presence of the Investec Zebra. What a day!
Investec also sponsors the Cape Derby on Met day. How did this materialize? It goes back a little while and I think Rodney Dunn approached us to sponsor the Cape Derby. Short, sweet and simple. I suppose the question really is, should we keep it as one of the features on Met Day, or should we make it an event on its own? I see merit in both. John Freeman and I met on a flight to Durban at which time John was a director of the Cape Racing Chapter. John also encouraged Investec to sponsor the Cape Derby and was quite adamant it could become a great day in the racing calendar. John had also offered to assist me with Count Dubois in order to ensure a full book of mares. I declined his very kind offer at the time and offered him Dupont instead. I will never forget the look on his face. Dupont was an unknown at that stage whereas Count Dubois had just bred 3 Group winners from a crop of 11. Subsequently, John managed my mares and stallions until we merged our interest with Klawervlei. John has a very keen eye and has bought many champions including Dynasty, he runs his business with meticulous detail and with my schedule it is very important to have this detail at ones finger tips. John has furthermore become a very good friend and in fact, the ‘bus driver’ on our annual trip around the country.
Is Investec getting the desired exposure since sponsoring the race? I think we get a reasonable amount of exposure, certainly nowhere near Investec Epsom Derby Day. Only once it stands on its own as one of the highlights in the racing calendar, will it give the sponsor the right exposure.
Do you hope to have a runner in the Cape Derby? I sadly do not have a runner in the Derby. I seem to be lacking top quality horses at the moment. You either need to be very lucky or buy lots and lots of horses; I fail on both accounts.
You will obviously be attending the big day at Kenilworth on 28 January 2012. Who would be some of the overseas contingent that will be racing with you on the day? I certainly will be attending the big day, and I am delighted that we have been able to convince the Chairman of Epsom Downs Racecourse, Mr Anthony Cane and the Managing Director, Mr Rupert Trevelyan to join us; as well as the Chief Executive of the Jockey Club, Mr Simon Bazalgette and the Managing Director, Mr Paul Fisher. Unlike in South Africa, the Jockey Club in the UK is not only the ‘policeman’ for the industry (like our NHA) but also owns 14 of the top race tracks in the UK. Epsom belongs to the Jockey Club. The club is steeped in tradition, has a profit motive, but, more importantly, it is racing focused. Sir David Prosser, who is our joint Chairman and a Non-Executive Director of Epsom will also be with us. So it will be a very special day for us, and who knows what could come out of this. Maybe we can dream of a reciprocal arrangement with Epsom whereby they have a special Kenilworth Day and we at Kenilworth have a special Epsom Day.
You have a share in Perana who is trained by Mike de Kock. He started off his career promisingly but continues to frustrate. What are your thoughts on him and what are his future plans? As far as Perana is concerned, he has tons of natural talent but it depends which Perana arrives on raceday. We haven’t seen the real one for a while. So let’s hope that we will shortly be surprised and knowing Mike the way I do, he will not give up. But for me personally, I think Perana has had enough.
You are obviously passionate about both your banking interests and horse racing. Is it easy for you to compartmentalize these two very different worlds? We all live in multiple worlds and we have to learn to manage these. When at work, I have to be completely focused on what I am doing and tend to apply that focus to whatever I’m doing. If studying breeding lines, then I’m similarly focused. It doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy thinking about my racing interests while at work or vice versa, but one has to learn to apply one’s mind to the issue at hand. I find that, in the course of any day, there are multiple issues that have to be dealt with, and have learnt to juggle the competing demands on my time and attention.
In an interview in 2009 you said:” It always interests me, though, why you can take a family and find only one member burdened with this passion and others not. It’s been my hobby for 35 years”. Is this still the case or have any more of your family members been inflicted with this passion? Sadly, not many others of my family have been inflicted with this passion. My younger brother Davey, who used to be in the book-making business, is brilliant when it comes to understanding “value”, but has no real passion for racing or breeding. My son sort of gets it, but is not really bothered either way. So yes, it is a passion that I enjoy on my own within our household and family.
You joined the Mike de Kock stable in 2002. Would you say that this has greatly added to the enjoyment you get from owning horses? There is a little bit of history here and I really joined Mike when Patrick left for Singapore. Patrick and Michael come from the same racing school and have been lifelong friends. I have a huge regard for Patrick, who has just won the Singapore Trainer of the Year award. He is a very dear friend and, had he not left South Africa, I may never have gotten to join the De Kock stable. Mike is a brilliant trainer and probably one of the best in the world. He has very disciplined boundaries and one understands that, because without these, his life would be totally unbearable. Him and I have our ups and downs, not to be confused with Epsom Downs, but in the death one could not wish for better. I would never dream of telling him what to do or how to do it but one can, in a very tactful way, express one’s wishes. A case in point being Irish Flame; I was horrified to find him back in Dubai after a disastrous spell last year and I simply said ‘ Mike, please , if the horse doesn’t like it, get him out of there as soon as possible’ and I am sure he will oblige. But Mike is the grandmaster and I am certainly, as are all of us, humbled by his achievements.
You have won races in Dubai, Australia, Singapore, America, England, Italy, Germany and South Africa. Is it possible to single out the most exciting win you had out of all those? Yes, easy. I once named a horse after my late father who grew up in Woodstock, Cape Town, and his initials were SL and I called the horse Woodstock SL. Geoff Woodruff trained it and I bred it. I invited my brother and my son to watch the race with me as I was convinced he would win and he duly did. I think there were tears in all of our eyes. But I have had so many great wins. When Ingleside won the Summer Cup. I was at lunch with the chairman of the English Rugby Union with 30 or 40 guests for lunch, and when called from drinks to the table (in a very British manner), to the great surprise of the assembled gathering, I said no, would the Chairman mind waiting as I had a horse running and could we please delay the lunch for 10 to 15 minutes. The horse duly obliged by winning and everyone was very excited. Different worlds, but all the guests, to their credit, were ready to share my victory and pleasure with me.
You have owned a lot of wonderful horses. Which of them did you really have a ‘soft spot’ for? They are like children. In theory you love them all equally but obviously you dream of your better horses having more and better success! They all give of their best and are magnificent animals. My first winner of a listed race was Sudden Gold and he obviously commands a very special place in my heart. And hence for all my horses: ‘Where in this world can man find nobility without pride, friendship without envy, beauty without vanity?’
Do you still believe that you can attribute so much of your success to “luck”? Or lack thereof. But yes-definitely!
Who do you rate the best horse you have racing in your colours right now? I have a couple of horses in partnership with Markus and some in partnership with Larry that could be something, but at the moment I really am going through a very flat phase.
You have changed your colours recently. What made you do this? I decided to standardise my colours in the UK and South Africa and felt that the yellow was more noticeable than my traditional SA colours. Patrick refuses to change my colours in Singapore, so they still run in my old colours.
How many trainers do you have in various parts of the world? You make it sound like I have hundreds of horses, but I really don’t. I don’t have more than 6 or 8 trainers between South Africa, the UK and Singapore. I have spoken a lot about Patrick and Mike, but I really would like to mention William Haggas who has looked after me in the UK since I arrived in 1997. William has won many Group races for me over the years and more importantly, he has helped me to integrate into the English racing world. William is a very likeable individual and together with his wife Maureen (daughter of Lester Piggott), they are a formidable pair. William has only had one runner in the Investec Derby, and one runner in the Investec Oaks and has the unique position of having won with both of these runners – a 100% record. A charming, intelligent and likeable friend.
Is there any chance that you will become involved in breeding on a large scale? I am involved in breeding on a large scale. Klawervlei has a total of 850 mares passing through the farm annually. I don’t think that it gets much bigger than that.
How many mares do you own and who helps you in making mating plans? I do not own mares other than through my shareholding in Klawervlei. Despite this, I can study mating and breeding techniques and bloodlines for hours. It is so difficult to breed a champion but we keep searching for this grain of gold – it is like looking for a needle in a haystack .Talking of breeding, I am mad about Nureyev and Kingmambo. I also have a stallion called Lithuanian which is not with Klawervlei and he has produced a few winners, including Flightofthephoenix and Pacific Breeze. He is by Nureyev and I think that is what keeps me fascinated about him.
You have spoken highly of Bev Seabourne of the Highveld Horse Care unit. Tells us about her? Bev is a remarkable woman. She gives her life and time to looking after horses that have been abused. It is one thing to give money, it is another to give of your time, showing compassion, care and love for these animals. I wish more people would support the likes of Bev and her team.
How much time do you spend in SA every year? Lots, but not enough!
Mike de Kock is renowned for being able to ‘party’ in style. Are you able to keep up with him in this respect? I can give it a bash, but there are not too many people that I know that can party like Mike. I am not sure about the “in style” part of it…
What are the most important lessons you have learnt about racing in your career to date? Humility, generosity, friendship and whenever I feel that I am becoming a bad loser, I know it is time to have a break. Racing certainly teaches you to enjoy the ups and deal with the downs, not only in racing but in life generally.
What do you think can be done to create excitement and enthusiasm into the racing game? Racing attendance worldwide is in trouble other than on big days. Maybe the answer is to have more big days, different types of challenge and a new mindset to create new types of excitement, which ultimately will draw in the crowds.
Which has been the most memorable and exciting day you have had in racing thus far? There are two days that come to mind. The one being the first year of our sponsorship, when Sea the Stars won his third Group 1 race, at the Investec Epsom Derby (he went on to win a further four Group 1 races). The other was on a Saturday when I won a race in Singapore in the morning, South Africa in afternoon, and in the UK later on that same day.
Do you enjoy having a bet? They say that most gamblers enjoy the pain of losing. I don’t think I am going to answer the question.
Do you think enough is being done to keep racing ‘straight?’ I think racing is straight and I hate any insinuation or talk of it not being so.
If you had any advice for your fellow associates, racing enthusiasts or administrators in the racing game what would it be? Your patience will eventually be rewarded.
What is your philosophy on the racing game? They say that racing is the sport of kings; but, as any race meeting will attest, it is a sport in which everyman participates. And, whether king or commoner, it is a great leveller, as we saw when Pour Moi beat Carlton House, Her Majesty’s own entrant in the Derby. We don’t just learn about horses in this game; we learn about ourselves. It can be very aggravating at times – it is very competitive and trying, and produces incredible highs and some very deep lows. I have to see it as a balance in my life. It teaches me to be balanced, patient and how to be a good loser.
CLOSE UP AND … PERSONAL
When I was young I wanted to be … “old”
I get irritated by … stupidity.
My worst habit is … not listening to my trainers.
I like to relax by … rising early and walking the streets of London in search of coffee and watching the city wake up.
My favourite film is … Secretariat.
I support … the underdog.
CLOSE UP AND … PROFESSIONAL
The trainer I most admire is … unfair, will not comment, I admire too many of them.
My favourite racecourse is …of course Epsom, closely followed by Ascot, Greyville in South Africa, and Kranji in Singapore.
British racing can attract more fans by … listening.
My most exciting moment in racing was … daily, they are all great moments. Every race is different and every moment is different. Obviously watching Sea The Stars winning the 2009 Investec Derby was a very exciting moment.
I feel the pressure when … they are lining up.
The best horse I have seen is … The great Nureyev will always have a special place in my heart and I was privileged enough to see him in Kentucky after his operation. On that trip, I also saw Danzig and Mr Prospector – what a privilege. But Nureyev to this day, brings tears to my eyes.