There’s an expression that opportunities are often missed because they come dressed in overalls and look like work, but there are rewards for those prepared to take a chance and put in the hard yards. Of course, the key is recognising opportunity when it knocks.
On Saturday, 7 October 2017, Mike Robinson’s charge, Goodtime Gal romped to victory in the Gr3 Diana Stakes at Durbanville, putting the cherry on top of a good run of recent form for the friendly family run operation.
Making your own luck
The story starts with a phone call. “Juan van Heerden phoned me and told me he had a Royal Air Force filly standing on his farm,” says Mike, still smiling warmly from the weekend’s victory. “I think he’d asked one or two other people to come and take a look, but because she was by Royal Air Force, I don’t think anyone showed much interest,” he admits.
“Lu and I went to have a look at her on the farm and fell in love with her straightaway. It wasn’t really on pedigree that I liked her, just that she was a very athletic filly,” he explains. “She’s out of a Silvano mare and what struck me most is that she looks more like Silvano than Royal Air Force. She’s not a typical Royal Air Force – she’s quite small, but there’s a lot of her. She’s stocky, very well put together, she walked and still walks, extremely well – all the conformation points that I really like.”
However, there were no immediate fireworks. “Three, four months went by and she showed us absolutely nothing,” laughs Mike. But you don’t know what you have until you try, so Goodtime Gal had her first run over 1200m at Kenilworth on 31 October 2015, finishing 6 lengths back. “There was no way we were expecting her to run a race like that, so we were really surprised,” remembers Mike.
Goodtime Gal started again weeks later, over 1400m this time and earned a small cheque by finishing 4th. She then won 2 on the trot, both over the Kenilworth 1400m. After a two month break, she ran a series of seconds, including the Listed Sweet Chestnut Stakes and Stormsvlei Mile as well as the Winter Oaks to round off her 3yo season. “She kept improving and just got better and better, enthuses Mike.
At 4, she won her first start and finished 2nd to Captain’s Flame in the 2016 Diana Stakes. She won the Gr3 Victress Stakes at Kenilworth in December and her Cape summer campaign also included finishing 4.5 lengths behind Bela-Bela in the 2017 Paddock Stakes as well as an excellent ¾ length third to Nightingale in the Majorca Stakes. She was a little over 4 lengths off Just Sensual in the Gr3 Prix Du Cap and closed out her 4yo campaign with place cheques in the Ladies Mile and Final Fling Stakes.
However, she really seems to have come into her own as a 5yo, notching back to back wins in a pipe-opening 1200m Pinnacle Stakes in September and underlining her wellbeing with an emphatic win in the Diana Stakes.
Getting Anton Marcus to ride was certainly eye catching on the card. How did that happen? “Noms came out on Friday afternoon and she got a nice draw,” says Mike. “Next thing, Anton Marcus rang and asked could he have the ride.” However, with Just Sensual among the list of entries, it hung in the balance until scratchings. “On Tuesday morning I messaged him ‘can I confirm Goodtime Gal for Saturday’ and he sent back a big thumbs up,” smiles Mike. And the rest, as they say, is history.
“Anton said the instructions I gave him worked out to a T. She’s always had a short burst, so you’ve got to sit as long as possible, wait for something to challenge and then go. Anton sent her at about the 500m and I thought we were in trouble, particularly with how Gimme Six was closing, but luckily she kept finding.
“To me it was her most impressive win so far. It’s always been a heads up – heads down tussle to the line, but the way she went away from them last Saturday was impressive. I’ve never seen her win like that before,” notes Mike. “I think the older she’s getting the better she’s getting. Anton got the best out of her, there’s no doubt about that. He’s just very good. He knows what’s underneath him and he knows exactly what to do.”
Did ‘Superman’ have any useful feedback? “He’s a man of few words. He won’t come back and rave about a horse. He just comes back and says ‘well done’. I said to him, “Geez, you made that look easy and he laughed and said ‘All I did was sit there’. He reminds me of Karl Neisius. Karl never raved about anything, he just smiled, but if he gave you that little grin, then you knew!”
There was a very festive lead in party, including owner Juan van Heerden and his wife, farm manager Tiaan Ellis and Juan’s mother, who valiantly joined on crutches. Mike relates that Mrs van Heerden senior is something of a lucky charm. “Every time she’s at the course, Goodtime Gal seems to win.”
Juan van Heerden, who most will know via his Riverworld Stud, has previously been associated with such good horses as Sudden Storm and Badger’s Gift. He bought Tirza with Goodtime Gal as a foal at foot. While he still owns the filly outright, the mare has subsequently been sold to Moutonshoek.
“Thankfully Juan’s been very patient with her,” says Mike. “Also, being a Silvano, the older she gets, the better she’s getting, so it’s great that Juan wants to go another season with her. He’s not quick to retire them to stud. Badger’s Gift raced till she was 7. As long as Goodtime Gal is sound, happy and everything’s fine, we’ll carry on.”
Where to from here?
“We’ve been looking at the programme and there’s almost nothing for her until January next year. There’s the Gr3 Victress Stakes over 1800m in December, then the Paddock Stakes which is also an 1800m, and then back to 1600m for the Majorca Stakes on Met day, which I think will be just up her alley.”
“I don’t think she’s good enough to go up against the boys and there’s nothing else for horses like this – especially fillies rated 100+ – so we’ve got to go for those three. She’ll be bumping a lot of good fillies, but you never know, we might just catch them on a bad day and get lucky.”
Asked what his star charge is like at home, Mike says, “She doesn’t show great work at home and she hates the heavy sand track. If it’s too heavy, she won’t put in any effort whatsoever to the point that you start worrying there’s something wrong, but put her on the grass and it’s a different story.”
“She’s full of character. Some days her groom Willie is too scared to go into her box because he doesn’t know what mood she’s going to be in as she is a famous noise maker with her famous squealing! The only person she has no problem with is her farrier, Graham Pringle (who works with Glenn Zimmerman). He is the only one that shoes her because she just adores him. He can walk in and shoe her without a halter on and she just stands there like a moke. It’s amazing the bond between them.”
Mike has been based at Philippi since going out on his own four years ago and has been steadily working at carving his niche with wife, Luella and daughter Caitlin by his side. The current string is 27 strong and they’ve had a good start to the season with 6 wins and good clutch of place cheques. “The yard’s ticking over nicely,” says Mike warmly. “We had a couple of horses that didn’t winter well, which we’ve just left alone and played with and it seems things have turned in the last 3 weeks or so. We haven’t changed much,” he admits, “but I think we’ve got a nice string of horses and we still have the attitude that we don’t keep horses if they’re no good. In this financial climate, owners don’t want to hang onto bad horses, but we’re very fortunate with what we’ve got. We have a couple of nice babies that we’re working on and we’re just trying to build our string. If we can continue our good strike rate and get a couple more winners, I’m sure we’ll get a bit more support.”