On Monday, 6 November 2017, Jarett Rugg sent out three runners on the Kimberley card. While it may have been an ordinary Monday for most of us, for Jarett, it was the first time his string would go to post as J V Rugg Racing – and realise a life-long dream of following in his late father’s footsteps.
He had with him a gift bottle of Johnny Walker Blue that Jarett had vowed to open the day he saddled the first winner in his own name. As it turned out, that winner would come on his very first day and it would also come courtesy of a very special horse named Easy To Please.
Jarett is the son of the late Vernon Rugg, who was a fixture on the South African racing scene. Despite trying to talk Jarett out of the horse business, the lad was determined and eventually joined his father’s yard and commenced his apprenticeship as a stable employee in 2012. When Vernon passed away in July 2015, Jarett had not upgraded to an assistant trainer and still had insufficient experience to take out his own license. Fortunately, Vernon’s cousin Duncan McKenzie stepped in to take over the string as a satellite, allowing Jarett to register as Duncan’s assistant and complete his 2.5 year assistant trainer’s indentures.
Easy To Please
Vernon bought Easy To Please, a chestnut son of Newton out of an Alnwick mare named Butterfly Kisses, along with another Newton colt named Crest Of Honour, as a job lot for R15,000. “Therefore, you could say they each cost R7,500.00,” says Jarett.
Shortly after getting Easy To Please going, Vernon contacted yard patron Peter Hosking and gave him a 50% share, predicting that Easy To Please was going to be a very good horse. “My dad believed in this horse right from the beginning,” asserts Jarett, adding that they kept the other 50% for themselves.
Easy To Please had his first start for Vernon on 15 June 2015 with Wesley Marwing in the saddle. “We had high expectations for a win, some bets were taken but there is always that big question of how green a horse is going to be on his first start.” Easy did prove just a touch too green first time out, but managed to finish a creditable 1.75 lengths second.
Mere weeks later, Vernon died of brain cancer on 17 July 2015. Having lost his mother in 2001 and not having any other family living nearby, it was a particularly hard blow for Jarett, but if there’s one thing to be said about horses, it’s that they give you no excuses and don’t allow you to dwell on things for too long. No matter what may be happening elsewhere in your life, there are always horses to feed, work and attend to, which means you have to get up, get going and keep putting one foot in front of the other and it is often the seemingly mundane, but necessary routine that can help get one through some pretty tough times.
Two days after Vernon’s memorial service, Jarett saddled Easy To Please for his second start on 20 July 2015, this time with Gavin Lerena on board. While some people might argue that horses are just dumb animals and cannot possibly know the thoughts and feelings of those around them, there are just as many who will furnish evidence of incredible behaviour and swear blind that they do. Regardless of which side of the argument one might prefer, the fact is that Easy To Please cruised home by 4.25 lengths. “As Gavin passed the finish line, he pointed up to the heavens in salute to my father,” says Jarett quietly. “With so much hurt and sadness in my heart, watching Easy win that day was the first time I felt joy and happiness flow back into my life. It’s a moment I will never forget and I believe it forged a bond between Easy To Please and myself that will last a lifetime.”
“He has a great temperament with me and we absolutely adore each other, if I had to let him out his stable he would follow me around like my dogs do, just behind me, no jokes we’ve tested this to a degree. However, he can be a little cheeky with the staff. Nothing serious, but I think that is just because he knows he is the boss of the stables,” Jarett smiles fondly.
Ups and Downs
Of course, very rarely does life hand things over on a silver platter and Easy’s journey was no exception. Easy To Please toes out quite badly, which affects his movement and occasionally results in onlookers assuming all is not as it should be. However, Jarett confirms that numerous tests, X-rays and vet bills later, plus an equal amount of convincing jockeys and NHA vets, everyone eventually agreed that the horse just simply had poor action due to his conformation. “It was never a question having to do the tests and I’m glad we did as the horse’s safety must come first. Of course, and as the saying goes, ‘it’s always the good horses with the most problems’, so yes, we’ve hit one or two bumps along the way like a joint here or an injury there, sensitive feet etc and he has been a horse that must be looked after, but touch wood nothing serious. He generally comes home a good deal better than he goes to post, although it’s possible this might be because he usually comes home with a cheque,” quips Jarett.
From Vernon’s modest initial R15k investment, ‘Easy’ has had a total of 20 career starts for 6 wins, 13 places and in excess of R300k in earnings. “The one and only time he never earned he finished 6th which means he has never finished further back than 6th in his career,” says Jarett proudly.
But it is win no 6 that will be one of Jarett’s most treasured. On Monday, 6 November 2017, the very first day of Jarett’s career as a trainer in his own right, Easy, who is still part-owned by Jarett, somehow knew he had a job to do.
The 6yo chestnut cantered to post for the 8th race in his usual trademark fashion and then, to quote Jarett, “Easy To Please went and did the unexpected, something that dreams are made of. He stamped his name in that book of the best horse racing stories that we all carry around in our head, by winning his 6th career race under my stable jockey, Jarryd Penny on my first race meeting as a trainer and giving me my first winner as a trainer, making what must be the most special moment in my life a reality. From the saddest moment in my life to the happiest, Easy To Please has been a part of them both. He gave my father his last career win as a trainer and gave me my first career win as a trainer two years later, so not only has he given me a great story, but he is also a very good race horse.”
On Thursday afternoon, Jarett paid a visit to NC Ink’s tattoo artist Girvon Johnson to complete his commemorative tattoo to his mother and decided to add a tribute to Easy To Please on his left arm. “I don’t just get a tattoo for the sake of it. They all mean something to me.” Jarett has an elephant tattooed onto his right arm for his mother and a racehorse with a message for his father on his back.
And now Easy is there too.
“He may not have won a July or one of the big races, but he will always be my champion and has given me the most amazing story to tell with many great moments along the way. Hopefully he will remain by my side for the rest of his life – or mine if I go first. An amazing horse indeed.”
While it is the headline grabbing graded races that normally catch the eye and the attention, never underestimate the potential for a little racing magic, even on an ordinary Monday afternoon at Flamingo Park. And when it comes with a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue to celebrate, so much the better.
That’ll do, Easy. That’ll do.