As Mike De Kock’s stable stars gather a head of steam like the Blue Train in the night, there’s an intriguing question surrounding the early-fifties trainer who is now held in the same regard as legends Syd Laird and Terrance Millard, writes David Mollett.
Now in his 28th year as a trainer with eight trainers titles and more than 3000 winners to his credit, does De Kock still have the hunger for more success?
Will he rather now put his feet up and say “the cards have fallen well for me in life – great wife, great kids, great career. Mathew, you take it from here.”
Having written articles about him for some 30 years since he got his licence following the death of his mentor Ricky Howard-Ginsberg in 1989, it’s possible to detect a change of attitude and that surfaced in a fleeting comment during one of De Kock’s comments in a post-race interview of one of his four winners on Charity Mile day.
He said the intention was “not to ship as many horses to Dubai as in previous years”.
This is in strict contrast to an interview a while ago when the Randjesfontein conditioner commented “we buy at various thoroughbred sales with the sole view of shipping the best ones to Dubai and then on to Europe if they prove to be good enough to trade punches at the highest level.”
So is the love affair with the Emirates – which has left him a rich man – coming to an end?
Unlike some of us whose future is unsure without pensions, the money has been flowing into De Kock’s account at the same speed as it presumably did for Mick Jagger (“never heard of him, Dad!”) in his prime.
It won’t matter whether he wins a ninth championship this term – although it has to be a possibility – and De Kock might consider a hole-in-one on the golf links a more important achievement.
Looking back at the number of superstars he’s handled so expertly – Horse Chestnut, Igugu and Hong Kong hero Variety Club are three who immediately spring to mind – there has to be the thought that another champion may be in the pipeline.
This is distinctly possible with his chief patron – Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum – purchasing the best bloodlines in Australia.
Indeed, top Aussie trainers like Gai Waterhouse must be tired of being outbid by Angus Gold.
Although these buys cost serious money, Shufoog, a daughter of Star Witness who contests her second race at the Vaal today, was purchased for A$300000 (R3 million) and they were paying double that amount for yearlings at the CTS Premier Sale in January.
Today’s second race is the perfect example of the stable’s almost embarrassment of riches – four runners in the seven-runner field including three Aussie imports and a daughter of Var.
Saturday’s Vaal winner, Dhabyaan, cost more at around R9,5 million, but on the evidence of his debut win it looks money well spent.
So how’s this plan for the next step of the De Kock journey?
He should select the best of these imports – and SA-breds – and train them in the UK where they could compete in races that matter at such venues as Ascot, Epsom and York.
One has to believe that sons of Redoute’s Choice and daughters of Star Witness could hold their own over there – indeed what fun if they could upstage a top horse or two from the Coolmore-Markus Jooste operation.
This, of course, brings us to the quarantine protocol situation which – like Springbok rugby – requires a rapid solution. But – with the appointment of Adrian Todd, former CEO of Cape Thoroughbred Sales – to channel his expertise in this direction, there has to be some chance of change.
As we approach Joburg’s most important race – the Sansui Summer Cup – De Kock might reflect that Evening Mist gave him his first big win in this very same race when his career was in its infancy.
Now that career is being compared to the greats of yesteryear, but it is surely one that has not yet run its course.
Mike De Kock should take a leaf out of the book of South Africa’s number one legend, Gary Player.
Gary’s competitive nature into his latter years has been an inspiration to sportsmen worldwide. Why? Because he still believed he had more to offer his chosen sport.
De Kock, unquestionably, has more to offer racing.
- Published in Business Day on Tuesday 14 November 2017