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De Kock Ponders Future In South Africa

Stakes are key to a strong industry

My stable and my family have just experienced three potentially life-changing days. The grooms’ strike at Randjesfontein has left us contemplating the future, writes Mike de Kock in his blog.

Mike and Diane de Kock

I’d like to believe that we as a family and as a stable have been the most pro-active in the country at improving the lot of our grooms.

Over the last 15 years I have been sending grooms around the world to places like the US, the UK, Dubai, Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong.

 

Every year I employ a group of South African grooms in the UAE for four or five months.

They live in the Sheraton Hotel with me and get paid a substantial wage as well as still getting their SA wages. They also receive massive bonuses of between R20,000 and R100,000 depending on how good the season’s been.

I’ve seen these grooms improve their lifestyles, buy houses and cars, educate their children and uplift their families.

Admittedly only a select few of my top grooms have travelled abroad, but many of the ones at home have earned good wages and have also benefited from the success in which they’ve played a part.

The key to this sort of remuneration is stakes. Dubai stakes speak for themselves. One can charge a proper fee and race for proper stakes. Take out there is as follows: Trainer 10%; Jockey 10%, and most notably the stable (grooms and all stable staff) share 5%.

The key to a strong racing industry is stakes!

Apart from Dubai look at all of Australia, Hong Kong Singapore and the USA. In the UK, day to day stakes are not great but big races are very good and the value of horses is off the charts.

SA owners should be paying more but how does one justify that when stakes have stagnated like they have here?

We’ve done many more things to better the plight of our grooms.

My wife Diane’s AIDS programme has saved many lives.

We treat our grooms with respect, they receive perks and bonuses.

Some of our owners are amongst the most generous people I know, they have contributed with added bonuses of their own.

To sit in a meeting with grooms whilst being called a racist who beats his grooms up, left a bitter taste in my mouth and sent my blood pressure through the roof.

To have been confronted by 300 weapon-wielding, threatening grooms left a bitter taste in my mouth.

When members of my family, staff and horses are threatened with death and harm it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. From now on, we’ll be living in fear and uncertainty every day.

To read in a national newspaper that horses hadn’t been fed and watered for three days was shocking, a report unbecoming The Citizen because it was wholly untrue.

I saw some trainers feed and water up to 100/150 horses with little or no help. All of these guys are in the training profession because they love horses, to start. Another bitter taste left in the aftermath.

I am more sympathetic than most when it comes to grooms’ affairs, I’ve seen them uplift themselves and I’ve taken pride from it.

Recently I gave R5,000 to a groom who came to me when his child was kidnapped, I paid the ransom money and we never saw him for two months. The same groom sat on the groom’s committee/EFF and turned on me, threatening violence. Again, this left a bitter taste in my mouth.

My stable employs 80 grooms, and I am personally one of the biggest racehorse owners in South Africa. I have made a long and positive contribution to South African racing and the lives of many grooms.

The experience of the last few days and the affects it had on my own and my family’s lives, coupled with surprise, disappointment and disbelief, has brought me to a stage where I have to say that Mike de Kock racing is now seriously considering our position in South African racing.

I am thinking of the implications, which include unemployment of at least 100 people involved with my stable; the giving up of dozens of racehorses, stallion shares and broodmares; the international ramifications with our number of big overseas owners and the negative publicity it will create and the investment lost to SA.

The recently successful TBA sales was mostly propped up by foreign money. Do these international, racing loving owners need this kind of aggravation?

I am not sure if these factors even matter anymore. It’s enough having to deal with the Jockey Club and Racing administrators who haven’t made life easy. The grooms issue has aggravated matters to a level where team De Kock feels like turning things up. I am asking myself, do we really need this?

South African racing is in for a rude awakening.

I predict that in the next two years the number of horses in training will be reduced by 10-20%.

There will be fewer Licensed trainers, 20% or more.

Overseas investments will decrease, local and overseas owners do not want to be associated with violence and aggression.

Racing is a hobby and a sport for many, when it becomes unpleasant people will simply turn elsewhere.

Reduced figures all round means that hundreds of grooms are on the verge of losing their jobs. I fully recognise the right to protest. I am fully aware that all is not right with our grooms. I am fully committed to correct that but not under the threat of violence.

Personally, I will be reducing my string by 40%. At this stage of my life I’ve been wanting to train the most beautiful animals and really enjoy it along with my son, but the situation racing is in has left me wondering why I do it and questioning my own loyalty to SA racing.

Where we go from here remains to be seen.

PS: A very big thank you to all those who sent messages and well wishes over the last few days . I didn’t realise I had that many friends and am touched by the thoughtful messages sent to show that so many care.

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38 comments on “De Kock Ponders Future In South Africa

  1. Sorry4You says:

    Mike you ARE a LEGEND!! Help us all to fix this! We need a man like you and Sean to lead this in a peaceful manner, but not taking any bull$%^&* anymore!! When the stakes go up everything will follow!! Trainers will get more, grooms will get more, jockeys will get more and yes a owner will get a little more too. This is our problem!! Let’s get together and fix it for everyone!! You have done a great job with your staff and yet they will still attack your stables…… How is this possible when you do all these things for them???? Grant Maroun, is getting all trainers involved, I asked hime to include us as owners too….. We CAN FIX IT ALL IF WE STAND TOGETHER, and you of all Mike knows we can if we stand together!! Sales will grow if the owners get some stakes back in their pockets…. everything will thrive again!! I plead with you to form a committee and let’s make these changes.

  2. Glynis van der Merwe says:

    The sad thing is that it’s more often than not the people that help that are first ones that are attacked. Most of these so called people feel no loyalty whatsoever. I’m afraid this country is stuffed & although Mike de Kock will be sorely missed, if I was him I would sell up & leave with my family whilst they are all still alive. He doesn’t have to prove anything & will be welcome anywhere in the world. If I wasn’t too old & had money I would be gone yesterday.

  3. Geoff says:

    Chris , I couldn’t agree more . Owners are getting squeezed out of this game . We are getting hammered on all sides and that includes Phumelela , NHA, The Racing Association , Vets etc. If there is any way forward , a think tank needs to be organised by all concerned parties failing which we will end up like Zimbabwe racing . The fun of racing is over !! There is no light at the end of the tunnel . The fat cat administrators are getting fatter and the nepotism is rife with jobs for mates and family ! Unless there are positive moves I will also in the near future opt out !!

  4. Philip Goldberg says:

    Mr, Mrs De Kock and family. Sadly, its the hand that feeds, that is the first to get bitten off. Unfortunately, there is no respect and appreciation, and here specifically, it is out of control.
    I agree with all your emotions ,statistics, and outlook.Sadly, this sort of uprising will arise again..
    We live, work and play in an industry which is easy to attack.
    Luckily for you guys, its a lot easier to pull out and relocate.
    For the rest, its not that simple.
    But we have all been warned!!!

  5. Judith says:

    I think we are approaching this from the wrong direction. Trainers, owners etc shouldn’t be shouting about what they do for their grooms. They should be asking why the EFF, Cosatu are homing in on grooms – a steady, paying working environment in the most unequal country in the world – and trying to destroy it. Mike de Kock shouldn’t threaten to leave – he should confront the shit-stirrers head on. The groom that he helped who then turned on him – kick him out. We live in a horribly unequal society – most of those grooms would not have a job if the horseracing world in SA imploded. Aim your arguments at the EFF – assemble your armies and attack them. Don’t pull out. The impact on those grooms would be horrendous if you did so.

  6. Garth says:

    This is the type of intimidation and threats we got in Zim, regardless of what industry you were in. Very sorry to see this happening now in RSA. Look after you family and yourself and be prepared to make bold decision. Mike you will be welcomed arms wherever you go, if you decide to go.

  7. Eben Sevenster says:

    Fighting back is not worth it. Fighting leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth even if you are right. A peaceful environment is worth more than many horses. A bisiness is firstly about people and all else follows but if the people is your business are rotten its time to move on.

  8. Nish Moodley says:

    I have been a race horse owner since 2009. Back then the training fees was roughly R 3,500 ex vat. The prize money for a maiden race then was R 56,000.

    Extrapolating what the training fees and stake monies should be in 2018 taking into account CPI at 6% reveals the following:
    1. Training fees in 2018 – R 5,900
    2. Stakes for maiden races in 2018 – R 87,852.

    I’m not an owner anymore so I’m not sure what the training costs are. Looking currently at the stake money for a maiden race:
    1. Gauteng – R 95,000
    2. KZN – R 105,000
    3. Cape – R 80,000

    Judging from these amounts, Cape racing is behind on stakes by R7,852. KZN & Gauteng are ahead of CPI. It would appear that stakes is not the underlying issue for owners feeling the squeeze resulting in them leaving. Some other factors are at play which needs to be investigated.

    I’ve only looked at stakes for maiden races & not the other races. It will be helpful if some of the main industry players can comment on this.
    We cannot afford to lose horse racing as it employs many people and is a good marketing mechanism to bring in foreign direct investment to our country and contribute towards GDP growth for our much needed economy.

    Unfortunately our government appears not to fully support the horse racing industry, this is where our well paid Phumulela executives need to come in and prove why they should be paid these fat cat salaries.

    Let’s hope a solution is found soon as I’m really worried about the sport of horse racing dying a slow death.

  9. Siva says:

    Sad .Sad Sad .Sorry Mike de Kock.Get well soon

  10. Mark Howell says:

    Only when the last employer has left and the last investor has gone will the so called poor and over indulged people realise what they’ve lost, that you can’t eat politics or violence and that theft and manipulation is short lived.

  11. sam xaba says:

    Not even a BP can keep a good man down baba deck, in life in general expect pothole how big or small it is still a pothole.Be strong show the world that not weapon form against you shall prosper.Stay put my man your big enough to know straight road are few. Get well soon

  12. Sarvan says:

    When Team De Kock won the July on Ipi Tombi and Greys Inn…go have a look at the footage and you’ll see Mike De Kock encouraging his grooms to join in the celebrations. One could sense this man knew his success was a team effort and everyone in there ought to be recognised and be rewarded. I had a new found respect for this South African hero back then. This man is no racist, he’s a legend. Sad day indeed for racing. I implore the operators, Gold Circle and Phumulela to get involved. You owe it to racing.

  13. Sinothi says:

    Another reason to add to the long list I’ve already got for leaving this country – it’s so sad to see where this country is headed.
    Such hatred and animosity in this so-called rainbow nation.

  14. Wayne Jooste says:

    Horse racing in South Africa is much like the rest of the country, on a downward spiral with no coming back. The only light at the end of the tunnel is the light of an oncoming train! Weldone to the useless “fat cats” for trying to brush everything under the carpet and hope that all these issues with horse racing in South Africa will miraculously fix themselves, but it won’t unfortunately!

  15. Ian says:

    The Phumelela/RA gravy train is the root cause of all problems facing the racing industry today and will ultimately lead to it’s demise unless something radical and dramatic emerges from recent events.

    Corporatisation of assets and the transfer of tote licences has seen the industry fall into the hands of unscrupulous ne’er do wells intent on grabbing as much of the pie for themselves whilst securing jobs for pals and family members. ( parallels with a certain political party??)

    Thousands of jobs are at risk whilst the Du Plessis’s, Heide’s, Stuart’s, Basel’s, Wainstein’s, Moodley’s and the rest of their cohorts (edited – Ed). Their greed clearly knows no boundaries and one wonders how they manage to look at themselves in the mirror each day. I am also appalled at the list of non executive directors ( Van Niekerk, Kantor, Finch amongst others) who happily took fees whilst ‘overseeing’ this disgraceful state of affairs.. Shame on all of you. Your involvement in Phumelea has clearly brought nothing of value to the industry and it appears your presence was merely required to rubber stamp questionable policies and decisions. Have you no integrity?

    Owners and Trainers can no longer subsidise the industry by absorbing ever upward spiralling costs and must demand an immediate increase in stakes. There is a point , which is near, when the industry will collapse – owners will abandon the sport, trainers will go out of business, grooms/ stablehands will lose their jobs, fewer jockeys will make a living out riding fees etc. When that happens one wonders what all our “captains of industry will say” and what will become of these ” executives” with their cheap polyester suits, greasy hair and bloated physiques.

  16. jc lee ching says:

    Mike de Kock you have done more than your share for South African racing, you owe no one anything. You have now come face to face with the political reality in this country, no matter how much you do they will never be satisfied. Take Ayne Rand’s advice, shrug, even Atlas Shrugged, find safer pastures for you and your family.

  17. Brian says:

    If I were you I’d be gone. You don’t owe anybody anything!

  18. Cecil Pienaar says:

    Mike de Kock is a Legend. Funny how the EFF is allowed to intimidate where ever they go. Cry the Beloved Country

  19. Seedated says:

    Whose threatening you? We got your back Mike. It will be dark day for racing if you leave

  20. Johan W says:

    Dear Mike.
    I am not in this industry , but was curious .
    It is just another bit of proof of SA ‘s general problem that is getting close to the point of no return , huge exploitation when everything has been upended , and into a dismal future.
    The world is fast getting to know this , and every instance like this confirms it.
    Its like a rampant cancer , without those in office caring ,knowing how , wheather, with what , or not to treat it as long as they are OK.
    When your life is threatened, voice and thoughts restricted – and you can , get out and help others in the same predicament too.
    The odds are far bettet to fight this scourge from the outside whilst remaining alive.
    It’s not worth trying to fix a problem when the odds are massively stacked against it , your gut and instinct acknowledges the insult and what you have to do.
    Bravo for posting your letter , it’s the first action in the process for which you will no doubtedly be criticised on a racial ,white monopolist, colonial personal and every other unjustified level by all who want glory in your sadness.
    Like many others – – – –
    Another stressed citizen ( having a bypass tomorrow )
    All the best.

  21. Winston Chow says:

    Yes Mike, the world is full.of greedy, lying, dishonest, bigot, arrogant and nasty people. I personally had met quite a few in racing too. I liked S.A. so much because I like horse racing and it is so cheap compared to the rest of the world. I had myself pumped huge money despite barely able to afford it and I keep promoting S.A. but it looks like it’s time to cut down.

    Anyway, I can only be pushed to a certain stage and it is clear that the limit has been reached.

    Just want to say, take it easy and I am grateful that a trainer of your calibre trained horses for s small client like me!

    Do what is best for your family.

  22. Hitesh says:

    R Simmons and mike d kok teamed up unstoppable

  23. Phumlani says:

    Some comments here are not helping at all. Let’s find solution for all without putting a blame.

  24. Michael says:

    Mike, Get out while you can. Not worth your families security sticking around. By what iv’e read your were are a very generous, kind person, & you do not deserve this kind of treatment !!

  25. Sue Botha says:

    Mike you are a LEGEND and SA racing will be way poorer without you and your family. That said, if you have the opportunity to take your skill and passion, and leave, I wouldn’t blame for a second.

  26. Pete says:

    In any country, in any walk of life some ignorant people have no respect.
    They even show disrespect to those that help them in life with employment! They bite the hand that feeds them!!
    If someone is derogatory or offensive or threatening in any way the only option is too distance oneself and ones family!
    Too employ the guys that openly threaten is not sustainable so ask THEM to leave and do not please run away from this confrontation as there’s problems in other countries also.
    If I was rude/disrespectful to my boss I would expect to be sacked ! And he would find someone who treasured the job.
    So my view is too Mike and the other trainers: hang in there and surround yourself with grooms , workers etc with the Calibre of honest trustworthy staff who appreciate you and your families support (take out the bad apples from the barrel).
    In UK the option too sort out the issues of the European Union club was stay and sort it or run away ? Look what’s happening there by running away !

  27. Mike you have done so much for SA racing. But when one looks at the future, do you see a change? Only you can make the decision. You are a wonderful person and personally I am sorry that some would turn on you. And even more disgusting, they didn’t even have the courage to stand face to face but had to hide behind a scarf.
    May you be blessed with good health in the future.

  28. Bob Kistnasamy says:

    Mike, you have given us many memorable moments with your achievements locally and abroad. Quite frankly, you have nothing to prove.
    A brilliant racing brain such as yours should be picked to the advantage/ enhancement of the sport and industry. Recently, there have been valid comments relative to handicapping etc. However, all appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
    Regrettably, the racing authorities have not got the main role players in a “common room” to establish innovation or how the activities may be improved.
    my advise is, ” Go where you are accepted as an accomplished horseman and your experiece and expertise put to good effect.”
    Put family before sentiments. I am certain that we shall be acknowledging your achievements with great honour and as from one of our own.

    Whatever the decision, I am quite certain that it will be to the benefit and well-being of your family. your patrons will follow you, Mike.

  29. Seedated says:

    My previous comment did not get posted.
    If you run the numbers horse ownership in South Africa is not worth it.
    The prestigious KZN Derby, has a purse of a whopping R300 000. The oaks has the same purse, but the only other benefit there is the blacktype potential.
    I am an owner and these numbers make no sense. And if your trainer doesn’t give you honest info about your horses chances, you left just pumping good money into bad money.
    Maybe my previous comment was not allow because of my criticism of the fat cats eating up the money and destroying the game.
    It makes no sense for an astute horseman like Mike de kock to stay in south africa, with senseless crimes being committed every day you cannot take death threats lightly in this country.
    You have a no Brainer decision to make. A decision that anyone who has the means to would do.. Leave this country before its too late.

  30. Old Fox says:

    The situation is chasing away many new and existing owners. Guys, without owners there is no racing. As an owner I am already wondering when the EFF shut the entrance and exit of a race meeting at the Vaal or Turfontein. How many owners are now scared to even watch their horses run? And by the way. The brave SAPS did absoluteley nothing at rantjiesfontein. So don’t expect protection while sitting in the owners and trainers.

  31. Don says:

    to quote: …The key to this sort of remuneration is stakes. Dubai stakes speak for themselves. One can charge a proper fee and race for proper stakes.
    Take out there is as follows: Trainer 10%; Jockey 10%, and most notably the stable (grooms and all stable staff) share 5%.
    The key to a strong racing industry is stakes!…”

    The question of the stakes, ah yes, and what is the source of the stakes, pray tell – is it not that fount that is known as punters? (notwithstanding the management of the stakes). Where are the punters? Why have they diminished?

  32. Loraine Karam says:

    Mr De Kock ypu are a GREAT trainer, and first and foremost take into account the best interest of you and your family.Remember life is so short, and the shock of hearing about your health scare, scared us all, i can just imagine what it has done to you and your family? It is so sad that things has to come to this state of affairs. God Bless you and your family, and we all Salute you for what you have done for South African Racing. Loraine Karam.

    .

  33. Russell says:

    Mike I have moved many horses for you including the great Horse Chestnut every word you have said or written is true ones life and those off your family has no price may I wish you and your family all the best and stay safe

  34. Seedated says:

    Let’s run the numbers for the average Kimberly meeting which is not the most popular.
    173k Bipot
    373k jackpot
    445k Pa
    407k pick 6
    Win pool 80k on average x 10 = 800o
    Quartet pool 100k on average x 10 = 1m
    Place pool 50k O A = 500k
    Swinger 60k O A = 600k
    Ex pool 60k O A = 600k
    Trifecta = 600k

    So on Average they make R5.5m on the tote in your l run of the mill Kimberly meeting. If someone can clarify how much the tote takes from there for stakes and other expenses. We can see the numbers clearly.
    That is beside the bookies and online bookies (who I use). They collect 6% from them as well.

    The punters are not really diminishing. It’s just that the numbers don’t add up.
    Edited*

  35. Gordon Nefdt says:

    Belated sadness about what happened to Mike De Kock and his family. Mike De Kock is an international equine racing icon and it would be sad if he should decide to pack up and leave. Could the solution perhaps partly be the introduction of more “black” trainers? There does seem to be a bit of an anomaly in this regard.

  36. Steve says:

    You don’t have to be a Genius, improve the STAKES and the Industry will be a Better Place for ALL!

  37. Rian says:

    Thx Ed, to scared to print comments

  38. Johann Kruger says:

    It is unfathomable to me how workers in so many industries in our country are able to self-destruct with their totally unrealistic demands. The Trade Unions, and now the EFF, are instrumental in this by sweeping up emotions for their own political gain. They did it in 2014 with the mining strikes in an industry that is equally under the threat in this country. The result, which was predicted by many at that time, has been the closing of some mines with massive job losses, running into the hundreds of thousands. Mike de Kock, like many other trainers, would be welcomed with open arms in just about any other horse racing country in the world. If I were in his situation I would also seriously consider relocating.

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