The oft held perception that horseracing’s major days hinge around big money, fabulous fashion, business class travel and equine superstars was quickly shattered when we spoke to Port Elizabeth Gold Cup raider Jacques Strydom behind the wheel of his bakkie towing a two – berth through the long dark night on the close on 20 hour road trip to Summerveld.
The Strydom Gold Cup entourage, which included part-owner of Jacques’ Gold Cup duo of Desert Wisdom and Frikkie, in the racing mad Wimpie Kruger, left their Port Elizabeth home base at 7pm on Wednesday evening on their quest to secure that elusive pot of gold at the end of the Greyville rainbow.
“It’s probably quicker up the coast through the Transkei, but we opted to rather go the inland route to Bloemfontein and then through to Durban. The roads are in better condition and there hasn’t been a lot of traffic thankfully,” said Jacques as he chatted to us on his hands-free.
He arrived at Summerveld around lunch-time Thursday – that’s a great trek with two tough geldings in tow!
“I said if we pull a decent draw, we will take our chances in the Gold Cup. As it happened, Frikkie got a 5, but Desert Wisdom wasn’t as fortunate with the widest gate. But it made sense to take them both. Two tickets are always better than one and it’s a race where luck does play a part.”
Both of his runners stay well and Frikkie is the stable elect – if only for his draw. He cautions that punters should not take the form at face value as both have had excuses.
Frikkie ran second in the PE Gold Cup behind Plano, beaten just a half length. Jacques feels Lyle Hewitson should have sat on him a bit longer. He says the 6yo son of Elusive Fort is fit and well and was placed at the Greyville track in 2017. He carries a handy 52 kgs.
Desert Wisdom was beaten over 5 lengths in the PE Gold Cup. Jacques suggests emphatically that effort is not a true reflection of his ability.
He feels that Mathew Thackeray, who rides him on Saturday and won on him at his penultimate start, would have learnt from the fact that he hit the front too early in the3600m feature. He adds that the Querari gelding fly-jumped out of the stalls, which had him on the wrong foot from the break.
Jacques says that the road-trip was a workout in itself and he would be freshening his horses with a walk on Friday. The hard work was already done.
“I am not justifying anything or making lame excuses but explaining the mitigating factors hidden in the formlines. We aren’t going to Durban just for the fun of it. We are setting out to win – and to enjoy the racing. Both my horses are supremely fit and they get every inch of the 3200m. We want it to be a true test of stamina. We just need some luck.”
Jacques is a widely respected conditioner of staying horses – names like Palm King, Me Tarzan and Key Castle – who he bought at age 9 – come to mind. In fact it was Me Tarzan who produced his best ever Gold Cup effort when fourth at Greyville almost 15 years ago.
Known as the PE Gold Cup king for his prowess with the longhaulers, and junior to his champion jockey brother Piere by six years, the affable and supremely relaxed trainer is on record telling us that he doesn’t fall into the trap of taking himself as seriously as he does his job, his owners and their horses.
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Jacques was a prolific amateur rider in his day, with a 50% win strike rate.
“I went to Kimberley to ride for Mike McLachlan years ago. I was down to ride the odds on shot but couldn’t do the weight. So they stuck me on the 100-1 outsider and I rode him about 12kgs overweight. I recall winning by ten lengths! I can’t remember how popular I was – this is a funny game sometimes,” he told us.
When Jacques matriculated he went to Tech to study farm management and helped his Dad Hekkie part-time in the stables. He moved to Johannesburg where he worked for Brett Warren and CL van Niekerk for a year before returning to PE to rejoin Hekkie.
In 1995 he was employed by Alan Greeff for a six-year stint as his assistant before he took out his own licence. The rest is history as they say. He will be hoping that another chapter is written on Saturday.
Hollywood currently have Gold Vase winner It’s My Turn at favourite for the Gold Cup. Both the Strydom horses are available at 50-1.