They say there are three choices in life – give up, give in or give it all you’ve got.
Globe-trotting multiple SA champion trainer, Mike de Kock has more than a passing acquaintance with the concept of ‘giving it all you’ve got’. While he generally prefers actions to words, it seems he’s getting pretty good at both, which will come in handy as he tilts for a seat on the National RA Board.
Given the size of Mike’s stable and the pressures of his travel schedule – both home and abroad – the most obvious question is what made him take the leap. “I wonder myself actually,” he jokes. Then adds more seriously, “It’s not something I volunteered for. A few people asked me to stand, Jessica proposed me and I think Bradley Ralph seconded me. I was in two minds, but having thought about it, I’ve been lucky enough to experience a lot of aspects of racing – I’ve travelled around the world and raced at a very high level, I’ve got a lot out of the game, and to be honest, I’m happy to give a bit back.”
With so many conflicting demands and expectations, it is hard to strike a balance that will please everyone. “I know racing admin, particularly in South Africa, is a thankless job – you might as well be a dartboard – but I want to try and do my best and impart my knowledge to improve whatever department I can to help the industry improve if I can. If I can’t, then I must move on,” he shrugs.
“I firmly believe that if people want to be critical of the industry – and I’ve often been critical myself – then at least you should come with some solutions or input on how to improve things, otherwise, what’s the point? It’s a great industry, but I don’t enjoy all the negativity around at the moment. I don’t think it’s all bad – I think we just need a bit of tweaking here and there and we will flourish again. We must need to get onto a positive page, not a negative one. I think I can help, so I would like to participate.”
Why the RA? “I like the organisation and I think the RA is a great platform for good to be done in the game. It’s got quite a big membership and it’s something I’d like to see increase. The more people who participate and contribute, the more we can improve things for everyone.”
“It’s been tough to get to where we are at the moment and it’s going to be tough going forward, so the game also needs to evolve and move on. I like the way the chapter in Cape Town has moved – they have brought in a lot of new, young, fresh thinking and I think that’s to be encouraged. I’m quite impressed and hope we can get that going on a national basis. I’m certainly not the youth, but I can definitely bring a lot of fresh thinking to the table. And so can Charles, who comes at things with more of a business brain.”
However, the biggest hurdle they are likely to face is voter apathy. “It’s like people who are critical of the government,” he shakes his head. “Everybody likes to have a dip, but then don’t vote to get rid of the people they don’t like. If you’re not happy, make sure you get out and vote. And make sure whoever you feel must get in, gets in.”
“Right now we are at a crucial stage and we need to be pulling together, not tearing apart. We’ve all got a role to play and the time has come for us to crack on and start being positive.”
Is Charles Savage a starter this time?
Charles’ racing interests go way back to his childhood where he grew up with some of the most influential trainers, breeder, owners and bloodstock agents of the time. “Racing is in my blood, I guess,” he says, relating a story of how his father and Chris Smith drank champagne out of the winner’s trophy after one of Turncoat’s victories. “They must have spent five times the winner’s cheque celebrating with the assembled crowd. It was a wonderful time for horse racing,” he reminisces.
“I keep being drawn back and while I failed at making an impact before, I’m not going to let that get in the way of continuing to try and make a difference,” he states firmly.
Charles’ reference to failing stems back to when then Purple Capital were being vilified as a prospective suitor for Cape Racing during the infamous Gold Circle de-merger and subsequent Competition Commission Tribunal.
As a baptism by fire, it was a doozie.
However, the attempt at storming racing’s Bastille proved revealing. Charles and ‘Team Purple’ may have emerged bruised, bloodied and ultimately unsuccessful, but their conduct in the face of a particularly obdurate set of circumstances – and personalities – not only showed their true colours, but earned them a great deal of admiration.
Having taken a step back from racing politics to regroup and focus on his career and the meteorically popular EasyEquities concept, Charles has been persuaded to throw his hat into the RA ring.
He could easily be forgiven for giving racing administration a wide berth after his last attempt and he agrees equitably, “I was resigned to enjoying my racing from the grandstand and when Jessica (Slack) called me to see if I would run for the RA Board, my first response was ‘not on my own’. By that I mean I wanted to know upfront this time if I had the support of others before I put my hat in the ring,” he explains. “So I spent some time meeting with people to get their views and test their support. I was encouraged to run and Rian du Plessis’ departure convinced me that the timing was also right. I also came to the conclusion that more than anything, racing needed Mike de Kock to run for the RA.”
He continues, “Mike has done it all, everywhere. He has the ear of the largest and most influential breeders, owners, trainers and operators all around the world – why would we not want to harness this to help us shape racing’s future back at home? So I made it Jess’ mission to get him to run alongside me, not because it strengthens my chances, but because it greatly strengthens our chances of turning around racing’s future. It’s that simple.”
So how does he see the path ahead? “Look, I think the RA and Racing Trust have started to move in the right direction post the “Jooste era”. The RA Board and Racing Trust members are to be commended for this and it’s clear that many have put their souls into the industry for a long time now and deserve more recognition. However,” he continues seriously, “in many respects I feel racing has gone insane. Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, well I think we all stand accused and I want to make it my mission to try new things for a new age of racing.”
“I really hope I get a chance to bring some fresh ideas and fresh thinking and take from the work and success we’ve had with EasyEquities where we have broadened access and actively won over the millennial market opportunity. Importantly, we are winning over all South Africans, radically transforming and disrupting an “Old World” industry by painting a fresh, fun face for finance and adopting a frictionless, low cost, transparent approach. As a result, we are winning over every age, race and income group, which is a radical departure from the past and something I think we can achieve in racing too. At the centre of our success lies trust, and I’m convinced that this too needs to be central to racing approach into the future.”
The mandate of the RA is to support the interests of the sport of horse racing in general, which given the length and breadth of our community is a pretty big ask. How does he propose finding a happy medium? “Mark Twain said, ‘It is difference of opinion that makes horse races’ and he’s right,” says Charles firmly. “We’re not all going to back the same horses and therefore racing is GOING to be fraught with differences of opinion – but fundamentally we need to do our best to listen, engage and educate and then we need to back a few horses. If we fail, then let’s fail fast. There are lots of horse to back and plenty of races to be run, but failing to try new things is no longer an option. While not everyone is going to agree with everything, I think if we build a trusted, transparent platform then everyone will be happy to come along for the ride and hopefully celebrate not just our success, but support us in our failure too.”
“At the end of the day, I would just like a chance to work with all stakeholders in the hope that I can drive some positive change and be a small part of a team effort to turn things around.”
There are two seats available and five candidates standing for election. These are:-
Mike de Kock
Please click the links below for details on the voting procedure, pen pics of the candidates and voting papers.