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Plea To Support The Small Trainer

Where have they all gone?

In 1981 at the age of 22 the Milnerton based Piet Steyn was the youngest licenced trainer in the country.

Thirty eight years and dozens of stakes winners later he is considered by many to be something of a miracle worker as he produces regular cheques from a limited team of horses.

Speaking after the 7yo Waiting For Rain had registered his seventh career win at Kenilworth on Saturday, an emotional Steyn issued a plea for something to be done in support of the smaller trainer.

“In a year or two we are going to end up with only four or five trainers in Cape Town, and racing can’t survive on that. Owners have to support the smaller trainers. I know you can’t tell people where to put their horses but come and look at Milnerton and see how many empty stables there are.”

He pointed a finger for the disaster in the ‘clicky Cape’  at ‘agents, breeders and the whole clique’.

“It doesn’t matter how good you are – if you are not in that flow you can forget about it.”

The man who spends most of every day at his yard pointed out that he always put his money where his mouth was.

“I go quarter and half shares in many of my horses.”

A horseman to the very tips of his toes, Piet Steyn came through the ranks of the Cape Hunt & Polo Club amateur racing.

Years ago he fondly recalled the days he rode winners in front of packed grandstands.

After doing his ‘stable articles’ with the late legend Peter Kannemeyer, Piet trained top horses like Queen’s Elect, Justerini and Double Vodka and also produced a second in the Durban July with Gitano.

But the landscape has changed dramatically in the past twenty years.

Gone are many of the smaller salaried or hobby owners who could still afford and chose to race with friends and partners.

Gone are the days of affordable keep.

Gone is the spirit, the atmosphere and the ‘gees’ when wild horses wouldn’t keep us away from even an ordinary racemeeting on a wet Wednesday at Milnerton.

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37 comments on “Plea To Support The Small Trainer

  1. Ian Jayes says:

    Have a positive dope test and you will have horses thrown at you.

  2. Joe says:

    Piet. i absolutely agree with you. I am an owner with two horses and i support a small trainer and love it. If i had to send my horses to a big yard they would end up being trained by one of the many assistants. So who would you have training your horse – someone with 40 years or someone with a couple of years. Wow-what a decision.

  3. Billy Bobbit says:

    Ian Jayes, if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say it. What’s your claim to fame?

  4. Rudi says:

    Another bad comment mr jays. You so full off yourself and know everything.

  5. Ian Jayes says:

    In reply to Billie Bobbit and Rudi let me say there was nothing bad about my comment and let me ask why a “positive” is the best advertisement a trainer can have. I don’t have any special claim to fame and I don’t know everything, but I trained for thirty years, did not buy expensive horses, got most of them to win and unlike a lot of my contemporaries, I did not use drugs. The old saying applies: if the cap fits wear it.

  6. Leon Smuts says:

    Mr Steyn, I believe the answer is to make it a truly public sport again. It starts by making it fun to have an involvement in racing, be it as a punter or an owner. This can only happen when the economic fundamentals of it’s current failure is addressed. Pools have to be much bigger than the dwindling one’s currently on offer and games have to appeal to a wider audience than the captive addict that drives turnover either though gambling weakness or out of desperation. The average punter is not a good advertisement for involvement and this has to be recognised to move forward.Racing needs to appeal to the entire demograhic range of race, age groups and gender. Mass appeal and support will do wonders for the sport and create a funding model that will provide an economic incentive to own horses again, not just an elitist and/or egotistic driver to ownership. Many of us love the sport, but not the current delivery and offer and it is a hard sell in its current format. The offer needs to be packaged as affordable entertainment, a true game of skill and a more prestigious contest that pits players wits against each other rather than the system. Provide better games, better service and platforms and loads of information and see this sport fly again with small trainers being but one important group of a long list of potential beneficiaries.


    Hear hear Mr. Smuts, that’s it in a nut shell.

  8. Johan says:


  9. Mister G says:

    The problem the smaller Yards have are the following : The bigger yards attract the bigger money owners and the better quality horses . The bigger yards have first call on first and second choice Jockeys and therefore , unless per chance the top Jockeys don’t have a ride for the top yards , the smaller yards will end up with a less experienced 3rd or 4th choice Jockey . Therefore they will invariably be on the back foot competing . No owner races for 2nd , 3rd or 4th place . Stakes money is too low in Cape Town and as an owner with a 3rd or 4th rate Horse you can only hope that you can pick up the “winter scraps ” !! while the top yards are in KZN. At the end of the day , the smaller yards need to promote themselves and the advantages of a more personal approach . Maybe even a small booth at the various yearling sales where first time buyers can ask questions without feeling intimidated by asking the usual questions !! Look at the national stats for trainers and you will probably find that the smaller yards have the smaller winning percentages to runners . Sadly , I don’t see light at the end of the tunnel . Many other issues inc. why would you want to race at Kenilworth . Totally lacking in atmosphere and service . I know this is being addressed . Good Luck .


    Johan, was the other owner Doc Ewenwal ?

  11. Hogan Govindsamy says:

    The Cape already has a problem with small fields ,so why don,t the owners at least spread their horses around more evenly.I know that maybe they don’t want their leading lights be trained by just anyone but its exacerbating the situation.Most trainers dont want their charges competing against each other especially from the same owner so they nominate then withdraw to increase their win ratio for specific owners.Obviously the owners need a return on their investment but many owners in the Cape are extremely wealthy so I don’t think its a money issue more a glory issue.So why not take a chance and before sending your horses across to what is considered a smaller racing centre ,send them across to smaller yards – the results may surprise you.Nobody likes boredom with the big trainers taking out the big prizes with the big trainers and big jockeys most of the time.It can’t be good for the sport.Don’t know who coined the phrase the sport of kings but it looks like that phrase is haunting the industry.

  12. Cecil Pienaar says:

    The following statement is so true for me and a few old timer friends

    “Gone are owners who could still afford and chose to race with friends and partners”

    The thing is, can this be changed?

    And I’m thinking (dreaming) if I owned a good horse, would I go for the Big Trainer’s or the Small trainer

    Answer – Smaller trainer, reason – My opinion, in bigger yards my horse might
    compete less or be disadvantaged by numbers, 2nd or 3rd choice stable elect Jockeys etc….

    Then the flip side (this happens) a horse does well in smaller yards and then gets moved to Bigger Trainers

    And here as a human, I would have been guilty..

    So, as a “life long punter”, we have a bit in common with fishermen. Like to talk about the big ones that got away, fishing was better in the old days, LoL. Yet cannot wait for the next chance to go the course (or the dam)

    Lastly, I actually think Vee Moodley is gonna make a positive difference in our game. Good luck to him and team

  13. Ian Jayes says:

    I replied to Billy Bobbit and Rudi but it has not been published.

    1. Editor says:

      Ian, was this it? – it is there – refresh your browser maybe, thank

      In reply to Billie Bobbit and Rudi let me say there was nothing bad about my comment and let me ask why a “positive” is the best advertisement a trainer can have. I don’t have any special claim to fame and I don’t know everything, but I trained for thirty years, did not buy expensive horses, got most of them to win and unlike a lot of my contemporaries, I did not use drugs. The old saying applies: if the cap fits wear it.


    I have the same thoughts Cecil.

    To Mr Steyn, big trainers and small trainers, big and small owners

    Mostly, we hear about unhappy/frustrated punters, struggling jockeys & marginalized trainers and then, lets not forget the massive grooms issues.

    We have heard about betting operators who own or have commercial interests in other arms of the racing fraternity.

    All this seems to point to, for the want of a better word, is the “chosen few”.

    Is this unfair on them, on the general public, or for that matter, on who ?

    Are the big 3 or 4 trainers in Cape Town at full capacity ? If they are been stretched to keep their customers happy, wouldn’t it be in their interest so say to one or 2 of their ” 20 horse strong” owners – Send 3 or 4 of your horses to eg. Mr. Steyn, Mr Botha, Mr Ennion ?

    Shouldn’t we consider a “cooperative” type of business model for racing so that more trainers, owners & grooms get a equitable slice of the cake ?


    And then Mr Steyn, isn’t it now coming down to the scenario that many previously unemployed or “down and outters” experienced, when you have to go “knock on the doors” of the Ruperts,Slacks, Shirtliffs etc etc and ask for business/a chance ?

    A bit of putting one’s pride in one’s pocket ?

  16. Harold says:

    Take a horse like the Bass trained Blue Tiger for example, he was a good horse that set the pace for his more illustrious stablemates, Pocket Power and River Jetez and had limited success. But had he been with a smaller stable, would no doubt have been a Grade 1 winner instead of having run a string of Grade 1 places.

  17. alan says:

    mr steyn is correct the big 5 in cape town control the game re the big owners. i believe the problem lies with the handful of bloodstock agents that dont support the smaller yards. these guys get overseas clients looking to purchase horses and only place them with the big 5. why has sheihk hamdens horses only gone to the top guys, when in the uk they get spread to smaller guys as well. the sheiks representative here in sa is not supporting the the smaller guys in my humble opinion. i am sure that there are others that are guilty of the same practice. i went through sales data on horses bought by bloodstock agents in the last 5 years and was surprised at how low a hit rate these agents attain taking into account the large amounts of money they spend.
    small yards use to make it when racing was a gambling sport where horses had to be punted for owners and trainers to earn decent money. it has now become a commission game for trainers. take mr colin palm his stable was a gambling stable. he had the wealthy ovenstone familys horses on the one hand and then the local portuguese barber who could only afford one horse on the other. but the small guy loved to gamble.mr nicholas the ex zimbabwe trainer was a gambling stable. colin burroughs, even mr atholl fisher. today there are maybe one or two of the big owners who gamble big.
    hang in there piet you will get a good horse then the guys will be back at your door. keep doing rollcall on the hay forks your stable management is par excellance

  18. Rod Mattheyse says:

    What nonsense, the reason Blue Tiger ran a string of graded places was that he had a string of opportunities and unfortunately never cracked it. I would venture that the Bass yard got the most out of this good horse. To say any other trainer big or small would have done better is preposterous.

  19. Rod Mattheyse says:

    Leon how do we create the picture you are painting. Which chapter does this piece fit into that great novella you are penning.

    When potty training a child you actually have to show them how rather than just telling them it’s better for everyone if they number 2 in the toilet.

    Pick us up put us on the toilet show us how winning R5 as opposed to 232m is good for us.

  20. Leon Smuts says:

    Rod, I was actually waiting for your comment so thanks for not disappointing. Would love to know where you get your R5 delusion from as this is not what we are advocating or proposing for racing? You have a very rare talent to make even the most extreme pessimist look like an optimist. I enjoy your comments though as there is a nice blend of common sense mixed with some sarcasm to actually make it entertaining for everyone. As mentioned before would like to sit down with you sometime and show you what we are proposing for a new racing experience and a much better marketing tool. Until then I eagerly await your next swipe and bid you good punting.

  21. Steve Reid says:

    Leon, my good mate Rod is a realist. He is also a hard-knocking contributor to the industry with little prospect of getting a return on his “investment”. It’s something not many who have the “solutions” to the problems can put on their CV’s. With respect, and I put myself in the long-suffering “contributor” category, albeit under the lap these days, the bottom line is that this problem its all about numbers. Owners and punters are the only contributors to the game, it’s as simple as that.

    The cold hard facts are that we do not have enough owners. When I got my colours in 1998 there were 8000 odd individual colour holders. The oldest records I can get off the NHA Annual report come from 2011. There were 3161 individual colour holders in that year. In the 2018 Annual report, there were 2097, a decrease of 33.7% in 7 years. The trend is constant. There are fewer and fewer individuals prepared, or able, to spend cash chasing a dream. This has nothing to do with introducing a wider audience, the only winner would be the operators. Its no wonder the smaller trainers are struggling.

  22. Roderick Mattheyse says:

    Leon, my Delusional R5 comes from my understanding that scoreline was/is proposing a type of bet that returns at milestones – the only way that can be achieved is by taking from the lucky afrikaans box that gets it right. i think i am closer to what gamblers want and that is something big, to spend and mostly brag about – i only followed the last 4 draws of the recent power ball – not sure how many roll overs there were – in excess of R250m was spent chasing that jackpot and the dream for F U money.

    Reduce the takeout – offer the bookies a risk free gateway into sharing their customer service and clients ala the intermediary route, pools will grow again – because from various gambling board numbers and the operators numbers themselves punting on horses with the friendly around the corner is growing.

    I will be in JHB, northern suburbs the first week in March we can can catch up, maybe my good mate Steve will join us

  23. Leon Smuts says:

    Thanks Steve and I do have a healthy dose of respect for all owners in the game as it’s clearly not a financially rewarding past time for most. I give Rod stick as he does me and have no doubt that his heart is in the right place and backed up by a proper investment in the sport, both financially and time wise, with comments baring this out and he is clearly knowledgeable and passionate about racing. Where I will disagree with you is your comment on the sport not needing a wider audience as the current recipe will most definitely end in more tears for a lot more people trying to make a living from racing. Agreed, the operator will be the immediate and biggest beneficiary from any growth in player numbers and turnover from pools.
    Sustainable growth for racing will however only come from creating new markets outside of the current set up and this means appealing to a wider audience or acceptance that the game is dead in the water. The only way that the operators belief in racing can be restored and ultimately more support can be unlocked is by proving that a lot more people could be enticed into getting involved. This can be done but not by doing the same thing with the same products and a declining budget for this purpose. Owners will benefit eventually as growth trickles down into improved stakes and later hopefully a lot more as traction improves and restores the operators belief in supporting racing more aggressively. A successful model should rely on perpetual growth driving both the punting numbers and the stakes pool which will see more smaller owners returning over time and a better dispensation for horsemen. I battle to see how a wider audience is of no significance in such an exercise. However lets agree to disagree on this but we are both concerned citizens who would like to see racing thriving again.

  24. Patrick Lunn says:

    Piet I agree with you – I’ve been training 42 years with many group 1 races and horses in my care eg Model Man, Northern Princess, The Barbican, Secret Rites and En Avant and yet today I have 15 horses and battling to get more in my yard!!! Patrick Lunn

  25. Leon Lorz says:

    As one of the smaller trainers, one with no claim to fame and one thats been in the bottom 10, allow me to give my humble opinion. My son now an assistant trainer and farmer had to do a school assignment on a sport star, my son was SA Agric rugby captain and lives for rugby . As his sport star , he chose Mike de Kock and worked his entire school holiday on his assignment.
    Not even thinking his father might be offended.

    I can never be as pro in training horses as Mr. De Kock, Mike Bass Terry Lowe , S Tarry ect ..
    As a small trainer i can not blame owners or the racing industry , but as a small trainer with a few loyal owners and 1 or 2 very loyal jocks, not being in the top 10 i made lots of money with horses.

    I bought 3 farms and paid them. Do not underestimate the value of not good enough horse when running into the quartet, if you work for it. I dont know the stats exactly on high or bad quality horses , which nowdays all comes from high quality stud farms.

    I am not interested in buying expensive horses, but the cheaper horses also win races. I once took 2 horses to the Vaal, which compares qriquas vs Bulls on form (myself being qriquas) both horses 66/1 , and MR at Flamingo park appr 70 and 80 . Ran them on the grass with a mission, both won, becquse i could enter them in MR 66 .

    The DB , Quartet earned me close to half Mil .
    My very good friends, Oom Nic Classen, R. Strydom and Philip Olivier made bags full of money, our plan just worked .

    Racing is built on gossip, and horses tend to make trainers and jockeys, but shortlift if you are not the pro that the top trainers are . One things that is killing horseracing for the normal middle man is vet fees, training fees, expensive registration fees ect…. in my profession, importing fertilizer we use to make $20 margins per ton, with the immidiate economic position, SA finds himself struggeling , bcause of that every insustry had to cut down on margins. We are lucky if we make $8-10 margins on selling fertilizer.

    We have to cut down on margins, in order for our loyal clients(Farmers) to survive. We are actually selling fertilizer cheaper than 10 year ago. The price of animal feed commodities which incl. Maize, lusern ect remains the same for the past 15 years.
    Put this in a bag and call it racing cubes and see the price tripples because of thar

    Transport, an interlink of fertilizer from Dbn to Douglas will cost u R430p/ton.
    Tranaporr a horse that weighs half a ton over the same distance, it will cost u R6000.

    Horseracing is the only industry that charge clients more and more.
    The middle class owner cant survive . U cant punt a horse if u havent seen it cantering to the starting stalls . That in my opinion is killing the small trainer and no one is to blame the top trainers for not surviving .

    A very loyal owner, that passed away , Mr. Danie Potgieter, had horses with Piet Steyn, and he only had very good things to say about Mr. Steyn.

    1. Editor says:

      Interesting Leon!

  26. Dave says:

    The concept is exactly the same for the jocks. Give em an opportunity and see what they can do. The two that immediately spring to mind are Gunter Wrogemann and Warren Kennedy who were both just middle of the road jocks for a long time until a few bones were thrown their way which they grabbed with both hands. Everyone just needs to be given a chance but that’s life I guess.

  27. Rian says:

    How much are owner contributors prepared to gamble for the thrill of owning your own race horse
    Mr Lunn has trained some really great horses
    Mr Steyn has ridden in races at Cape venues to bigger crowds than he trains for today and it must make him really sad
    They must hang in there as the wheel turns and LADY luck hopefully smiles on them and all other smaller trainers
    I also feel he has a lovely horse in his care at the moment and its going to be up there with the better ones

  28. Harold says:

    Revisit those string of opportunities and see how often BT was used as a hare instead of being given a better opportunity to win.

  29. Roderick Mattheyse says:


    great race record for a very good horse, but no champion

  30. Leon Smuts says:

    To Rod and Steve, my e-mail address is [email protected]. Send me your details and I will contact you when you are up here. Enjoy your weekend.

  31. logan naidoo says:


    1. karel says:

      Plea to support the small breeder?

  32. Rod Mattheyse says:

    Logan contact great nurseries like Beaumont , Sandown, Evergreen formerly known as the alchemy , sorrento, even big studs like Highlands – they all have horses for every budget.

  33. Michael Jacobs says:

    Cape racing is on a downward spiral, and has been for a number of years. There are 3 big stables that dominate in CT- Snaith, Crawford and Bass-Robinson. Then a bunch of trainers- Marshall, Ramsden and Kotzen, followed by everyone else who are in the small category. Fields in CT are generally on the small side, yet we seldom race twice a week nowadays! So many Cape trainers have satellite yards elsewhere in the country. Cape Town cannot sustain 2 meetings a week, and can’t fill fields to capacity on the one weekly meeting!!?? And most of the horses are bred in the Western Cape! Kenilworth and Durbanville racecourse are deserted in race days. Stables standing empty at Milnerton.

    The picture in Cape Town is gloomy and unlikely to improve anytime soon.

  34. fahiem steffenson says:

    There’s only 2 easy solutions….limit trainers to 100 horses per stable. Increase the stakes …3rd and 4th place does not even cover the training fees ….y do we even pay for 5th place….its less than 2k…covers nothing where horse racing is concern……I believe if your horse runs in the first 4 it must atleast cover trading fees….that is y u guys dont get new people joining the industry because it just takes and dont give back if u own a average horse….if a horse earns 500k over 6 years u ran at a loss ..100k x 6 years and what u paid for it….so nobody will invest into that

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