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The Guv Moves Back To Cape

'Everybody has to virtually start from scratch again...'

Some good news for Cape Town in these bleak racing days is that a favourite son in Geoff Woodruff will be returning to his roots.

Geoff confirmed earlier this week that his move to Cape Town has been on the cards since last year.

He told Tony Mincione that the lockdown has changed his Durban season plans but the main objective remains on the table towards the end of this year.

The years have been generous to the Woodruff yard.

Since the heady days of the late 80’s it is insulting to 50 other horses if you only named a dozen exceptional horses prepared by Geoff Woodruff.

1993 Gr1 SA Fillies Sprint - MARIE GALANTE - finish

Marie Galante

To pick memories, Pas De Quoi, Star Effort, Marie Gallant, Faralmond and double July winning El Picha pop up.

Geoff picked up the reins from departing Tony Millard and steamed ahead with the likes of SA darling Jet Master and Private Reserve, to be followed by Eventuail, Yard-Arm and again so many more.

Although Geoff Woodruff feels that Cape Town is back home, he regrets that the industry seems to have neglected it’s fans to a financial detriment and perhaps especially in the Cape. 

“We’ve just forgotten them”, he said referring to the punters.  “It’s not that they’ve lost interest”,  he added.  “They know all the great horses, they can tell which horse won what, but they don’t go and they don’t bet anymore.  It’s symptomatic of the whole game.”

One can’t help but get the feeling from Woodruff that he looks forward to having the breeders in his backyard again.

He is sharply aware that many of his great horses were also home-breds, especially when he started.

But that feature remained with him and came to include colts like Met winner Yard-Arm and double Summer Cup winner Master Sabina.

Master Sabina (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Master Sabina (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Strongly influenced by the brothers-in-law Ralph Rixon and Terrence Millard, both were strongly supported by breeders building the great stud farms, so no one can blame the gentleman master trainer if he sees well-bred fillies chasing Black Type in the Western Cape fillies features in the near future.

It’s clear that Woodruff is more than a little sceptical about the soaring heights yearling prices have reached. 

“We have to have a ‘total’ reset in racing,” he said, implying from start to finish.  “There are production costs that are beyond our control like feed and wages etc, but substantial stallion fees forced sellers to chase ever-higher prices.  All the players are going to have to cut their cloth according to a new market.”

Over and above that he said, “Our stake money may take a while to recover even to the level it was at, let alone to the level it needs to be at to make things worthwhile.”  He explains that this earning potential will affect the current value of horses even though they are great products.  He mused that it’s just as well he likes trying new sires if they catch his eye.  Perhaps a message to breeders to hang in for a future where the middle market relatively gains ground?

Louis The King – SA Triple Crown hero

In considering the move from a racing business point of view Geoff is philosophical.

“Everyone is going to have to virtually start from scratch again wherever you are”.  Considering the investment in racing in the province Woodruff thinks that given that cost are universal that it’s logical that racing responds to the obvious.  “I would love to see everything under one umbrella,” he says, “that for me would be the ideal, irrespective of the original idea that Gold Circle and Phumelela could compete with each other.  One body of reputable people pushing for the betterment of the game.  We must promote the whole game rather than one region over another.”

Woodruff is concerned that many people will be affected by a loss of income and is very worried about the care of the animals entrusted to us.

Reflecting on the numbers mentioned of horses being destroyed, he says he could never condone healthy horses being put down for financial reasons.

He urged people to, “try and hang on, and give that horse a chance because euthanasia cannot be viewed as a viable solution because it is not!”  With obvious feeling, he insisted, “We have to make a plan, the horse is innocent to this and doesn’t even get Covid, so why should they have to pay the ultimate price?  If you love horses, you try to find any other way.  They deserve a place on this earth as much as we do.”

On mulling over the effects of lockdown and staging the top races like the normally glamorous July to empty stands, he wonders whether it’s a good idea.

“What message are we sending?” he asks.  “There is every chance the virus will be at its height, people could be burying their loved ones.”

“It’s more important to spread support to keep the industry alive, rather than be stubborn to maintain a race just to prove nothing will stop you,” he said, adding,  “Perhaps this year will have to be the exception, we don’t need false messages of opulence during a human crisis.”


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23 comments on “The Guv Moves Back To Cape

  1. Pops says:

    You have to like what this man is selling.Straight to the point.No waffling.
    But moving to the Cape when Gauteng gents are going to save Gauteng racing before even thinking of poor cousin Kenilworth Racing.
    But you never know.
    .All the best

  2. Donald says:

    If I understand Geoff correctly in his last three paragraphs he is saying horse racing should possibly not continue until everything is back to normal or what will be close to normal in the event of a level 1 lockdown in which the public will be able to attend race meetings ?

    If that is what he is in fact saying then I am speechless , it could be many months until such a situation is a reality and therefore the race horses in his care will not earn a red cent for his patrons who must pay for their keep for who knows how many months with no prospect of any returns ?

    Or have a misunderstood him ?

  3. Kevin Pillay says:

    The Guv is right . In such a time there is no need to run the July . I have bet on every July since I was a kid in 1973 . Where is the fun in running a July with empty stands and more important if you cannot see and follow your fancies in the run up to the July . What’s the point . None from a purists point of view as far as I am concerned .

  4. Calvin Naidoo says:

    Well said Mr Woodruff. I share your thoughts on how punters are just taken for granted. The authorities need to really rethink their strategy when it comes to their ever so loyal customers, otherwise they will continue to lose them.

    And having to euthanize horses, is such a cruel act in itself, after knowing that they are absolutely healthy, and had many many years ahead of them. It can actually make a person really sick to know this fact. So horses are bred to race and earn an income for their owners, the moment they become unaffordable, they can be so easily dispensed off.
    Why would animal lovers ever want to be interested in an industry that does things like this. Advertisements for horse racing always portray how beautiful and majestic the horse is, how graceful they move and how incredibly amazing they are. So I don’t really understand their actions. Euthanasia is just a BRUTAL FORCE of doing things.

    In ending, I really wish you all the success with your future at the Cape.

    Regards Calvin

  5. Fyndraai says:

    Geoff bought the first horse my Dad ever owned. Her name was Ladykin. First time she raced, Geoff tipped another horse in the First race, Raztaz which I backed at 14/1. Hooked forever!!!! One of Ladykin’s progeny, Frisco Bay, trained by Glen Puller, won 7 for my Dad. Great Memories. Welcome back Geoff.

  6. jai says:

    well said guv
    is your move to the cape signs that you are going to retire soon if so good luck and all the best.

  7. Speedyvar says:

    Donald,what Geoff seems to be saying is why get married when Mom,Dad and rich Uncle Fred cannot attend the reception just because that was the date set.
    Have those candle light dinners with your live in partner meanwhile until such time that Mom ,Dad and rich Uncle Fred can attend the real thing.
    Geoff does not want the candle light dinners to be cancelled.Just the main course postponed until everyone can be there.
    Now do you get it?

  8. Sherwin says:

    Well said Guv. Finally a member of the industry who is touch with reality.
    That pic of Marie Galante brings back such good memories. It was a big race day but look at the crowd.
    The 90s was such a golden era for racing. There were so many great horses most of them household names. It was a decade that had top horses such as Empress Club, Flaming Rock, London News, Jet Master, Classic Flag, Captain Al, National Emblem, Special Preview, Olympic Duel and the GOAT Horse Chestnut.
    Brilliant sprinters such as Tommy Hotspur, Golden Loom, Senor Santa, Harry’s Charm, Flobayou, Taban, Shoe Shac, Cordocelli.
    So what happened? Merit Ratings.
    I am no handicapper, but I appreciate the science behind the MR system. However, for me this system does not create popular racehorses that can win many races and in doing so capture the imagination of the public.
    The MR system levels the playing field but penalizes the top horses.
    Did we ask Bolt to run an extra 10 meters, or Mercedes to race with 3 wheels, or the All Blacks to play with 14 players when they were dominating?

  9. Les Taylor says:

    Im in the donald camp on this one , no racing till level 1 in possibly September, does anyone understand what that will do to the horse racing industry? Very few trainers left very few grooms and last but not least very few horses left , horses are being put down on a daily basis we the brave mary team moved our 8 horses to a farm 3 weeks ago to save this terrible state of affairs , yes we not trainers and dont claim to be the horses may never be race horses again but they out of the certain death centre the business we run that are not running anymore to pay our stable fees so we took the decision to move them and pay our staff to the lady who says why do we get into the industry in the 1st place its a question that will never be answered its in our blood we love horse racing everyone whos in the k and k game knows this and the lady got to understand we paid top dollar for our babies will we ever see that coming back to us its not about the money right now its about survival and keeping our business afloat with very little help for our landlords that we supported for 8 years anyway hope it clears up a few valid points
    Good luck guv wish you blessings in cape

    Brave mary team over and out

  10. Anand Chetty says:

    I have followed horses from the days of Sea Cottage, bunked med school to get to Greyville (put R2 win on Lampoon for a R40 rand return on one occasion), owned horses in the 80’s but ALWAYS wore my punters cap, made many suggestions over many years to racing authorities,was a Gold Circle member and flew every year for the Met, got treated like a leper by Kenilworth operators after the demerger, swore NEVER to go back (my last visit was when Futura won).
    Got a little more respect as a punter after the casinos showed their might, but alas, too little too late, the bird has flown the coop.
    And STILL, no suggestions by ANY racing authority to consult with the punter

  11. Geoff says:

    Got to agree with you Sherwin.Merit ratings are a major problem with horse racing at the moment. Anand Chetty i have the exact same story as you. . Goodluck to Mr Woodruff on his return to the Cape.

  12. Des Kieswetter says:

    I agree with Sherwin, racing changed when merit ratings were introduced, it put a lot of pressure on the punter and it has got worse, as a owner winning first time out was just as exciting as winning a feature race but today an owner dreads the thought of winning first time simply because his horse might not win again for many months. God forbid you win 3 in a row because unless it is an out and out champion he will struggle through his 3yr old career and may never win again simply because the horse will get a merit rating of 103/4 so you have to only look for feature races which are not that plentiful, in other words your best bet is to ship the horse off to Mauritius or some other racing country which is very expensive or retire the horse because at R10000 plus a month it’s expensive. This is why only the very wealthy owners Ie, Gaynor Rupert, Mary Slack, Chris Van Niekerk are taking 80% of feature races every season. I am very grateful that there are these type of owners around because they are the lifeblood of racing in South Africa and they just about keep the game afloat, but it’s the smaller owners who are important, they keep the trainers in business but they also walk away because their 2/3 time winners very seldom get past that mark and it’s because of merit rating. Please consider going back to handicapping where you can win a maiden, 2 graduation plates, go on and win a progress plate, D division then a C division and if good enough a B division and possibly an A division. That kept smaller owners in the game a lot longer. I have been in racing for 55yrs and still do not understand the merit rating system, racing was born on handicapping where everyone had a fair chance and racecourses where well attended even on midweek meetings but how has that changed for the worse.

  13. david mollett says:

    Of all the people I have come into contact with in 4 decades of racing in SA, Geoff rates my number one. Here is a guy whose warmheartedness and politeness knows no boundaries – he will greet anyone with sincerity.
    I have lumbered him with a few slow four-legged friends over the years and we did eventually win a race. A few days later he said “That’s it, Davey, best we find him a nice home.”
    What not everyone will know is that Geoff – born near Epsom racecourse – was a highly talented point-to-point rider. He rode over 60 winners and one year was crowned the country’s point-to-point champion.
    He began training at Milnerton in 1988 with 14 horses. Rather like a footballer scoring a hat-trick on his debut, he made a sensational start. His first five runners all won.
    On his move to Joburg from the Cape, he said: “The scenery may not be as nice as Cape Town but the stake money is very much better and it had always been in my thinking to go to Johannesburg.
    His feat with dual July winner, El Picha, was remarkable and he became only the fourth trainer to win the race twice with the same horse.
    Then, of course, he was the trainer of Jet Master. He said: “People use the word freak but he was exceptional in that he broke the course record for five furlongs winning by five lengths with contemptuous ease just 3 weeks after winning his second Queen’s Plate.”
    Yard-Arm was another Queen’s Plate winner and other stable stars included Badger’s Drift, Elusive Fort and early in his career, Star Effort.
    I fancy Geoff’s return to the Cape has a lot to do with being closer to his daughter, Lucinda, who has made a good fist of it there with not a large number of horses.
    Also – given the man he is – expect Geoff Woodruff to follow the famous quote of Mrs O. At an Equus award, she said: “I ain’t done yet.”

  14. Donald says:

    Des , I too have been in horse racing for 55 years and am in full agreement with you , this modern day system has taken the ” fearless ” out of racing and makes just above average race horses ” champions ” with the glut of W.F.A. / CONDITIONS in Group and other high profile races in South Africa ?

    I can play golf against a pro with my handicap and have a chance of lifting his money but would have no chance without a handicap and therefore the pro and I would remain in two separate worlds and this is what , in my opinion , is happening today in horse racing these days !

  15. Livingstone says:

    There’s been so much negativity flooding these pages since the lockdown began. So much uncertainty and confusion. And to crown it all, horses are being euthanized. Why not just close down this leaderless industry and look elsewhere.

    1. Editor says:

      Some happy and good stories too, Livingstone

  16. Saint Tropez says:

    One of my favourite trainers on the highveld and a true gentleman of the game.

    I would be interested to know if the Woodruff stable will operate a satellite yard in JHB with either Tim or Lucinda running the operation. or is is all “sak en pak” back to Cape Town.

  17. bob kistnasamy says:

    Molley sums up the Guv perfectly. A real gentleman of the game. Geoff will be quite successful in the Cape. He will be well surrounded by his family members resident in the Western Cape. We can look forward to some exciting Cape racing. With Joey Ramsden departing the training ranks, the Woodruff establishment will provide Snaith racing with some competition.
    All the best Geoff.

  18. Grant Maroun says:

    Geoff as a fellow trainer on the highvelt I’m sorry to see you go we going to miss you. All the best

  19. Geoff Woodruff says:

    Thank you for the good wishes gentlemen. I would just like to clarify something Donald, I think that we all would like to see racing return as soon as possible, hopefully in level three and not for one minute do I want to wait any longer. I believe though, that rather than running a damp squib of the July without any of the usual pomp and ceremony surrounding it, surely that sort of prize money would serve the industry better if it were to sponsor twenty smaller races and help many more owners recoup some of their losses and not just a lucky few. Perhaps Vodacom could still have their brand attached to these races and maybe even do something meaningful for a worthy charity. Just my feeling, others no doubt may think differently. Regards Geoff.

  20. Anand Chetty says:

    I have followed horses from the days of Sea Cottage, bunked med school to get to Greyville (put R2 win on Lampoon for a R40 rand return on one occasion), owned horses in the 80’s but aALWAYS wore my punters cap, made many suggestions over many years to racing authorities,was a Gold Circle member and flew every year for the Met, got treated like a leper by Kenilworth operators after the demerger, swore NEVER to go back (my last visit was when Futura won).
    Got a little more respect as a punter after the casinos showed their might, but alas, too little too late, the bird has flown the coop.
    And STILL, no suggestions by ANY racing authority to consult with the punter.

  21. Donald says:

    Hi Geoff , thank you for that clarification , it is much appreciated but I cannot see Vodacom allowing a headline event such as the July Handicap being watered down and what about the owners / trainers and horses already here for the big race which has been run every year since inception ?

    Do we say Covid_ 19 won the 2020 July Handicap ?

    Wish you well in your relocation back to the Cape and will be watching your stable with interest !

  22. Tony Adamson says:

    Welcome ,Guv. I look forward to your return. We need some competition in the Cape. Get on to racing board and continue to be a voice for punter as you can see, we as punters that keep the racing industry going still get seriously overlook by people with zero understanding of the racing game , all about status and selfies.How sad?

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