No Worries for Gavin van Zyl

Team G boss shares his thoughts on the Breeders Million and July

Gavin van Zyl (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Gavin van Zyl (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

En route home from a family wedding, we caught up with Gavin van Zyl to chat about No Worries and his thoughts on the KZN Breeders Million Mile as well as looking ahead to the Vodacom Durban July.

“I have five children and three of them have got married in the last 4 months – we’ve had a wedding in March, one in May and one in June. But that’s all of them out of the way now,” he says cheerfully.

Breeders Million

No Worries and Gavin Van Zyl

No Worries – fit and well

“No Worries seems to more effective over further now. We’re taking a chance as it’s quite nice prize money and we’ve got a nice race earmarked for him on July day over a longer trip. My son Gareth trains Brian Burnard’s horses and has chosen to give him a mile prep the way the Australians do. They have a trend where they like to run their horses over 1600m before running in the Melbourne Cup, so we’re following a similar strategy.”

“No Worries won the Highland Night Cup and then finished 3rd in the Lonsdale – both over 2400m, so I think the 1600m of the Million Mile is a bit short, but with a bit of luck he should run into the money. He has won the Million Mile before and also won a Gr2 over 1400m, he’s fit and well and while he’s probably not ideally suited, he certainly wouldn’t be a no-hoper.”


Warren Kennedy (photo: Gold Circle)Warren Kennedy (photo: Gold Circle)

Warren Kennedy (photo: Gold Circle)

“We have engaged Warren Kennedy for the ride. He’s done nothing wrong on the horse of late. It’s important for us to try and get good feedback in the mornings and Warren is pretty good at the track as well as being competent on the race course. We’ve built up a good relationship in the last 18 months or so and the synergy seems to be working. Sometimes owners request a bigger name on a horse and Warren is very understanding, but by and large, he rides a lot of our horses.”


Team G Racing has had a lot of success with staying types. Is that coincidence, or do they prefer horses that can see out a trip? “It’s the type of horse I choose at sales, largely,” says Gavin. “I go for that type of classic looking horse. Having said that, we have had a fair amount of success with sprinters. Franny was a very good sprinter, Isca won the Storm Bird Stakes and Onehundredacrewood won the Bauhinia. We were second in the Golden Horse Sprint with 33-1 shot Wild Type and were unlucky not to win the Allan Robertson with Along Came Polly, so we’ve had success at Group level with our sprinters, but we tend to be more effective over longer trips with our horses. Seal was our first Gr1 winner (2011 SA Derby) and The Apache won the Daily News and the Champions Cup, Slumdogmillionaire won the SA Classic and the Horse Chestnut Stakes and Along Came Polly won the Thekwini and the Empress Club Stakes – both over 1600m. We try and buy the best we can and we’ve had good support from some very nice clients.”

Stable success

“We’ve been very fortunate in the short time we’ve been training and have had a host of very nice winners. We won the Gerald Rosenberg Stakes with Prestic – she was a very good filly to us. We also had Saltwater Girl. Our first Group winner was Laser Fan (2008 Flamboyant Stakes). Bulsara won the Graham Beck Stakes and a few other group wins. Seal won the Sea Cottage Stakes (which we also won with Slumdogmillionaire) and of course our first Gr1, the SA Derby.”

“The other horse that springs to mind is Eaton Square – he won the Jubilee and went straight from there to the July and ran 4th. He was a very nice horse – a middle distance / staying type who sold to Hong Kong.”

“In terms of Gr1 success, we’ve had two with The Apache, two with Along Came Polly, two with Slumdogmillionaire and one with Seal and of course we must missed out with Bulsara when he ran second to The Apache in the Champions Cup – we’ve been very fortunate.”

“No Worries is unlucky not to have won a Gr1 – he was beaten a short head by Vercingetorix in the Daily News and Shogunnar is probably the most unlucky 2-time winner I’ve ever had!”


Triple Crown

Rocketball in that nailbiting Derby finish

“I bought him on spec at Nationals. I liked him in the Varsfontein draft. Once bought, I offered him to clients. Brian Burnard took half and four others split the rest.”

“Basically it was a case of buying him because I liked him and tried to put him together after the sale – it wasn’t too difficult and he’s turned out to be a lovely horse. He’s very straightforward and easy to train. He’s a nice, sound horse. We had to work him out a little in terms of his way of going. I think he failed in the Guineas and the Classic because we rode him too handy. After that we put on a tongue tie and tried a change of tactics and that turned him around. Before the Guineas, my son Chesney who trained him in Joburg was confident he’d run a big race – bearing in mind he’d run in the Sea Cottage giving Abashiri 4 kgs and ran 3rd not that far behind. On the weights we thought he’d have a chance. He was drawn badly, so we thought we’d push to try and overcome that and we didn’t have a tongue tie that day.”

“In the Classic, he’d been working well again and again had a bad draw, so we pushed him up handy and he ran with his tongue hanging out in the straight. We put a tongue tie on and changed tactics, so although his run in the Derby was a surprise, it wasn’t a huge surprise as we knew he was good and that he’d have to find that form again somewhere. At least he franked his Derby form by running a very creditable 4th in the Daily News. The extra 200 of the July won’t be to his detriment, that’s for sure!”

July chances

“The July is one of those races where you need a lot of luck in running. You can run the July 4 times on the same day and get 4 different results. We’ve had three 4ths and a 5th so far. We’re not overly confident that Rocketball’s got a winning chance, but we’d be very happy with a place. Warren Kennedy will ride him again – he’s ridden him in his last few starts, so we won’t take him off. Let’s hope for a reasonable draw and a bit of luck in the running and hopefully we’ll find the quartets.”


“Rocketball’s got a wonderful bunch of owners. Brian Burnard was fortunate enough to have runner in the July already when he ran 4th with No Worries, but for the rest of the owners, it’s their first runner. One has had horses for 25 years, so they’re just thrilled. All of them are absolutely over the moon. It’s an honour to have a horse in the July, so let’s hope. We’re not going in with visions of grandeur – we’re just hoping to have a good run and maybe get a piece of the cake. His form suggests he’s not a no-hoper. I’ve always said one’s got to look at horses with current form in these big races. I don’t think you can look at a horse than ran a good race a year ago and hope he’ll reproduce that in the July. There are quite a few horses with current form and I think it’s going to be quite an open race. French Navy and Bela-Bela are going to be big runners. There’s the top weight and the bottom weights and hopefully us somewhere in between.”


Does his time as a jockey have any influence in how he approaches training for a big race like the July? “Not really. I don’t think my riding experience has any influence – they are two different things. A trainer prepares a horse to get to races fit and well and then relies on the jockey to use good judgement when they jump out of the starting stalls. All the experience in the world doesn’t help you if your jockey isn’t buying into the whole picture. At the end of the day, we try and get top riders, we do the training and the jockeys do the riding. Once you’ve done your bit you have to relax and trust the jockey to have the horse at the right place at the right time.”

“I’m a great believer in leaving the riding to the jockey and the training to the trainer, so I don’t get involved too much in giving instructions. I leave it to them. Hopefully they’ve done their homework and know where the good running is. They have to decide what will be detrimental and what won’t be. The trick is to have the confidence and to build confidence in your rider. If your jockey believes that you believe in him, you’ve got half the battle won. If anything, that’s what I learnt from my days of riding. You need to give your jockey the confidence to make the decisions he needs to make.”

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