Forbes Joins Farewell List

KZN trainer calls it a day

The news that KZN trainer Lezeanne Forbes, who saddled a Gr2 winner last month, is calling it a day, broke a week ago.

The International Racing Club’s Jonathan Quayle Higgins writes that just a few weeks ago some of our IRC readers in South Africa rebuked me for being too negative in a column about the Rainbow Country and its National Horseracing Authority.

But one can only report what you see, hear and confirm and today I have a new story that troubles me – another talented, up-and-coming trainer is lost to the sport of racing down there and she says: “I don’t want to get out of racing, I want to get out of this country!”

Calling it a day – Lezeanne Forbes (photo: Candiese Marnewick)

See, 35-year-old Lezeanne Forbes lives in a suburb that was too close for comfort to the violent riots that broke out near Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal province in July and, being a firm decision-maker, she’s opted out without hesitating and is now considering offers that have come from the UK and Ireland.

“I am sad about this. I’ve had to lay off 22 members of staff whose families relied on me for an income. But I am also proud of having been able to help them for the last eight years,” Lezeanne said in an interview. “I’ve had to take a life decision. Hearing gunshots and people looting and screaming within walking distance of my home was the last straw for me. My son Zachary is 5 and my daughter Madison is 3 years old, they deserve to grow up in a safe, civilised society. This was carnage, and it was hard on all of us, not just the kids.”

Lezeanne is a single mother, having unexpectedly lost her jockey-husband, Alec Forbes, to pneumonia four years ago. But she’s described as a “tough cookie”, one who stands up to challenges without blinking.

She’s paid her ‘school fees’ in racing, and just a month ago came to the verge of a significant stable breakthrough following a Gr2 win with two-year-old filly Maryah on Gold Cup Day at Greyville, making one think that Lezeanne would stick it out for better days. But she’s made up her mind and said that firm decision-making has always been a strong point for progressive change in the course of her life.

Her journey to the racing industry started at 17 in her home town of Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape. She’d been show-jumping for a while as a teenager to indulge her love for animals, and especially horses. “I don’t come from a racing family and at that point I’d never even watched a race on television. I just love animals, period, and considered becoming a veterinarian.”

Early in 2003, a film scout came to her riding school, looking to sign up extras for the Moonlighting Films movie ‘Racing Stripes’. They wanted young girls who could ride like jockeys and Lezeanne took a crash course in track work riding, from a trainer, and signed up.

Racing Stripes

Racing Stripes

“I had to leave school and move away 800km to Pietermaritzburg, where most of the shooting took place at Scottsville Racecourse for six months, but I did it. I took to riding like a jockey, I was good at it and we had the time of our lives on set (on rare occasions) mingling with some big names from Hollywood. It’s something every teenage girl would have done, I think,” Lezeanne told.

On her return Lezeanne had to skip Standard 9 (Grade 11) and go straight into Standard 10 (Gr 12) to make up for lost school time, but she did it in high spirits, knowing that the bug had bitten and that hers was a life destined to be lived among horses. She found a job riding work for trainer Yvette Bremner at Fairview and happily spent two hours on the training tracks before school, and again in the late afternoon.

Another worthwhile opportunity came along just after she’d completed her matric year – trainer Anthony Cummings (son of Bart) was looking for stable hands to join his operation in Sydney, Australia and again this budding young horse lady jumped at the chance.

“This was a priceless experience at the Royal Randwick centre, an entry-level position as a work rider and groom but one that grounded me in discipline, organisation, stable management and work ethic. Everything was always spot-on, something I most enjoyed about Australian racing. They offered a chance for us to learn, we’d take horses to the races and back and we got to know the mechanics of a major racing yard,” Lezeanne recalled.

She also got to sit on some world-class horseflesh. “In a two-year period I worked with at least five horses who are now stallions including Casino Prince, Hotel Grand and Global One, who was later exported to South Africa, where I trained one of his granddaughters. Quite amazing!”

Homesick, she returned to South Africa in 2007 to work for the first time as a licenced assistant trainer to Yvette Bremner, a Top 3 trainer in the Eastern Cape for many seasons. This is where she met leading Durban-based jockey Alec Forbes and their relationship got so serious that she reached another important juncture – a choice of staying in Port Elizabeth with a job and an easy way into training, or leaving with Alec to get married and search afresh for a job in racing, in a new centre.

Alec Forbes

The late Alec Forbes (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

“That was a decision that made itself, and I didn’t struggle to get into the Durban racing scene, first as an assistant to Deon Visser and then to Alyson Wright at Summerveld. But wherever I worked I felt that I would do things differently. My employers were all successful and sending out winners, doing it their way, but I was keen to experiment doing it my way and one day I met a gentleman called John Jones who said to me, “Lezeanne, just do it, don’t hold back!” He bought me two horses and I found two others, one of which was a leased horse, and took out my trainers’ licence starting in 2013.”

She’s consistently averaged 20 winners a season from a small string for the last six seasons, peaking on 26 winners with her biggest string of 38 horses last season, and her top runners included Maryah, the high-level sprinter Linear, and KZN’s 2020 champion three-year-old filly, Mary O.

Lezeanne is philosophical about her future. “Yes, the stable has grown and winners have come, but at the same time feed, transport and wages have doubled while the stakes have halved with the advent of Covid. I’ve had to choose between my children, who need me now more than ever, or racing on in a volatile time with no improvements in sight. Running a stable is all-consuming. You do it whole-heartedly or don’t do it at all.”

Lezeanne is applying for visas now, sizing up employment opportunities abroad, but looking to travel first. “Call it a sabbatical if you wish, but I’m going to travel for a while. This may require that we go to Albania first in order to get easier access elsewhere, but I will do that if I have to.”

She stressed: “I know that I will return to working with horses, because it’s not a job, it’s a calling. I will never do anything else.” And so, Lezeanne Forbes will undoubtedly return to her life’s work, but her talents are probably lost to her country of birth, forever.

I’m wondering, in closing off, and following the loss of many South Africans to other racing jurisdictions including a host of top jockeys and more recently trainers Mathew de Kock and Gary Alexander – how much more skills will drain from South Africa before things take a turn for the better?

Have Your Say - *Please Use Your Name & Surname

Comments Policy
The Sporting Post encourages readers to comment in the spirit of enlightening the topic being discussed, to add opinions or correct errors. All posts are accepted on the condition that the Sporting Post can at any time alter, correct or remove comments, either partially or entirely.

All posters are required to post under their actual name and surname – no anonymous posts or use of pseudonyms will be accepted. You can adjust your display name on your account page or to send corrections privately to the EditorThe Sporting Post will not publish comments submitted anonymously or under pseudonyms.

Please note that the views that are published are not necessarily those of the Sporting Post.

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments



Popular Posts