A Special Day

Peter Kannemeyer

Peter Kannemeyer

A familiar figure on the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate winner’s podium on Saturday was the legendary Peter Kannemeyer, who rode Inverthorn to victory in 1962 and also trained the 1980 winner, Over The Air.

Peekay, as he is affectionately known, handed over the reins to his son Dean in 1999 after four decades at the helm, and even at the age of 81 maintains a keen interest in the progress of one of South Africa’s most successful family training operations.

Peter Kannemeyer is a mine of information and knowledge, and his pearls of wisdom have been a source of great fascination and inspiration to many over the years. He is one of the most interesting people to talk to from a media perspective, in view of his frank and dry witty commentary. But he often drifts from the subject and has a natural knack as an intelligent storyteller with a razor sharp memory. One wonders why the man has never sat down and penned a horseracing bestseller:

In a fleeting interview after the race, he said that he was proud of his son and thrilled that Capetown Noir had won the prestigious mile. He added that only top class horses won the Queen’s Plate, and that Capetown Noir could still go on to even greater things.

When pitched the obvious unfair question as to how he rated the superb 4yo colt against some of the great horses he had trained, he answered diplomatically: “I have no doubt he is the best miler in the country at the moment. But comparisons with horses of the past are meaningless. Take any athlete. Take the great boxers of the past. How good was the ‘Brown Bomber’ Joe Louis versus one of the modern day fighters?” he asked.

“Everything is so different and the game is all about numbers today. Some of the bigger yards have got a seemingly endless supply of horses and they market themselves very well. That is why I always looked after my owners. When I trained a winner for Abe Bloomberg for example, it meant more than the winner. It was about delivering a top class service for a highly successful man of influence. And one has to look after people of this calibre who open the doors of opportunity. It is a simple fact of business life,” he said wisely.

“Looking at this huge show today, one just realises also how important racing’s relationship with top class corporate sponsors has become. This must take plenty of management and organisation. It is very impressive,” he said. When quizzed on the fashions and atmosphere at Kenilworth, he said the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate day was an event as opposed to a pure horse race. He labelled the atmosphere ‘vibrant’ but that he could not get over how much racing had actually changed over the years.

“I pass my time working in the garden and walking the dogs, but I am really pleased that I made the effort to put on a jacket today and come and support my son and his owners. The whole face of the game has changed though. In my day it was all about gambling and betting and today it has become entertainment and show business,” he observed.

“I notice everybody has private boxes these days. In my day one used to cross paths with familiar faces and we knew exactly who our pals were and which bar they were at on course. Today I don’t seem to know anybody here. And they are all so bloody young,” he laughed.

Yet, he cautioned, racing was still a ‘serious business’ in his day: “When I rode, we would never think of not riding to instructions, for example. We listened carefully to the trainer and when you knew there was 80 000 pounds riding in your hands, that was serious pressure! That sort of money could buy up half of Milnerton at the time,” he said with a smile. Reminiscing about the lessons of his training days he said it was a golden rule that he would never run two horses in a race, if either one of them belonged to an owner who enjoyed a punt.

“That was tempting fate. Getting beaten by somebody else was one thing. Getting beaten by your stable companion was not easy to explain away,” he said. “But look at my son. He has done so well. He knows I am his biggest fan. I am going to let him enjoy the moment. These Gr1 racedays are special. Especially when it is your horse in the winner’s box,” he said as he shook my hand and waved goodbye.

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