When former jockey Piet Botha took the plunge and started training with nine horses out of his Dare To Dream Stable at Milnerton in August 2018, he realised he would have a few obstacles to overcome and it wasn’t going to be a walk in the proverbial park.
With his string having grown to 25 and some nineteen months down the line, the coronavirus pandemic has shown that in life one can’t always plan for absolutely everything.
Piet is an eternal optimist and a man with a positive outlook. Anybody opening a yard in the Cape in the past few years would have to be!
The former jockey and his wife Nicole and two sons are resident in Durbanville, about 20km from the Milnerton Training Centre.
He travels early morning and stays until the evening at his yard. He is quarantined from his family at home as he is the only one going out every day. Thanks to technology and windows, they are still in touch!
Speaking to the Sporting Post on Saturday morning from Barn 9, he explained that he had adapted his life and business routine to accommodate the lockdown requirements
“I had a meeting with my staff. Explained to them that I needed their buy-in to commit to a residential arrangement at Milnerton. I wanted the guys that were happy and prepared to live on site to volunteer. That minimalises potential frustration. I sent a handful of my lighter horses to the farm and have kept those heavier ones that need the more committed regular work.”
He says that on Day 2, things are going well.
“I would have liked to have seen that every yard here would have been obliged to either close up and send all their horses to the farm – like Dean Kannemeyer did – or adopt a skeleton staff residential policy. That surely is the optimal means of avoiding the spread of infection?”
Boredom is a natural threat.
“Like every family stuck in their home, my staff are likely to encounter boredom and frustration. I have urged them to talk to me. Things like bringing in games or a soccer ball could go some way to keeping them busy.”
A handyman, Piet has built a nifty hand sanitiser unit at his yard. It works with an elbow button and a tap, and the staff have warmed to the etiquette and protocols associated with containing the spread of the virus.
Piet suffered a career ending injury while riding work at Summerveld in 2010.
A broken rib, which was never diagnosed, led to years of agony and pain that culminated in him being medically boarded at the end of 2013.
After a five year absence, he made a brief comeback to the saddle in April 2017. Fifteen months later He won his last race as a professional jockey on the gelding, Jay Rock. In a sentimental twist, Jay Rock just also happened to be the very same horse that opened his account in April 2017!
A decade ago, when his original injury issues surfaced Piet built his own coffee business – Illy Coffee – and still owns shares in the company.
He reflected how that industry has suffered under the COVID-19 impact.
“Many coffee shops closed a week before our President announced the lockdown. Some may re-open but I know of those that have called it a day. This was their death knell. And I think the real damage will only surface in the economy in many months from now.”
Despite that, Piet has no doubt that racing will bounce back.
“Some good always comes out of bad. Racing can rise from the ashes with new resolve and clarity. Let’s start marketing ourselves as the likes of rugby and soccer may take longer to return.I see the online betting facility is being punted by some local bookmakers. That’s basic good thinking.”
Piet feels that the three week lockdown is optimistically short and it’s likely to be close on five to six weeks before we can get back to some sort of normality.
“Who really knows? Thankfully my owners have been supportive and understand the situation. They in fact have offered to come in and walk the horses and muck out. The lockdown arrangements don’t allow that unfortunately. But that’s an illustration of the kind of people that are part of the Dare To Dream family.”
He says that we should all remain positive.
“I think business and sport, as well as many private individuals may have time to reflect and grow stronger out of this challenge. Let’s just stay healthy and safe. It won’t be forever.”
Ed – the pic of Nicole and Piet was taken pre-coronavirus time. When social distancing was not yet practised.