After a good learning stint with Owen Sims, Stephen Moffatt took the plunge and took out his trainers licence. He brought back Polo after a year’s break and the horse put his name in lights. He is slowly building up his yard and now has Deon Sampson riding regularly for him and is finding his assistance invaluable. He is very confident that he has some good unraced horses in his yard and he should be an interesting, and ,possibly, lucrative trainer to follow over the next couple of months.
What is your name and age? Stephen John Moffatt – 23/09/1971 (39yo.)
Where do you live? I live at my stables on the Vaal Racecourse.
Tell us about your family? I am married to my lovely wife Julia, whom I have known for many years before tying the knot, and have two sons – Anthony and Ian.
What were you involved in before you became a racehorse trainer? I was enrolled at the Jockey Academy for a while before becoming too heavy. After matric I went straight into working for a trainer (Mr. Sims).
What trainer did you work for before taking out your own license? I worked for Mr. Owen Sims for 14 years and when he became too ill to train I took over from him.
What is your earliest memory of wanting to be involved in horses? It started with riding lessons in Scotland when I was 10 years old!
Were you or your family in any way connected to horses or horse racing? Not really.
Who were your first patrons and are they still with you? My dad, and of course Mr. Brian Miskin who are both still with me.
Were there any trainers who took a special interest in you and mentored you in your early days? Many did – their best advice was to work hard, trust your instincts and just be yourself.
What was your first winner and what feeling did it give you crossing the line in first place? My first winner was Private Badger in Bloemfontein. It is a feeling I will never be able to describe and still happens with our winners of today.
Do you have a stable jockey and how important do you think it is to have a stable jockey? I have just started booking Deon Sampson which is working out really well. His input from riding work twice a week and after races in invaluable and helps a great deal.
Are you lucky enough to have things like a treadmill? No but I will get there!
Do you think it is a big advantage to have equipment like treadmills and swimming pools? For problem horses it is obviously advantageous! But as a young trainer I make do with what I have.
How inspirational is it for you as a trainer to see how successful people like Mike de Kock, Herman Brown, Lucky Houdalakis, Patrick Shaw, David Ferraris and others have been overseas? I take my hat off to these people – they have done tremendously well for South Africa.
If you cracked a really good sort would you like to take it to Dubai, for instance, or send it overseas with Mike de Kock? It is every trainers dream to compete internationally! When my chance comes along (which it will), I would love to try it myself. Hopefully with some good advice from those who have gone before.
Which horses do you think will do really well for you and the stable in the next couple of months? Polo is definitely not finished yet and we have so many young horses improving all the time it is difficult to say now.
Which do you rate the best horse in your yard right now? That would have to be my 8 time winner Polo! She definitely gave me some much needed publicity.
It appears that you are not very keen on raiding outside of Gauteng. What is the reason for this? I am definitely going to travel this season. As I said earlier, I have been building a strong young string so let’s see!!!
How much time are you prepared to give a horse before deciding it is not up to scratch and get rid of it or advise owner to move it to a lesser centre? I give every horse a fair chance and believe every horse will improve with time. Unfortunately we could not continue without owners and the financial implications have to be considered when horses are in full work.
Training is no ordinary job and can be very tough. What motivates you to get up early every day, come rain or shine, to look after your horses? I love my horses! They depend on me for the best so that’s what I give them. My family is very proud of my improvements every season and I keep striving towards my long term goals.
What is your favorite aspect of training? I love watching our young horses improving and the challenge of keeping the horses sound and well.
What is the thing about training that you like least? People making comments on things they don’t understand in racing.
The highs of the game are fantastic but how do you cope with the lows? I am a very laid back chap. There seem to be more lows than highs but the highs are so invigorating that they always erase the lows.
Do you find that people treat you differently when you are having success as opposed to when things are not going well? Everyone loves a winner! As long as I treat people with respect I am being true to myself. Friendliness will always stand you in good stead.
Do you tell your friends to have a good bet on a horse you are training when you feel you have a really big chance? There are no certainties in racing. If asked I will say that the horse is well and I am hoping for a good run.
What has been the most exciting and satisfactory day you have had as a trainer thus far? There have been many! My first winner, the first winner I trained for my dad, three winners at one meeting, having Polo come back in top condition after a year break – there are many exciting and very rewarding days asa trainer.
Have you modeled your training ideas on any trainer you particularly admire or have you decided to do it “your” way? I learned so much from Mr. Sims and try to stick to what he taught me. It is best to listen carefully to other people’s opinions and then make your own carefully thought out decisions.
Do you believe there are enough young guys in horseracing at all levels? If not, how do we remedy this? There is not enough space here to discuss all the aspects of this question! I think there are not many young owners due to financial constraints.
Racing is going through a particularly tough time. Have you any suggestions as to how more interest could be generated in the game in order to attract new followers? Most ventures are suffering in the present economic climate. I believe horse racing has stood the test of time and will continue to do so. I also think owners should be made to feel special again as they are the bread and butter for all trainers. At present most are feeling there is nothing left for them either financially or in prestige.
Which stallion’s progeny would you like to see in your stable? I really like the Miesque’s Approval’s and Muhtafal ‘s have always been great earners.
How do you go about selecting yearlings or older horses for your patrons? Do you do it all yourself or do you have a team helping you? I usually do it myself but my wife has become very interested in breeding and I am enjoying teaching her what to look out for!
Tell us about the team which helps to keep your stable going full steam? I have two assistants (Phillip Labuschagne and Pieter Erasmus) and a team of the most passionate stable hands. My wife Julia does a very good job of the financial side of things.
Outside of racing, what else are you passionate about? I do not play nearly enough golf! Time with friends and family is also very important to me.
Which horse, Igugu aside, do you rate as the best horse running in South Africa right now?Potala Palace could be something special.
Which horse, or horses, do you think will pay to follow in Gauteng over the next couple of months? Straw Market at present although we should see many promising horses come out after the rains. Don’t forget Art Wish – he is a sand star!
If you have to name the most important lesson you have learnt about racing thus far what would you say that is? Be Yourself!
Do you ever have a big bet on any of your horses? No – I can’t afford it!
If pressed to advise anyone how they should bet in order to make money punting what would you say? I think at present the PA and Jackpot are the way to go.
How much time do you spend studying form? Maybe an hour a day, after studying the races where I have runners.
The battle between Anthony Delpech and Anton Marcus for the champion jockey title really caught the racing public’s imagination. Do you think that epic battle will inspire our jockey’s to do as well as they can? It is always nice to see a tight, hard battle in any sport. Our jockey’s in South Africa are as good, if not better, than any in the world, so it will always be a close scrap.
The control of racing is now very strict. Is there anything more, in your opinion, that you think the authorities could or should do to make racing even straighter? Not really.
What is your philosophy on the racing game? The game is going through a tough stretch at present but it will bounce back to be as strong and prestigious as what we grew up with and love to be involved in.
If you had one piece of advice for your fellow associates in the racing world what would it be? That can be summed up in one word – PATIENCE!