Profile – Jonathan Snaith

Jonathan is a vital cog in the ‘Snaith racing team’.  He and brother, Justin and father Chris have built Snaith racing into a truly powerful and potent racing team. With Ebony Flyer in the throes of joining the great fillies of racing the Snaith’s are assured of getting headline advertising for themselves and their lucky owners. Jonathan and Justin are refreshingly honest and enthusiastic about their horses and achievements and racing can count itself lucky to have them in the game. For enthusiastic followers of the game they are definitely a stable to follow.

What is your name and age? Jacques Jonathan Snaith, 32. Seamus Justin Snaith and I are both called after our 2nd names.
Where do you live? Newlands, Cape Town
Tell us about your family? My father is still involved and has just taken up a top training position in Saudi Arabia this week.  My mother was involved in Snaith Racing from the offset in 1972. Then there is just Justin and I.
You could be said to have been born into the racing game. Was there ever a time when you could have become involved in any other business? My dream was to become a movie producer but I studied finance and got a bachelor of commerce degree. When my varsity mates started doing the 9 to 5 thing I opted to hit the track instead.
How did it come about that Justin became the trainer? Natural progression. He was the eldest and I don’t particularly like waking up at 5am! We don’t argue with who does what, we just make sure the job gets done and gets done properly.
Has your forte always been marketing or did you learn that side of the business as you went along? As I grew up I had a few mates involved in marketing and events so I learned a lot through that. I enjoy learning what grabs people’s attention. I try to keep on top of technology – Facebook, Twitter, Linkeden etc
It is said that the Queen’s Plate is, arguably, the best marketed race in the country. How did it come about that you were the one to market the event? In September 2007 when visiting Drakenstein Stud I suggested a few ideas I had to Gaynor Rupert and we met a few days later. It is easy when you deal with someone like her who is dynamic and open-minded.
Who are your main assistants in putting on this great event together? I started with friends Seth Pereira (Jameson Whiskey), Donovan Everitt (Kreate SA events), Galia Gerbel (Greater Than PR) and David Raad (Café Caprice). I now deal with Michelle van Eyden of the Sail Group – the largest events company in SA.
How many people are you expecting, or hoping, will attend the race this year? We have capped tickets at 15 000. Each year has grown significantly and we do not want it to become another J & B Met. We target the top LSM.
Is there any chance you will become involved, or in charge, of marketing any more of the top racing events in the Cape or in the rest of the country? As soon as Gold Circle sorts out its internal politics I would love to help for sure. Not much can happen until then. I have great ideas which will work to get people back to the track.
Do you have any new ideas for this year’s Queen’s Plate or will you stick with the tried and tested? We have changed everything this year at the 150th running. It’s a bold move but I feel racing will benefit immensely. The Queen’s Plate in 2011 will be focused on the horse racing side and not the social aspect. We have opened up all the tents, each guest will receive our very own designed souvenir race book (or program of events) and a R20 betting voucher. Our MC, Dan Nicol, will focus on the horses throughout the day and the entertainment will only start directly after the last race. Every person will see the horses and bet this year – we will force them to. All race days should be structured this way and not be run by people only interested in maximizing profits and offering a party. I think racing folk will be very surprised by the changes.
Your stable now has a truly fantastic filly, Ebony Flyer. Who originally spotted her and how did she end up in your yard? Barry Irwan chose and bought her. We trained her sister, Captain’s Lover, so naturally Barry sent her to us.
When it comes to the buying of horses who studies the pedigrees and who looks at the conformation or is it all a joint venture between you and Justin and is your father, Chris, at all involved? My father is a genius when it comes to choosing horses and one of the main reasons for our success over the years. John Freeman is our agent and he is a gem to deal with and he also has a great eye for a horse having selected horses like Dynasty and Russian Sage. I just wish we had bigger support in buyers when it came to sales. We usually shop around the R50 000 to R150 000 market.
The same question may be asked about the training of the horses. Is it all left to Justin or are you also intimately involved with that side of the business? My father, Justin and I discuss every horse, generally 2 votes win!
How many horses has the stable in training right now? 118. We would like to get that number to 150 and keep it around there. We do not hang around with average horses. It just wastes our time and most importantly the clients money. We are upfront and honest about a horses ability and we try not take longer than 3 months to tell a client if a horse is no good.
What is the stable policy with regard to yearlings bought at sales. Do they first go to a spelling farm and get broken in or do they come straight to the yard? We spell and break in all our own horses, we are lucky enough to have our own private facilities with lovely grass paddocks and easy access to the beach. Justin breaks in all his 2 year olds personally. He prefers it that way.
Apart from Ebony Flyer which of your horses are likely to catch the eye over the next couple of months? Solo Traveller and Run For It.
What are the immediate plans for Ebony Flyer. Speculation would have it that she is set for an overseas career . If so would she go to Dubai or, perhaps, the USA.? She will run in the l’Ormarins Queen’s Plate then head to France and the USA.
If Dubai presents itself as a good proposition would Justin take it there personally or would someone like Mike de Kock take it there for the season? We would definitely take our top horses to compete overseas if the opportunity presents itself.
From what Ebony Flyer shows in work could she get the J&B Met trip or even the July trip? As she matures she will have no problem staying the trip.
Do you and Justin visit certain stud farms on a regular basis to watch the progress of the yearlings you are interested in buying? We get amazing support from most of the top breeders. We often visit farms to see yearlings.
Some trainers, not having the same success as yourselves and some of the other successful trainers in the country, or saying that nowadays it all comes to buying power. How fair do you think this comment is or does it still take a lot of common sense, training ability and a keen eye to have success? We didn’t get to where we are with buying power that’s for sure. We got here by buying the right horses. Its all about selecting the right horses.  The best horses we have trained have not been expensive ones. The R1million plus purchases very seldom work out.
Apart from your stable what horse or horses do you think will do really well in the near future? Hassen Adam’s Past Master.
It is a well known fact that keeping a horse in training is now a very expensive exercise. What ideas have you for making the business of having a horse in training less onerous on the owner? Get partnerships of 8 to 10 guys, preferably with mates or people you know. This way it only costs you R500 a month and its more fun.
Your stable has a very high percentage of top horses. Do you discard horses not showing much ability at an early age or do they mainly all take there chance on the racetrack? Very quickly, the only worse thing than training a slow horse, is owning one!
Do you, or any of the Snaith family, like to have a good punt on one of your horses when it looks to have a very bright winning chance? One way to stop a runaway horse is to bet on him. My father and I stick to the Poker tables.
Talking of punting do you think it is possible to make a living by punting? Not even Robert Bloomberg could make a living out of it. The house always wins, in the end .
For someone determined to punt horses what sort of bet would you advise if pressed to make an answer? Win bet and cover with a place. Stay away from 8-10 shots.
You appear to be very cool and calm after your horse has won but do you feel any nerves before a big race? I get more nervous when the tequila bottle comes out after a big race! We have a customary celebration in our private suite after big races which has become known, – it’s very festive.
With racing going through some tough times do you think personal ambitions and politics play too big a part in the administration of racing? I think egos are our major problem. I can deal with ambitions and politics.
If asked to give your opinion how would you say racing in SA can pull itself out of the doldrums it finds itself in? With some vision anything is attainable. You have to think outside of the box.
Was there any particular personality who influenced you to make racing such a big part of your life? My father of course. I used to watch Terrence Millard and be amazed. I think people have quickly forgotten how good and dominant he actually was.
Which are your favourite stallions at the moment? Jet Master, Western Winter and Trippi.
Which racecourse, in your opinion, do you think gives your horses the fairest chance to win? Sometimes it is left up to the jockey to decide your fate. I generally like courses with long straights, it gives every horse a fair chance and enough time to make a run.
For you personally what has been the most exciting moment of the past year or two? I would have to say my new girlfriend or I could be in all sorts of trouble if she reads this.
What are your ambitions for your stable? To win GR.1 races, win the SA Championship and go to the moon of course.
You have become close up and personal with some of the big names in South African and overseas racing. Have any of these personalities had a really big influence on you in racing and in your daily life? I will never forget what people like Laurie and Jean Jaffee and Shirley Pfeiffer did for our family. Justin and I have also become very close to Hassen Adams, he is like a father to us.
What is your preferred way to celebrate a big win? My preferred way is over a dinner with friends but that never seems to happen. We generally leave the track at midnight after a big win.
If you have to name the most important lesson you have learnt about racing what would you say that is? “The only certainty in racing is the uncertainty” – Laurie Jaffee.
Apart from racing what else are you really passionate about? Sports – gym, rugby, tennis and music – I play the piano.
How do you spend your free time if you have any? Gym, friends and travel. I also love to watch any arts from concerts to Broadway shows – even ballet.
Is there a most memorable moment in your time in racing? No, I really do believe this moment is somewhere in the future. Ask me again in 5 years.
Are most of your friends connected to racing? Almost none of my friends are connected to racing. I am trying to change that though and get them involved in this sport.
What is your philosophy on the racing game? Look past the betting side and you will find this lovely sport – The sport of Kings.
From what you have observed of racing do you think the game is straight? It is straight – thankfully Herchelle Gibbs wasn’t little enough to go to the jockey academy. We cannot afford any negativity.
If you had one piece of advice for your fellow associates in the racing world what would it be? I feel the guys that survive and grow in this game are the ones with the best temperaments.

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