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Adam Marcus

Paying His Dues

Adam Marcus (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Adam Marcus (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Adam Marcus got his trainer’s license at the tender age of 22, striking out on his own at 23. He has been training under his own name for a little over 4 years now and saddled Royal Badge to victory in the Gr3 Cape Summer Stayers Handicap on Cape Guineas day.

Driving through the gates of the ‘new’ section of Milnerton training centre, one used to be met with a bit of an eyesore. The area to the left of the loading ramp was neglected with the disused nooks and crannies of the perimeter walls piled with bags of bedding and refuse, waiting to be removed. However, in March 2012, things began to change. A maroon and white sign appeared on the nearest block, stables were cleaned, doors rehung. Slowly things got tidied, mended, and smartened up. The refuse disappeared, grass was planted, the layout was rearranged and now, instead of feeling as though you’re in a derelict part of the training centre, it feels brisk, clean and organised.

Adam Marcus

Basil Marcus

Basil Marcus

Dressed in jeans and a baseball cap, Adam Marcus strides out to greet you. Born on 20th February 1989, Adam is still a few months shy of his 28th birthday, but has packed a lot into those 3 decades. Being the son of the great Basil Marcus, Adam spent his formative years in Hong Kong and England before returning to South Africa to complete his schooling in Cape Town. A talented cricketer, he chose valour over discretion in making racing his career path.

When you ask him why, he smiles wryly. “My dad tried to talk me out of it, but there’s nothing else I’d rather do. From the time I was 14, I was at the yard every day after school. My dad wanted me to learn from the ground up, so I was in the feed room for a year and then groomed for 2 years – I’m pretty good at it too. My dad felt it was important for me to understand how horses feel from the saddle, so that I was better able to understand feedback from work riders and jockeys, so I did 4-5 years of work-riding, although I’m probably not up to Dad’s standard,” he jokes. After matric, Adam did a stint with Herman Brown jnr in Dubai, getting to work with the likes of Jay Peg and Desert Links. When he returned to team up with his dad again, he took on the role of being Marcus Racing’s head assistant.

Big horses

Maine Chance bred Flax, a son of Silvano, scores another Gr1 win in Singapore

Basil relocated to Singapore and built up a highly successful string, including horses such as Ato, Flax, Clear For Action and Trafalgar Legacy. When Basil chose to return to South Africa, they decided it was the right time for Adam to take over Marcus Racing. But why not simply start again here? Adam explains, “My dad had a string of approximately 140 horses at the time of which I was in charge of a barn of 44. The plan had always been for me to take over the Singapore string, but unfortunately things didn’t turn out as planned but the two year period was filled with valuable knowledge and experience.

Starting out

Mrs Oppenheimer

Bridget Oppenheimer (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Adam picked up the phone to Mrs Oppenheimer, who had been a loyal client for many years. “I asked if she’d support me if I took out my trainer’s license. She answered ‘Let me know when your barn is ready and the horses will arrive’. As a 23 year old, it gave me goose bumps to get unquestioning support like that and she was as good as her word. I started with 6 horses of which 3 were Mrs O’s. It was wonderful working for a lady of her stature and we had a very good relationship. Whether she had a maiden or a graded runner, to her every single one was like winning the July and I was very sad when she passed.”

The front office, for client comfort, is simply, but comfortably furnished. There are photographs of stable stars – past and present – on the walls and although it’s only a select few for now, Adam says when he reaches 100 winners, he’s planning a big collage. The back office is the engine room and houses all the stable paperwork, neatly ordered into files. Work lists, veterinary lists, dentist, physio and chiro visits – each horse’s entire history recorded in minute detail in Adam’s neat handwriting.

The meticulous organisation continues through to the feed and tack room, which Adam shows off proudly. There are three different brands of feed (“I’m a fussy eater and hate being offered food I don’t like,”), all the buckets are spotlessly clean and neatly stacked and there is an electronic scale to weigh each ration, as well as any leavings. In the tack room, the saddles and bridles are neatly arranged. Each horse is allocated its own set of tack, adjusted to each individual as well as to keep the spread of infections and diseases to a minimum. It takes a while to figure out what is missing and when I finally do, I realise it’s mess. There isn’t any.

Although that ought to feel regimented, it simply feels efficient. Horses thrive on routine and the Marcus horses are calm and good-natured, happily putting their heads over the doors to say hello as we pass and all glossy with good health.

Appearances matter

One shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, because what you see isn’t always what you get, but on the other hand, sometimes it is. Also, it’s a matter of principle for Adam. “I like to think we have the gold standard. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure my horses get nothing but the best. I’m not in a position – at least not yet – where I have big clients with big buying power behind me to buy the top bloodstock, so I put everything I can into every single horse to make sure they reach their potential. Feet are very important to me – my horses never go one day overdue, but whether it’s feed or vaccinations or planning a horse’s races, I control as much as I can, because all those details add up to lengths on the track.”

I get a grand tour of the yard and knowing what it looked like before, it’s hard not to marvel at how things have changed. Adam explains, “Every cent I make goes into the yard. It has taken a long time and there’s still a lot more to do, but I’m doing it bit by bit as I can afford it.”

Jay Peg wins the $2.2 million Singapore Airlines International Cup

“Because my dad is so supportive and spends a lot of time here, people seem to think I am just the figure head and he does the training and buys me any horses I like. If only! Yes, my dad is very generous in helping pick horses at sales and is happy to advise if I ask, but most of the time he says ‘you know what to do’. I train his homebreds, so he comes to the yard to stroke and cuddle his horses and enjoy being around them, but that’s as far as it goes. The rest is all me. Like any businessman, I’m responsible for the rent, wages, feed and equipment, canvassing for clients, running the books, etc. It’s not easy. But I’m lucky to have had the education and experience I’ve had so far. My dad gave me a good grounding and I was incredibly fortunate to work with horses like Jay Peg and Ato, so in many ways, I’m ahead of the curve – I have my own yard and 5 years’ experience and I’m only 27. My stats are consistently just below the top yards with 100-200 horses, so I know I do a good job, but realistically one is only as good as your stock. I’m at a point where I’m doing well, but either need a big client or a big break to reach the next step. There are not many young trainers coming through the ranks, particularly in Cape Town, so in many ways I am part of the future, I just need the opportunity to get to the next level. Either way, I believe that hard work will get me there, I just need to hang on until it happens.”

Royal Badge

Royal Badge wins the Gr3 Cape Summer Stayers (photo: Wayne Marks)

We stop in to look at current star, Royal Badge, being rubbed down for the afternoon. “He’s from a really lovely family from James Armitage’s Sandown Stud. First we bought Priceless Jewel who won 8 races including the Champagne Stakes, Olympic Duel and Prix Du Cap and finished 3rd in the Gr1 Majorca Stakes. Then we bought Crystal Cavern who won the Stormsvlei Mile and now there’s Royal Badge, so all my feature winners have been out of So Royal.”

“His early form was very good. I wasn’t in a rush to geld him as he didn’t need it physically, but his behaviour was getting a little out of control, so we did it after the Winter Series. His first two runs back were definitely below his true ability]. The first time out over 1400m he sat back and never got into it. Aldo came back and said ‘don’t be put off’, but I was concerned as I’d thought more of him than that. Next time out was over 1800m with Corne Orffer. I have to say, it’s not often a jockey comes back and says the horse gave him a good feel when they finished last! I was questioning myself after those first two runs, but his work at home was sensational, so it was nice to see him bounce back to best in the Cape Summer Stayers Handicap.”

“He went up 5lbs from his last win and he’s a MR95 now, so we’re aiming him for the 3200m Handicap on Queen’s Plate day. My dad always says ‘keep yourself in the best company and your horses in the worst’, so I thought it wise to go the handicap route as I feel he’s still ahead of the handicapper at this stage and should be competitive off that rating. Then there’s a 2800m on Met Day. I’m lucky to have patient owners and it’s a privilege to be able to produce him through the ranks. He’s definitely one of the best in my short career.”

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