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Chesney Van Zyl

Chesney Van Zyl

Chesney Van Zyl

The future of South African racing must surely be in excellent hands if the number of sons successfully following in their father’s footsteps is any indication.  Another  “young gun” with a bright future is Chesney van Zyl, the 23-year-old son of former jockey and now very successful trainer Gavin van Zyl.  Entrusted from a tender age to oversee his dad’s satellite yard in Gauteng, Chesney has tasted plenty of success in major races and prepared Seal to win last season’s Gr 1 SA  Derby.  Former stable star The Apache has left the yard after a half share in him was sold, but there is still plenty of firepower for Chesney to try and win some of Gauteng’s rich prizes and our Star of the Future will be represented by Tandragee and unbeaten Slumdog Millionaire in this Saturday’s Gauteng Guineas.  Anybody thinking of backing either of them can rest assured that they will arrive at the course ready to give of their absolute best.

What is your name and age? Chesney van Zyl and I am 23 years old.

What is your star sign and birthdate? I was born on 9th of December 1988 which makes me Sagittarius.

Where were you born? I was born in Johannesburg.

Where do you live? I live in Bedfordview.

Tell us about your family? I have 4 siblings – two sisters and two brothers.

Do you have a ‘nickname’? Ches.

Favourite food? Seafood.

Favourite drink? Coke.

Favourite music? Hip Hop.

Favourite sport? Golf.

Favourite soccer team? Real Madrid.

What is your favourite holiday destination? Mauritius.

You are currently running the satellite yard for your father. Where are you based and tell us about your team? I am based at Turffontein. I have a top team of 10 grooms and my assistant is Penny.

Was there any particular moment/occurrence that made you realize that you want to be involved with horses? I have had a natural love and passion for horses and racing from a very early age.

Your father, Gavin, was a highly successful jockey and is now making his mark as a trainer. Was he very keen on you getting into the racing game? Yes, he was. He took me out of school at the end of grade 9 to start an apprenticeship as a farrier and my knowledge of horses and racing really grew from that point onwards.

Was it exciting for you to have your father in the racing game and did he inspire you with stories about thrilling finishes he was involved in? Yes it was. There is not enough space here for me to tell all the stories that he had to tell me about his time as a jockey.

Before working for your father you became a farrier. Which trainers did you work for and which were some of the top horses you worked with? I worked for Glen Kotzen. Two of the horses which impressed me were Appelate Court and Winona.

How long were you a farrier for? I was a farrier for 3 years and learnt a great deal.

Do you find it a great help being able to shoe your own horses? Yes, it is great being able to make sure my horses’ feet are all in top condition.

How long were you with your dad before he decided to send you to Gauteng to take charge of the satellite yard? I worked with my dad for a year before he decided I could manage a satellite yard.

How many horses did you have in your Gauteng yard when you started and how many horses are now in the yard? I started with 12 and that number has now grown to 22.

Tell us about your first winner as trainer of the satellite yard in Gauteng? I won a maiden plate but it felt as though I had won a Group race!

What is the most exciting aspect of training for you? It is amazing to run horses in Group 1 races.

You participated in workriders’ races a few years ago. Tell us about it? I had a winner but my weight was an ongoing struggle so I decided to stop.

THE APACHE has been a revelation for the stable. He has improved with every outing since causing a major upset in the Dingaans a few seasons ago. Did he always show promise or was he a slow starter? I won’t say he was a slow starter but he has never shown great work on the training tracks.

You took a calculated risk running THE APACHE with blinkers in the J&B Met. The slow pace didn’t help in the Met but he is so honest and ran a decent race nonetheless. Do you feel that the blinkers improved him? Yes I do. I feel he is a better horse wearing blinkers and we would not have run him in the Met with blinkers if we had not believed it was best for him.

How did he take the race and where is he now? He took the race very well and is back at Turffontein.

What long-term plans do you have for him and is the owner still hoping to take him to Hong Kong? 50% of The Apache has now been sold to Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum and the son of Mogok has moved on to the De Kock yard with next year’s Dubai Racing Carnival in mind.

The R1 million Grade 2 Gauteng Guineas will be run on the 25th February. You have some promising three-year olds in the form of the unbeaten SLUMDOGMILLIONAIRE and TANDRAGEE. How do you rate their chances? Slumdogmillionaire is a very nice horse and I am hoping he can make it 3 wins from 3 starts. Tandragee will be doing his best.

SEAL recently won a minor feature event and appears to be coming back to the form that saw him win The Derby last season. What plans do you have for him for the upcoming season? There are a few nice races we have earmarked for him.

What is the most exciting aspect of training for you? Having runners in big races.

Does your father still have a big input as to how you go about the daily business of running the stable? Yes, we discuss things every day.

Who are the jockeys who ride most of the work for you in the morning? Marthinus Mienie.

Which jockeys apart from Raymond Danielson will you be giving rides to in the feature events? Marthinus Mienie.

How important is it for you to get the jockey’s input after riding work on a horse? It is very important as a jockey can tell me things about a horse which may not be immediately apparent to the eye.

Is there anything about being a trainer that you dislike? No. I love every minute of it.

Do you go to the various sales around the country and if so, what do you look for when considering buying a horse? I don’t as yet but I am sure that as time passes I will become involved in the selecting and buying of horses.

How accurate are you when telling an owner about a horse’s chance in a race? I think I am fairly accurate.

Do you take an interest in the breeding side of the game? Not really. I am sure that side of things will develop with time.

Which stallions do you really like and would want their progeny in your yard? I think Silvano is a top stallion.

As a trainer the temptation to become involved with big punters is always there. How do you handle this situation? I simply don’t have punters.

How much input do you have in buying horses or do you leave that to your dad? At this stage I leave that side of the business to my dad.

What differences have you seen when comparing racing in Gauteng to KZN? I think the racing in Gauteng is better as I feel that races in Gauteng are run at a true pace.

What are your short-term ambitions for yourself as a trainer? My ambition is to try and win the Triple Crown.

Do you think racing is well-policed? Yes.

As a fellow youngster what do you think can be done to get more youth into our sport? I think it is important to arrange activities that will appeal to the younger crowd.

Outside of racing what else are you passionate about? Golf.

You can be classified as a really eligible bachelor. Do you have a steady girlfriend or are you playing the field? I cannot say too much as it is ‘complicated’.



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