Tommy Gun’s scintillating Gr2 Emerald Cup victory at the Vaal on Saturday put the cherry on top of a flying start to the new season for one of South Africa’s most popular horseracing families.
Corne Spies is currently in second position on the SA trainer log and with his new Zimbabwe satellite yard heading the tables North Of The Limpopo, the Spies Racing Team is set for unprecedented growth.
You won your first Gr2 Emerald Cup on Saturday. Was it a plan come together or a surprise?
For Tommy Gun it certainly was a plan come together. He was a top class juvenile and finished 3rd in the GR1 Nurseries, but it was only when we tried him on the Vaal sand over 1200m in a non black-type feature that he proved his worth on the surface.
When he showed his rivals a clean pair of heels winning by more than 10 lengths in a listed event over the 1450m of the Emerald Cup, it was decided to give him a break and aim him specifically for the Emerald Cup.
I thought that our plan was derailed when he could only manage a 4th in Flamingo Park as a prep run for the Emerald, but that run brought him on leaps and bounds and he was working like a bomb in the weeks running up to the Cup.
At the same time Anger loomed up with a 5 in a row winning streak on sand that included the Betting World Sprint and the Autumn Sprint that ensured his place in the Emerald line up. Unfortunately the draw did not favor him and he over raced in an effort to overcome the barrier position and his fate was sealed.
Tommy Gun had good gate speed and the race went his way to ensure victory.
So one plan came together and the other did not, but the race was won!
How good is Tommy Gun and could he be equally effective on turf?
Tommy Gun showed us a lot of ability and he has run in top company from early on in his career. He has not put a foot wrong on the Vaal sand and looks like a champion on this surface.
Unfortunately there are limited opportunities for top rated horses on sand and we shall definitely try our hand at the grass again. He is after all a GR1 performer on grass too.
What happened to him in Kimberley at his penultimate run?
It is hard to explain how he got run over in Flamingo Park, even if he was in need of the run.
Having a lot of experience with racing at Flamingo, I can only theorize that the tighter track and the different style of racing there caught him out, like is so often the case with horses that run there for the first time.
Is Fanie Chambers your first choice jockey and did he choose the ride on Tommy Gun?
Fanie Chambers and Fransie Naude both ride a lot for us and often it comes down to who can do the weight in choices of what they ride
Fanie rode a textbook race on Tommy Gun!
Where to now with Anger?
We would like to try him on grass when the rains come and the grass tracks are more friendly.
Would you consider yourself a sand trainer, first and foremost?
I think there are “horses for courses” and the trainer needs to place them where they are suited.
In winter the sand is more friendly to horses than the grass and I try to keep them off the grass during this period to save their legs.
How did you originally get into racing?
I was very fortunate to be born into it and my Dad, Tobie took out an owner-trainer’s license when I was 7 years old. My grandfather raced horses in amateur, or so called ‘bush races’, and my dad, as a 7 year old won his first race there riding one of my grandfather’s horses.
How long have you been training horses for your own account?
I took out my own trainer’s license in 2000 and was lucky enough to have bought a filly called FUN FLY in that year to give me my first Fillies Nursery win in 2001.
Where is your home base and how many horses do you have?
We have been based at the Vaal Race Course since my dad moved here in 1985. I just took over those stables from my father.
We have 90 boxes at the Vaal with just over 70 horses stabled here.
Do you have satellite yards?
With Renate du Plessis very capably taking over our Cape satellite yard based at Favour Stud close to Stillbay, it freed me up to pursue an idea that I conceived and investigated 3 years ago to start a satellite yard at Borrowdale Park in Zimbabwe.
But why Zimbabwe?
With a US$ based currency and very generous stakes on offer, Zimbabwe Racing has proven to be the veritable land of milk and honey since we started racing there late in February of this year.
Horses at the lower end of the merit rating system are especially suited, as they race for a lot more money than what is on offer in their class anywhere in SA, and with the small horse population in Zim, with field sizes of 20, eliminations are almost unheard of.
And how is it going North Of The Limpopo?
My good friend, Pierre Venter is holding the reins there and we have managed to place around 40 horses on the other side of the Limpopo so far.
The Zimbabwean and Mashonaland Turf Club authorities have been very helpful and assisted us in every way they could.
After 2 meetings we are leading the trainer’s log and I hope to claim the title for this season. It won’t be a walkover though as there are some very capable horsemen and women that train there.
Your Dad is a widely respected judge of horses – what role does he play in your success?
My dad taught me everything I know, but not everything that he knows…….there just is no replacement for the old school horsemen and I owe him a great debt for his behind the scenes role.
Where do you prefer to buy your horses?
I do not have any preferences. I have been lucky to buy a few horses off the farms, but mostly get them at sales.
I try to see all the lots at all the sales and since those early years where my dad showed me the ropes in yearling selection, I have seen over 50 000 yearlings and 2 year olds at sales age here in SA and abroad.
So you buy abroad also?
I have been very fortunate to select yearlings for clients in Ireland, Australia, Brazil and Argentina.
Yearling selection is more of an art than a science to me and is very difficult to explain beyond the easier recognized conformation criteria. It is one of the favourite aspects of my job however, and the sales ring is often where we make or break our yards as trainers.
Are you attending this weekend’s CTS Ready To Run Sale at Durbanville?
I try to attend all sales and will definitely be there.
What is the best horse you have trained?
It is unfair to compare horses from different vintage years, but Rock Opera stands out as the best I’ve seen since joining my dad’s yard as a youngster. It is great to see her performing at stud now with Heavy Metal performing at top level on the UK.
In more recent times a horse like Anger has made the hair on my neck stand up.
What was your biggest day at the races ever?
Success at the top level always stands out. The two Bloodline Million’s that my dad won in the early 90’s with Fast Gun and Mysterious Hal were mind blowing.
In my training carreer War Horse’s GR1 win and Straight Set’s GR1 2nd on the same July day stands out. Then my five winners on one afternoon at Flamingo Park was very rewarding.
We’d guess that you are set for one of your biggest seasons ever. Would that be accurate?
I certainly hope that you are!! So far, so good….
After 2 months of the new season we look to be 2nd on the SA log, and if the ZIM stakes are added we would be in the lead. One cannot lose sight of the 10 months still ahead and I would be more than pleased if we can hold on to a spot in the top 10.
Do racing politics interest you?
If you could nominate one stallion as a prospect, who would that be?
Sail from Seattle based at Ascot stud produces a very high class individual.
I also have high hopes for our son of Elusive Quality, Anger(BRZ) when he eventually retires to Favour Stud. He has a very strong stallion producing female line and in spite of his good conformation and looks, I know how freakishly fast he is…
Do you have owners that are very loyal to you?
I am so thankful for the band of top class owners that have entrusted me with the racing careers of their thoroughbreds. They are clients that have become close friends and together support each other as a team, forming a close knit family.
Tell us about your support team
All trainers are very dependent on the people that operate our yards often out of the lime light and keeping very odd hours.
I am very blessed to have just such a team of outstanding individuals carrying me on their shoulders of hard work and support.
As assistants I have my dad, Tobie and the very capable Charlene Tucker. Stable employees include Johannes Dlamini, Isaac Moloi, Pierre Venter and my son Xander. Then there are the grooms that play such a vital role in the everyday care of their horses.
They all form an integral part of the puzzle to form the bigger success story of Spies Racing.
The jockeys that were mentioned earlier, namely Fanie Chambers and Francois Naude have certainly made my life easier with their commitment to the yard and valuable feedback.
In the sickbay our veterinarian, Dr. Koby Tadmor assists in managing injuries and keeping the yard healthy.
Our farrier, Warren Williams with arguably the toughest job in the equine industry.
Then there is the endless line of suppliers that provides the services and products needed to keep the wheels turning.
I thank all of them!