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Gavin Smith

 Gavin Dean Smith

Gavin Dean Smith

GAVIN DEAN SMITH (46), was born into horseracing and in particular Port Elizabeth racing. He has followed in his dad, Andy’s footsteps and has made a huge success of his training career, having won the PE trainer’s championship on eight occasions. He is a thorough professional who works extremely hard and together with his brilliant team are enjoying huge success in East Cape racing and elsewhere in the country. He is most notably known for bringing up the champion, Bold Silvano, in his earlier days when winning the Champion Juvenile Cup. However, he now has a top sprinter, MUSCATT, in his care and he feels that the son of Victory Moon has plenty of class about him and has already tipped him for international success. He has had five winners on a day on five occasions and managed six on one occasion. He has consistently had more than 100 winners a season. Smith is sponsored by HOLLYWOODBETS.NET and feels that sponsors play a huge part in a trainer’s business. He has many runners on this Friday’s card, including, BLUSHING PETER in the Sophomore Plate, and he expects a much improved performance from his charge. We wish Gavin everything of the best in his future endeavours and will be following Friday’s runners and his career with great interest..

What is your name? Gavin Dean Smith.

What is your star sign and birthdate? Cancer, birthdate 66/07/06.

Where were you born? Port Elizabeth.

Where do you live?  On a small holding in Sardinia Bay, Lovemore Park.

Tell us about your family? Two kids-Abbigail 13 years old and Dean 12 years old.

Do you have a ‘nickname’? Not really, close friends and clients call me Gav.

Favourite food? Would have to say soft fillet steak.

Favourite drink? Plenty, plenty of water. The odd ice cold Castle Lite and I enjoy a whiskey and soda with plenty of ice!!

Favourite music? Anything that has a catchy beat, old or new.

Favourite sport? Horseracing is my passion, obviously. I enjoy rugby, especially knockout rounds in Super rugby and Currie Cup etc. Then, of course, I follow our national team. I also enjoy watching my son at every opportunity I can as he is an ardent sportsman. He plays cricket, soccer and water polo.

Who is your favourite author? Any racing publications!!

What book are you reading at the moment? Winning Form and racecards!!

Which characteristic about yourself do you like the most?  Hmmm. I am a very, very hard worker, always have been and always will be. My best trait is that I never try to bring others down to achieve success. I will rather try to lift my game. I am a very straight person and will not talk behind your back as many do in this game. If I have a beef with you I will confront you straight up as I would expect others to do to me rather than go behind my back and be my friend to my face!!

Which characteristic about yourself do you like the least?  I suppose I have too big a heart and take some stuff personally. I am always willing to lend and help which has got me into huge trouble before, and also, maybe, sometimes, I just try too hard.

Is there anything the public don’t know about Gavin Smith  that they would be interested to know? I am very family orientated. I do what I do to the best of my ability and, working very long hours, find it difficult to go out and socialize.

Are you interested in soccer and, if so, which is your favourite soccer team? I leave that to Dean.  He can tell me who is on top of the log, who is playing who, and which players are the best around etc.

Favourite holiday destination? Mauritius.

What tertiary education did you receive? Before my 2 years compulsory National Service I studied National Diploma in Marketing and Sales which included courses in computers and advertising.

As a young man you learnt a lot about training from your father, Andy Smith. Has anything drastically changed from what he taught you? The basics are the same and I feel will remain the same.  Hard work never killed anybody! Basics of good feeding, the right work and prep for each horse as an individual and an eye to see where you had them when they were at their peak.

How many horses do you have in your care right now? 130. I have always had around this amount and I am happy as I can give them close scrutiny and individual attention. I have very, very capable staff some of whom have been with me since I started riding work at the age of 11.

What would you consider to be the optimum amount to really keep your finger on the pulse? 130, for the reasons just given.

Tell us about your team which assists you to keep things in top gear?  My assistant; Juhanay van der Berg who has been in the horsey world all her life. She is a very quiet unassuming person with a vast knowledge of horses and the care thereof.
Victor: registered with the NHRA. He has been with me for 16 years. He is a brilliant respectful guy who stays in my yard, on call, 24/7 and who never misses a day’s work. No job is too big or too small for him.  His wife, Julia, also works full time for me.
Eric has been with me for 16 years. I have watched him grow into the man he is today. He is a no non-sense type of guy who keeps staff in line and is a very capable right hand man.
Reebok: has been with me 14 years. He has progressed from naughty youngster into the church going man he is today. He works side by side in the yard with Victor.

It seems most trainers with big yards have a treadmill. Do you have one? Yes, I have the real McCoy made in Australasia and shipped over in a container.

If so-how useful have you found it to be and could you do without it? I trained winners without it and I train winners with it. I use it as an aid in runners prep and injury rehab. I use it in conjunction with my hot-walker as it allows me to get the little extra finishing touches done on the runners.

You are on the coast. Do you ever work your horses on the beach and then swim them in the sea? Only from my small holding. I have a lady, Lisa, who runs that operation for me. My babies are broken in there, in a Monty Roberts closed arena, and taught to trot behind one another on the beach tracks. I take horses home that need a break and also some that just need to freshen up. They go down to the beach to trot and play around. It rejuvenates them nicely.

If you do how enjoyable do the horses find swimming in the sea? Horses absolutely love it especially the roll in the sand afterwards!! I find Joburg horses are very skeptical at first but once they are used to it they love it. Some won’t go near at first.

At the moment the horse with the most potential in your yard could be MUSCATT. He won a good race in Cape Town in the Need For Speed Sprint and then had an operation on his knee. How well did he take that operation?  Very, very well! John McVeigh did it personally for me.

Where is Muscatt right now and who is looking after him?  He is back at my yard, under our care 24/7. We follow a strict program for him and he is responding nicely.

You have said that he will be coming to KZN to race during the winter. If he does really, well is there a chance that he will then go to Singapore to race? Plan is to take him to contest in Natal in the season and ultimately off to Singapore to ply his trade, as all of Dennis’s better horses do. I feel he will do very well over there.

Do you consider Muscatt to be the best horse you have had since Bold Silvano? Yes!!!

You have great admiration, and faith, in Mike de Kock. Despite this, would you like to take a horse to Dubai if it showed it had the ability to take on the best? Oh hell yes, but I would do it with Mike as he has the whole operation taped.

At the moment What A Winter has few rivals as a sprinter. Do you think that, if all goes well with Muscatt, he could rival that top horse? Well, I feel times don’t lie and What A Winter won the 1000 at Kenilworth in the Cape Flying Championship in 58,65 seconds. Muscatt’s time, when winning The Need For Speed Sprint, was 56.46 seconds which surely puts him in with a chance with What A Winter.

Many of your older horses are now, more or less, in their place. Which of your younger horses excite you and which do you feel could go to the top? I still feel Sedge will train on to reach the top as will Le Var. Never Forever has been a revelation and is in the top division now.

Describe your routine on a typical race day? Up at 3.45.  Pick up some of my guys and am at stables 4.30.  Walk runners and work runners coming up first. Normally only two strings pull out. One string in the hot walker or one on the treadmill. I get to the races an hour before the 1st., busy!

Which horses, apart from Muscatt, will you be taking to the KZN season? At this stage only him.

Which is the most memorable day you have had in racing?  Had 5 winners on 5 occasions but only once did I manage to pull off 6. That was my best day ever which will be hard to emulate.

How many East Cape trainers championships have you won? I think I have won it 8 times.

What is the highest position you have filled on the National Trainers log? 6th.

Does Bold Silvano still rate as the best horse you have ever trained?  Yes, by far. He was a big baby and he nurtured and progressed and just gave more and more as he matured and strengthened. He is every trainer’s dream!

Has there ever been a time when you really felt bad about something that has happened to you in horse racing?  Yes. Years back I was really battling to have winners as we had a virus in the yard and horses were coughing more than in previous seasons. I learnt a hard lesson when I had 3 or 4 horses come up positive. There was an ingredient in a cough mixture which had, according to them a tincture in it, which, according to the specialist, when broken down, had the same molecular structure as morphine! This minuscule amount of a banned ingredient, was a well-known Lennon remedy and could readily be bought over the counter with no schedule. My assistant used to buy it from the local café!! This was subsequently changed after my case.

You have always expressed a great interest in the breeding side of horse racing. Do you find the competition to buy top young horses is getting fiercer and fiercer? Oh Hell yes!!

You have always relied on your own judgment when it comes to buying horses. Do you still rely on yourself or have you now got a few more ‘experts’ to help you select yearlings? I have always done the ground work myself. It starts off with pedigree analysis at home which means long nights of studying and then off to the sales to look at the athlete, conformation etc. I then score them for myself. If I feel the horse is going to be an expensive buy I will get the horse vetted and listen to the advice of my vet. I then put all of this together and determine a value for the individual.

What is the procedure once you have bought a yearling. Do they come straight to your yard or do they go to a spelling farm?  I send all to my farm, where we assess them on pedigree and on the individual. We look at which will take time and which will come quickly etc. and break them in accordingly.

South African breeders have really got their act together in bringing great stallions to the country. Which stallions really excite you right now?  Var, Trippi, Western Winter, Sail To Seattle and of course the new kid on the block, Bold Silvano.

On a general note one of the sensations of 2012 was Frankel. Did you watch him in his races and what were your feelings when watching him make hacks of his top class opposition? I watched all his races. This is what racing needs-equine hero’s.

The stallion fee for Frankel is absolutely staggering but if you had a mare, which you thought could be a top broodmare, would you advise any of your patrons, to send her to Frankel?  I feel only the cream of broodmares should be considered sending to a horse like him. One would have to be sure that the mare would suit him, especially with those type of fees.

Of our current crop of sires, Var is really making a name for himself. Do you have any young horses by Var who show a lot of promise?  Had a baby winner last week, Verlaine by Var. I enjoy them. Varuna, a filly has done pretty well. Varoma has done exceptionally well down here.

You still visit stud farms to see the ‘babies’ before they come up for sale. Which stud’s do you regularly visit?  Mostly the local ones, Ascot, Milkwood, Danika and Benmarne.

There must be great competition amongst the jockeys in PE to ride your horses. How do you decide which jockey to put up, especially in feature events? I try and work out which horse suits which type of rider. Each one to their own as they are all different. I feel certain types of rider’s suit different horses.

At the moment you seem to use about 4 different jockeys. Do you have a stable jockey? Aldo is my main rider. Muzi always calls for rides and I try give all the appies rides as they ride plenty of my work. I feel if they are willing to put in the work riding they deserve to get rides. I have given all of them some nice winners.

You are using apprentice jockey Mxothwa regularly. How highly do you rate him and do you believe he will become a top jockey?  I do rate him. He is a strong 4kgs claimer. It all depends on him whether he keeps his head about him and stays focused. If he puts the work in, he will go far.

What attributes does he have that appeal to you most?  Louis has a good work ethic and he has a positive outlook. I feel his most important attribute is his horse sense.

This Friday, the 8th, at Fairview you look set to have a good day. Please give us an insight as to their chances on the day?

Race 1: BIG RED – He has a big shout but he always seems to find one to beat him.

ABYDOS – Had a little break, racing him very fresh, hoping to see a spark, back end of quartets.

Race 2PARTY ROCKER– Her work has been exceptional and I feel she will enjoy the cut back in trip. She has a big shout.

MAYBE CHARMED – Her first start was not too bad, next time out she must have jumped awkwardly as she was not striding out behind. She could run into the quartet.                                                             

Race 3: TWELVE TABLES – She has taken a while to strengthen. Now that she has matured she is racing much better. She has a decent barrier draw and must have a quartet chance. This is a pretty competitive field.

BAY OF ANGELS- Her best race yet was last week, she ran on the whole way to the line, I have kept Eldin up as she ran a decent race for him. I am hoping to see her repeat that run and she should enjoy the little further trip.

GILLY FILLY – Reserve Runner.

Race 4: VELOCITY ONE – Gutsy last win when well ridden.  I give him a big chance despite the fact that his rating was raised by the maximum.

VICTORIALAINE – He is a soldier of a horse. He will give a good account of himself in this slightly lower division than he has been contesting.

MURPHY’S MAGIC – Little disappointing last time out although not beaten far, better this trip, he likes track and trip and could run into quartet money.

HUNT THE JESTER – He is better than his form suggests. He will be ridden with more restraint this time and with the benefit of a light mass, he can run a decent race and must be included in quartets.

Race 5: BLUSHING PETER – He is at his peak. His last start was very disappointing but I am expecting much better this time and the drop back in trip to 1400m will suit him well. He is working very well.

Race 8: COME HOME SMOKING – He is looking absolutely amazing. He is hard to assess as he is a difficult horse to work. For this reason he does extra work on the treadmill and the walker. To my eye he looks stripped and in peak condition. If he brings his A game to the races, and behaves himself, he can go very close to winning. He was inconvenienced at the start of his last race and the jockey had to sit on him. He will be a much better horse if allowed to stride.                                                                             

VAR LIGHT – Not without ability but has plenty of problems, mission to keep moving well, he will only have treadmill work going into this, he won like that when he won for me, difficult to tip with confidence for the punters as it is how he is moving on the day.

You are sponsored by HOLLYWOOD. How important to you is this sponsorship?  Very!! They are absolutely great to work with and they really come to the party. They supply grooms work wear, racing wear, t-shirts, caps and the like. My staff really enjoys wearing the Hollywood kit.

What are the benefits to you to be sponsored by Hollywood?  My staff are kitted out by Hollywood and look really neat. They enjoy looking smart and feeling part of a team. Hollywood also supply their trainers with racecards, Winning Forms and Sporting Posts which are invaluable in keeping us up to speed with what’s happening in the racing world. They even have an incentive whereby the trainer’s clients, which had winners, are given betting vouchers. A great incentive.

What does Hollywood expect of you in return for their sponsorship? Coverage and advertising. We are really given a lot for very little in return.

Do you think it would be beneficial for racing, in general, if all trainers were sponsored? Yes, I do. I feel it helps the trainer immensely in his business.

Late last year the NHA made a failed bid to stop trainers from being sponsored by betting operators. What was your take on that?  Totally unfair as Hollywood puts so much into the game for the love of the game and for the benefit of all.

Do you do anything special for your clients like having braai’s at the yard or taking them to watch their horses working in the morning? I have a very open relationship with my clients. They know I work very hard and I strive to do my best at what I do. I have some local clients who come through, mostly on a Saturday to watch work. I treat my owners at the races and try to make them feel special. I like to give them one on one feedback about their horses and I don’t believe in making swans out of ducks.

How difficult is it for you when you have a really enthusiastic owner who wants to know about their horse every day?  It’s fine, I deal with it, maybe not always straight away as I am always busy doing something and I crash from 1 to 1.30 otherwise I will burn out. I will always get back to an owner.

Do you get pestered by any punter, or punters, wanting to know, “What is good for today?” Yup, I do.

How do you handle that person? I still try to be nice.

What would a typical day in the life of Gavin Smith look like? Up 3.30 am every morning except Sunday, unless we are racing. Off to fetch staff, get to yard 4.30. My staff will have leavings list and temperatures ready for me upon arrival. Work out my strings and decide which horses I want to work together and at what pace and distance etc. Working 3 strings takes up most of the morning. Finish up track work, hot walker, treadmill etc.  This is normally about 11.30/ 12. Then phone calls, vet and clients time.  Head home, either to gym or straight home depending on the day. Crash from 1 to 1.30.   Back at stable everyday 2pm to carry on the afternoon shift. Afternoons consist of overseeing, treadmill, walker treatments etc. Then office work, noms, clients runners info etc. Then oversee the feeding which I feel imperative finish up between 5.15 to 5.30. Head home.

How do you celebrate a particularly good day at the races? I actually just chill and let it sink in. Have a few ice cold whiskeys and soda which does wonders. Head home. Watch some TV and, if no clients suppers, go to bed to be fresh for track next morning.

Does your son, Dean, take much of an interest in the stables?  He is slowly starting to. He is sport mad so that takes up most of his time.

Is he quite keen on the horses and do you think he will follow in your footsteps and make his life with horses? He is now starting to want to know this and that and is asking plenty questions. I will not push him to follow in my footsteps. I feel life must take its course and he will decide where his interests lie.

For your part how happy would you be if Dean decides he would like to be a trainer? Hmmm. I think one needs the backing of good solid clientele to survive in this tough industry.

If Dean does want to become a trainer would you do anything different with him such as studying some form of veterinary science, or spending time overseas with a trainer, before joining your yard? Yes, definitely, experience in this game is invaluable.

When you manage to have some leisure time how do you like to spend it? Sunday is my only really spare time in between going to work, gym, fishing and motorbike.

How much time do you get to fish and ride your motorbike? Not much really, I feel trainers are working longer and harder than ever before.

As a motorbike enthusiast which is your favourite bike to ride? My bike Suzuki 1000. 5 years old and still in pristine condition.

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