Five-time South African champion trainer GEOFF WOODRUFF (56) is the son-in-law of legendary trainer Terrance Millard. Geoff has firmly etched his name into the South African racing record books and has won two July’s and two Summer Cups. He has won close to 70 Grade 1 contests and over 200 Graded events in his distinguished career which began a quarter of a century ago. He began his local training career in the Western Cape and after excelling, he made the bold move to relocate to Gauteng. It didn’t take him long to make his mark on racing on the Highveld where he was initially stationed at the Vaal. These days his training base is at Randjesfontein and the move is paying healthy dividends as the yard has been in excellent form over the past few weeks. His star charge, TELLINA was impressive when winning the Guineas last month and will take his place alongside stable mates, KILLUA CASTLE (3rd in the Guineas) and SABADELL in Saturday’s running of the R2 million SA Classic to be run over 1800m at Turffontein. Geoff is confident that his star will relish the extra furlong and will give a very good account of himself. We wish the Woodruff yard everything of the best on Classic Day.
What is your name and age? Geoffrey Vaughen Woodruff and I am 56 years old.
What is your star sign and birthdate? 11 October 1956 and I am a Libra.
Where were you born? Epsom, Surrey.
Where do you live? Randjesfontein Estate.
Tell us about your family? I have a son Timothy and two daughters, Jessica and Lucinda, and my wife Carol.
Do you have a ‘nickname’? Andrew Bon gave me the nickname ‘Gov’.
Favourite food? Seafood.
Favourite drink? Amstel Lager.
Favourite music? Currently Jack Johnson, but I am an acoustics fan.
Favourite book? None in particular. I am a fan of thrillers though.
What are you reading at the moment? Sheik Mohammed’s – My Vision.
Favourite sport? Cricket.
Favourite soccer team? Southampton.
Favourite holiday destination? Umgazi River Bungalows on the Wild Coast.
What tertiary qualification did you achieve? O levels.
Where did you go to school? Kent, England.
Where did your interest in horseracing begin? When I was 15 years old my neighbour was involved in racing and he introduced me to Peter Skinner, who I later ended up working for.
When did you decide you would like to be a racehorse trainer? When working for Ralph Rixon in the mid 1980’s.
Who was the first trainer you worked for? How long were you with him and how valuable was that experience? I first worked for Peter Skinner in England for 9 years and then moved to South Africa and worked for Ralph Rixon for 6 years – both experiences were invaluable.
What year did you take out your trainer’s licence and how many horses did you start with? In 1988 I took out my licence and started with 14 horses, two of which Carol and I owned ourselves.
Which were the best horses you worked with early on in your career? Star Effort and Pas De Quoi.
You had a long association with the legendary trainer Terrance Millard. Tell us about how that affected your training career? My father-in-law has always been a mine of information and I have never shied away from asking his advice on any subject. I feel blessed to be so close to him.
Millard was regarded in awe by most trainers and racegoers. What do you think made him so successful? His absolute attention to detail, and supreme fitness of horses.
You were very successful in the Western Cape early on in your career but chose to make the bold move of relocating to Gauteng. What influenced your decision and how difficult was it to adjust to new surroundings? My hand was forced by Tony Millard moving to Hong Kong and our mutual owners thinking it was a good move to consolidate the two strings to the Highveld. In truth it was my intention to move in any case as I felt Cape racing was very restrictive and it was difficult to raid the rich prize money that Highveld racing has, from there.
Did any of your Cape patrons support you in your move to Gauteng? Yes, most of them.
How different is it training horses on the Highveld as opposed to along the coast? The Cape tracks were more forgiving and it was easier to keep horses sound. Otherwise the inside of a stable, to me, is much the same as any other.
Do you recall having your first runner as a trainer and your first winner? Very well, as my first four runners were winners. My first winner/runner was a horse called Third Admiral in a 1800m race at Milnerton with Felix Coetzee aboard beating Anton Marcus a short head on one of Stanley Amos’s horses.
Are you a man that keeps up with your statistics? If so, how many Graded winners have you had in your career? To be honest I haven’t kept up with it properly and jockey club records are less than complete. I have trained close to 70 Grade 1 winners and over 200 graded race winners.
Who was your first Grade 1 winner and when was it? My first Grade 1 winner was Simonside in January 1990. He won the Cape Flying Championship.
How many July’s, Met’s and Summer Cups have you won? 2 July’s, 2 Summer Cups and 1 Met.
Where are your stables based currently and how many horses do you have in your care? We have relocated to Randjesfontein and I only have 75 stables presently.
Horseracing has changed a lot over the past two decades as there are many more trainers around, making it much more tougher to acquire loyal support from patrons. In order for a yard to be extremely successful it seems that marketing has become a very important tool. What are your thoughts on this? I agree that it has become very important, but my own feeling is that the best marketing tool is training winners and one’s focus must always be on that.
Does the Woodruff yard have a marketing team or a website? Yes we do. Since my daughter joined the team we have taken it a lot more seriously. Although I know nothing much about it I try to contribute where I can.
Does the yard have a stable jockey and a sponsor? We use Robbie Fradd, to a large extent in the yard, and I also have a very good relationship with Anton Marcus. We also have some very competent guys we use as well, including Hennie Greyling, Wesley Marwing, Jarrid Penny, Neo Qaule and Akash Aucharuz.
Would you like to pay tribute to some of your loyal patrons that have been with the yard over the years? I have been blessed with very loyal patrons who have also become great friends of mine over the years. The list is long but I must make mention of James Drew and Mike Fullard, the Devachanders, Ray Bisnath and Asogan Pillay, Robert Muir, Jaap Van der Vendel, Michael De Broglio and Des Scott.
Have you won the South African Trainer’s Championship? Yes, 5 times.
The Woodruff yard is an extremely professional outfit. Tell us about your team right down to your work riders? We are a very family orientated business with my son Timothy working under me, after having completed working overseas for Vinete Williams and William Haggas for a year, where he learnt a great deal and came back with a great work ethic. Carol, Lucinda and Jessica contribute a great deal as well, both in the office and yard. We have recently employed Marnu Potgieter as a stable employee as he has a great attitude and is a valuable member of the team. It would be remiss of me not to mention my stalwart grooms headed by Thomas Van Rensberg, most of whom have worked for me for 14 years and more. All are equally vital to my operation.
What can the Woodruff stable offer to any potential clients? I believe we offer decades of horsemanship and racing experience with a no nonsense approach to racing in general. Racing is meant to be good fun, and we try our level best to make our owners enjoy the experience.
What training aids does the Woodruff stable have for their horses? We carry about every new gadget there is (I have wasted millions over the years) but, quite frankly, the best training aids are the people that look after the horses, and the right person is priceless.
The work rider races continue to be a great hit in Gauteng and especially at the Vaal where there is a huge following. Your yard often supports these races. What are your thoughts on these events? I believe they provide the work riders with a nice incentive to carry on. Keeping people motivated is important and I believe this series does it.
The stable has also been known to give young apprentices some very good opportunities. Are you using any youngsters at the moment and which ones have you earmarked as future stars? All of the apprentices I mentioned earlier are very competent and I believe if they work hard enough each will have a bright future.
You have had some great jockeys ride for you over the years. Who would be the one jockey that stands out in your mind as being closest to the ‘perfect’ package? I am not going to single out any man between Felix Coetzee, Mark Khan, Anton Marcus, Piere Strydom, Robbie Hill and now Robbie Fradd. Each man is a ‘Perfect package’.
Is it fair to say that the stable went through a very rough patch a few months ago? We hit a very moderate bunch of horses over the past years and I was very unhappy with my circumstances at the Vaal. So, yes it is fair to say.
However, that period seems a long time ago now as the yard has been in brilliant form in recent months. You have an excellent crop of three-year olds and this showed when TELLINA won the recent Gauteng Guineas and KILLUA CASTLE finished a very good third. Tell us about the race? We obviously thought we had a chance with all three of our runners including Sabadell, but watching the race unfold it was looking pretty bleak halfway. I was thrilled with all three of our horses runs and obviously delighted with Tellina. I think he showed his true mettle running past the entire field in the straight to get up and win.
How did you acquire Tellina and has he always shown that he will be a quality sort? I bought him on spec at the National Yearling Sales and thought he was high quality going through the ring too cheaply. I didn’t have a buyer for him then, but Terry Young called me within a minute and we decided there and then to share him.
He found tons of betting support on the day and eventually started as the weak 6/1 favourite. How confident were the stable leading up to the race? You are never confident going into these big races as it was an extremely open and competitive field. I wasn’t aware of the betting at the time as I usually don’t take note of it.
You were at an overseas sale at the time which shows your confidence in your team. Who prepared him for the big race and how satisfying was it for you to see the team shine through? I left the Wednesday prior to the race and was very happy with the horses. My son, Tim, took charge after that and the rest is history.
He has the nasty tendency to get left at the gates which could prove very costly on shorter run-ins such as Greyville etc. What measures have been put in place to ensure he jumps on terms with the rest of his field? He never jumped slow in the Guineas.The plan was to sit mid-field but there was some rough riding round the 1300m and he was pushed out to the back. Thankfully Robbie is not a jockey to panic and elected to take his time and give him a clear run in the straight which worked out beautifully from there.
Tell us about Tellina’s pedigree and more importantly will he see out the nine furlongs and even the Derby trip if he contests the last leg of the Triple Crown? Tellina has a full brother in Germany who has won over 3000m. Quite frankly I think he’ll be right at home over 2400m.
Killua Castle put a poor penultimate outing behind him with a brilliant display in the Guineas. Firstly, what is the explanation for his below-par penultimate performance? It was not such a poor run as, turning for home, he was well out of his ground, the inside track and the standside track throw up completely different results. If anything goes slightly wrong on the inside track you might as well not turn up. This was one of those races. Killua was only beaten 3 and a half lengths and I believe the race was over before he even got into it.
He has always shown ability and ran a cracking race in The Dingaans last year. However, he seems very temperamental and injured his original jockey at the start of the Guineas. After all his theatrics he still ran a cracker. How pleased were you with his performance? I was extremely pleased with his run, but surprised with his antics beforehand. He is starting to become very coltish and if he is not careful he might have to get the unkindest cut of all.
Your former champion sprinter Shea Shea has done extremely well in Dubai and looks a major contender in the sprint on Dubai World Cup night. Did you watch his recent victory and tell us about him? I went to Dubai to watch him run. I took one look at him and said to Steven Gel, prior to the race, don’t worry he will win. I think Mike and his team have done a great job and we will all be holding thumbs come World Cup night.
You have previously had an unsuccessful campaign in Dubai but what were the positives from the trip and will you raid again in the future? That was in 2004 and we took the wrong horses although we did have a few places. It was largely disappointing. We may go back again but if I do, I will do so myself rather than try and do it by remote control.
The KZN season is almost upon us. Which of your horses have you earmarked to raid with? We have a very young string at the moment and some of them are still busy putting their hands up. With the desperate situation for boxes in KZN we will pick out some feature races to raid and race the bulk of our horses on the Highveld .
LOCKHEED JETSTAR looks a smashing sort in the making. He was slightly below-par in his penultimate outing in a minor feature. What did you make of that run? That was the same day that Killua Castle and Sabadell got caught out on the inside track. We changed our usual tactics with him because of the bad draw and paid the price.
How highly do you rate him and what is the next mission? He is clearly a good horse as he has won 5 races from 8 starts. He is a very sensitive horse that is loaded with ability. He may end up in the July.
What is the most memorable day you have had in racing? I have been blessed with many very good ones. Possibly one that stands out is Champions day at Clairwood with 4 winners and a jackpot of graded winners.
How do you celebrate a really successful day? I am usually shattered by the end of a day’s racing. My best way to celebrate is to relax on the couch watching TV with the dogs and family.
You recently purchased horses at the Inglis Sale in Melbourne. Tell us about the horses you purchased and what were their respective prices? We bought 5 horses including Arcetri Pink’s sister. Two Star Craft colts, a High Chaparral and a Rock of Gibraltar filly.
How soon will these horses come to your yard? They will be at Randjesfontein early in June.
What other members of your family are really keen on racing? My whole family is. It is our way of life.
The Clairwood debacle with regards to My Sanctuary hasn’t been good for the game. What are your thoughts on the issue? When I watched the race I was shocked that they didn’t call a false start and feel that it all would’ve been solved there and then. As trainers we are held responsible for everything that’s goes wrong pertaining to our horse, and quite frankly this must apply to everybody that holds a license in this industry.
The saying is “Behind every successful man is an equally successful woman”. Does this apply to Geoff Woodruff? For sure! Carol has been my biggest supporter throughout my career and has had a huge input into the yard and all our successes. She is not Terrance Millard’s daughter for nothing and is a consummate horse woman in her own right.