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High Five For Rising Star Kelly!

From a quiet start in 2022, to a third place on the log

One of the fastest rising stars on the South African horseracing firmament, Gqeberha lady trainer Kelly Mitchley celebrated a red-letter day of some proportions at Fairview on Friday, with five winners.

It’s been a notable rise to prominence for the 27-year-old!

Donald Geerthsen steers Makhachev to a smart win (Pic – Pauline Herman)

Just a week after the South African government had repealed the rude remnants of those lifechanging Covid-19 regulations in 2022, Kelly sent out her first runner at Fairview.

At the time the world was reeling under a toxic hangover cloud, every man and his dog was broke or near bankrupt, and many of us were puzzling over uncertain futures.

Yet up stepped a 26-year-old horsewoman with integrity, attitude and passion, and 20 months later she has 86 winners on the board – with a five-timer fest on a fabulous Fairview Friday on 15 March 2024 to crown it all.

With a firm hold on the third position on the East Cape trainer championship behind veteran big-hitters Gavin Smith and Alan Greeff, Kelly has arrived in no uncertain terms, and in a world of shrinking economies and cut-backs, the KM Racing string has extraordinarily grown to 94 horses at Fairview, with yearlings and the retired set at the De La Ranch, just 3km away from Nelson Mandela Bay Racing’s Headquarters.

When taxed on the secret to her giant strides in double quick time, Kelly says simply, ‘honesty, trust, no false hope, and loyal happy staff, as well my partner Kyle Paddock, who has put a lot of effort into the yard.’

“Every owner relies on a trainer to provide guidance and truthful assessment of a horse’s ability and prospects. Bad horses eat the same food as good horses! Our philosophy is not to create any illusions and false promises. An owner can rather replace than hang on to a horse that is going nowhere. That said, I have some owners who insist on keeping their beloved horses in training. But that’s a conscious sentimental choice of their own! Our goal is to go out and earn with every runner,” she adds.

The happy team after Makhachev won the third – from left to right is Kyle Paddock, owner Rudi van Wyk, Donald Geerthsen, Kelly Mitchley and Julius Mphanya (Pic – Pauline Herman)

Kelly quickly adds that their ‘fantastic’ Chiropractor Neville Dugmore and their Farriers play an important support function in getting the best out of every horse.

“Our sponsors Betway SA have been a terrific value-add, both for our owners and staff, who have received soccer kit and other gifts. Jonathan Blumberg heads Betway and does an outstanding job of ensuring we receive the support!”

Kelly has been on horseback since she started walking and has learnt from the best – Justin Snaith, Corne Spies, Gavin Smith, Yvette Bremner and Johan Janse van Vuuren.

So, she really has the pedigree to go all the way to the top!

“We can’t succeed without owners and horses, but never underestimate the critical role played by good staff. Sakhepi ‘Steven’ Ngqabuko has been with us from Day 1 and does a sterling job heading a team that any trainer anywhere would be proud of.”

She adds that having the likes of Donald Geertshen, Julius Mphanya and Sandile Khathi riding work, with a strong team of Work riders, enhances her ability to assess progress through qualified feedback.

“We have a policy of supporting the Grooms’ races here in the East Cape. The amount of positivity and excitement generated is unbelievable and the guys get so hyped up in advance. It gives them a goal, an opportunity to earn, as well as a great chance to showcase their skills in the public arena. Unfortunately, we don’t have many of these races on the programme, and it would be a real plus to see the frequency upped to at least one a month.”

On good owners, Kelly tells that she has been fortunate to enjoy the support of her Mom and top owner Suzette Viljoen from Day 1, and the list has grown exponentially.

“You asked what made me take the plunge to take my license out when so many thought I was crazy. Well, my Mom and Suzette were my inspiration. And they have continued to support me, along with a host of great people who understand racing and love their horses!”

She is thrilled about the fabulous weekend she enjoyed recently in the Boland when she visited her first runner Hilarity, and first winner Klaserie, at Suzette and Basie Viljoen’s Hope And Dreams Stud in Wellington.

Asked about keys to future growth, Kelly adds that big breeder support is vital to a trainer’s success and made a massive difference.

“Oscar Foulkes of Normandy Stud has been a great supporter of ours all along. I have never met a man who follows all of his farm’s horses with such interest and shows the level of interest he does! Then I was privileged to train my first winner for Dr Andreas Jacobs and the Maine Chance team when the Querari filly Passchendaele won at her second start for us last week. That was a true honour and we hope it’s the start of a long association,” she adds.

So, does Kelly have championship aspirations to the mantle held for so many years by two second generation trainers who are twice her age?

“I am thrilled with what we have achieved so far. As the string evolves, we will be more competitive in feature races, and that makes the difference when one is boxing in the big league!”

On exciting horses for the future, she singles out the Ridgemont bred Canford Cliffs colt, Golden Rule, one of Kelly’s ‘Fab Friday’ quintet, who was taken to Cape Town on Met day, and ran a cracking fourth on debut at 75-1 in the WSB Listed Summer Juvenile Stakes behind Roman Eagle.

He was a runaway winner on Friday, and Kelly tells us that he will be seen next in the East Cape Nursery on 19 April.

“He is a lovely colt – we would not have taken our chances in the Cape at feature level, if we didn’t think highly of him. We will bring him along slowly and let him show us how good he is in the Nursery, before we start talking Champions Season! I like to bring the young horses along slowly. I’d rather have a nice 3yo, than a burnt out 2yo. And he is looking for 1400m and a mile, so it’s quite exciting!”

So, what do Kelly and partner Kyle Paddock do on a Friday evening after a great day at the races?

“We sit down in front of the TV and watch the replays over and over and over! We make notes, analyze, and try and find solutions where we see issues. Kyle has a knack of finding the right races, and that is not only on Friday, but after every raceday! It may not sound like everybody’s idea of fun, but training horses is a 24/7 commitment – it’s a lifestyle, not a job. And we love it!”

She recalled how trainer Alan Greeff drove past her ring on Saturday morning, and said: “I suppose you guys never slept a wink last night?”

“Alan has always been the first person to congratulate us. I think he relates to what we are aiming to achieve!”

Watch a short clip about life at KM Racing.

Thinking of sending a horse to the Eastern Cape? Call Kelly on 081 266 6763 or email her on [email protected].

Kelly’s Fabulous Five

  • Golden Rule(Smanga Khumalo)
  • Raptor Island (Smanga Khumalo)
  • Makhachev (Donald Geerthsen)
  • Lady Zulzanite (Sandile Khathi)
  • Fiery Duke (Smanga Khumalo)


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2 comments on “High Five For Rising Star Kelly!

  1. Frankie Zackey says:

    Frankie Zackey… Training a 5 timer is definitely something that this young lady go be very proud of doing… Knowing now that her Mom and Mrs Viljoen have been there from day one is a win on it’s own… Her horses certainly look the part in the parade ring and when they cantering down to the start…. I personally think that her 1st Group 1 is not far off with her cracking 2 year old Golden Rule… Maybe she can now teach one of the teachers JS a thing or 2 … GL going forward

  2. Cecil Pienaar says:

    Lovely story. Wow, nicely done Kelly and team * * * * *

    You show them boys in PE. 🙂

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